Weird Westerns: Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (2015)


An explosion in a mine releases badly animated dinosaurs that wander back and forth on a main street in Montana while a former rodeo champion tries to get his life back together. 

by Max Sparber

First things first, in the interest of full disclosure I must say that this film costars a friend of mine, Kelcey Watson, who I think credited himself as Kelcivious Jones, which I had thought was just a fun nickname he gave himself and not something he used professionally. But who am I to wonder: I released two albums under the name Bunny Ultramod a few years back.

Kelcey has been in several productions of a play I wrote about a lynching in Omaha in 1919, and he is a terrific actor, and really should have been the star of this film. He is among first characters we meet, digging into a mine in Montana that turns out to be full of dinosaurs. He later goes and hunts a raptor on his lonesome, and provides from his own arsenal all the small arms one might need to talk down an army of prehistoric creatures. At the climax, he single-handedly wipes out dozens of monsters before dying heroically, and all this is what a lead character would do.

He's not the lead character, though. It is instead a lean, laconic former rodeo star played by former General Hospital actor Rib Hillis, and, while Kelcey is running around actually trying to do something about the dinosaurs, Hillis is having a storyline involving his waitress ex, her jealous suitor (and town sheriff), and his drunk father.

None of this contributes to the plot, nor is it interesting, but for the fact that the drunk father is played by Eric Roberts, who is listed first on the OMDB credits despite clearly only filming for a day. He appears for a few minutes in a jail cell to have a cantankerous reunion with Hillis, a raptor splashes acid in his face, and then he facelessly dies.

Which reminds me, I should probably mention the dinosaur. They are computer animated, or, more properly, they are poorly computer animated, and interact with actors and extras who do not know how to pretend a dinosaur is in the room. Most of them just stiffen and then fall over when attacked. I was attacked once by a pig, which is not nearly as large as a dinosaur, and I didn't stiffen and fall over. No, it knocked me halfway across a pen and then dragged me a little while further by my foot. So these deaths felt unlikely to me.

Most of the film is lensed in Livingston, Montana, which looks like an attractive little town, and suitably Western: It has been used in movies like "The Horse Whisperer" and "Rancho Deluxe" because it's got a nice cowboy vibe, including an old-timey main street with brick buildings and saddle spur fonts. Calamity Jane claimed to have married Wild Bill Hickock there, and that's about as Western a claim as a town can make.

This film makes extensive use of the main street. It might be fair to say "exclusive" use of the main street, which means that for the film's extended dinosaur invasion scene we must imagine the dinosaurs are running back and forth along the same four or five blocks, and that the film's main characters are doing the same. There is a scene in which the film's villain, an Australian mine owner played by Vernon Wells, makes his escape in a Jeep Cherokee. When we see him 10 or so minutes later, he's still on the main street.

I could pick at the film's many continuity errors and the like, and it would be fun, nut a bit indulgent. I'm not one who especially enjoys the sport of mocking amateurish or incompetently made films, especially ones that gave pretty good roles to friends of mine.

That being said, I don't have much good to say about the film, although I did appreciate some of the camera work and the choice of locations. Ultimately, the best I can say is that I have seen three films in which cowboys battle dinosaurs, each of which have their failings, and this is no worse than the other two.


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