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Dinosaurs of the Atomic Age!

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July 16, 1945 marks the beginning of the Atomic Age, as the first Atomic Bomb was successfully detonated during the Trinity” test in the desert of New Mexico. This event had an enormous impact on human history and influenced also the pop-culture of dinosaurs .

© Warner Brothers 1954*

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” is considered the first movie to introduce the atomic bomb as possibility to create monsters and a new kind of dinosaurs. The movie was produced by the small independent company “Mutual Pictures“, Warner Brothers recognized the potential and released it in 1953, 8 years after the first U.S. atomic bomb and 4 years after the first Soviet nuclear  test, just at the beginning of the arm race between the two superpowers.

In the movie during “Operation Experiment” (!) an atomic bomb is detonated in the atmosphere over the Arctic (the producers used real footage, a common trick to save costs, but maybe also to emphasize the “veracity” of the story). This movie also introduces the classic scientists and their pseudoscientific techno-babble, an element that will become standard in later movies. The radiation of the nuclear explosions melts an iceberg and releases the “Rhedosaurus” – an evil, unstoppable and indestructible dinosaur-creature, the first of a long series of later Atomic Age dinosaurs (most notable “Godzilla” 1954), created by the misuse of mankind of radioactive radiation and  contamination of harmless organisms.

Strangely in the movie it is a nuclear scientist that will solve the troubles with the “Rhedosaurus” discovering a possibility to kill it, using a strange radioactive isotope. This element displays the contradictory relationship of society to the atomic technology already in the first years of the Atomic Age: The (mis-)use of science & technology creates problems, but also helps to solve them. However this positive message of “20,000 Fathoms” will go lost in subsequent movies, when the monsters created by science will only cause destruction and suffering.


EVANS, J.A. (1998): Celluloid Mushroom Clouds – Hollywood and the Atomic Bomb. Critical Studies in Communication and in the Cultural Industries; Westview Press: 212

*This image is the cover of a videotape, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, etc. and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the publisher of the video or the studio which produced the video in question. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of video covers qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

David Bressan About the Author: Freelance geologist dealing with quaternary outcrops interested in the history and the development of geological concepts through time. Follow on Twitter @David_Bressan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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