Movie: There is something about dinosaurs that appeals to the kid in us all. Be it their massive size, the sense of history behind them, or just the cool way they have been portrayed in movies, these creatures appeal to the kid in us all. Is it any wonder that they have been used in literature and the movies since each format began? In recent years, television has been putting these long-dead creatures on the small screen in a host of shows, some that come to mind include Lost World and Dinotopia, but there has also been a renaissance in the documentary format too. The Discovery Channel on cable has been actively using computer generated dinosaurs to entertain and inform us for years, starting with the hit, Walking With Dinosaurs, and now releasing on DVD their latest effort, Dinosaur Planet.
The two DVD set includes four stories of fictional dinosaur accounts, all based on recent discoveries by paleontologists. By using findings and extrapolating data, the stage is set to provide some "good guesses" as to the way some dinosaurs lived, in these cases between 70 and 80 million years ago. The main focus of the shows seems to be to personalize the dinosaurs in such a way as to make them more understandable to a mass audience, giving them names that were in line with what you'd expect of a family pet as much as anything. Here's a brief synopsis of each story, as provided by the Discovery Channel and a bit of explanation by me:
White Tip's Journey:
"When a velociraptor named White Tip loses the rest of her pack, she must struggle to survive in the desert on her own. In time, she locates a new hunting party – as well as a mate – only to find that her hardships are just beginning in the harsh desert environment."
A velociraptor was basically a human sized killing machine that hunted in packs. It was a cunning hunter in a highly competitive environment, and most people are familiar with them from movies like Jurassic Park or shows like Lost World.
"Pod – a pyroraptor – finds himself alone in the world after his sisters die in a tidal wave that also sweeps him out to sea. After landing on an island populated by dwarf-sized dinosaurs, Pod discovers that he's become the apex predator. But, as a gregarious and social pack animal, Pod learns that it's lonely at the top of the food chain."
This story was again about a creature that was a form of raptor, one of the most popular dinosaurs these days. The focus this time was on how natural selection made the dinosaurs of one isolated island different from the main continent, as well as how an outside creature would be in a precarious position with unique talents.
Little Das' Hunt:
"As a young male of a Daspletosaurus pack, it's Das' job to herd unsuspecting prey towards his fellow hunters. But he's easily distracted and ruins several hunts – getting him in deep trouble with his mother, the pack leader. When a distant volcano threatens eruption, the dinosaurs are caught in a dangerous spot – unless Das can lead them to safety."
This type of dinosaur was more like a Tyrannosaurus Rex that hunted in packs. Carnivores are always popular subjects and this story had the pack hunting what should've been easy pickings. They encounter a volcano and the decision between a meal and leaving the dangerous spot became the focus.
"The world is a very dangerous place for tiny hatchlings like Alpha, a female saltasaur. Follow Alpha as she leaves her nesting site and begins life on the run from a deadly band of aucasaurs. Years later, she returns home to breed – and learns there are worse things to fear than a hungry aucasaur."
This type of dinosaur is a lot like the brontosaur that many of us are familiar with (an ancestor of sorts) in that it was big, clumsy, and a vegetarian. Alpha's story starts from the laying of her egg to a long migration and beyond, one where many of her siblings didn't make it very far.
Okay, I'm a big fan of dinosaurs and documentaries so this one appealed to me on several levels. It addressed environmental issues as well as provided some up to date extrapolations on modern findings, all tied together with some fanciful fiction. There were a number of explanations interspersed throughout the show where people like famed paleontologist Scott Sampson would provide some historical information, tying in such things as fossil records and comparisons to modern day creatures, to help explain how the stories were able to make the leaps in logic needed for a credible factual basis. The narration by popular actor Christian Slater might've been a mistake, his lisp and general inability to convey a sense of wonder his biggest failings, but that was a small problem. The other weakness was the animation style itself, with some aspects looking far more realistic than others. The Discovery Channel's initial efforts were better looking but even though CGI has seen tremendous improvements in the intervening time, the show was not as technically advanced, opening itself up for criticism in this area.
So, how do you rate a show that provided some decent entertainment and educational value, with the above limitations? As always, it's a judgment call and I think it's worth a solid Recommended. The limited extras, narration, and dated CGI kept this otherwise fun show from achieving its place in the upper ranks of the similar releases by the Discovery Channel.
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as originally shot. The colors were solid, the details sharp and the entire thing often looked nearly as though it were shot in real life (the shadows, footprints in the sand, and textures were exemplary) although at times it looked somewhat flat too. I saw no compression artifacts and any edge enhancement was minimal.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround English. There were no subtitles, other language choices, or closed captions. It sounded crisp and clear with appropriate music and sound effects. My biggest complaint with the audio was with the narration, my personal preferences leaning towards Avery Brooks or Kenneth Branagh (various versions of Walking With Dinosaurs). In any case, there was some use of the rear channels, if not a lot.
Extras: The extras were limited to a trailer and some dinosaur facts, with a paper insert included in the DVD case.
Final Thoughts: Dinosaur Planet is a DVD set I can easily Recommend as an informative and fun way to learn more about dinosaurs. The science behind the show seemed reasonable and the stories well written with some care taken on the technical issues. The audio and picture were solid so check this one out if you have any interest in the wonderful world of dinosaurs.