In general, I’m a fast and loose writer. When I sit down at the keyboard my goal is to just knock it out, and once it's done then I'm done with it. For the most part, that’s worked out well for me, but there are times when it’s bitten me in the ass.
For example: I was supposed to write a 1,000 word short story on any topic of my choosing for my freshman year English class. I spent an hour doing one draft of the first gibberish that came to my mind. It was a short vignette about a mad scientist who invents a machine that invents more machines for him, and once he doesn't have to work, he just sits back and eats fried chicken all day. He got so fat that he ended up having to remove his body - he ended up being a brain in a jar. It, um, wasn't Hemingway.
I knew that my story wasn’t my best work, but I didn’t bother to improve it - I just wasn’t a second draft guy and it seemed like it was good enough. Once other students had begun reading their stories aloud in class I immediately realized how far my story was from being "good enough". One kid's story detailed how one Thanksgiving he’d been told to summon his father for dinner only to discover that his father had passed away while watching a football game. Another girl wrote about how her friend had died in a car crash, and she was got so emotional when she was reading that she couldn’t finish it - she was crying too hard. I sat there, dreading the moment when I would have to verbalize this garbage story to the entire classroom – but I had made my bed and I was going to have to lie in it.
That experience was on my mind during Theodore Rex, because this movie seems like something I would have written in high school. (It’s about a part-cyborg cop who teams up with a vegetarian dinosaur to solve a "dinocide". Incidentally, the murder weapon was an exploding butterfly. It, um, isn't Hemingway.) Theodore Rex stars Whoopi Goldberg, who was no stranger to serious drama at this point in her career - she was an Oscar nominee for the Color Purple and an Oscar winner for Ghost. When she was working on this movie did she have the same sinking feeling in her stomach that I did when I was reading my story about the mad scientist?
I don’t mean to pick on Whoopi: she’s not in the top ten things that are wrong with this movie, and it’s cheap to pick on actors for appearing in bad movies. But anytime you watch a movie this ill conceived you have to kind of wonder how the actors felt about it while they were making it, and boy is this movie ill conceived. It's definitely aimed at children, but even when I was five years old I think I would have seen through it. There's a scene in a museum where an “expert” describes herself as a “dinosaurologist” instead of a “paleontologist”. I would have known that was wrong even as a child, because it was my goal to grow up to be a "paleontologist", not a "dinosaurologist".
There's another scene where Whoopi and her T-Rex partner are playing good cop/ bad cop with a suspect, and the T-Rex’s idea of being a bad cop involves farting directly on the perp’s body. I don't know if I would have laughed at that back then but I certainly hope not. You can tell that the scriptwriter was pandering to children, but that he didn't really get what appeals to them - this is the sort of dumb that's too dumb even for children.
Honestly, it's a shame that the script is so tone deaf, because this could have been goofy fun. Most of the people who worked on this film did their job well. The special effects team that made the dinosaur suits did a bang-up job: they don’t look very dinosaur-y because the scale is off, but they also look better than the cheap rubber suits from old Godzilla movies. The production design team did a good job, too, because the big details (like the futuristic city that serves as the stories backdrop) and the little details (like the three toed Converses that Theodore Rex wears) are all well executed. But it doesn’t matter how this movie looks – the concept is just too juvenile. It was always going to be dumb.
I can understand why this movie was written. There was a time and place when I would have written something like this myself. Of course, I would have written it in a few hours as a first draft – my excuse for such weak ideas as exploding butterflies and vegetarian T-Rexes would be that I was half-assing it in a hurry. But how was this movie actually made? You can’t hurry a movie, especially not one that has to build an entire city and then populate it with dozens of dinosaurs. How did people work on this movie for months and months and not say "maybe the dinosaur shouldn't fart on people?"
You know, if I had known that my mad scientist story was going to have to follow two tearjerker stories, I probably would have cleaned it up more. So why did Whoopi - who knew that she was following up the Color Purple and Ghost - sign up for this eye-rollingly doofy movie? It's depressing to think about her consciously deciding to waste her talents. But then again, it's also gives me some hope, because I still own the rights to that mad scientist story, and it looks like getting it made into a movie starring an Oscar winner might not be that hard...
Winner: The Cat