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Case Number 15101: Small Claims Court

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Essential Dinosaur Pack

Discovery Channel // 2008 // 640 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // November 27th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia loves dinosaurs—not just the ancient reptiles, but aging rock bands as well.

The Charge

Now for the first time, all of Discovery Channel's exciting dinosaur programs in one two-disc set!

The Case

The release of the BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs back in 1999 paved the way for a new way for dinosaurs to be seen on TV. By blending the animation seen in Jurassic Park with the structure of a nature special, it reinvigorated paleontology for a new generation of TV watchers. Discovery Channel took this format and ran with it, creating a four-part series called Dinosaur Planet and a two-hour special on dinosaurs that lived on what would later become the American continent, but they also kept the classic TV dinosaur format of footage of paleontologists digging at sites and explaining what they found.

Essential Dinosaur Pack combines seven Discovery Channel shows produced between 2001 and 2007. While the animation-heavy approach is more technically dazzling and easier to watch as entertainment, old-fashioned footage of paleontologists is actually the better bet. That's not to say that the more fictionalized shows seen here are terrible or uninvolving. It's just that they add little to our understanding of dinosaurs apart from a few tidbits here and there. The somewhat drier scientific shows contain some astounding revelations, so that even with their cheaper production values, they're the real meat of this set, so to speak.

Essential Dinosaur Pack features seven shows on two discs:

Disc One
Valley of the T. Rex
Paleontologist Jack Horner has found a collection of five T. Rex fossils at a site in Montana, leading him to reconsider much of what we think we know about the dinosaurs.

T. Rex: New Science, New Beast
New discoveries about T. Rex have made many scientists rethink what they thought they knew about this dinosaur.

When Dinosaurs Roamed America
Computer animation reenacts the possible lives of various dinosaurs whose skeletons were discovered on the North American continent.

Utah's Dino Graveyard
Scientists discover a rare dinosaur skeleton in Utah and attempt to reconstruct its history.

Disc Two
Dinosaur Planet
In this four-part series, the lives of various dinosaurs covering various eras are reenacted with computer animation.

The Mystery Dinosaur
The discovery of a small T. Rex-like fossil launches a controversy over the theories behind dinosaur evolution.

Dinosaurs: Return to Life?
Can a dinosaur be brought back to life using the techniques seen in Jurassic Park? The answer is surprising.

The two fictionalized shows, When Dinosaurs Roamed America and Dinosaur Planet (both of which won Emmy awards), are the lengthiest and will probably be the ones that fans will go for first. They're very entertaining with well-written storylines and impressive animation. Sometimes the scripts tend to go too far with corny jokes and some scenes of carnage are unnecessarily sanitized, but overall these are good shows worth watching. However, they're not that much different from Walking with Dinosaurs, so if you've already seen that show, you'll find much of this pleasant but repetitive. If you haven't, you should really start with it first, as it covers a wider range of dinosaurs and time periods. Neither of these two shows is bad but they don't break any new ground either. The only notable difference is that occasionally some stories are interrupted so that a paleontologist can fill in scientific details to scenes in the episodes. It's a welcome touch, but too small to really make these more than commendable but not particularly noteworthy.

The other shows are far more compelling. Horner, a brilliant but controversial paleontologist who was the technical adviser for Jurassic Park, is the prevalent interviewee in most of them, and his theories on dinosaurs are sometimes shocking. In Valley of the T. Rex, for instance, he argues that T. Rex wasn't a fearsome predator but a slow-moving scavenger who lived off of other dinosaurs' kills. In Dinosaurs: Return to Life? he describes how it is possible to reverse engineer a dinosaur by using an emu's DNA. Whatever you may think of his theories (and he always backs them up with careful documentation), there's no question that many of them will be fascinating and novel to most viewers. Plus, each of these shows is so well-explained and written that they're never boring or pedantic. They also have scenes of computer animation to act as visuals, and these are admittedly much cruder and less detailed than in the more fictionalized shows. As visual aids for explaining some of the more complex theories about dinosaur life and biology, however, they are more than adequate.

The shows themselves are in pretty good shape. They vary in aspect ratio, with about half the programs in full screen and the others in anamorphic 1.78:1, but the transfers for all are quite solid. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is okay, but for shows with scenes of dinosaurs stomping the earth and fighting viciously, a 5.1 surround mix would have nice. There are no extras, but none are really needed. The science-based shows are so thorough that there aren't really any missing pieces, and the more fictional shows wouldn't benefit from details about how they were filmed, since computer animation is so commonplace these days. For dinosaur fans, this package is a must-have, although the shows that are less immediately accessible are actually the most valuable here. If you haven't seen Walking with Dinosaurs, it might be worthwhile to check it out first. Nonetheless, Essential Dinosaur Pack is a nicely chosen collection with enough variety to please both newcomers and dinosaur buffs. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Discovery Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 640 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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