Star Wars and Dinosaurs

(This blog is not for profit. All copyrighted images belong to their respective owners and are used for review. New to the blog? Start on the introduction.)

https://whendinosaursruledthemind.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/introduction-remember-dinosaurs-theyre-different-now/

star-wars-episode-7-release-date2.jpg

So yeah, in case you’ve been living under a rock or don’t really connect to the Interwebs that much (and if that’s the case what are you doing here?) the latest installment of the Star Wars trilogy  saga mythology has recently been released to the rabid movie going populace. I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. We’ve had some time to reflect on the movie beyond misplaced hype and excitement. What do I think of the film?

It was good. It wasn’t a masterpiece or a huge unimaginable epic, but I think it’s just what the Star Wars franchise needed right now.

But with all this Star Wars on everyone’s mind, it got me thinking, ‘how can I talk about Star Wars and interweave into something about dinosaurs so I can talk about it on my blog?’

What can I say, my mind tends to go to these places.

Well, I remember as a kid instantly attaching to something that had dinosaurs in it. It didn’t matter what the movie was or what it was about, if it had something that even looked like a dinosaur I was sold. And honestly, that was one of the things that sucked me into Star Wars as a kid. Sure, I thought the space battles were cool and the lightsabers were neat and all that stuff, but I remember really loving it when the alien creatures showed up. And as I remember, a lot of them looked like dinosaurs.

And you know what, I really understand that. When film makers design alien creatures they often take traits from actual animals and just sort of mix them up a bit. That gives us as the audience an alien creature that looks plausible as a living thing but still different enough to be considered extraterrestrial. It actually kind of helps us get sucked into the world, we can believe something like this can exist. And dinosaurs are perhaps the most alien looking creatures that have ever inhabited our planet. And yet, they were real. They actually existed. So even when we make a creature look vaguely dinosaurian, the audience can still buy it as a functioning creature because it’s based on something they’re familiar with.

Publicity_Dewback_03.jpg

The Dewback, as seen in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Dewback-woswfg.jpg

The Dewback, a large reptilian beast of burden that lives on the desert planet of Tatooine, seems to be based very much on large quadrupedal dinosaurs. It has a similar body structure of a dinosaur, but with claws and a face more like that of a lizard. Still, studying dinosaurs probably gave the filmmakers knowledge on how to make a large reptilian creature realistically move and live.

Fambaa-SWE.jpg

Ronto_in_Mos_Eisley.png

This can probably be said for any large quadrupedal reptilian creature seen in the Star Wars universe. They may not look exactly like dinosaurs, but they’re body structures are obviously based on them, and that foot in reality does give them a level of credence.

i-6a502b61c5c49fa3118fb2113afd0d37-Krayt_dragon_bones.jpg

Even the infamous Krayt Dragon had it’s skull based on that of an Apatosaurus. You fellow dinosaur geeks can’t unsee that now, can you?

Roggwart_TCW.jpg

Of course, sometimes you don’t want to create a peaceful four legged beast of burden. Sometimes you want to create a terrifying blood thirsty monsters. And of course, the Mesozoic provides many design options for that. Few creatures rival the kind of terror the name Tyrannosaurus rex invokes, so it would make sense that Star Wars would eventually create a monster based on our favorite theropod. In The Clone Wars TV series, famous Star Wars villain General Grevious owns a pet Roggwart named Gor, which he releases upon Jedi Master Kit Fisto and his Mon Kalamari Padawan (man, that is one nerdy sentance). And this creature is obviously based on a tyrannosaur, or at least a theropod of some kind. Personally, his boxy head reminds me of a abelisaur.

Gor_LoG.jpg

2000163-product-thumb

I’m not the only one who sees it, right?

Acklay3.jpg

Of course, sometimes the theropod influences aren’t nearly as in-your-face as they are with the Roggwart. Take the Acklay for example, famous for it’s appearance in Attack of The Clones. At first glance it just looks like a terrifying mix of a crab and a praying mantis. But when George Lucas pitched the idea, he wanted a creature that was a mix between those two creatures and a (Hollywood) Velociraptor. And in the concept art, I can really see it.

Acklay_concept_art.jpg

Yeah, if I was tasked to create a part mantis part crab part raptor monster, this would probably be the end result still.

BogaROTS-SWE.png

The dinosaur influences can be a little more subtle from time to time, sometimes to points were I’m not sure it’s intentional and I might just be reading into it too much. For example, the Varactyl from Episode III is obviously based more on a lizard than a dinosaur, but the feathers and the beak and the other bird-like qualities still just bring dinosaur to my mind. I don’t know, putting feathers on a reptilian creature, they had to know something.

Kybuckcharge_cw1.jpg

Even this kybuck, from the 2D animated Clone War mini series, is basically a modern day antelope but with a theropod body plan. This is another example of designers taking traits from two different creatures mixing them together, and creating something new. It’s a tried and true formula, and it really works. Personally I think the kybuck looks really cool.

4662838-4229377311-Reek..jpg

Of course, dinosaurs aren’t the only source of inspiration prehistory has to offer. The Reek, from Episode II, has obvious inspiration from a bull and a rhino, but the overall body design is very reminiscent of a Placerias.

Placerias.jpg

Even down to the cute little stub tail.

Dactillion.png

The Mesozoic’s second most famous group of reptiles, the pterosaurs, also supply ample inspiration for the creature designers. The Dactillion is basically just a pterosaur with forelimbs along with winged appendages. In fact, the creature looks so similar to the Walking With Dinosaurs Ornithocheirus, when I searched for the above image on Google it directed me to information on said show before it took me to anything related to Star Wars.

Epguide505.jpg

Of course, the Ruping from The Clones Wars TV series looks so much like a Hollywood pterodactyl they might as well have called it Rodan.

Kaminoan_rider.png

And even though the Aiwha seems to have more cetacean influences in it’s body design (wait a minute…Aiwha…air whale?….God Damn It Star Wars!) the influence from pterosaurs is still quite visible.

 

Eopie_NEGAS.jpg

Although not nearly as common, some animals in the Star Wars universe take inspiration from Ice Age mammals as well. No person familiar with paleontology cam deny that the Eopie looks incredibly like a Macrauchenia.

tumblr_mmeejw2hBI1spmwbxo1_400

Man, an unaltered Macrauchenia would fit fine within the Star Wars universe.

ep1_ia_70138_bd7b9296.jpeg

Now, let’s move on from simple animals to fully sapient residents of the Star Wars galaxy. The infamous Gungans of The Phantom Menace are perhaps the most hated alien species to ever appear in a Star Wars movie, thanks in on small part to the pervasiveness of Jar Jar Binks. But as a kid, I liked him; no only because I was four and I would gobble up any slightly cool crap that was put in front of me, but also because they kind of looked like dinosaurs. The Gungans have obvious amphibian influences in their design, but their faces bring to mind classic depictions of duck billed hadrosaurs, specifically old school illustrations of ‘Trachodon’.

Trachodon (1)

How wude.

cs_gungan.gif

Heck, even the mounts of the Gungans (the Kaadu) look basically like hadrosaurs with their forelimbs cut off and their tail shorten.

d1a7b21a019736a3a274b42c9acacd1e.jpg

Of course, some sentient alien designs hit the whole dinosaur angle a little bit too hard on the nose, especially in the Expanded Universe. The Ssi-ruu, for example, are and often seen species in Star Wars novels and comics, and more or less look like sapient theropods (apart from the weird tongue things coming out of their noses, had to be different somehow).

The Tiss’shar, also from the Expanded Universe, take this even farther. Depending on the artist, they could look vaguely dinosaurian to full on Jurassic Park Velociraptor!

tissshar.jpg

the-velociraptors-in-the-jurassic-park-movies-are-nothing-like-their-real-life-counterparts

I claim copyright infringement!

The only time a creature like this had appeared in the original trilogy was probably in Bossk from The Empire Strikes Back, but even then it can be argued that his design looks more lizard-y than anything distinctively dinosaurian.

bossk.jpg

Eww..

ColemanTrebor-DB.png

When it comes to obviously dinosaur based beings, the prequel trilogy ones up what came before it by giving us an actual dinosaur Jedi Knight! Coleman Trembor, as seen in Attack of the Clones, is obviously based on a Parasaurolophus. I remember watching this movie in the theaters, and when this guy showed up, it immediately got my attention. In that one second of screen time, he was automatically my favorite Jedi (in the long standing tradition of loving Star Wars characters simply because they look cool and not because they contribute to the story). I was on the edge of my seat waiting for this guy to do something awesome. After some action focusing on the other characters, we finally see him again. He jumps in front of Count Dooku, wielding his lightsaber, prepared to strike. Oh my God! He can take out Count Dooku right now! This could put an end to the Clone Wars before they even begin!

Then Jango Fett comes out and shoots him.

Coleman-trebor.jpg

Sempai, no!

He only have five seconds of screen time. He was never seen again.

Seven year old me was sad.

So yeah, dinosaur influence can be seen all throughout the Star Wars franchise, whether the usage is subtle or in your face. But dinosaurs are pretty alien themselves, nothing quite like them (except birds of course) exists today. So yeah, taking influence from them when creating new bizarre creatures does make sense. Now if you excuse me, I’ve got to go. Must…see…Star Wars…again…..

The Good Dinosaur Review (Spoilers)

(This blog is not for profit. All copyrighted images belong to their respective owners and are used for review. New to the blog? Start on the introduction.)

https://whendinosaursruledthemind.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/introduction-remember-dinosaurs-theyre-different-now/

The_Good_Dinosaur_poster

 

While I was defiantly looking forward to this film, I did go into the theater with some trepidation. I did look at a few reviews before seeing it, and while there were many positive reviews for the movie, there were quite a few people who were quite disappointed in it. Some went as far as saying this is one of Pixar’s weakest films. So going into the movie, I did set myself up for this film to just be one of those ‘blah’ experiences, even if I still wanted it to be good. And after seeing it, all I’ve got to say is….really critics? Did we see the same movie? This is far from Pixar’s weakest effort. I wouldn’t even dare call it a weak effort. I legitimately loved this movie. I liked it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would, even with the story problems that are admittedly present. But personally, I liked this movie more than Inside Out.

WHAT?!!!

Now, hear me out. I’m not saying I disliked Inside Out, I loved. And I’m not saying The Good Dinosaur is among the best Pixar films, it’s not really. And personally, I have a feeling Inside Out will be remembered more in the years to come and The Good Dinosaur will be one of those films you remember when talking about the Pixar movie slate as a whole. But all that aside, I still freakin’ loved this movie. And maybe my opinion of it will change as time goes on (as of writing this part of the review I have only seen it a few hours ago) but as of now I’m going to praise the heck out of this movie.

Now, before I go into the movie, first I want to talk a bit about the short that proceeded it, Sanjay’s Super-
Team. It’s about a young Indian American boy who prefers American superhero pop culture over his father’s religious traditions, but then goes on to imagine the gods of the Hindu faith as an awesome superhero team.

Now, I live in Texas, and the theater was full of lower middle class white families. I won’t lie that a part of me feared that the parents may look at this short in disgust at the fact that it dares to show a different culture other than Christianity to a naive and easily mislead American youth and that it has the gall to present an alternate religion in a way other than the pagan foreign filth than it is. But such thinking would be hypocritical of me, and it would have made me no better than the xenophobes that would actually try to boycott this short (which I’m sure do exist). For the most part, the audience did seem to enjoy it, although I still feel a bit of cringe when I hear people in the audience confused that this isn’t the movie they went in for and wondering if they went into the wrong theater. Come on guys, every Pixar film and most of the recent Disney films have had a short in front of them, you still get surprised when this happens?

As for the short itself, I thought it was incredible. The animation was incredibly fluid and stylistic, particularly in the fantasy sequences. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a CGI short that looks quite like this. But personally, my favorite part was actually the underlying message of the whole thing. The story is really about the disconnection between two cultures; that of a boy raised under the American society, and his father who still takes his heritage seriously. You can tell that this is a story very true to the director Sanjay Patel’s childhood, and is definitely one that will resonate with both the children and parents of immigrant and multicultural families (including myself).

Alright, let’s get to the movie itself. The film stars Arlo, a young sauropod dinosaur who is the youngest and smallest member of his family. Yeah, this ‘runt of the litter’ type of main character is something we’ve seen in several family films before (especially family films) so I can see why some people feel this movie is a bit derivative. But personally, I really like the direction they went with Arlo. Remember that when the film was first in production Arlo was supposed to be an adult, but this was changed when it was felt that the audience would feel more sympathy for a child who was all alone in the wilderness. Now, I’m just speculating here, but perhaps the earlier drafts of the film didn’t quite give enough reason for us to care about Arlo, so his character was completely redone. Despite a young sauropod being alone in the wilderness being quite similar to The Land Before Time, I have a feeling the change was for the better. Than again, I didn’t read the original script, so IDK.

The sauropods are shown living as farmers in an agrarian sort of lifestyle. Now, another common criticism this movie gets is that the movie doesn’t take advantage of the idea it is trying to sell; the question of what would happen if dinosaurs never went extinct. I’ve seen some reviews just straight up say that this movie could have just taken place in actual dinosaur times and nobody would be able to tell the difference. What do I say to this criticism?

HAH!

First off, I think when people first heard the synopsis for this film they pictured dinosaurs evolving into making grand civilizations or talking on cellphones or stuff like that, and the fact that the dinosaurs didn’t develop to that level felt like a waste to them. But one of the reasons I love this film so much is that the way it shows how the dinosaurs and the world have changed since the Mesozoic is very clever and often quite subtle. It doesn’t spell out the differences to the audience, but when you look for them they are there.

First off, we have to remember that the talking dinosaurs in this movie aren’t like the talking animals we see in other Pixar movies (Finding Nemo, Ratatouille) where animals only talk amongst themselves and humans can only hear incoherent squeaking or squawking. These dinosaurs are fully sentient in every sense of the world, on the same level as modern humans. They build structures, have customs, and are on the top of the world intelligence wise. The fact that they have mastered the concepts of agriculture, ranching, and construction shows that they are not ordinary dinosaurs.

But there are also clues in the environment depicted. The world the characters inhabit looks very much like modern day Western North America, not the North America of the Mesozoic. Many of the animals also seem a bit more modern. We see both mammals that wouldn’t look out of place in the time of dinosaurs but also pretty modern looking foxes, gophers, and of course the bison. Plus, it seems like evolution took some twists and turns that it wouldn’t have done if dinosaurs went extinct; such as the large insects and the four legged vipers. But most of all, the fact that humans exist in this world show that this film took advantage of the concept it was going for. The idea of this film gave us the opportunity to have a dinosaur and a human boy be friends without science geeks like me crying out ‘humans and dinosaurs never lived at the same time’! Come on guys, one of the main characters was a human being! Did people just not notice that?

The-Flintstones-007

Or did they think this movie took place in some weird Flintstones type universe?

So yeah, this movie doesn’t go with the idea that if dinosaurs never went extinct they would create cities and futuristic technology. Anyone could think of that. Pixar once again took the road less traveled and decided to take this opportunity to create a dinosaur movie that is, of all things, a western.

A dinosaur movie.

That’s a western.

Do you know how absolutely rare that is?

valley_of_gwangi-narrow-300x0

OK, it’s not unheard of, but have you ever seen it done well?

Anyway, so Arlo, being the smallest and weakest of his family, is constantly bullied by his siblings and feels insignificant in return. His father, surprisingly, is actually quite supportive and patient with Arlo and that right there is basically a death sentence.

5657d6632100004a005abb91.png

You see, if you’re a father figure to a disappointment of a son, your story line is going to go one of two ways. Either you’re a jerk who can’t understand why is offspring is so incapable only to learn his lesson by the end of the film when said offspring goes off to do something amazing, or you’re wise and understanding and overall a loving father, meaning you have to die so the main character can have some believable motivation/much needed drama. So yeah, spoiler alert, the father dies, and it’s painfully obvious. He’s a cool and likable character, but just like Mufasa, that brings him to his ultimate downfall. Jerks have to stay till the end of thew movie so they can learn their lesson (dying after that is optional), but good father figures have to act as martyrs so their wimp of a son can have some much needed character development. It’s the male equivalent of being ‘stuffed into a fridge’ (look it up).

But yet, I still think it really works.

Many people criticize this part of the film as being emotionally manipulative and expected from a Disney/Pixar film, thus loosing it’s intended impact. And yes, both Disney and Pixar have pulled of this stunt in family films several times before. But I don’t think the scene itself is handled any better or worse than what others have done before it.

One of the criticisms of Pixar is that their films have become emotionally manipulative, trying to make us feel emotion instead of having them come out of us naturally. Personally, I think that is just a side effect of time. I don’t think Pixar movies today do any more or any less emotional manipulation than the Pixar movies before them. We as an audience have just gotten more accustomed to seeing it, the novelty isn’t new anymore. Imagine if Finding Nemo came out today instead of a decade ago. The first scene where Marlin’s wife gets killed by the barracuda probably wouldn’t be the tear jerker like it was back then, but instead be painted as another example of fake emotion by critics. Think about it, we don’t really get to know Marlin’s wife as a character, we don’t get the chance to become attached to her. Really, her death could be seen as just a way to get out some cheap drama for the first act. But back in 2003, that kind of dark material was still kind of surprising to the audience, even with movies like the Lion King that came out a decade before it. Now it’s kind of expected. Or at least, it doesn’t hold the same impact. But really, all film making is at it’s core is emotional manipulation. When you’re making a movie, you’re doing it not only to make money or to tell a story but because you want your audience to feel a certain way, whether that be sadness, happiness, laughter, terror, or so on. And in writing scripts and filming scenes, you are painstakingly working to make sure your audience feels those emotions. Really, if a movie fails to make you feel anything, than it has failed as a movie. I know I end of disliking movies that made me feel nothing over movies that made me angry or got me offended. Pixar is an expert at making it’s audience feel, I guess movie goers nowadays just see it as an expected thing.

Than again, it makes sense that people are talking about emotional manipulation in Pixar films when their last movie was actually about emotional manipulation.

Inside-Out.jpg

Literally.

So, Arlo’s father dies in a freak flash look while helping Arlo complete a job. You see, Arlo was tasked in capturing and ultimately killing an unknown creature eating their food reserves for the winter, and this job was supposed to help prove Arlo’s worth in the family. This creature, which turned out to be a human child (but the dinosaurs just see it as another critter) ran off before Arlo could do the deed and his father went to help try an catch it. So you see, Arlo feels guilty in himself as being the cause of his father’s death since he couldn’t complete the job, but he also blames the human itself. Later, the human kid returns to steal more food, and Arlo chases it in anger. In doing so he accidentally falls into a raging river and his drifted miles away from his home, stranding him in the middle of nowhere.

how-the-good-dinosaur-fits-into-the-pixar-theory-742610.jpg

Now, let’s take this moment to talk about Spot, the human boy. Now, kid characters in family films can be kind of hit or miss, so I am so happy to say that Spot is one of the best things about this movie. The twist of this story is that Spot doesn’t act like a normal human boy but instead like a dog, and everyone knows that dogs in movies automatically get sympathy from the audience. But Spot is more than that. He can’t speak, so he has that silent likability that a dog character would have, but since he’s human he’s a lot more emotive, so you can still get a good sense of his personality. Spot is mischievous and a bit of a prankster, but overall he’s curious. Despite Arlo’s initial hostility, Spot continues to watch over him. He even tries to give Arlo food, but the first couple times he didn’t realize Arlo was a vegetarian and continued to give him meat (in some ways more disgusting than others). Eventually, Arlo and Spot learn to depend on each other, and as the movie progresses a very natural love between the two is shown. Arlo and Spot’s relationship together truly is the heart of the movie, and some of my favorite scenes in the entire movie involve these two (one being the scene where they both explain to each other the fate of their dead parents, and the scene where they get high together after eating some fermented fruit that comes literally the frick out of nowhere).

arlo-and-the-pet-collector-in-the-good-dinosaur.jpg

On their little adventure, Arlo and Spot run into a few colorful characters. One of which is Forrest Woodbush, a lone ceratopsian who collects animals as spiritual protectors. Although this character only appears for a few minutes, he makes an impression. This guy is hilarious!!!

 

635832148136590263-thunderclap-exc.jpg

The main antagonists of the film are a group of pterosaurs lead by a Nyctosaurus (?) named Thunderclap. Now, I have quite a few things to say about these guys.

OK, so it is basically shown that dinosaurs and only dinosaurs (and perhaps humans) evolved to attain sentience. All the other animals shown act like normal animals would. So, why can the pterosaurs talk? Pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs. They aren’t biologically linked together beyond sharing a common ancestor. Pterosaurs should just be another animal in this world, but for some reason they happened to develop intelligence as well. What makes them so special? Does this mean all archosaurs attained intelligence? Can crocodiles talk to? Why can’t the birds talk then if birds are nothing more than super advanced dinosaurs? Did they loose intelligence somewhere along the line? Those chicken things at the beginning of the movie had hands and a bony tail, they were basically Oviraptors! If the raptors in the movie can talk so should those birds!

OK, now let’s talk about accuracy. I didn’t really bother with this earlier because the dinosaurs are so stylized and exaggerated it would just be pissing in the wind to bring it up, but it seems whenever pterosaurs are involved the stakes seem to get much higher. You see, the pterosaurs in this movie aren’t actually that bad. I mean, sure, they exhibit classic Ptero-Soarer cliches, but the way they walk and move around really feels natural with their anatomy, something that can look very awkward in some pterosaur reconstructions. But a lot of people bring up the fact that the pterosaurs have eagle like talons and that lead Nyctosaurus has claws on his wings, even though said genus is quite notable for lacking those. Personally, I have the head canon that the pterosaurs of this world evolved talons in order to compete with the growing bird population and remain the true lords of the sky, effectively taking up the niche eagles and vultures would have filled in their absence. This is supported by the fact that these characters are depicted as ruthless hunters. As for the Nyctosaurus hand claws, I don’t think Thunderclap is actually a Nyctosaurus, but instead just a pterosaur that evolved a similar head crest. I mean, you have to remember that the actual head crest of a Nyctosaurus was much more…..exaggerated in real life.

Thunderclap_1.png

Here’s Thunderclap…

170px-Nyctosaurus_mmartyniuk.jpg

And here’s a Nyctosaurus. It’s not often a dinosaur movie tones down an unique feature.

OK, OK, I’ve done my science ramble. How are these guys effective as characters? My personal opinion? Pretty damn effective. They initially come off as quite friendly if not a little eccentric, professing some strange religion  that deifies the weather. And initially they have no desire to hurt Arlo, and sincerely promise to help him find his way home. But when they show a desire to eat Spot, that’s when it hits the fan. These guys become mercilessly deranged, and their devotion to their weather cult just adds another layer of uncomfortable. Steve Zahn’s performance as Thunderclap also masterfully switches from comedic to terrifying.

download (73).jpg

Thankfully, Spot and Arlo are saved by a family of tyrannosaurs. Of course, whenever you see a T. rex in these kinds of movies usually it’s followed by the main characters screaming and narrowly escaping being eaten. However, not only are these Rexes given speaking roles, but they are legit good guys. It seems that while the herbivorous dinosaurs evolved to become farmers, the carnivores became ranchers raising long horn cattle (actually bison). I think this is an awesome way to show how the dinosaurs have changed, as I can imagine carnivorous dinosaurs now being uncomfortable preying on fellow sentient species.

the-good-dinosaur.jpg

Now, these tyrannosaurs really bring home the fact that this movie is actually a western.  They’re essentially cowboys, they’ve got thick American accents, even the way they move is meant to mimic the way a rider on his horse moves. It just really amazes me that this is the direction Pixar decided to go with in this movie, but I’ve got to say I love it. These characters I find incredibly endearing and likable, seven year old me would be quite happy with this (I always wanted to see a T. rex character that was a good guy).

raptor.jpg

Now, if you’re in a western herding cattle, then cattle rustlers aren’t far behind. And in this movie, they take the form of hillbilly raptors.

Of course, these days whenever you talk about raptors you have to mention whether they are feathered or not. And surprisingly, the film decides to actually add some. Granted, the feathers have that ‘glued on’ look to them that doesn’t look quite natural and their bodies and forearms are still proportioned more or less the same way they are in Jurassic Park. So yeah, they still aren’t great despite the feathers, but in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting them to be. With the other dinosaurs in this film being so cartoony as a visual choice, I kind of think it’s too much to ask for scientifically accurate dromaeosaurs.

 Now, the final act of this film I find to be quite exciting. With the help of the Tyrannosaurs, Arlo and Spot finally find their way home, but along the way, they find what looks like another human. Spot seems to recognize them, but against his better judgement, Arlo leads him away from the person. You can now tell that Arlo just can’t bare the thought of loosing his best friend, even though he knows deep down it’s probably for the best.

But on the way home, a storm once again brews up and the pterosaurs from before snatch away Spot. While trying to save him, Arlo get’s knocked out and begins to hallucinate his father’s presence. In an incredibly well done scene, Arlo slowly begins to realize what he thinks is his papa isn’t real and has to abandon it in order to save Spot. The scene is gut wrenching and full of emotion, one of the saddest scenes in a Pixar movie in my opinion.

Arlo gets back up and finds the pterosaurs, and he knocks them into the flooding river, presumably killing them. Heck, he even tears through the skin of Thunderclap’s wing when throwing a piece of wood at him. You know, I’ve seen some contradictory statements made about this movie in some reviews. Some say the film skews a bit young, while others say this movie is too dark for small children. I have to say I agree with the latter. Despite the cartoony animation style of the characters, the stakes in this movie are definitely high, and you can feel it. Death is addressed, and strong thematic emotions are felt throughout. This film earned it’s PG rating, which is especially strange since we live in a world where Frozen is rated PG.

So Arlo defeats the pterosaurs, but Spot is swept away in the rapids. Then, the whole valley begins to flood in the same way it happened when his father died. Here, Arlo has to face his greatest fears to save someone he loves, and in an absolutely exhilarating series of events, Arlo saves him. Yeah, in the grand scheme of things the whole thing is pretty predictable, but the way the scene is done almost makes you forget that. It even has a cliche waterfall at the end of the river and yet you still feel invested. The danger just felt so real, it really felt like these two characters could actually die even though the rational part of your mind knows they won’t. I think it’s just a testament to just how great storytellers the Pixar staff are.

So the movie ends with Arlo and Spot returning home, only to see that family of humans again. Arlo, now much more mature after the experience, knows that it’s the right thing to do to return Spot to his family (but not after a classically drawn out and tearful goodbye is given to us). Arlo returns to his home a stronger man, is greeted happily by his family, and finally gains the respect he so desperately wanted but has finally earned.

Guys, I love this movie.

Like, I really love this movie.

Yeah, the characters may feel familiar and the story line has been done before, but Pixar still got something familiar and turned it into something great. The animation in this film is great, the backgrounds being some of the most realistic CGI I have ever seen. And even though the characters aren’t designed realistically, they still move with a realistic weight that is very noticeable (especially in the father character and the tyrannosaurs). I personally enjoyed this more than Inside Out, and I think it is a wonderful addition to the Pixar resume.

But not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am.

This film has a surprisingly low score on Rotten Tomatoes; a 77% last I checked. Remember that Pixar film review averages are usually in the 90’s, and other Pixar films with this low a score include the fairly forgettable Brave and ….shudders…Cars. For me, this film was easily a B+. But a lot of people just can’t seem to get past the strange visuals and the overdone plot.  And sadly, this is being reflected in the ticket sales.

This movie was expensive to make, partly due to the advances in the animation and also because the film kept on getting delayed and reworked. In fact, it ended up being one of the most expensive films of all time. It’s been estimated that the movie has to make $500 million just to break even! That’s a tall order for any movie, but usually Pixar is up to the task. Sadly, it doesn’t look like The Good Dinosaur is going to make half it’s money back, let alone make a profit. It looks like this will be the first Pixar movie to actually loose money. And usually, that’s not that big of a deal in the long run. Other successful companies have made several expensive movies that lost money (this was the financial situation at Disney for most of the early 2000s), but usually the just bite the bullet, quietly ignore the failed movie, and move on. But when you have the kind of track record that Pixar has, where every single one of their movies has been a smash hit, people aren’t going to forget so easily. Sadly, I think this movie is going to go down in history as the first Pixar movie to flop, and that may be all it’s remembered for. But there’s so much more to this movie than that. I saw this movie in a packed theater, and everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. The people who like this film will remember it, and the ones who don’t will just quietly forget. But personally, I loved this movie to bits. I encourage you to support this film, and see it for yourself if you haven’t already.

Welcome Writing Class!

Hey guys, welcome to my blog When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind! I hope you guys like what you see.

For my regular followers who might be confused by my recent posts, all of that was the result of a project I needed to do for my writing class. It also explains why I haven’t been posting my regular content as of late. Don’t worry, that should be coming fairly soon.

For my class, I just want to talk a little bit about my writing style. If you look over my blog, you may notice that nature is one of the prevailing themes running across my writing. Humans to me have always been kind of boring, or at least somewhat hard to write about. But animals always interested me, and I find them much more compelling as subjects for my writing. Pretty much every one of my favorite pieces involves nature in some way, shape or form. That was one of the reasons I created this blog in the first place; to share my love for one aspect of nature that some people forget about; paleontology.

I had a really fun time in this class, and I feel it really helped me improve in my own writing. If you guys like what you see, stick around if you want. It would be greatly appreciated.

First time Writing Poetry (For my writing class)

Politics

The world is ran by idiots.

Some people like to say.

The world is ran by geniuses.

Some people hope and pray.

The world is ran by people.

I say to you today.

And people act like people.

To some of our dismay.

 

The Aye-Aye

I eye the aye-aye

Sitting in the tree

I spy the aye-eye

The aye aye’s eyes on me

Ask ‘why’ the aye-aye

Is this what you must be?

He eyes the aye-aye

But doesn’t want to see

Die, Die! The aye-aye

Alive you must not be

Why, why? The aye-aye

Thinks once he is free

 

I try, in my eye

To see what doesn’t he

His lie

The aye-aye

Should sit upon the tree

 

 

Masai Mara Chapters One and Two (For My English Class)

(This blog is not for profit. All copyrighted images belong to their respective owners and are used for review. New to the blog? Start on the introduction.)

https://whendinosaursruledthemind.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/introduction-remember-dinosaurs-theyre-different-now/

Chapter 1

Linku looked intensely at what lied before him. Several weapons were laid out on the floor; a sword, a dagger, even throwing stars. And ahead of him, dummies made from straw. They struck menacing poses, wearing armor and holding weapons like a warrior in battle would wield. But that menace was merely a front. They lacked something vital; they weren’t alive. Linku used to think training with these dummies was adequate, but now he saw it as a hindrance. He never fought an actual being.

  ‘Forget that’, he thought to himself.

  ‘What you do now is all that matters’. 

The young lion looked once more at the lifeless stand-ins. He then looked down at his weapons. He picked up the sword, looked for a moment at the lustrous blade, set his sights on the targets in front of him, and ran towards them. For a split second, the pleasure of adrenaline surged through his body. The sword was his favorite weapon. He knew just the right angle he needed to attain the most damage. He knew the weak points in the armor, and how to exploit them. In theory, he seemed like a perfect fighter. But anyone can kick the head off a man made of straw.

Linku then looked up at what he accomplished. The dummies lied everywhere, dismembered and decapitated. It’s something he’s done countless other times. But only now does he really contemplate what it represents: the taking of lives, and the risk of his own.

“Nice work” said a voice from behind.

Startled, Linku grabbed his throwing stars and threw them towards the voice. The lion before him grabbed the weapon in mid-air, inches from his face. It was his father; N’Daku, the King of Masai Mara. He had a large presence, intimidating even to the toughest of facades. His mane was thick, proof of his royal blood. Linku’s mane had only just begun to grow, and was nowhere near the grandeur of his father’s. Although the King normally wore extravagant clothing, he came before Linku shirtless, further revealing his intimidating strength. His body was covered in scars, permanent reminders of his past in battle.

It was then Linku realized he almost killed his Dad.

The King of Masai Mara.

“Father! I didn’t see you there! I am so sorry!”

Linku continued to apologize profusely, flustering his speech with ‘uh’s’ and ‘um’s’. His father then cut him off.

“Save it” he said in his thunderous voice.

“How, how long were you watching me?” Linku questioned.

“Long enough” he replied. ‘I see you’re doing some good work, but your throwing arm could use some work. That throwing star should be embedded in my skull.” Linku chuckled awkwardly.

“I’m not sure how to respond to that” he replied. His father chuckled back, easing the tension.

“Come son” N’Daku ordered. “I want to talk to you about something.”  He led Linku to the middle of the courtyard, located just outside his extravagant castle. This was where Linku usually came to train. In the middle of it was a huge fountain, depicting in stone several of the past kings: Linku’s grandfather, his great grandfather, and his great-great grandfather. He was the founder of the kingdom, the first to rule the great land of Masai Mara. Linku and N’Daku sat upon the edge of the fountain. After a good thirty seconds, N’Daku began to talk.

“Son, I can tell you are feeling…apprehensive…about what lies ahead.”

“What?! I’m not apprehensive” Linku denied. ‘I am becoming a part of something important, something that so many others wish they could be a part of.”

“Linku, I’m your father” N’Daku began. “I can tell when something is wrong. When I was watching you train, I could see there was something different in the way you composed yourself. It was something in your body language. Are you having any doubts?”

Linku began to think to himself. He knew he was having some doubts, but were they really more than any other his age would feel in this situation? Still, Linku knew that something was bothering him, and the longer he kept it in the worse he knew he would feel.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to fight in battle” he started. His father just looked at him for a moment, showing no emotion. After a bit of time, he spoke.

“I understand how you feel. I remember when I was your age, going through the motions just like you. I was scared then too, I think anyone in this situation would be. But important things tend to be frightening.”

Linku turned his attention to the fountain, pondering over the statues of his ancestors. Each one of them went through the exact same thing. Linku was at the precipice of adulthood, preparing for the time he would one day be king. But in Masai Mara, a king was expected to do much more than rule from a secured throne room. A king was expected to take action; a king was expected to fight for it’s kingdom. And that meant going into the front lines.

No other kingdom expected it’s royalty to risk themselves in such a way. But Masai Mara valued the leadership skills of one who could command in both the castle and on the battlefield. So, for his entire life, Linku had been training. Preparing for the time he must answer the call of his duty. Whenever that may be…

“….This is a very important time for you” continued N’Daku. Linku realized he hadn’t been listening to what his father was saying. He lost focus with everything he was thinking about.

“Linku, are you listening?”

“Sorry father” Linku replied. “I just got lost in my thoughts.”

“Go on” N’Daku persuaded. Linku hesitated for a moment, but realized he needed to get this off his chest.

“I’ve felt so sure about this my entire life,” Linku began hesitantly. “I thought I was teaching myself to be a great warrior; a great leader. I can fight with these weapons, but I feel I’ve learned nothing! What I used to view as strength now mocks me with it’s uselessness!”

Linku continued to pour his heart out, sometimes close to the point of crying. His father usually interpreted these feelings as weakness and would forbid them. But now he just listened as Linku talked. No expression marked his face; he was very good at showing no emotion. But there was something else different about him. Unlike some of the other adolescent problems Linku faced in the past, N’Daku seemed to take this seriously. N’Daku may have forgotten the woes of his long ago youth, but the scars of this transition are still fresh in his mind. And now, he’s seeing them unfold before him in his own flesh and blood.

When Linku finally finished, N’Daku didn’t say a word. Linku waited for a response, but got none. Instead, his father got up, and walked out of the courtyard. Linku just sat there, overwhelmed with anxiety. Unable to understand what happened, he just sat with his head down.

A few moments later, however, N’Daku returned. And he wasn’t alone. Standing alongside his father were two creatures Linku didn’t recognize, a rhinoceros and a crocodile. They were both very strong, built like walls. And they were adorned in armor; the armor of a warrior.

“Come with us” N’Daku said. “Your training begins.”

“It begins?” Linku asked confused. “Then what have I been doing all my life?”

“Hah, that was just a warm up. It just kept you from getting soft.”

**********

Dreary from his lack of sleep, Fisi awoke as the sun coming through his window glared into his eyes.

  “And so begins another long and stressful day” the poor hyena thought.

He puts on his clothes, washes his face, grabs a handful of food for breakfast, and heads on his way to the castle grounds. He walks out the door, leaving his house behind. It’s a modest shack at best, big enough only for himself. Even then, it was much nicer than many of the furnishings this area had to offer. It was once a proud village, making money from its strong fishing community. The lake it was built near was once a bounty of life. Fishermen would capture their prey by the net, often having a surplus. But the recent droughts have affected this area greatly. For several years now, the rains have been increasingly inconsistent. There was once a clear ‘rain season’ and ‘dry season’. Now the line between the two blurs. It may rain once or twice a year, but none of it substantial. The lack of rain has made the lake waters recede greatly. To make matters worse, what is left of the lake has been filling up with thick, green algae. The fish have been choked out, and most have died. The fishermen are now lucky to get a single net full.

As he proceeds to walk toward the castle, Fisi continues to notice the droughts effects on this once great land. Once lush and green plant life are now losing their luster. Crops are increasingly harder to grow. He notices once profitable farm land reduced to dry ruin, much like his lake side home. People have been forced to move out and search for greener pasture, outside the boundaries of the kingdom. But the land outside Masai Mara is cruel and desolate. Whereas the drought has only recently hit this area, surrounding nations have felt it long beforehand. All that is left in those lands are starving nomads and thieves desperate for goods.

As Fisi walks through these failing villages, the townspeople look at him in disgust. He can see in in their eyes; their judgement, their resentment, it hits Fisi in his soul.

Suddenly, before he can even realize it, a clump of mud splatters across Fisi’s chest. Fisi looks down at the stain, appalled and speechless. He then looked up, only to take a clump of mud to the face. At this point, any remaining peace is broken. A crowd of villagers run towards Fisi, out to get a piece of him. It erupts into a full on riot, and soon the entire village is in on it. Dozens of creatures begin to engulf him, yelling out expletives and throwing punches. They see all this poverty as his fault; perhaps he’s not completely to blame, but they feel he’s not making anything better for them despite his position. Otherwise things would be different. What hurts Fisi most is that he knows they’re right. He doesn’t even feel the urge to defend himself.

Before too much damage is done however, the chaos is disrupted. Several tall wildebeests come into the crowd, holding the assailants back. They carry spears, and point them towards the still angry civilians. It takes a while to fend off all the aggressive rioters, but the wildebeests eventually gain back control of the area. They then tend to Fisi, who is lying on the ground battered but mostly unharmed aside from a few bruises.

They are his personal body guards.

“Is everything alright, Sir Fisi?” the head guard asked him.

“Yes, everything is fine” Fisi responded, still flustered from what just happened. The attack happened so fast he barely had time to comprehend it.

“I’m sorry we hadn’t come sooner” the guard apologized. “We were held back at the castle.”

“No, it’s alright” Fisi assured. “You’re here now, and that’s all that matters.” The guards then walked him the rest of the way to his destination.

As they get closer to the castle, the scenery almost changes entirely. The small, dilapidated villages have given way for lavish and expensive housing. Fisi could live here; he was paid more than enough, but he’d rather stay close to home. I doesn’t help that he feels he basically just fell into his job anyway.

In this part of the kingdom, he notices something else: the waste of water. Water that can grow crops and quench thirst is used for unnecessary fountains. Any little water there is seems to all come here; and for what? Just to keep things comfortable for the wealthy, and let the rest just wither away? No, he can stand it no longer. The injustice is too great. Those villagers were right to be angry. He may not have a lot of power, but the power he has must count.

“Fisi, my old friend!” exclaimed N’Daku. “Come on in!”

Fisi, now in the castle, has entered the king’s private quarters. They have been friends since childhood. When N’Daku was a young teenager, he ran away from the castle, afraid of his coming responsibilities. He found himself at the fishing district, where he met Fisi. He would eventually coax N’Daku to return home and face his commitments. Although no one else was able to break through to him, Fisi did. He noted very early on Fisi’s intelligence and maturity even at a young age. That always stuck out to N’Daku for some reason. At that point, N’Daku made a promise to himself. Whenever he became king, he vowed that he would personally appoint Fisi as a member of his royal council. He kept that promise.

“Yes, it’s good to see you too” Fisi responded as he extended his paw for a handshake. N’Daku instead grabbed him into a tight embrace. Fisi didn’t feel like hugging back, though.

“So, are you ready to go?” N’Daku asked.

“Yes, I believe I am” replied Fisi. The two walked down the hallway into an enormous room. There was a large table, almost taking up the entire space. There were five seats around it, and at the end were two extravagantly decorated chairs for the king and queen. N’Daku took his seat and Fisi took his, which was at the far end of the table. This was where the King, Queen, and Royal Council would discuss the welfare of Masai Mara and try to resolve issues within the kingdom. But it seemed like the drought issue was constantly being side stepped. Every time Fisi would try and bring it up, N’Daku would sway the conversation a different direction. This strange behavior always got Fisi thinking. Was he hiding something? Or was he hoping the situation would just fix itself?

Soon, the rest of the Council members came in, each taking their seat. There was Dondi, a giraffe, and Ashanti, an elephant. They are both so tall that most of the table’s size was devoted to them. Next to them was Sokwe, a gorilla. His presence is sometimes even more intimidating than N’Daku’s. His short temper may had something to do with that. And by him sat N’Kazi, a buffalo. He was the one Fisi had the most respect for. Out of all the Council members, he seemed to be the most level headed. He has even defended many of Fisi’s arguments towards the Council.

Then, coming out of the hallway was N’Nitsa, the Queen. She wore an elegant gown, flowing all the way to the floor. Her stance was firm and unmoving. Much like her husband, she had quite a presence that demanded respect. And when both step into the room, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Oddly enough, N’Nitsa didn’t have a royal background. N’Daku met her on the same trip he met Fisi. She grew up the daughter of a fisherman. Not having any sons, he would take the young lioness on his fishing expeditions even at a young age. This work gave her an unusual amount of strength, both physically and mentally. This strength attracted N’Daku. Although the males in the kingdom went through many trials and tribulations, the more privileged females seemed to be handed everything. N’Daku knew at a young age that he wouldn’t find a capable queen in that squalor. But it was in that small village that he found exactly what he was looking for. They were together all those years ago, and are still together now. N’Nitsa took her seat by the King. Now that everyone was here, the work was to begin.

“Gentlemen,” N’Nitsa began, in her elegant yet strong voice. “We have a few problems we need to talk about.” Fisi wondered about what unimportant topic they would discuss today.

“We need to talk about riots.”

This immediately got Fisi’s attention. A million questions fired into his head.

Is she talking about what happened to me this morning?

How did she find out so fast?

Are they going to blame me for the riots?

Are they going to punish the villagers, who honestly have the right to be angry?

Suddenly, N’Nitsa turned her attention to Fisi. She just looked at him, as if she was just waiting for a response.

Oh great, they’re going to blame this on me now.

“So, you know what happened” Fisi said to her. N’Nitsa gave him a chilling look before she responded.

“Your escort, the Captain of the Guards, told us about what happened this morning.”

Figures, should have known he’d say something.

Fisi looked over to the wildebeest, who was guarding the door to the Council Room.

Funny, I don’t even know his name. Does anyone know his name? It’s not important, only his title is needed. 

“I had no control over the situation” Fisi finally responded. “I walked down the normal path I take, and before I knew it, I was engulfed.” Fisi tried to determine the Queen’s intent. Was she trying to blame him? What point was she trying to get across?

“Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident” N’Daku stated.

“Indeed” Dondi interjected. “Just last week I was shopping in the market place when people started throwing rotten fruit at me.” Ashanti related an experience when she was attacked while just walking in the forest outside her house. While the other council members related similar stories, Fisi started to wonder why his incident was picked out in particular. Was he being singled out for his past outspokenness? Or was this particular riot just one too many?

“This has gone too far!” Sokwe yelled, infuriated. “We can’t even leave our own homes anymore!”

“I agree, Sokwe” N’Daku stated. “But we need to figure out just why these attacks are happening.” Fisi began to rise up.

“I can tell you why!” he said angrily. “It’s this accursed drought that we’re not doing anything about!”

“Watch your tongue” Sokwe warned as he slammed his fists on the table while letting out a huge snort.

“Sokwe, calm down” N’Daku told him. “Fisi, for the last time, there isn’t a drought. We have more water than we could ever need.”

“Yes, you have water. But outside the homes of the privileged, there is nothing.”

Fisi was right. The King’s castle was built in the middle of a large valley for a reason. Whatever water there was would find itself in the lowest parts. That’s why this area was so sought after. While other areas struggled with drought, this area always seemed fertile. This also seems to show how disconnected the Kingdom has become to it’s subjects. They seem blissfully ignorant of what happens beyond their precious castle walls.

“Fisi” N’Daku began. “You have been a good friend to me for a long time, but I cannot just ignore these frequent outbursts.”

“Perhaps he is right” N’Kazi interrupted. “We do have water, but if other areas are struggling what’s stopping us from sharing?”

“If they are truly in need of water, why don’t they just come here?” Sokwe asked. Fisi just shook his head.

“It’s not that simple” Fisi tried to explain. “Lakes are drying up. People rely on these bodies of water for their livelihood.”

“We can’t stop that!” argued Ashanti. “If they can’t make a living there, they should leave.”

“To where?!” asked Fisi. “These people have nowhere to go! They can’t afford to move where the water is, and leaving the kingdom is suicide. As bad as the drought is here, it’s ten times worse elsewhere.”

“So what is it you want us to do?” Dondi asked. “We don’t have the power to control nature.”

“No, you don’t. But we are a government, and we can control what we do from here.”

“If you have a solution we would love to hear it!” Sokwe snapped. Everyone looked to Fisi, waiting for an answer. After a second of thought, Fisi responded.

“I think we should let those in most need of help come and stay here where the water is.”

The council room erupted in argument. Everyone seemed to think it was a crazy idea.

“Order, order!” commanded N’Daku, trying to elevate his voice above the argumentative crowd. Then, he let out a thundering roar, the kind of roar only a lion could belt out. The Council fell into silence, giving all their attention to the King. “Fisi, that kind of plan would be impossible” N’Daku responded.

“No, not impossible. Only inconvenient.” That statement released gasps from the entire council room. Undeterred, Fisi decided to continue. “We don’t need everyone to move into this area. Only those most affected by the drought. There is adequate housing to suffice. And even if there isn’t, the wealthy should have more than enough room in their homes and food on their tables to share. Plus, it wouldn’t be for-”

“I’ve heard enough!” N’Daku roared. ‘I’m sorry Fisi. I thought you had more sound judgment than this. If you continue to speak out like this you’re going to have to give up your seat in the council and cut off your pay.”

“Why even have a council if you’re going to shut me up like this?!” Fisi then turns to the other council members. “Does our input not matter?” he asks. “Aren’t we a government?”

“No Fisi” N’Daku corrected. “I’m the government.” He then dismisses the Council members, and leaves.

And so ends a typical day of work for Fisi.

**********

Leaving the council room, N’Daku heads towards the courtyard to watch his son train. He finds him with Busia, the rhinoceros, and Kisumu, the crocodile. They are some of the strongest fighters the kingdom has to offer. They have both fought in wars, and lead armies in battle. For a future king and warrior, there are no better trainers.

“I want you to forget everything you think you know about fighting” Busia told Linku sternly. “All you’ve ever fought were still puppets. Try your fortune on a real creature.” He then hands Linku a bo staff. “Pretend it’s a sword” he tells him. “You know the spots on the body to hit. You know weak points in the armor. But do you understand living reaction?”

Linku looks at brute that stands in front of him. He stands at least twice as tall, and probably three times as wide. He carries a staff much like his. But the armor he wears is just like the ones on the dummies. So Linku knows what to do, in theory anyway. Linku lunges toward Busia, aiming his staff at his neck. But then suddenly, he finds himself on the ground. He’s pinned down at the neck with Busia’s staff, his strength impossible to overcome.

“You’re dead” he says in his deep voice. He then loosens his grip on Linku and sets him free.

“Well, I was right” states Linku.

“About what?” Kisumu asks.

“Well, I knew fighting dummies all my life would just be a hindrance” Linku answers.

“It wasn’t hindrance” corrects Busia. “You gained some valuable knowledge from that training. At least you actually know how to use a sword.”

“But it’s not just swords or spears you have to worry about” begins Kisumu. “There will be many opponents you will face on the battlefield. Many different species. And each have their own set of skills and unique weapons.”

“Kisumu’s correct” Busia starts. “A crocodile will often use his tail in battle. One swipe will knock an opponent off his legs, long enough to give the final blow. We rhinoceros’ have a naturally made weapon, our horns. Charging head first in a group of soldiers will take many down efficiently and lethally. “

“But that’s not all” warns Kisumu. “Buffalo and wildebeest also have horns. Leopards and cheetahs have speed and agility on their side. Gorillas and apes have both brains and brawns. Birds rain weapons from above. Snakes have venom. And a squadron of elephants are almost a sure win for an army.”

“But lions have weapons too” N’Daku added. “Although we may not be as agile as leopards or cheetahs, being feline gives us an inherit amount of speed. But that’s not all, we also have these.” He extends his paw, and retracts his claws. He then asks Busia to bring in a wooden dummy. With a single swipe, he knocks of its head. Splinters fly everywhere.

“Now ask a cheetah to do that!” N’Daku boasted.

Busia then brings in another wooden dummy. “Now you try” he says. Linku then goes up to the dummy. He looks at his own paws. They are big, but nowhere near as impressive as his fathers. He swipes, and becomes pleasantly surprised. He cuts it off as cleanly and as easily as his father did.

“Wow” Linku says under his breath.

“Wow indeed” Kisumu replies. “You have more strength then you realize.” Linku then takes a glance at his father. He has a look of approval on his face, even cracking a small smile. A feeling of elation overwhelms Linku. He feels like he’s accomplished something great. Not only has he proven his own strength, but he’s also made his father proud. But there was still much work to do.

 

Chapter 2

Fisi awakens to a knocking on his window. Still somewhat dreary, he gets up to see what the trouble is. At the base of his window stands a marabou stork; a tall, black bird with a bald reddish head. Fisi recognized this particular stork; he was used whenever letters and messages needed to be exchanged between long distances in a short time. And it would seem that is just what he is here for. In his claw, he carries a small note.

“I am sorry to awake you” the stork begins. “But the king has personally written this message and directed it to be taken to you straight away.” He hands Fisi the letter with his claw, and then flies off without another word. Fisi opens the letter to read the inscription. It states:

“Greetings Fisi. I am sorry to inform you at such short notice but it has been unanimously decided that it would be best that you do not attend today’s council meeting. We are sorry for the inconvenience, and you will be paid your regular wages for the day.”

‘What is this snake bile?’ Fisi thought to himself.

‘None of this adds up. They could have just fired me after yesterday. 

But no, they just don’t want me there today! 

They’re even paying me to not show up!

What are they up to? What’s so important; so secretive, that I can’t get involved?

Bitter with anger, Fisi resumes his normal routine and heads straight for the castle.

A piece of paper isn’t going to stop me.

Fisi took his normal route to the castle grounds, this time without any unwanted interruptions. However, once he finally made it to the wealthier neighborhoods, he noticed something strange about the inhabitants. Whenever Fisi would walk through this area before he would just see the local inhabitants happily going along their daily business, enjoying the fruits of their security. But something was different this time around. He couldn’t quite place it, but something was off about their body language. They seemed slightly disheveled, and their expressions gave off a sense of unease. Something wasn’t right.

After some time, Fisi finally makes his way to the castle doors. As he approaches them, he notices two wildebeest guards standing at the entrance. Guards protecting the entrance doors wasn’t anything unusual, but Fisi had a good idea why they where there this particular morning. Undeterred, he walks confidently towards the wildebeests, but unsurprisingly, he is stopped.

“I am sorry, Sir Fisi,” one of the guards says, “but I have been given orders to keep you off the castle property.”

“What’s the issue here?” Fisi questions. “Why am I not able to go to work?”

“Did you not receive your message?” the other guard asks.

“Oh, I did. And it didn’t answer a single thing. I deserve to know exactly what’s going on. now get out of my way.”

Sensing Fisi’s increased aggression, the guards solidified their stance. Fisi tried to push through them, but they stood firm. The wildebeests were quite large compared to him, and Fisi knew he had no real chance in besting them in strength. Despite how much it pains him, at that Fisi internally admits defeat. He cautiously backs off from the guards and prepares to head off in the opposite direction.

“At ease, soldiers” shouts a voice from afar. Surprised, Fisi turns around to see who made the command. It was the Captain of the Guard. “I order him to let him through” he states.

“Our orders come straight from the King” one of the guards responded. “Fisi is not to be seen on the premises.” The Captain looks back, undaunted.

“I am your Captain” he begins. “I order you to let him through!”

“Your authority means nothing over N’Daku” the other guard interrupts. “There is no point in resisting.” The Captain the looks straight into the eyes of the guards. They flinch slightly, feeling a bit uneasy.

“This Councilman must be at the meeting. The fate of this entire kingdom is at stake. Look around you! What this man says today may mean the difference between life and death, both for you and the ones you love.”

The guards are left speechless; they have no idea how to respond to that little rant. But after a moment of thinking, they relent and stand down. The two wildebeest open the castle doors and allow Fisi to enter.

“I heard you yesterday” the Captain said to Fisi as he began to walk into the building. “You need to be in there more than anyone else.”

“Thanks, Captain” replied Fisi, flattered by the Captain’s appreciation. Fisi moved once again towards the entrance, but before he fully entered, he stopped himself to ask of the Captain one last thing.

“Captain, please tell me, what is your name?”

The old wildebeest let out a small smile before he answered.

“Bulsumi.”

At that, Fisi continued on his way.

As he walked through the hallways, Fisi noticed that the other guards didn’t try to stop him. It didn’t take long for him to realize that Bulsumi must have already tipped them off of his coming appearance.

Good, at least somebody here is on my side. 

Fisi soon approached the entrance of the Council Room. He prepares to barge in, making a dramatic entrance. But something stops him from going inside. He decides he should wait things out, listen first to what they have to talk about. He cuffs his ear to the side of the door and eavesdrops.

The King, Queen, and Council members seem to already be in attendance. It was about mid morning, the normal time the meeting starts. He could hear them rustling around in their seats, ready to begin.

“Everyone, attention please” N’Daku announced. “We come here under trying circumstances. As you’ve noticed, our supply of water has severely dwindled. Fisi was correct about the drought, and now, it is affecting us.”

Fisi listens, surprised that N’Daku even gave him credit. Despite their varied points of view, he seemed to still respect him.

“But do not worry.” N’Daku continues. “There is still some water left. It’s not a lot, but with a bit of rationing, it will have to do.”

“How will the water be rationed?” Dondi asks.

“We are to ration it among the people who live in this area. They still have a chance. If what Fisi says is true, everyone else is beyond saving.”

At that moment, Fisi’s patience snapped. N’Daku flat out suggested that they are to save the rich and let the poor die. And the fact that he used Fisi’s own words to justify his claims just made Fisi sick. This was irresponsibility practiced at disastrous levels.

That was it.

Fisi couldn’t take it anymore. He decided to make his entrance.

BOOM!

The doors smashed into the walls of the Council Room. Everybody’s attention went straight to Fisi. When they realized who was standing at the entrance, their surprised faces turned into utter shock. N’Daku’s face however burned with searing anger.

“Fisi, I thought I made it perfectly clear for you to stay out of this!” N’Daku’s paws clenched deeply into his seat, trying to hold back his anger.

“Yes, you did make it clear, but given your past track record I found the situation would be almost apocalyptic if I didn’t show up. Hmm, seems I was right.”

“We had the situation under control” roars out Sokwe. “Your involvement only complicates matters”

“No” Fisi sneered out. “It seems you need me more than ever. Didn’t you hear your king? I was right, and you people chose not to listen. And only now, once you start feeling a bit of discomfort, you decide to act. But so far, it’s only that, discomfort. I’ve seen pain, desperation, suffering that went on long before now. And you, old friend, decided it was too hard to act.”

“There was nothing we could do!” N’Daku exclaimed. “When will you get it in your head, we can’t control nature! There was nothing we could give!”

“Nothing you can give?” Fisi inquired sarcastically. “What of your wealth, your land, your food?! You had more than enough to share with people. What do you think I do with my money? I don’t spend it on lavish housing or exotic foods; I give it to the people around me, the people who really need it. But my weekly pay isn’t enough to appease everyone. That’s why we need to work together, so we might have a chance to help everyone!”

“In case you didn’t notice, we’re not in a very prosperous position right now” replied N’Daku. ‘The little we have we need to save for those who still have a chance. At least until we can get goods from the other kingdoms.”

Fisi just rolled his eyes at that remark.

“I’m not sure the other kingdoms will be in such a giving mood right now, seeing that the drought is certainly worse elsewhere.”

“I believe he is right” N’Kazi interrupts. “Who would help us, we who started vicious wars against them in order to get this land? Kilimanjaro is probably in the same predicament as we are, and the people of the Kalahari hate us!”

“Not another word!” N’Daku commands.

N’Kazi lifts up his head like he wants to say something, but then just takes his seat. Although he has tried to defend Fisi several times in the past, he is more easily quieted down by N’Daku.

He’s easier to shut up.

Fisi starts to see that this constant back-and-forth arguing isn’t going anywhere. So he tries something different.

“N’Daku, we have been friends for a long time. Contrary to what it may seem, I do respect you, and I know you respect me. Maybe my original plan wouldn’t have worked. But there are still things you can do now. Keeping all the resources for the rich is completely unfair-”

“Do you think I don’t know that?! My hands are tied here! There isn’t enough water to go around-”

“Yes, there is” says N’Kazi.

Everyone’s attention turns from Fisi to N’Kazi now. N’Daku’s face looks like it’s going to explode with fury. But N’Nitsa’s face shows concern and confusion. She seems just as surprised as Fisi was.

“N’Kazi, I told you to be quiet.”

“I’m done being quiet! N’Daku entrusted me with this secret but I can hold it in no longer! The king has prepared for such a problem. The last time our monsoons hit hard, N’Daku entrusted me to lead a group to collect the access flood waters. We purified the water, and stored it at a secret location. There is plenty of water, enough for the entire kingdom if we ration fairly. At least enough until we can get some help from other kingdoms.”

Fisi was completed fixated on N’Kazi’s story, and only looked away once N’Kazi finished his explanation. Fisi then turned his attention to, N’Daku, who looked like he was about to explode. There was no way this was going to end well.

“Leave N’Kazi” N’Daku commanded. “You are fired.”

Fisi looked at N’Kazi’s face and saw many emotions running through it. Surprise, anger, frustration, sadness. But he didn’t say anything. He just bowed his head to N’Daku, and left the Council room. Fisi then turned toward N’Daku, furious at what just happened.

“I can’t believe you would do such a thing! Not only hoarding water in secret, but lying about it to all of us!” Fisi was right. By the looks on their faces, it seemed none of the council members seemed to know about this. Not even Queen N’Nitsa. It was just between N’Daku and N’Kazi. This got Fisi thinking though. N’Daku must have relied on N’Kazi a lot more than he thought to entrust him with that task. And the fact that he kept his mouth shut for this long was surprising. Also surprising is the fact that N’Daku didn’t have him executed for revealing that kind of information. Then again, N’Daku could have easily fired Fisi long ago for his many outbursts, yet still kept him. Despite the varying viewpoints, he sees the respect N’Daku has for them. Respect, but not much regard.

“I had to keep this operation a secret. Do you know what kind of panic we would have in our kingdom if they were to know about this? There would be riots on the streets, people on our castle walls demanding water. Chaos, anarchy, death even!”

“And they would be right to riot. The kingdom keeping things from them that they desperately need. What sane person wouldn’t be angry at that?! But who cares about the people?! The ones who look to the kingdom for the answers, hoping the king has them. But when he doesn’t, they just have to trust he’ll do what’s right. But beyond that, the people have no power. They are like toddlers looking to their parents to guide them. But if the parent can’t, what happens? They die!”

Fisi barely comprehended the words coming out of his own mouth, they came out so fast. But once his brain processed what he had just said, he came to a chilling realization. The people really are powerless. All they can hope is that the King, who’s only right to lead is that he was born into it, does what is best for the people. He can be a wise ruler, or he can be a bloodthirsty dictator. The people have no choice.

“You know what N’Daku, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t just sit here and watch thousands suffer and not do anything about it. I once thought that my seat on the Council made a difference, but obviously I don’t even have a say in matters.” Fisi then begins to walk out of the doorway.

“Where are you going?!” asks N’Daku.

“Where am I going? I’m going to make a difference somewhere. I’m going to help the people you were supposed to. Don’t bother sending me any more of your money. I quit.” And at that, he left.

N’Daku wanted to say more, but thought it would be best just to let him go. As he watched his once dear friend leave, he wondered if anything would ever be the same again.

He looked around the council room. All attention was now diverted to him. Their eyes locked directly at his.

“I know” N’Daku began. “We’ve lost two very important members just now. But I assure you, we can still make this work.”

N’Nitsa just gave him a chilling stare. She had the same look everyone else had. She felt betrayed. They all felt betrayed.

They were betrayed.

“Would you like to tell us about the water now?” N’Nitsa asks.

**********

“You idiot!” Fisi said to himself under his breath. He angrily paced around the forest on the outskirts of the castle grounds, a million thoughts firing into his head all at once.

No job, no money, no power.

No chance to make a real difference. 

They’ll evict you from your house.

No, they’ll do worse. They’ll run you off the kingdom.

If they don’t try to kill you first.

Oh Fisi, what have you gotten yourself into?! 

Ever more frustrated with the voice in his own head, Fisi let out an infuriated grunt and simply fell onto his knees.

“Fisi, is that you?!” says a voice from behind.

Fisi turned around swiftly, and saw that it was N’Kazi. The buffalo looks at the hyena, somewhat confused. Fisi tries to get a hold of himself, slightly embarrassed.

“Did you see all that, the…?”

“Yeah, I saw a little bit.” They both stood there motionless for a few seconds, waiting for the other to respond. Eventually, N’Kazi broke the ice.

“What happened there?” he asks.

Fisi wasn’t sure where to begin. So much transpired in only those few minutes; to Fisi they felt like hours. It seemed like everything that was bottled up in each person just decided to blow up there, leading to regrets in everyone. But Fisi had to tell N’Kazi something. So he began as best he could.

‘Well, after you left, I sort of quit.”

This set N’Kazi back a little. “You did what?”

“I quit, and they sort of fired me.”N’Kazi’s face then reeked in disappointment, not at all the reaction Fisi was expecting.

“You didn’t do this for me, did you?”

“Not entirely. You were only the breaking point. I’ve been frustrated with N’Daku for quite some time now. Yes, we were once great friends, and I was thankful that he gave me that position, but things changed as we got older. When times were good, we never bickered over policies or anything like that. But then this drought came along. I’ve seen the toil these people were facing long before it made his sheltered life uncomfortable.”

“He’s trying his best” N’Kazi defended. “The King has a lot on his plate, and he’s never dealt with a crisis like this before. People are pulling at him all the time, telling him to do this or do that. With thousands of people under him, he can’t please everyone.”

Fisi thought about this for a moment, thinking how N’Kazi could possibly defend N’Daku right now. But he had a point. N’Daku had never faced a problem like this before. He’s dealt with wars. Battle is what he knows. But being told from birth that ferocity is the only true mark of a king, is that all he understands? He can lead his kingdom against other nations, but can he save the kingdom from within itself?

“What made you come out like that? What made you tell the entire council what N’Daku told you to keep secret?” N’Kazi sighed, and then thought for a moment. A couple moments passed before he decided to say anything. But then, he began to answer Fisi’s question.

“When N’Daku gave me the task to collect the flood waters, I thought the idea was very sensible. I didn’t question it then, and I never did until today. He told me I was the only one he trusted to do the job. I was flattered, and I carried out the assignment without hesitation. It wasn’t until today when he said there wasn’t any water when I realized something. I understood why he entrusted me to handle the assignment. It was my willingness to obey. He told me this was just going to be between us. I never asked why, because I thought it didn’t matter. He knew I wouldn’t ask questions, and knew I wouldn’t dare tell anyone.”

“But you did.”

“Yes, I did, in front of everyone. And I lost my job because of it.”

“But you’ve defended me before. You’ve risked punishment for me!”

“But you would always continue your point. I would let him shut me up. But this time I couldn’t. There was just too much at stake.”

“Well, we both had a place on the Kings Royal Council. We had our chance to make a difference. And look what it got us. We’re jobless, broke, and we’ve got no political power whatsoever.”

Fisi and N’Kazi just stood there for a bit silent, contemplating the situation they were in. They had nowhere to go and nowhere to stay. Now they are just two ordinary subjects, at the mercy of the King’s next decision. Like toddlers with unreliable parents…

“N’Kazi, what are the king’s requirements in becoming ruler?”

“Well, in this kingdom, princes must master the art of battle first…”

“No. Look beyond that.”

“Well, it’s just bloodline. N’Daku’s ancestors settled this land, so it rightfully belongs to his family.”

“Exactly, we are at the mercy of whoever the next one in line for the throne is. The people don’t know how he’s going to rule the kingdom. He can be good, or he can be a tyrant. And the people can’t do anything about it!”

“What are you proposing?”

“Imagine a government where anyone can become leader, a government that doesn’t require you to be born into leadership. Think about it, anyone from anywhere can work themselves up to leadership.”

“And who would choose who becomes leader?”

“The people.”

“The people?”

“Yes, the people. The people need to have a say in how they are ruled. If someone works to become ruler, the population can vote whether they want that person to rule them. They aren’t just forced to obey some person whose only qualification to lead is birthright. “N’Kazi, although intrigued by the idea, didn’t take it seriously.

“Look, it’s a nice idea, but I can’t think of any kingdom that works that way.”

“Not yet, but it can.”

That statement caught N’Kazi off guard. He wasn’t sure what to think of what Fisi was insinuating.

“You’re not thinking…?”

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking!”

“You’re insane. What are you planning to do, overthrow the kingdom? Are you going to try and reason with N’Daku? You’ve already seen that’s not going to work.”

“Maybe not on our own, but if we get enough people behind us, N’Daku may be forced to listen to us. We need to gather some people, get this into their minds. He can’t ignore a thousand angry subjects.”

“It would be easy to ignore us if he has us all killed.”

“He won’t, I know. He respects us too much. But we have to do something. With the information you have, we can gather enough people to create an entire nation, if you would help me.”

N’Kazi still felt the entire idea was suicide, but Fisi brought up some very good points. And when the people lose all their water, a revolution would be inevitable anyway. At least give them a cause to stand behind. After much thinking, N’Kazi gave his answer.

“Yes, I’ll do it. I will help you.”

 

 

The La Brea Woman

(This blog is not for profit. All copyrighted images belong to their respective owners and are used for review. New to the blog? Start on the introduction.)

https://whendinosaursruledthemind.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/introduction-remember-dinosaurs-theyre-different-now/

My mother has said that she could count the number of generations that have passed since people have inhabited this land on her fingers, but the mark we’ve made on it already seems irreversible.

Mother tells me that her parents told her there was a time when this whole land seemed endless; the thought of fighting for food and land seemed impossible. But here we are, the last surviving members of our tribe, destroyed by another clan who seemed to only want our land.

I listen to the crackling of the fire, feeling its warmth protect me from the cool of the night. Mother lays across from me, asleep. We rest in shifts, with one always awake and alert. The reasons for this are many. Someone needs to make sure the fire stays alive; its heat is the only thing keeping us through the nights. But someone also needs to keep awake in case of danger. The things that can kill us out there are numerous. The tribe that killed my family could still be around. Fire gives away our location, but we can’t survive the nights without it. But as much as I fear man, Nature scares me even more.

There’s a reason our entire culture revolves around nature and the animals around us, man is so small compared to it. The fact that we have cockered even a part of it amazes me. I remember when the men of our tribe would go on long hunting trips, sometimes they would be gone for days. They would always return with something. Usually it was deer, peccary, elk, or antelope; other times it would be something as small as a few turkeys or fish. Other times we had something bigger; they would return with slaughtered bison from some of the longer trips. But sometimes, they would return with a slaughtered mammoth or mastodon. These rare successes lifted our people in celebration, with ceremonies going on for days on end. The elders would bring praise to Nature for the meal it provided, the hunters would recount tales of their hunts and the excitement of killing a mammoth. Everything from the beast was used; all the flesh was eaten, the bones were cut into tools and used to make shelters, and we carved ornaments out of their tusks. The whole process was an event, for simple man using only his wit and skills took down a beast strong enough to crush him in a single step.

But if there were creatures we respected more than the mammoths, it would be the predators we shared the land with. The boys of my tribe, when they reached a certain age, were tasked to venture out into the wilderness and take down a predator on his own. This rite of passage signified man’s dominion over nature, and proved our place as the apex predator. Many young men died, but several where successful. They would return to the village wearing the hide of the animal, and the creature they killed symbolized the man they would become. If he returned with a wolf, it meant he was a problem solver and a tactical thinker. A bear meant he would become a brave warrior. A lion would represent great wisdom. The beautiful markings of a jaguar hide symbolized virility, making that young man quite popular with the women of the tribe. But the most coveted trophy was the hide of a sabretooth. The sabretooth may not be the largest of the predators around us, lions and bears outclass it in size and weight, but it makes up for it in pure ferocity. No predator seems quite so eager to hunt and kill people than they are. Bringing one back to the tribe grants a man immediate respect.

I’ve never been on any such hunt. Only the men are to perform this rite of passage. Women are tasked in gathering food from the plants, not hunting live prey. My father, however, made sure my mother and I knew some pretty important things. He taught us how to fashion spears from rocks and wood, he taught us how to make a bow and arrow from simple things provided by Nature. But more importantly, he taught us how to use them. We’ve hunted and killed small game before; squirrel, rabbit, quail, that sort of thing. We already knew how to slaughter it; women were tasked in preparing the meat anyway. He taught us how to make fires, build snares to trap small animals; if it weren’t for his teachings Mother and I probably wouldn’t still be alive.

He died defending our home from the invaders.

I once again looked at Mother, who was still fast asleep. She had long black and grey hair, and two eagle feathers were braided into it. Condor feathers were braided into mine; they were a symbol of us being the family of the tribe leader. Father wore feathers from the great Thunderbird, the biggest thing in the sky. Nature shaped everything we lived for. Nature shapes everything we survive on. We are molded by it, constrained by it. We may think we own or have conquered some part of it, but Nature is always still in control.

Rustle…

  Something’s in the bushes.

Instinctively, I pick up my spear. Since we’ve been on our own, we haven’t run into any large animals, and this rustling doesn’t sound like a chipmunk. I hear a low, sniffing noise, like some animal is smelling the surroundings. We had caught an animal earlier today; a small rabbit, which we cooked and ate that evening. The smell must have attracted something. The rustling grows louder, and I am suddenly greeted by glowing yellow eyes as a dark figure moves closer into the light of the fire.

It is a wolf, greyish brown in color. Strangely, it looks a bit smaller than the wolves I’ve seen before. It’s not a kid, she’s clearly and adult, but it doesn’t look nearly as robust as the wolves men have brought back to the village as trophies. She continues to sniff the area around our camp, paying no real attention to me. I continue to keep my eyes on her.

“Mother, wake up” I whisper under my breath.

No response.

I kick some dirt her way, trying to get her attention. This sudden action perks the interest of the wolf, who suddenly lifts her head from the ground and terns her attention towards me. Mother finally begins to awaken.

“Kwila, what is it?” she mummers, still half asleep.

“Shh, it’s a wolf” I say to her, my spear still firmly in my hands.

This gets her attention. She raises her heads, and her eyes lock directly with the wolves’. All three of us stand still, waiting for one or the other to make a move. The wolf doesn’t act aggressively, she seems more curious than anything. But she won’t leave. She obviously wants something.

“Give it the rabbit” Mother says.

I look behind me, and I see the remains of the rabbit we slaughtered from earlier. Not much was left of it; mostly hide, bone, and marrow, but perhaps it was enough to satisfy this curious creature. I slowly lean towards the rabbit remains, trying not to startle the beast in front of us. Suddenly, she emits a low growl, possibly threatened by my movements. Without thinking, I throw the rabbit carcass her direction. It lands with a thud in front of her, and the wolf jumps back in surprise. I bite my lip in anticipation. The wolf then leans forward, sniffs the dead rabbit, and then carries it off in her mouth. She turns around and ventures back into the forest. Mother and I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Mother” I say softly.

“Yes…” she responds.

“It’s your turn to stand watch.”

 

*********

The La Brea Woman is a story about Kwila, a young Paleo-Indian woman who must learn to survive on her own in the wilderness of Pleistocene Western North America. Her father Twakumsah, leader of her tribe, was killed protecting his family from an invading clan. In the end, the only survivors of the attack were Kwila herself and her mother, Yana. The two end up trying to survive in the wilderness on their own, and eventually Kwila has to learn to fend for herself. Thankfully, Twakumsah taught his wife and daughter basic survival techniques, despite tasks such as hunting and fighting were traditionally taught only to the men of the tribe.

Paleo-Indians hunting Mastodon.

Stalking a herd of buffalo.

Men were taught from birth the way of survival, as they were expected when they grow up to take part in providing for the tribe; and back then that meant fighting against threats and hunting large game. Most of the time they would only hunt smaller creatures, but every once and a a while a buffalo, mastodon, or mammoth would need to be taken down for the good of the tribe. These hunts were long, arduous, and quite dangerous. So it was a big deal when the men were successful in taking one down.

The people of this story respect nature, in that Nature itself is their deity. The tribe celebrates after a successful hunt; praying to Nature for the food it has provided, as well as paying respect to the danger it holds. But the people pride themselves for conquering the wilderness every day they live, so much so that boys in the tribe have to prove themselves as valiant hunters as a right of passage.

Back in the Pleistocene, western North America had an ecosystem rivaling the biodiversity of modern sub-Saharan Africa. Strangely enough, this land seemed to also have an abnormally high density of carnivores. Inspired by an ancient African Maasai tradition of young men going out on their own to kill a lion as a rite of passage, I decided to write a similar ritual into the story as well. In this tribe, young men are to go out and kill a dangerous predator to prove themselves as men. But since there were so many different predators living in that time period, I decided it would be interesting to assign different meanings to which ever creature was killed.

 Dire-wolf2

Canis dirus, the Dire Wolf. This ancient breed of wolf lived in North America during the Pleistocene and was much bigger and more robust than the modern wolf.

If the boy successfully hunted a wolf, it was said that he would become a strategic and tactical thinker. This takes into account the pack hunting coordination that wolves do partake in.

ArctodusSimusReconstruct

Arctodus, the Short Faced Bear; the largest bear to ever live. Before grizzly bears inhabited Western North America, it was this beast that terrorized the plains.

If was bear was killed, it would signify the boy would become a brave warrior. This takes into account the bear’s raw brute strength and ferocious savagery, akin to a titanic man embraced in combat.

Panthera atrox, formerly known as the ‘American lion’ has since been discovered to be distinct from any modern big cat species. Was the largest big cat to ever live.

I had lions represent great wisdom, as several cultures in the past have painted lions as noble and majestic beasts.

2354269557_31c58ba3f5

Panthera onca augusta, the Pleistocene North American jaguar. Jaguars, now restricted mostly to the Amazon rain forest, once inhabited much of North America. They survived in the Southwest all the way up to modern times, and every now and again the state of Arizona reports a sighting.

Jaguars in this tribe represent virility, in other words it makes the man sexy and ensures his babies will be healthy. Honestly, I decided on this based on the fact that leopard print is used so much on lingerie.

Smilodon fatalis, the infamous Sabretooth Tiger. One of the most abundant carnivores of Pleistocene North America.

I decided to give the sabretooth tiger the highest of honors as being the most respected predator to the tribe. However, this was not due to the creature’s fame in modern eyes. Despite being smaller than the American lion and the short faced bear, it had a unique look that distinguished it from any other predator. Those large canine teeth must have really stood out, making it probably the easiest target for reverence.

Although those are the only predators I mentioned in the story, there were several others that inhabited this area that I didn’t have time to mention/couldn’t think of a gimmick for. There was a second species of sabretooth that lived in North America at the time called the scimitar cat.

Homotherium, the scimitar cat. Related to the sabretooth cat, but which less pronounced canines.

Despite it’s abnormally long teeth and being the size of a lion, I couldn’t think of that much that made it distinct compared to the other carnivores. Perhaps the tribe sees the scimitar as the sabretooths ‘little sister’?

6nd9-8u

Miracinonyx, the American cheetah.

A cheetah-like cat known as Miracinonyx also inhabited the plains and prairies of this time, but since the modern cheetah doesn’t really pose much of a threat to humans, I decided that this tribe probably wouldn’t find much pride in the successful killing of this creature. (Than again, it’s speed may make it difficult to capture, thus granting the hunter fast reflexes and wit?)

Mountain-Lion-0011

And yes, just like today, the mountain lion also roamed the American west. However, this cat is quite small in comparison to the other predators living at the same time, and I just couldn’t think of anything significant to symbolize it with. Of course, that isn’t to say that this animal won’t have anything to do with my story….

Kwila’s immediate family also symbolize their respect for nature by adorning themselves with the feathers of large birds of prey, something that symbolizes them as being the family of the tribe leader. Kwila wears the feathers of a California condor, a large bird of prey that once inhabited much of the American west but is now critically endangered.

 

Kwila’s mother Yana adorns herself with the feathers of a bald eagle, one of America’s most recognizable creatures.

The giant Woodward’s Eagle, one of the largest birds of prey to exist, fending off a dire wolf.

 The feather that Kwila’s father adorns himself with comes from what they call a ‘Thunderbird’, a mystical creature from Native American mythology. However, the feather actually belongs to a now extinct bird of prey known as Woodward’s Eagle. With a wingspan of close to 10 feet, it was one of the largest eagles to ever live. I like to think that a creature like this might have inspired those Native American legends.

The La Brea Tar Pits. Animals pictured include the sabretooth tiger, giant ground sloths, giant condors, and Colombian Mammoths in the background.

One of the major reasons I wanted to write this story was because a depiction of the wildlife that lived in America thousands of years ago  as accurately as I could. Most films that take place in the ‘Ice Age’ mixed together fauna that never lived in the same place or time in locations and environments they would have never encountered. I personally find the truth a lot more interesting, and good research can really add to a story’s credibility. I did much research on the wildlife that inhabited the American west around 15,000 years ago. I looked at the fossil records in places such as California, Texas, Utah, and Arizona. I also took a look at the wildlife that inhabits those areas now, as much of those animals would have probably been there several thousand years in the past as well. My best resource was probably studying the fossil records of the La Brea Tar Pits in Las Angeles. That fossil site has possibly the most complete record of the animals that inhabited that area during the Pleistocene, with fossils of giant mammoths and Smilodons all the way down to tiny rodents and insects. All the creatures I plan to depict in this story lived in the American West during the late Pleistocene. I want as few anachronisms as I possibly can.

The actual name ‘The La Brea Woman’ comes from an actual discovery of human remains discovered in the La Brea Tar pits from a young female Paleo-Indian; dubbed the ‘La Brea Woman’ by her discoverers. Her bones are the only human remains that have been found in those tar pits. However, her bones are carbon dated to be about 9,000 years old, 10,000 at the earliest. At this point most of the more interesting megafauna had already gone extinct. I decided to age her up by a few thousand years. putting in her a time when her people were among the first to settle North America and the great Ice Age beasts were still thriving. This is one of the few cases of artistic license I use.

The remains of this woman were discovered with the fossil of a domesticated dog, which got me thinking of another element I could add to the story. The wolf that shows up toward the end of the story actually shows up several times in my outline, and he may or may not form a companionship with Kwila.

I decided to describe him in the text as visually different from the other wolves Kwila has seen, being somewhat smaller and not as robust. That’s because the wolves Kwila is most used to seeing are the prehistoric dire wolves, while this wolf is actually an ancient version of the modern gray wolf that still roams parts of North America today. It is not known when the gray wolf first entered the Southwest, and it is thought that the dire wolf remained dominant in this region until their extinction 10,000 years ago. But dire wolves and gray wolves are both present in the La Brea tar pits fossil record, and it is possible that gray wolves slowly expanded their range into the dire wolves territory from the north into the south before the gray wolf took hold as the dominant species. Perhaps this is the first gray wolf Kwila has ever seen.

My purpose for writing this story is to immerse the reader into a wild and untamed wilderness, and make said wilderness as realistic as possible. Kwila’s story is that of a young woman rising up to prominence in a patriarchal society. In most stories like this, the girl has to prove her strength against a disapproving male. In this story, she mostly has to prove her strength to herself, being made evident by the mere act of surviving. She doesn’t need to say that she is as tough as any man, her actions prove that without words. Writing a character like this is extremely difficult, but it’s a challenge I am excited to take.

The La Brea Woman Screenplay

(This blog is not for profit. All copyrighted images belong to their respective owners and are used for review. New to the blog? Start on the introduction.)

https://whendinosaursruledthemind.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/introduction-remember-dinosaurs-theyre-different-now/

 

 

La Brea Woman Screenplay

 

SMASH CUT:

EXT. – OPEN FIELD – DAY

 

KWILA and her MOTHER stand on top of a hill facing opposite of the camera, surveying the field. Camera slowly pans over them, revealing thousands of animals herding together.

00-intro

Cut to camera facing Kwila and her mother. Both are holding spears, and they continue to silently overview their surroundings.

POV of Kwila looking over her surroundings, the camera now closer to the animals so we can see them in slightly better detail.

EXTREME CLOSE UP of Kwila’s face, only her eyes and nose are visible to the camera. She squints her eyes to look toward the distance.

QUICK CUT: Two bison ramming their heads together, snorting and kicking up dirt. Only their heads and front legs are visible.

p384127089-3

WIDE SHOT: The bison continue fighting, with their whole bodies and a few other members of the herd now visible to the camera.

EXTREME CLOSE UP of Kwila’s face, now we see her look slightly in a different direction.

LT_OUT_butlercolumn_elkfight_t670

QUICK CUT: Two elk ramming their antlers together in a similar fashion as the bison.

Cut to herds of striped horses and pronghorn antelope running across the field.

Columbian-Mammoths-1869638

Cut to three mammoths slowly walking towards the camera, emitting a low rumbling growl as they walk. A baby slowly plods besides the lead mammoth.

Cut to Kwila’s mother, now looking toward her daughter.

 

MOTHER

Do you see anything?

KWILA

Not yet.

EXTREME CLOSE UP of Kwila’s eyes, now looking slightly upward.

Cut to a condor soaring overhead, leading to several other condors and vultures circling in the distance. Kwila points toward the direction of the circling birds.

KWILA

There. That’s where we need to go.

MOTHER

What do you see?

KWILA

Vultures, circling in the distance. But they haven’t reached the ground just yet. Something’s dead there, and it hasn’t been dead for long.

MOTHER

Fresh kill, maybe?

KWILA

Wolf, lion, bear, sabretooth, there could be anything over there. Or maybe something just died randomly. Either way, it’s the first chance we’ve had for a good meal in weeks. I think it’s worth a try.

MOTHER

It’s risky. We aren’t the only ones out there looking for fresh meat. It could be dangerous.

KWILA

What about this hasn’t been dangerous?

BEAT:

MOTHER

Well then, that settles it.

 

Cut to close up of prairie dog, standing upright at the base of his burrow. He gives little chirps in alarm, warning the other prairie dogs to take cover. Other animals take note of the prairie dog’s warning calls, and begin to act uneasily. We see Kwila and her mother walk through the field, in close proximity to the herds of animals. Their presence continues to put the animals on edge, but none of the creatures approach.

Cut to shot of a condor descending from the sky and landing on the ground adjacent to a large mammoth carcass. Several other condors and vultures have already begun to land. The air is filled with the screeches and hisses of the squabbling birds as they prepare to devour the carcass.

Kwila and her mother slowly approach the deceased animal. Kwila takes a closer look, examining the carcass. There seem to be no noticeable lacerations in the flesh, nor any other sign of predation.

 

KWILA

Strange, it doesn’t look like anything killed it.

MOTHER

No claw marks?

KWILA

No, nothing like that. This mammoth is really big, I doubt anything would be able to take it down without some sign of a fight. I think it was just really old.

MOTHER

Well, at least we don’t have to worry about stealing some beast’s kill. Still, no use staying here longer than we need to.

KWILA

Agreed.

Kwila takes out her knife and steps closer to the carcass. By this time the condors have begun to overwhelm the body. Kwila tries to shoo away the large birds. Some of the smaller vultures fly off, but the larger condors remain persistent.

KWILA

Mother?

MOTHER

I’m on it.

Kwila’s mother lashes her spear into the air, yelling as she does it.

MOTHER

AAH! AHH!

The condors start to back off, giving an opening for Kwila to retrieve some meat from the carcass. She takes out her blade once more, and begins cutting out chunks of meat from the thigh of the mammoth. She places the pieces of meat in a sack, and before long she finishes.

KWILA

I think I have enough, mother. (BEAT). Mother?

Kwila looks up at her mother, who is looking off into the distance at the opposite direction. Her body is tense and unnerved.

KWILA

Mother, what is it?

MOTHER

Shush. (Whispers) Look over there.

Kwila looks toward the direction her mother is facing.

Cut to blurred shot of grass in the field. Camera focuses to reveal two sabretooth tigers moving their direction from the distance. The smell of the carcass has attracted them.

Kwila looks to her mother, a worried expression covering her face.

KWILA

(Worried) Mother, what do we do?

MOTHER

Stay still, keep an eye on them. They’ve already spotted us, no use running. Hold your ground, prepare to do what you must.

Kwila firmly grasps her spear, her body shaking but standing firm regardless.

The sabretooths move within feet of Kwila and her mother, but stop before they get to close. The sabretooths don’t make a sound, they simply stand there staring down the humans in front of them. Kwila and her mother remain similarly still, watching for any sudden movement.

EXTREME CLOSE UP of mother’s face, eyes staring intensely.

EXTREME CLOSE UP of the sabretooth’s amber eyes, no emotion can be read on them.

KWILA

(Impatiently) Mother, what now?

MOTHER

Kwila, first—

Suddenly, Kwila’s mother is thrown violently out of frame. Camera pans to see land on the ground several feet away with a harsh thud. A deep roar is heard.

Kwila looks up and sees a large bear atop the carcass, growling at her. Panic flushes over her face.

Cut to the sabretooths, who have taken notice of the bear and begin roaring back at it. They start swiping their paws in the air and move forward more aggressively. The bear takes notice of the big cats and reverts his attention to the sabretooths.

Kwila takes this opportunity to run down to her injured mother, whom is still lying on the ground. She is conscious, but not moving.

KWILA

Mother, are you alright?

 

MOTHER

I…don’t think so.

Kwila looks down on her mother’s lower half. There appears to be a large chunk missing. Blood flows from her abdomen to the ground.

KWILA

Mother, you have to get up.

Kwila’s mother tries to get on her feet, but struggles.

MOTHER

I…don’t think I can.

KWILA

I don’t care! You’re coming with me. NOW!

Kwila helps her mother onto her feet, listening as she grimaces in pain. Her mother puts her weight on Kwila, and she supports her as they stumble away from the carcass. The sabretooth and bear continue to fight over the carcass.

 

EXT. – FOREST – DAY

 

Kwila places her mother down on a bedding of soft leaves. Her mother continues to cry out in pain; the cries get worse as time goes on.

KWILA

You see mother, we made it. We got away. It’s going to be alright.

MOTHER

Kwila, please. Do yourself a favor. Stop lying to yourself.

KWILA

No, mother. We got out of there. We’ll figure things out later but all that matters now is that we’re safe.

MOTHER

You can’t carry me everywhere we go. It’s no possible.

KWILA

I’m strong, I can do it.

 

MOTHER

Oh, I know you are, my daughter. That’s why I know you can make it out there. Without me.

KWILA

Mother, please. (Sobbing) Don’t talk like that.

MOTHER

Kwila, listen to me. You are more than you think you are, and I am less than you think I am. You can make it out there on your own. You don’t need me anymore. You can’t afford to have me anymore. You have a lifetime ahead of you, I’ve lived my life already. It’s either I die, or we both die. There’s no other way it ends. And you know it.

KWILA

Then I’ll die to.

MOTHER

Kwila, you don’t mean that. Listen to yourself. Listen to me. You are our tribe’s legacy, not me, not your father, not any man or boy. You, and you alone. Prove to the world why that is. Keeping a dead woman breathing and killing yourself isn’t going to do that. You surviving, no ties to anyone, will prove it.

KWILA

I can’t just leave you.

MOTHER

You can and you will.

Kwila’s mother begins to severely cough. Blood dribbles from her mouth. Her breathing gets increasingly shallow and wet.

KWILA

No, I’m staying here. You can’t stop me.

Kwila’s mother doesn’t respond. Kwila notices as her mother’s body goes limp, and the life seems to disappear from her expression. Her mother exhales one single breath, and then silenced. Her breathing has stopped, and her body is now completely still. It takes a moment for Kwila to realize that her mother has died.

Kwila lowers to the ground and sobs.

 

*******

My first attempt at writing a screenplay, I figured the cinematic feel that this particular story had lent itself to to this format quite nicely. I knew I wanted to at least attempt writing a screenplay before the class’ end, and i’m glad I was finally able to do it.

At this point in the story Kwila and her mother Yana (who I hadn’t figured out a name for in the writing of the first draft) have been surviving on their own for some time now. They have gotten somewhat used to taking care of themselves, but that doesn’t mean the burden of survival doesn’t get to them anymore. We also see that Kwila, although a very capable person in her own right, still somewhat relies on her mother being there to help her (or at least another body). You can see this when she asks for Yana’s help in fending of the condors; she feels that each task needs at least two people in order to pull it off successfully.

Personally, the hardest part for me about writing this screenplay was probably the dialogue. The reason why the first story I wrote for these characters had few spoken words was simply because I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to make these characters talk. I originally started the story thinking it would be entirely made up of Kwila’s thoughts, but I felt that framing device was too restrictive once I got to the action. Even then, I had a hard time articulating her thoughts in a way that I thought was believable. Obviously they’re not really speaking English, the story just translates for us the approximate meaning of what they’re saying in their original language into something we can understand. But even putting that into consideration, I still feared making their dialogue too ‘modern’. There was even a point where I felt that they shouldn’t say any words with more than a few syllables.  Eventually, however, I felt that I had to get over this fear if I wanted to create characters the audience was going to care about. I decided I would make the dialogue somewhat modern but not in a way that was too distracting. I figured as long as I didn’t use any slang over overtly modern phrases than my audience probably wouldn’t mind. Besides, Disney’s Brother Bear got away with an Inuit character living in the last Ice Age saying the phrase ‘pinky swear’. I figured as long as I didn’t do anything quite that obvious, I should be fine.

While the last story mostly just talked about the different animals that inhabited Kwila’s world, this time we actually get to see them. I really wanted to make nature feel big; as if Kwila and Yana are among it’s smallest and most vulnerable inhabitants. I took inspiration from nature videos filmed on the African savanna, where scenes of several large species of megafauna congregating in large groups aren’t unheard of. Ice Age North America had a similar biodiversity, and I imagined seeing large herds of so many magnificent beasts would be an awe inspiring sight.

Some of the species I mentioned; such as elk, bison, and pronghorn antelope, still inhabit the plains of western North America today. However, their population back was quite larger, and in many cases the animals themselves were considerably bigger than they are today as well. There was even a breed of bison back then that had horns that would make a longhorn steer feel inadequate.

Imagine seeing that on the prairie.

However, other animals depicted aren’t nearly as familiar. The mammoths depicted in my story aren’t the famous woolly mammoths you’re probably thinking of. While during this time the Woolly Mammoth was living in the frozen tundra of the Yukon and Alaska, at the same time the Southwest was dominated by a different species: the Colombian Mammoth. The Colombian Mammoth, while related to the woolly mammoth, was actually bigger but a lot less hairy. Another species of elephant that lived in this area was the Mastodon, which biologically speaking was quite different from both the Colombian and the Woolly mammoth. It had different kids of teeth and was quite a bit smaller. It is thought that the mastodon lived in more forested areas while the mammoth preferred open plains.

The Colombian Mammoth and the Mastodon, two elephants of the American West.

Equus giganteus

The ‘striped horses’ mentioned in the script could refer to one of the many species of wild horses that roamed North America at the time, including the Western Horse, the Mexican Horse, or the American Zebra. Although we aren’t sure of exactly the coat pattern these animals had, many paleoartists like to portray them as at least somewhat striped like the African zebra, which is a look I myself enjoy.

Sabretooth tigers attacking one of these ‘striped horses’.

I went back and forth as to whether or not I wanted to add prairie dogs into the story, as these creatures aren’t found in the La Brea Tar Pits fossil beds. They are found, however, in several neighboring states such as Arizona, Utah and Texas. I figured that the story doesn’t necessarily have to take place in the area the La Brea tar pits hales from, as it could just take place in any random place in the American Southwest. Besides, these creatures have so much personality and are such an iconic part of the American prairie ecosystem that I just couldn’t leave them out.

The kinds of carrion birds that were attracted to the mammoth carcass I also tried to make distinct. The ‘smaller vultures’ mentioned refer to the turkey vulture, a bird that still exists today in large numbers and is probably America’s most common scavenger. However, during the Pleistocene, this bird had some stiff competition.

 

The condors mentioned in the story include both the California condor as well as the now extinct Teratornis. This large species of condor even dwarfed the California condor in size, making it one of the largest flying avians to ever exists.

When the sabretooth tigers arrive, this actually marks the first time Kwila has ever had to face this particular creature. I wanted to make sure that they’re arrival would be especially nerve racking. However, I didn’t want them to immediately attack roaring and growling. I wanted there to be a sort of stand off between them. By this point the tigers are aware of human’s existence, as sabretooths have been killed by people before. I imagine they would be a little unsure about the human’s presence as well. So instead of an all out attack, the tigers and the humans kind of size each other up, waiting for one or the other to make the next move. Still, it turns out the real danger is actually behind them.

Kwila’s mother is attacked and ultimately killed by a short faced bear, the largest predator in North America at the time. It, along with the sabretooths, was attracted by the smell of the dead mammoth carcass. Fallen animals usually attract predators and scavengers from miles around, and this sometimes causes conflict between the animals. Usually predator on predator conflict is rare, but when food is involved in an area with such a large carnivore density, interactions are bound to happen from time to time.

The story ends with the death of Yana, Kwila’s mother. At this point, Kwila’s journey truly begins, as she is now on her own in the truest sense of the word. This is the point where she has to overcome her weaknesses and struggles, and eventually becomes the strong and capable woman I imagine her to be.