Background: For a lot longer than I've been around, kids have been fascinated with dinosaur movies. While some of them were more geared towards kids, adults also got in on the act with various shows like the 3 Jurassic Park Chronicles that started almost 15 years ago. This was a series of movies centering on a company trying to set up an upscale amusement park for the ultra rich that brought dinosaurs back to life via technological advances in cloning, creating conditions ripe for problems even if generally a bit intense for kids. In recent years, a number of television shows have tried to combine learning and the collective fascination with dinosaurs many of us have with shows like the award winning Walking With... series and lesser efforts like Dinosaur Planet that make historical predictions using modern discoveries and weaving them into fictional accounts that surpass the lecture-styled documentaries of the past. One such series geared towards children is the subject of today's review of Prehistoric Park: The Complete Television Event; a set of six hour long episodes that aired on the Animal Planet starting last year.
Series: Prehistoric Park: The Complete Television Event was like a combination of many shows that went on before it including the infamous Crocodile Hunter series, Jurassic Park, and the numerous time travel shows airing over the years. Based almost as much on the story of Noah's Ark, the series detailed a chubby scientist in the form of Britain's Nigel Marvin using advances in time travel to go back in time to capture various animal life before certain events led to the extinction of the species; like the meteor strike that is said to have ended most dinosaur life, the end of the last ice age finishing off the wooly mammoths, and changing environmental conditions ending the reign of certain animals via natural selection. The special effects were about as cheesy as those found in the Lost World or Conan the Adventurer television shows but designed for the more imaginative kid audience, the series was likely saddled with restrictive budgets and timetables so this is to be expected.
The main theme of the show was that a large preservation park, using wooden fences to hold the beasts in, was being constructed on a remote location for preservationist purposes. While that aspect seemed more far fetched then the portable time travel devices used to go back in time, the "save the whales" dynamic was beaten to death by the writers here. Nigel, often going alone or in a small group that did not have much weaponry, would put himself in harm's way in order to trick a dinosaur into chasing him past the Slider's-like portal he sets up on the fly, with both him and the critters being sent back to a pre-existing wooden pen. He would climb into the safe area and the creature(s) would be captured for study and medical treatment by the park keeper and veterinarian if injured. Forgetting that almost all of the animals were greatly faster than Nigel, more dangerous to his life than he would let on, and too powerful to be penned up for long, the show used the educational drama method of teaching something about dinosaurs to the viewer. Like many shows airing on Animal Planet, it got preachy about environmental themes yet seemed to have its collective heart in the right place while doing so (and kids like this sort of thing as often as not).
The double disc set puts the six episodes in the proper order (I listed the IMDB dates below but they were questionable given the secondary story lines going on that wouldn't make sense in any other fashion than presented on the DVD set) and it was light fluff that kids will probably enjoy more than adults. Nigel goes back before the giant meteor strike to pick up a Tyrannosaurus Rex first, nearly getting eaten in the process, and ends up with a couple of manageable youngsters by doing so. He then goes back to a much more recent ice age event for a sickly wooly mammoth that eventually is placed in a herd of modern day elephants, feathery dinosaurs from China, South America kitty cats (in the form of hungry sabretooth tigers), huge insects from as far back as he could go, and ending on an expedition to obtain a 50 foot crocodile by the name of deinosuchus); each trip yielding other creatures that were not intended.
The six episode length of the series was about right since it was already getting repetitious with Nigel getting chased through the portal and finding himself in danger but the last episode kind of tied things up a little with a bit of a disaster at the compound reminiscent of the Jurassic Park version of chaos theory. In all, the narration by David Jason and wooden acting by the others was okay though it was full of numerous thematic mistakes that might bother the more observant. As a kid's show it wasn't a bad way to spend about three hours and the price was right for me. The biggest issue for me was the CGI effects looking as though they were outdated by years, even compared to some syndicated shows (one of them mentioned above coming out ten years ago on an already ultra low budget looking as good), and how the blue screen effects were applied. It was decent enough for those of you out there to take a look at on cable (it currently airs on Sundays on the Animal Planet) and test the waters, though if a sequel series is being planned, I sure hope more polishing up is given to the technical aspects. I rated it as a Rent It since the replay value for me was minimal but having placated children in the past using TV, your mileage may vary substantially so check it out first.
1) T-Rex Returns (August 20, 2006)
2) A Mammoth Undertaking (August 27, 2006)
3) Dinobirds (September 3, 2006)
4) Saving The Sabretooth (August 12, 2006)
5) The Bug House (August 19, 2006)
Supercroc (September 24, 2006)
Picture: Prehistoric Park: The Complete Television Event was presented in the same anamorphic 16:9 widescreen color it aired in originally. The human aspects of the show looked pretty good and while the aforementioned special effects in CGI were cheesy, they fit a small, low budget cable TV show from England fairly well. There was some clipping on parts of the computer generated animals and the editing could prove to be frustrating at times but this was typical cable fare and I saw no compression artifacts (the bitrate hovering around the mid 6 Mbps level in the MPEG-2 format).
Sound: The audio was presented in the usual choice of a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or a relatively meager 2.0 version, both in English (the 5.1 selection having a 448 Kbps bitrate and the 2.0 having a 192 Kbps bitrate). The combination of special audio effects, score, and dialogue served the show well enough; some separation and dynamic range in evidence to help make the visual effects pale by comparison. There were also English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
Extras: While many TV on DVD releases offer few extras, this one had some worth mentioning. There was the obligatory photogallery that provided various pictures for fans of the show first. This was followed by a set of story boards that showed hand drawings and text as planning out the major components of the stories. My favorite extra was the almost half hour Behind the Scenes feature that used cast and crew to punctuate the way the series was made, including comments on the reality TV manner in which it was shot most of the time. In some ways, it was more entertaining than parts of the show. For those using the show as a learning experience, the show also had a selectable switch to provide statistical information on the animals of the show as they appear; perhaps an expanded version to be a good idea for future efforts.
Final Thoughts: Prehistoric Park: The Complete Television Event blended the fictional story of a man going back in time to obtain animal specimens for a contemporary reserve with some of the common ideas presented in numerous movies and television shows; making it only a few steps removed from the Walking With... series. It wasn't the best of the batch of such shows made in recent years but it did offer up something for the children to appreciate, albeit maybe not the youngest of kids given the nightmares some of them would get watching the more violent portions of the show. In that sense though, Prehistoric Park: The Complete Television Event may appeal to the given audience and provide something at least passingly better than the score of "man challenges animal" shows; making it a super sized Crocodile Hunter for those in the market for such shows.