Theodore Rex, the weirdest of weird '90s movies, is a $33 million direct-to-video buddy cop movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and a wisecracking dinosaur.
(Take as much time as you need to wrap your brain around that sentence. We understand.)
Theodore Rex wasn't an attempt to tie into the dino-fever that swept the nation’s youth in the early '90s; it was a genuine attempt at making a gritty sci-fi film about a detective and her dinosaur partner. That’s right. Legendary EGOT-winner Whoopi Goldberg and a Talking Man-Sized Dinosaur teamed up for a cop film and they demanded to be taken seriously. (The 90s were a very strange time.)
Even though the film is a complete nightmare, things behind the scenes of Theodore Rex were much worse. As weird as it sounds, we can’t stress this enough: nobody had fun on this Whoopi Goldberg/Dinosaur joint.
The Funding For This Movie Was... Pretty Shady
It might seem hard to believe, but no one in Hollywood wanted to film this futuristic dinosaur buddy cop movie that also featured robots. Without an option to get proper funding, writer/director Jonathan Betuel and producer Richard Abramson had to seek out international funding, which they found through the son of a pharmaceutical magnate, Stefano Ferrari. The Italian-born Ferrari didn't love the pharmaceutical life so he moved to Hollywood to be a big-time film producer. (Eventually and as a direct result of the failure of this movie, Ferrari left the film industry to return to his roots in pharmaceuticals, where he’s been very successful.)
We don’t necessarily want to make any direct references to the mafia or anything, but in the great oral history of Theodore Rex over at SlashFilm, whenever the topic of funding comes up, producer Richard Abramson just ominously refers to "the Italians." When discussing Theodore Rex's infamous court case with Whoopi, Abramson says "at this point, the Italians weren't happy with me because I was the guy who had gotten them into this thing." So the law is forcing an angry Whoopi Goldberg to make this movie and the vaguely menacing Italians are angrily pressuring the producers. That's the formula for a great movie if we ever heard one!
It Was So Bad It Set Records
There's no wrong way to set a new record, right?
(There are, actually, there are several and Theodore Rex did a few of them.)
As far as failures go, Theodore Rex can at least say that it's one of the biggest failures that ever existed. The overall cost for this buddy cop film set in an alternate future where dinosaurs are both a) alive and b) occasionally detectives, was a cool $33.5 million, the most expensive budget for a direct-to-VHS movie at the time.
Not content with setting just one bad record, Theodore Rex was also the first (and as of this writing only) direct-to-VHS movie to be nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award, the awards dedicated to truly horrible moments in film.
The Script Was Being Rewritten On The Spot
There are always going to be changes when a film is in production, but at the very least a director should go into their film with something that they're confident shooting. That didn't happen with Jonathan Betuel. According to people on set, he was incredibly insecure in the film's script - which he wrote - so he would continually rewrite scenes as the film progressed.
Bruce Lanoil, the film's head puppeteer, told Slash Film, "[Betuel] would think up lines and then I’d run up to the actors and give them the latest material. I remember one time, Armin [Mueller-Stahl], who played the villain, he replied, 'Hey Bruce, how about we try the lines as they were written for once? Please.' Because the changes, they kept coming and coming. Jonathan was in way over his head."
There are a TON of Unanswered Questions
Most movies require some suspension of disbelief, but when you're making a movie set in an alternate future with talking dinosaurs, you should at least have to TRY to explain yourself. Jurassic Park didn't just say "there's a magical island where dinosaurs exist;" they went to great lengths to walk the audience through the intricate fake-science that went into the cloning of dinosaurs.
Theodore Rex did no such thing. Here's what the audience knows: a man named Elizar Kane has cloned dinosaurs. That’s pretty much it. Bruce, the puppeteer, says it best:
"Why are [the dinosaurs] talking? Why are they dressed as humans? Why are they dying? Why are they not fighting back? Why doesn’t [Teddy Rex] eat meat? Why does he want to live in an apartment? I mean, so many whys. Why does he wear a ring? Why is he driving in a car? And why is he with Whoopi Goldberg? And nobody could figure any of that out, and nobody has since."
The film doesn't explain any of this. This could have been solved by having any character say something as simple as "Boy, life sure has been different ever since dinosaurs gained sentience via cosmic rays and won the right to vote via protest and diligent lobbying," but no one ever says that. You just have to accept that dinosaurs are back and some of them want to be cops.
Speaking of unexplained, unexplored, dinosaur-related phenomena...