Todd Douglas Miller's dinosaur documentary takes in the shocking fallout from a fascinating find
A crowd-pleaser at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Todd Douglas Miller's riveting documentary tells the true story of the legal battle surrounding 'Sue', the world's largest, most complete T-Rex skeleton and the thirteenth ever discovered.
After the discovery and excavation of Sue (named after Susan Hendrickson, the volunteer who found her) in 1990, palaeontologists Peter and Neal Larson planned to display their find in a specially built, tourist-attracting Natural History Museum in the tiny South Dakota town of Hill City. However, two years into their painstaking preparation of Sue's skeleton, the brothers were raided by the FBI and the National Guard, with Sue's remains seized and placed in government storage at a nearby university.
There then followed a bitter, ten-year-long legal battle with the federal government, who alleged that the brothers had stolen the skeleton from Native American land, despite the fact that they had paid landowner Maurice Williams (a decidedly shady figure on the evidence presented here) $5000 for their find.
Based on Peter Larson's co-written book (Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, the Dinosaur That Changed Science, the Law and My Life), the film unfolds primarily through entertaining and occasionally emotional talking head contributions from the key parties involved, with Larson coming across as a likeable, avuncular figure with remarkable reserves of stoicism, given the shocking extremes of his ordeal. The interviews are illustrated with archive material, home video footage (including the deal the Larsons made with Williams) and a small handful of dramatised scenes, though these are of questionable value.
Despite an understandable weighting on the side of the Larsons, this is a compelling and ultimately heart-breaking tale that is liable to induce howls of injustice as the various authorities trample over the little guys, stomping them into the ground in a manner befitting Sue herself.
Selected release from Fri 15 Aug.