October 5, 2007
Cowley instructor has book released, movie opens today
Charles H. Sternberg and his three sons -- George, Charles M. and Levi
-- created a "virtual dynasty of fossil collectors," and
perhaps nowhere more incredibly so than right here in northwest Kansas.
Finally, the family is getting its due.
In fact, the family will spring back to life this weekend with the release of "Sea Monsters, A Prehistoric Adventure" a 3-D IMAX movie presentation that is being accompanied by books -- adult and children's versions alike -- and teaching exercises for school children. The entire collection is being brought together by the National Geographic Society.
NGS had plenty of help along the way, and Mike Everhart, an adjunct curator at Sternberg Museum of Natural History/adjunct instructor at Cowley College, was the lead adviser, and author of the companion book, "Sea Monsters: Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep." Everhart also is the author of "Oceans of Kansas," the same name as his ever-growing Web site.
Everhart's book officially was released Tuesday, but the movie will premier worldwide Friday. Much of the movie was filmed in northwest Kansas, at Monument and Castle rocks, at Goblin Hollow near Russell Springs, at Lake Wilson and at Wild Horse canyon in Trego County.
There also was a water scene -- depicting the inland ocean that once covered western Kansas -- that was filmed in Bermuda. Everhart didn't get to go along on that trip.
While he served as adviser, Everhart actually pitched the idea for a book and movie to NGS when he traveled to Washington to investigate a fossil that had been collected in 1918 by Charles H. Sternberg.
It's significance, however, wasn't realized until sometime in 2001.
"It was the discovery of a mosasaur that had a plesiosaur as a last meal," Everhart said.
The discovery ultimately was sent to the Smithsonian, where the mosasaur -- the sea's version of the horrible Tyrannosaurus rex -- has been on display since 1920 as the centerpiece of the museum's marine exhibit.
Remains of the plesiosaur, however, remained stored in a box.
"I rewrote the discovery and gave Charles credit for it," Everhart said.
While he was there, he stopped in at National Geographic and sold them on the idea of the discovery as a movie and book.
The movie essentially will follow the life -- from birth to death -- of a plesiosaur.
That's why they were filming at Lake Wilson, for the opening and closing of the film, of "a discovery that hasn't happened yet."
It is a story of Dolly -- a short-necked plesiosaur, the Dolichorhynchops osborni (pronounced dol-ee-ko-ring-kopz).
"We worked real hard not to make it a Disney-esque version of Bambi," he said.
The seas of 82 million years ago were vicious places.
As an adviser, Everhart has seen the entire movie -- just not in one cohesive form.
"I've seen most of the movie, and I'm pretty happy with the way it's turned out," he said. "The visual effects are going to be tremendous."
In fact, the book Everhart authored also includes 3-D pieces of art, which can be viewed with the glasses that are included.
While this is a movie about Dolly, the Sternbergs play a big role.
"There's a good section on the Sternbergs, about their contributions to paleontology in Kansas," he said.
Among the contributions is the famed fish-within-a-fish fossil that was discovered by George Sternberg and remains on display at the museum that bears the family name.
They even had a Hays Daily News reporter, who, in 1952, went to Gove County to talk with Sternberg about the fossil he had recovered.
Actors portraying the Sternberg family appear in the movie, collecting fossils -- replicas of which were manufactured specifically for the film, "and then buried out in the chalk."
Of course, the movie shows the Sternbergs digging the fossil from the ground, framed by Monument Rocks in the background.
"They're getting some recognition," Everhart said of the Sternberg family.
In fact, not many people get enough recognition, including Dr. George Sternberg, who was post physician at Fort Hays and ultimately surgeon general of the Army. Dr. Theophilus Turner, post surgeon at Fort Wallace found bones that ultimately were shipped to E.D. Cope in Philadelphia, the start of what has been called the Bone Wars between Cope and O.C. Marsh, of Peabody Museum fame.
"For 10 to 15 years, Kansas was the hot spot," Everhart said of fossil collecting. "There were thousands of specimens that went out of Kansas."
Today, Kansas isn't such a hot spot.
"I'm glad it's not a hot spot," Everhart said. "It lets me do things. There's not a lot of competitors here."
Everhart said he's pleased with how things have turned out.
"I'm pleased with the book," he said. "I'm pleased with what I think the movie is going to look like."
Everhart was going to be in the movie, working on a discovery he made several years back.
It ultimately got cut, but he still has a bit part in both the book and the movie.
"When they filmed Charles out at Monument Rocks, they showed him sketching the mosasaur eating the plesiosaur," he said.
But they ran out of light to complete the process.
While in Lawrence, they costumed Everhart up and had him drawing.
"In the movie, my hand shows up," he said. "It's got to be the world's smallest bit part."
He's not complaining.
"This has been lots of fun," he said. And it's been more profitable -- before the fact -- than what he has realized from his first book.
Currently, Everhart said, he is working on a book about the Sternbergs and their discoveries.
Special-projects coordinator Mike Corn can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 129, or by e-mail at email@example.com. More on the movie Even though the movie won't open until Friday, "Sea Monsters, A Prehistoric Adventure," already is getting rave reviews in Australia.
There, moviegoers got a bit of a head start and apparently were delighted by the 40-minute film about the life of a plesiosaur in the oceans of Kansas more than 80 million years ago.
The debut of the movie is a big deal for the National Geographic Society, and it will open in 70 theaters Friday.
Kansas nearly lost its chance to see the movie at all.
"National Geographic, as far as I know, does not consider Kansas to be a major market," said Mike Everhart, adjunct curator of paleontology at Sternberg Museum of Natural History as the primary adviser on the movie and author of the companion book.
Everhart credits museum director Jerry Choate for pushing hard enough to get the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson to show the movie, a 3-D IMAX film.
At the Cosmosphere, the movie will be shown at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, it will be shown at 1 and 3 p.m.
In addition to the Cosmosphere, the IMAX "Sea Monsters" will be available at the AMC Studio 30 and IMAX in Olathe and Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. A digital version of the movie will be shown at Seth Childs 12 in Manhattan.
"It's a big opening," Everhart said. "It's much bigger than I had any idea of."
In fact, Everhart will be jetting out to Portland, Ore., for the opening of the movie and then on to Galveston for an appearance there Saturday.
He'll be at the Cosmosphere on Oct. 12 and 13 for the movie there.
More information about the movie, Everhart's book, the two children's books and teacher resources are available at www.nationalgeographic.com/seamonsters.
By MIKE CORN
Hays Daily News