Movie Review: “Dinosaur 13” Is Required Viewing


Review by James McDonald

A documentary about the discovery of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found.

Going in to “Dinosaur 13”, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I hadn’t heard of the movie and was actually anticipating a monster movie along the lines of “Jurassic Park” but instead, I absorbed a heartbreaking story about the discovery by Pete Larson and his small team of paleontologists, of the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found. As the team led the excavation in the badlands of South Dakota in the early 1990s, their initial excitement and happiness quickly diminished when the skeleton was confiscated by the federal government, followed by a ten-year long battle with the FBI, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Maurice Williams, the landowner on whose property the bones were discovered.

The film is comprised of interviews with the central characters as they are today and video footage of them back then. After the team moved the remains of their prehistoric find, named Sue (after one of the women in the team who actually found the precise location where the skeleton laid), back to their warehouse in the small town of Hill City, South Dakota, thoughts of preserving their amazing discovery and displaying it in the town’s small museum for the entire world to see, instantly dwindled away as the F.B.I. subpoenaed them and forcefully took the skeleton along with every other fossil and relic that they had amassed over the years. It sat in storage as the U.S. government built a case against the paleontologists, citing everything from fossil theft to money laundering and wire fraud.

They were sued by the U.S. government for ‘supposedly’ robbing the T. Rex remains from what they claimed was Native American land, even though Maurice Williams initially stated that he was the owner. After the case finally concluded, almost all of the convictions against the team were dismissed but the judge in the case decided to make an example of Pete Larson and instead of giving him the recommended sentence of 6 months probation, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison plus two years probation. “Dinosaur 13” is the kind of documentary that really opens your eyes to just how broken the judicial system is in this country. Director Todd Douglas Miller’s film is, at times, remarkably invigorating, taking into consideration that so much of the film is, for the most part, negative but you do find yourself standing up for the small guy and wanting to make yourself heard.

The remains of ‘Sue’, were eventually sold at Sotheby’s in New York to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for $7.6 million dollars where she is on display today for the world to see. Maurice Williams, the man who owned the land that the remains were found on, who initially was paid $5,000 by Pete Larson for the acquisition of ‘Sue’ and would later renege on his offer, pocketed most of the money from the Sotheby’s sale with the approval of the U.S. government. Peter Larson has gone on to collect nine more T. Rex specimens but none as complete as ‘Sue’.

In theaters August 15th


James McDonald
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