Breaking News Bar
posted: 8/17/2014 5:30 AM

Dinosaur documentary digs into finding Sue -- and serving time

Success - Article sent! close
  • Paleontologist Peter Larson brushes up on "Sue," the T-rex fossil in the new doc "Dinosaur 13."

    Paleontologist Peter Larson brushes up on "Sue," the T-rex fossil in the new doc "Dinosaur 13."

  • Video: Dinosaur 13 trailer


"Dinosaur 13" documentary subject and paleontologist Peter Larson offers three rules to live by when the dino-dung hits the fan of life.

"First, no matter how bad things get for you, things are worse off for a lot more people if you look around," he said.

In 1990, Larson and his team of volunteers discovered "the greatest paleontological find in history," a complete T-rex skeleton that would become known as "Sue," now on display at Chicago's Field Museum.

Then the FBI and National Guard moved in, seizing "Sue" and charging Larson with stealing bones from a federal jurisdiction, even though Larson purchased the find directly from the property owner.

Larson spent 18 months in the federal slammer, not for dino-napping, but for failing to fill out customs forms.

This true story is the subject of Todd Douglas Miller's new documentary "Dinosaur 13," opening this weekend at select Chicago theaters.

It's as much about Larson being railroaded by the justice system as it is about fossils.

Which brings us to Larson's second rule:

"Be aware that while bad things are happening to you, there are also good things happening that you need to notice," he said. "If you blink your eyes, you're going to miss those."

Like what?

"When I was in prison, I answered 1,997 letters from people. And that's a lot. And most of them were people I never met. If you concentrate on the old 'poor me,' you're never going to see all the fantastic stuff that's going on around you."

Larson had been approached to make a movie about finding "Sue" before, but turned it down because of its "negative" vibe.

Along came Miller, a film shorts director who'd never made a feature-length doc. He instantly won Larson's trust and cooperation.

"He (Miller) has a cinematic mind," Larson said. "He sees a story through the eyes of a cinematographer. He learns very quickly. He probably knows more about T-Rex than I do now that he's made this movie."

"No, I don't," Miller countered during a recent Chicago press tour with Larson.

"Pete is an eternal optimist," Miller said. "He feels like an old friend. He's one of the most kindhearted, warmest human beings you're ever going to meet."

Which brings us to Larson's final rule:

"When I was in the slammer, I made a conscious effort to work on forgiving people," he said. "And trying not to be bitter about this. I figured if I wind up being bitter about this, then they win. This way, I win. I think I came out of this being a better person than when I went in."

"Dinosaur 13" can be seen on OnDemand and select local theaters. Go to

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.