Artisan // 2002 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // November 14th, 2002
They roamed the Earth more recently than you may think.
What Killed the Mega Beasts? raises an important question: can we use this DVD player thingy for more than babes and explosions? Instead of the usual two hour mental pacifier, can DVD serve higher purposes such as education, thought, and examination of the human condition?
I'm being factitious, of course. Many films and DVD presentations serve those higher purposes, educating as they entertain. But how many of us seek out educational experiences as we sit in our darkened home theaters? How many people log on to Amazon and forego Spider-Man for documentaries on Pleistocene era marsupials? I bet not too many, and that is a cryin' shame.
The real question asked by What Killed the Mega Beasts?, of course, is "What killed the Mega Beasts?" Mega beasts, or megafauna, are just like regular beasts only really, really big. Big like the Twinkie in Ghostbusters. We're talking six ton ground sloths, nine foot tall ostriches, and beavers larger than your Volkswagen. Within a relatively short period of time (from 20,000 to 700 years ago), these magnificent creatures were erased from existence...
This Discovery Channel documentary explores three different theories for the mass extinction, hokily dubbed chill, kill, and ill. (At least two of those became rap slang as well.) These theories are detailed through interviews with scientists, field visits, fossil digs, and other paleontological standbys. But the real draw here is the detailed animated renderings of the beasts confronting their nemesis, Man. I found the animations involving and often touching in their depiction of long dead megafauna (see, I picked up the lingo after just an hour!). Some of the animations were not completely convincing. If you are expecting Jurassic Park, you better chill. But some of them were very convincing and all of them had ill detail. The underwater shot of the beaver is really breathtaking.
The audio is straight television stereo, serviceable and nothing more. The video is 16:9 but doesn't seem to be anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is clean, but plagued by jaggies and horizontal banding. The DVD just didn't look good on an LCD projector, and some of the animation suffered as a result. This was originally produced for the Discovery Channel, so that may account for some of the video issues. When played on a 25" TV, the jaggies went away and the picture snapped to attention.
The documentary is staid. This does not mean uninteresting; it is plenty interesting. The scientists are really enthusiastic about their theories, the animals are awesome. The main problem is that too little material is stretched out over too long a time frame. This would have been a truly great 60 minute documentary. As it stands, What Killed the Mega Beasts? is a worthwhile hour and a half that should lead you to question humankind's role in the world and what impact progress has had on our planet. The neatest thing about the documentary is that these are not really prehistoric beasts: 700 years ago is well within the annals of history and man's cognizance of his world. Will the mega beasts of our own era fare better?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated