Published on December 11th, 2014


Cleo Brown: A Film Review of CNN’s ‘Dinosaur 13’


Tomorrow, at 9 p.m. Pacific/Eastern, the critically acclaimed documentary Dinosaur 13 will debut on CNN. Having first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it was nominated for an award, Dinosaur 13 then enjoyed a limited engagement in theaters throughout the United States. Having been edited from over four hours of footage to fifty-two minutes for CNN by filmmaker/director Todd Miller,  Dinosaur 13 tells the breathtaking story of the discovery of  a Tyrannosaurus-Rex fossil nicknamed “Sue”.  The documentary also describes in great detail the painful fight for ownership which ensued.

“Sue”, named after  “amateur” paleontologist Susan Hendrickson, who found pieces of the fossils remains in 1990, was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The fossil was then purchased by the Black Hills Institute from a Native American land owner  Maurice Williams for five thousand dollars in 1990. Unfortunately, two years after the find, the United States government seized control of “Sue” confiscating the fossil remains as well as all of The Black Hill Institute’s records and possessions. This was a blow not only to the Black Hill Institute but also to the South Dakota town of Hill City which had begun plans to develop and modernize based upon the appeal of “Sue” as a Museum Exhibit.

Williams, for his part, claimed not to know that he was selling the fossil and said that he had only intended to sell the land. Meanwhile, the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe claimed that they owned the fossil. In the aftermath of the legal battle which ensued over the fossil, Peter and Neal Larson were accused of fossil theft, transportation of stolen property, wire fraud, and money laundering although they did not act with the intention to commit these crimes, but only sought to act in the best interest of the public domain. It is inferred, in the documentary, that because he did not have a Ph. D. that Peter Larsen was penalized with two years in prison and two years probation.

Often visually stunning, Dinosaur 13 actually begins 66 million years ago when “Sue” actually lived. According to Todd Miller, “‘Sue’ had a hard life and, consequently, died from a blow to the head, or an attack, by another Tyrannosaurus-Rex over food. If you are a fan of films such as: Jurassic Park , Jurassic Park , The Parallax View and anything by Michael Moore you will appreciate Dinosaur 13 . Please note that legislation was passed in 2009 making it a felony to pick up and remove a vertebrae on public land.

As much as I admired Dinosaur 13, I was frustrated by the small captions used to aid the film along. I would have preferred that Todd Miller use a narrator.

On a scale of from one to ten stars, therefore, I am giving Dinosaur 13  a nine.five (9.5).


About the Author: Cleo Brown is the movie reviewer for She lives in Manhattan and has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis and has done work on a Ph.D. in education at The University of San Francisco. She has published several poetry books and is featured in Who’s Who in Poetry.

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