If the opening minutes of Dinosaur World look somewhat familiar, there’s a good reason for that. In 2018 director Ryan Bellgardt (Army of Frankensteins, Gremlin) made a film called The Jurassic Games which proved quite popular in China. He was approached to do a remake for the Chinese streaming market. So he and writer Chris Hoyt (The Adventures of Jurassic Pet) along with a pair of Chinese writers Xing Haishun and Wu Chenglei reworked the script for that market and filmed it in Oklahoma with a Chinese cast and a mix of new and recycled effects. And now that version is getting a North American release.
The VR version of the popular game Dinosaur World is about to come out of closed beta and to celebrate the developers are running a contest. Twenty random winners will get to compete for a $5,000,000 prize. Well, it’s not entirely random, a pair of hackers Lily (Phuong Kubacki, She Watches from the Woods, Reconquest) and Alex (Xing Yu, Line Walker, New Kung Fu Cult Master) along with rival developer Peter (Mike Pu) have found a way to make sure they’re selected. Among the more honest players, we have Zhao Quan (Steven He, Hello Au Revoir) who needs the money to pay his college tuition, a father wanting to win for his son, etc.
This is a sharp contrast to the original which pitted a group of condemned criminals, and the obligatory innocent man, against each other with the winner gaining their freedom. There if you died in the game you died for real, in Dinosaur World you just get eliminated.
Once robbed of its life or death stakes Dinosaur World, both the game and the film, loses a lot of its impact. Having to take a semester or two off and get a job while you sort out your financial aid situation isn’t quite as bad as dying no matter how they try to frame it.
If the characters were well-drawn and the action compelling, Dinosaur World could at least have been a passable time-waster. But the characters are never developed beyond broke student, cute kid, greedy asshole, etc. Most of them never get as much as a name, they’re just there to be killed and then be seen ripping off their headset back in the real world.
Although I suppose death might be preferable to having to deliver some of the film’s dialogue. For example, after one of the other contestants destroys their shelter two characters exchange these immortal lines, “Why did she do that?” “Because she’s mean!”. And no, they’re not a pair of four-year-olds. There are also problems with the recording of the dialogue as well. The cast was a mix of actors from China as well as Chinese-American ones. Some could act in English, others were dubbed, and that dubbing is obvious.
Unsurprisingly the creatures in Dinosaur World are CGI, but they’re better rendered than those in most made in China films of this sort. There’s a nice variety of them too, from the usual T-Rex and raptors to flying critters and something that looks like an alligator. They make nice diversions, but they can’t save the film.
In an interview he did with a local paper around the time of Dinosaur World’s Chinese release in 2020 Bellgardt spoke about the behind-the-scenes problems the film faced, from jet lag to language barriers. At the time he said he doubted it would ever see a US release. It’s a pity he wasn’t right about that.