by Becky Ferreira
“Jurassic Fight Club” was a one-season series on the History Channel, and I am a dedicated fan. I’d bet I’m one of about six people in the world who can claim this, and I am definitely the only one with a full set of adult teeth. I consumed all twelve gripping episodes. I follow the host, “Dinosaur George” Blasing on Twitter, and I hold the high score in their online game Turf Wars. I also hold the #2, #5 and #9 spots, presumably because I’ve been competing against four-year-olds.
Part of the allure of “Jurassic Fight Club” derives from the History Channel’s general brand of madness. I love history as much as the next dweeb, but it’s clear whoever is pulling the strings at this A & E offshoot either a) doesn’t like history and has an evil plan to torture it forever or b) has no clue what history actually is, and has been coasting by on insane amounts of charm. We’re talking about a channel with a whole series called “Ancient Aliens,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Don’t get me wrong; if there were real evidence that aliens had visited us in a more primitive era, I would definitely watch a show devoted to it. But the talking head experts this show features are the brand of lunatic that can’t keep both their eyeballs from rolling about disconcertingly in their skulls. You know those rumors about mole people living in the NYC subway system? Pretty sure they earn an extra dime by surfacing and appearing on “Ancient Aliens” to talk about how King Tutankhamun definitely invented the lightbulb… using alien technology. “Jurassic Fight Club” was developed with this characteristic maniacal bent.
Never mind that airing a show set during the Mesozoic already constitutes a pretty liberal interpretation of “history.” Never mind that the Palahniuk title reference conjures up images of overworked, corporate dinosaurs getting back to their apparently distant animalistic roots in dark basements. There are bigger plesiosaurs to fry, such as “Dinosaur George” himself.
Dinosaur George is a very strange specimen of a paleontologist. He is ubiquitous in dinosaur-related shows. Yet he is entirely self-taught. No paleontology degrees, no formal training: the guy just loves dinosaurs and has made a career out of enthusiastically talking about them. So instead of “Dr. George” Blasing, which he can’t use, he has invented the much more awesome title “Dinosaur.”
This is usually the part where I might try to bash him for being an imposter in his field, but a) he’s totally great and I love him, and b) as if I’m in some weird “Dexter” scenario, I have to recognize that he is just like me. If I call him out, I have to call myself out too. I am so obsessed with dinosaurs, it’s pretty much the upshot to my entire personality. But I am also not formally trained as a paleontologist. I’m not out there using toothbrushes to clean out fossilized eye sockets. I don’t even know if they use toothbrushes for that! I’m not even enough of a dilettante to devote my whole life to teaching others the way Dinosaur George has. So really, what I’m saying is that part of my love for “Jurassic Fight Club” comes from a weird rivalry with the host. He is unaware of this rivalry, but he has every right to be really creeped out by it if he ever discovers it. Which, if he has a Google alert on his own name, he now will.
More importantly, I am a fan of “JFC” because it both repulses and attracts me. The show takes a forensic bent, describing every fossil site as a “crime scene.” That’s hilarious, and makes me picture a T-Rex in teensy li’l handcuffs after his inevitable conviction, but it also makes me angry. You can see how the experts are being coerced into blurting out things they wouldn’t normally claim, in a desperate attempt to make their findings sound more exciting. The general construction of these statements goes as follows:
Paleontologist: Well, I suppose in certain circumstances, this [insert near impossible thing] could have happened, but —
Narrator: This [insert near impossible thing] did happen, and it looked like this! [Slow motion computer-generated shot of near impossible thing.]
The whole premise implies that dinosaurs on their own aren’t interesting enough, so we have to add a “CSI” angle. Seriously? Dinosaurs were enormous monsters that were ultimately brought down by a giant space rock. That’s not epic enough for you, world? You need a narrative other than the Monster versus Comet story? You disgust me with your largesse.
On the other hand, the show attracts me because it’s about dinosaurs. And I love them. So, they’ve really got their hooks in my antorbital fenestra here.
It evens out that I want the show back, and I hope that this extremely detailed review of one of my favorite episodes will convince the History Channel that a new season would have at least one viewer in me. And one viewer is honestly a pretty good count for the ol’ HC. I think “American Pickers” averaged about 140 viewers an episode because so many people died of shame for having witnessed it. (Nielsen counts ghost viewers as negatives, FYI.). So consider this review my pledge of allegiance to all things “JFC,” come what may.
EXHIBIT A: Episode 8, “Raptor’s Last Stand”
Tagline: You know, like General Custer’s Last Stand. But with a raptor.
Battlers: GASTONIA versus UTAHRAPTOR.
Stakes: Life & death; survival in the prehistoric world.
Quotes describing GASTONIA
• “Its tail worked like a chainsaw.”
• “A giant porcupine-like monster previously unknown to science.”
• “Built like a Sherman tank.”
• “This was a walking armored pincushion.”
• “This animal was built like a Sherman tank.” (build = Sherman tank, pt 2).
• “Now, remember, Gastonia’s tail is like a chainsaw.” (tail = chainsaw, pt. 2).
PERSONAL FAVORITE: “I tend to liken the tail of Gastonia to a chainsaw.” (tail = chainsaw, pt 3).
Quotes describing UTAHRAPTOR
• “What kind of monster would be able to be smart enough and fast enough to attack the Gastonia where it counted?” (Utahraptor; implied)
• “This was a giant super-sized raptor.”
• “They named this beast ‘Utahraptor’, meaning ‘thief of Utah.’”
• “Utahraptor was the Velociraptor on steroids. This is the punked-up raptor.”
• “That’s why it was given the nickname ‘Superslasher.’”
• “We also call it ‘Killer Claw.’”
• “If I was going to build the perfect raptor, I would build a Utahraptor.”
PERSONAL FAVORITE: “Don’t mess with a raptor, you’re going to lose.”
Key Pre-Fight Observations
1. The paleontologists, clearly being egged on by the producers, conceded that Gastonia might have had pterosaurs settle on its back, the way birds settle on modern day rhinos. It seemed pretty made up, but every image of the Gastonia afterwards depicted it with these weird birds riding on top of it, and it was heavily implied that this was as much for companionship as it was for help sensing predators (they were frequently referred to as the Gastonia’s “entourage”). Also, these pterosaurs are obviously from the Azhdarchid family, and there’s very little evidence that they were around that early in the Cretaceous. Major flub, “JFC”! You must be so embarrassed to have all that dino-egg on your face! Oh, you’re not?
2. So, you know that speech Dr. Grant makes to the kid in Jurassic Park, about how the raptor could slash his belly open and blah, blah, blah, he hates kids but learns to love them by the end and Dr. Sattler’s like “awww” in the helicopter? They went absolutely out of their way to have their raptor descriptions resemble that speech, but they never directly said, “Like in Jurassic Park, you know?” It was pretty disingenuous. You have to admit that Jurassic Park practically invented the raptor, probably even more than the raptor invented the raptor, and definitely more than “Jurassic Fight Club” invented the raptor. And while we’re on it, the Jurassic Park raptors were 100% Utahraptors because Velociraptors were actually two feet tall and had ridiculous feathers. In order for a Velociraptor to win in a real one-on-one fight against a human, it’d have to fight a toddler. But what they do have? A frackin’ awesome name! Velociraptor! It rolls off the tongue like water droplets off Dr. Sattler’s hand. Real smart, paleontologists. Making itsy bitsy raptors sound like they were the gangstas of the Cretaceous while the genuinely frightening predators like the Utahraptor sound like boring Mormons! What was Spielberg to do?
3. Weird head-on graphic image of the raptor’s skull, in which it looked exactly like Jack Skellington. It was like they had just cut and pasted The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD cover up on there, minus the weird spiral-y Tim Burton hillock.
4. The comparison of a wolf fighting a porcupine. Just seems like a pretty different situation, and also something that would probably never occur, which actually makes it a similar situation.
5. The use of the phrase, “using as much evidence and scientific fact as possible”, which translates to “we did not use evidence or scientific fact.”
6. The phrase, used in every episode in some way or other: “Unlike modern day crime scenes, the difference here is that the dinosaur remains have been stripped of their organic material.” The first rule of “Jurassic Fight Club” is that we will refer to fossil beds as “crime scenes.” ALWAYS. Get fingerprints! Oh, fingers haven’t evolved yet? Get talon prints!
Perhaps you don’t believe me. To the video!
The Utahraptor is starving to death. Under normal circumstances, he (all dinosaurs are generally male in the show, as opposed to the girlies of Jurassic Park) would not attack this Sherman tank with its chainsaw tail. But things have become desperate….
Meanwhile the Gastonia is using its weird sixth senses to try to find water. His “entourage” of anachronistic pterosaurs is at full alert. They sense the Utahraptor’s approach and warn the Gastonia.
The Utahraptor and the Gastonia confront each other. There is a great deal of gnashing and tail-swishing, and it is quite suspenseful.
The Utahraptor uses his superior “intellect” (it is referred to as an intellect; the raptor is an intellectual) to strategize an attack.
The enormous Gastonia is inexplicably being referred to as “the little Gastonia” by the paleontologist describing the fight. Perplexing, but kind of makes you root for the Gastonia by default.
The Utahraptor decides the best strategy would be to jump over the little Gastonia. Just jump right over it. I guess he thinks this will confuse the little Gastonia? A clear answer is never quite given re: the strategy. But I will admit one thing: it did look really awesome when he did it. The music was all “dun-dun, dun-dun” and you (if you were me) were all “whoa, don’t even think of jumping over that giant spiny Sherman tank with its chainsaw tail!” and then it was all sort of slow-motion and you (if you were me) were like, “I can’t believe you’re jumping over that giant spiny Sherman tank with its chainsaw tail!”
The little Gastonia, duly confused, is caught unaware as the Utahraptor bites into his front leg. He swishes his chainsaw tail but it’s no use!
Ok, time out: quickly, let’s address the chainsaw tail. It is in no way like a chainsaw. It is not motorized nor does it have several small sharp teeth. It’s just a spiny tail. Ok, time in.
The little Gastonia is in dire straights. According to the narrator, his front leg is currently in unbearable pain. But the fight isn’t over.
Ok, time out: generally, you can tell what dinosaur will win by who wins the first battle. If they win the first battle, it’s all over for that dinosaur. So at this point, we can assume that the Utahraptor is fucked. Ok, time in.
The Utahraptor has a bold new plan of attack. He wants to go for a back leg, but, as the narrator informs us, that is exactly where the little Gastonia wants him.
The chainsaw tail is now referred to as both “the most anti-raptor weapon ever made” and as “anti-raptor scissors,” as if these spines were specifically developed for rogue hungry raptors, and would not harm other predators. I hoped they would say the phrase “raptor ready,” along the lines of “Rapture Ready,” but alas, no such luck.
Anyway, the raptor, whose last strategic attack was to jump over the spiny thing, has now decided to go near these obviously anti-raptor weapons. Well, he pays a serious price! The little Gastonia is all “Eff you!” and catches the raptor’s leg in the spines. The “shearing action” of the spines “is like a hedge-clipper,” we are told, which seems like quite a step down from a chainsaw. Is this tail a cute, socially awkward Edward Scissorhands, or are we talking about motherfrackin’ Evil Dead-style Ash? Some unholy hybrid, I guess, and the raptor is helpless in this specifically anti-raptor device. His leg gets all cut up. As predicted, it’s over for that raptor. That raptor’s got a bloody leg and he’s still starving. The little Gastonia and his entourage of anachronistic birds wander into the desert.
Weirdly though, the narrator goes on to tell us that both dinosaurs eventually die from starvation due to drought, which means that the summary of “Jurassic Fight Club”: Raptor’s Last Stand is…
That there was no second season of this show is an unholy travesty.