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NOVA: The Four-Winged Dinosaur

WGBH // Unrated // May 27, 2008
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Todd Douglass Jr. | posted July 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

Public Television has been educating the masses for quite a few decades though its NOVA brand goes a little beyond the typical programming. It was kind of a landmark show for its day and undoubtedly helped to usher in a new era of documentaries related to science and our Earth. NOVA has been on public broadcasting since 1974 and has well over 600 episodes under its belt. Some of the episodes have hit DVD in the past and their latest one comes semi-fresh from its airing in February of this year.

The Four-Winged Dinosaur explores the missing link if you will between dinosaurs and birds. For quite some time it has been surmised that birds evolved from dinosaurs but every now and then paleontologists come across feathered findings which hint that may or may not be the case. One such discovery was found in a remote and desolate part of China where the fossil of a four-winged dinosaur was discovered less than a decade ago.

Dubbed the micro-raptor, this creature has sparked quite the debate among the community of paleontologists. Some believe that the creature was capable of flight and particular movements while others state that it wasn't the case. A good portion of this documentary focuses on the discovery and takes that knowledge down some hypothetical paths. A man who is closely involved with the creature, Xu Xing, appears quite frequently in this documentary and acts as a sounding board for one particular theory about the dinosaur's evolution.

Xing goes on with the documentary and allows some groups of researchers to study the micro-raptor in an effort to see what they come up with. With this information back at their labs they undertake the task of recreating this critter and seeing just what it would look like. Of course this is all left to personal interpretation of the subject matter and there is some creative freedom displayed here but each team seems to get the gist of it. Neither really proves anything of course and in the end the real answer is we'll never really know but there is a theoretical line drawn in the sand and it's up to you to choose which side you're on.

That's really where The Four-Winged Dinosaur loses some of its cohesiveness. There's simply too much left up to speculation and too many viewpoints put on display here. The documentary goes from showing you one person dictating such a finding as fact and then moves on to another who debunks the previous professional's points of view. This happens for most of the length of this feature and it kind of creates the sensation that the documentary lacks focus. Yes we have a singular topic but with so many points of view the micro-raptor becomes lost in the shuffle.

In the end The Four-Winged Dinosaur does turn out to be a worthwhile watch for fans of NOVA and lovers of all things from the Cretaceous period. I'm not sure that the amount of information really lives up to the standards set by the show or even my own expectations but it was still an entertaining watch. If this documentary was focalized more on one specific opinion it undoubtedly would have been better. Still, because of the variety of opinion it will keep you guessing and speculating how birds evolved and how dinosaurs functioned. Some of the material may be a little too advanced for kids here as well so keep that in mind when you're looking for something educational for them to watch.

The DVD:


The Four-Winged Dinosaur is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture quality is quite good really with a great deal of clarity in the picture due to it being mostly in studio shots. There are some scenes that are "on location" such as in the northern part of China or in Xing's office but these moments hold up just as well. The image can be a little soft at times and in some instances you can expect to see some grain, especially from stock footage, but all around the picture is solid.


This DVD comes with an English 2.0 stereo presentation and it suits the needs of the documentary just fine. You can't really expect more than that from a show such as this and for what it's worth the quality is very good. Though it lives on the front channels and does not offer much in the way of separation the sound is very stable, clear, and sharp. No subtitles or other options are available with this title.


Some printable DVD-Rom material is available if you happen to be teaching some students on the subject but other than some previews that's the only bonus features available here.

Final Thoughts:

NOVA has a reputation for delivering quality documentaries with some real educational meat attached to them. The Four-Winged Dinosaur is really no exception to that rule and there's quite a lot of information lumped into the 54 minute run time. Unfortunately along with the information there are equal parts speculation and opinion which definitely detract from the overall experience. Even so lovers of dinosaurs and those interested in the evolutionary steps of birds should check this release out.

If you're looking at it for a child then I would suggest you consider the fact that some of this information may be a bit beyond their age group depending how young or familiar they are with this topic. This is a documentary that definitely doesn't talk down to its audience and that's actually a good thing.

Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!

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