Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend



Notes: Disney/Touchstone Films. 92 minutes.
Susan Loomis: Sean Young
George Loomis: William Katt
Professor Eric Kiviat: Patrick McGoohan
Nigel Jenkins: Julian Fellowes
Also Kvalo Mativo, Hugh Quarshie, Olu Jacobs, Eddie Tagoe, Edward Hardwicke, Julian Curry.

Executive Producer: Roger Spottiswoods
Producer: Jonathan T. Taplin
Director: B.W.L. Norton
Story: Clifford and Ellen Green
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.

Summary: “In the Equatorial Rain Forest of West Africa, rumors persist of a huge reptile-like creature. Said to be larger than an adult elephant, the natives call it Mokele-Mobembe. Numerous expeditions have been mounted in its pursuit. So far none has met success.”

Professor Kiviat emerges during a festival and murders a man with a knife, snatching blurry photos of a brontosaur. Cut to George trying to teach Africans to play baseball. A phone call informs him of a new job, and he goes to tell his wife Susan, who thinks she has discovered dinosaur bones but is informed by the Professor that it’s just a giraffe. He assures, “Susan, you know that most field work is patience, frustration…. You’re young; don’t rush it.” George adds, “In other words, some days you eat the bone; other days the bone eats you.” (Swine.) George wants to leave Africa, start his new job, and have “three, four, … six” babies. (Breeder swine.) But a cholera outbreak among a remote tribe claims Susan’s attention first. They have eaten an unidentified animal. The dying chief draws a bronto in the dirt, and Susan and George hike to where the animal was gotten. They are surrounded by natives. George offers his watch, but Susan’s instamatic photography wins them over. George eats ant soup, bitching the whole time, and offers in return “half-eaten hippie food” (swine), a granola bar, that is. The chief spits it out secretly.

At night they drink a strange substance and when Susan shows a line drawing of a bronto to the chief, all the natives suddenly disappear. They hear a sound like a trumpeting hippo. Brontosaurus interruptus when their tent is yanked aloft.

Meanwhile, the Professor, his sidekick Nigel, and a band of local military idiots travel down the river. George and Susan see a bronto in a swamp, worry about their scent, and then see that the bronto is one of a pair of adults with a hatchling. Spotted and roared at, they run and decide the brontos have followed the food supply to get here. They gather fruit to lure the dinos. George: “Chow time.” Susan: “They’re getting used to us.” George: “That’s it, guys, pig out.” (Swine.) In the water, George tries to get a transmitter onto the hatchling, but it’s “got big teeth.” The baby plays ashore and they succeed.

The evil party tranquilize one of the adults. When the other charges, they shoot it dead. The tribe saves George and Susan from the soldiers, and later, when they have rafted off the drugged bronto, the hatchling comes out to mournthe now buzzard-eaten parent.

George and Susan use recorded sounds to lure the hatchling to food in a tent while on the river the soldiers overdrug the adult. The hatchling runs off while Susan and George presumably engage in something so horrifying that we can’t see it. Searching later, they see the tranquilized adult, try to release it, and are captured. The Professor reads Susan’s notes and realizes there is a hatchling he wants. When Nigel complains of the overdrugging, he kills the Colonel and blames the two, claiming the CIA and gold are involved. The hatchling sniffs a turtle, but is spotted during a helicopter search. A fight breaks out during which George and Susan jump out of the copter into water, are reunited with the baby dino, are pursued through a cave, and escape.

The friendly tribe next helps the two wage an ambush. The Professor tries to drive off with the baby bronto, but the mother dinosaur breaks loose. Nigel is electrocuted when she knocks down wires and chases the truck. Susan and George chase on a motorcycle, smash the windshield, and the Professor crashes. He crawls out of the truck and mourns the apparent death of the baby dinosaur, but looks up and sees the mother. She bites and drops him. The baby awakens. Susan: “You don’t belong to me.”

Susan ponders, “just another legend?” George: “If we let it be.” (Not a Beatle; a swine.) The dinosaurs swim off.

Commentary: The dinosaurs used here are mechanical models, operated by people inside them. The focus on food is obvious and the oblique focus on breeding is peculiar but similar to that in Jurassic Park.

The film could be touching, but amid this inclination is a nauseating viciousness which emerges most undeniably when we are asked to enjoy the violence and explosions during the ambush. The native chief picks up a machine gun and our hearts are supposed to soar with joy.

When I was living as a graduate student in “the box” (1212 University Towers, Ann Arbor), a workman on the elevator commented that live dinosaurs were found in Africa. I suspect he had tuned into an announcement about this film and had difficulty distinguishing reality from the movies. It was the ’80s.