Judge Gordon Sullivan ate at Planet Dinosaur once, but the thawed mammoth steaks were tough.
Forget the T-Rex—meet the real lizard kings in Dinosaur Planet
I don't remember a lot of the things I was supposed to learn in elementary school. The math sunk in, but to this day, I don't remember things like the names of clouds, even though I can remember that I was supposed to learn them. Of course, this makes me wonder why anyone tried to teach these things to me in the first place. That's especially true where dinosaurs are concerned. Aside from some historical facts—such as the uncovering of the first modern fossil evidence of dinosaurs—pretty much everything I learned about our ancient friends was just plain wrong. The largest dinosaur has been replaced, dinosaurs are now closer to birds than snakes or other reptiles, and many of them have feathers. Of course, that doesn't help third grade me who learned all about different dinosaurs, but it does keep folks like the BBC with constant new material to supply documentary topics. Planet Dinosaur collects six television episodes that give viewers a peek into some of the latest discoveries about dinosaurs.
Planet Dinosaur is another in a long line of TV documentaries that combine voiceover narration (in this case delivered by John Hurt, V for Vendetta) with digitally re-created dinosaurs. Taking their cue from more traditional animal documentaries, Planet Dinosaur attempts to dramatize what life might have been like in the world of dinosaurs in a way that is equal parts dramatic and factual.
These kinds of documentaries have a few things to get right. The first is the factual content. As someone who is not a dinosaur expert, I can't comment on the accuracy of the info presented here. However, I can say the narration makes a point of mentioning it's relying on the most up-to-date information that we have about dinosaurs, and how that information has changed from our previous understanding of dinosaurs. Hurt has a soothing voice and an approachable narration style; after all, he played the Storyteller in Jim Henson's The Storyteller for a reason. He gives the stories that the episodes tell a certain drama, contributing to the tension and resolution almost as much as the visuals.
Each of the six episodes collected here tries to focus on one aspect of dinosaurs that has changed in recent years, offering newer information alongside a more general picture of dinosaur life. So, episodes like "Feathered Dragons" tackles our new knowledge about just how many dinosaurs were covered with feathers rather than scales. Similarly, an episode like "New Giants" looks at how our estimations about the largest dinosaurs (and which species they might be) have changed. In between presenting these new facts, the show gives us little vignettes, like a newly hatched diplodocus being menaced by a predator. These small moments tell little stories and help viewers integrate the voiceover information with visual examples.
The visuals themselves are good enough for this kind of document. The dinosaurs look real enough, and the digital world they inhabit is well-detailed. The CGI, though, isn't totally convincing. The dinosaurs look consistent, and have personalities. However, they're not particularly realistic; no one would ever confuse them for photographs. Motion is sometimes a bit jerkier than I'd like as well. Again, for a TV series it's fine, but those expecting big-budget visuals will be disappointed by the slightly stylized look necessitated by the smaller scale and budget of the project.
This no-frills DVD package does these six episodes justice. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers are clean and bright. The image appears to have originated digitally, and no compression artifacts mar the presentation. Black levels are fairly deep and consistent, colors are well-saturated, and there's no noise to speak of. The stereo audio captures Hurt's narration well. Balance is excellent, and everything is audible without needing to reach for the remote. The lone extra is a short featurette that looks at "How to Build a Dinosaur," offering insight into the show's creation.
Obviously, if dinosaurs aren't your thing, then Planet Dinosaur will offer nothing to tempt you back into the giant-lizard-loving fold. There's also the lingering feeling that no matter how up-to-date the info in this series is and no matter how pretty it looks now, it will very soon be superseded by another documentary series with even newer information about how everything we currently think is wrong.
Planet Dinosaur is a fine series that gives viewers a good sense of where our knowledge about dinosaurs is at the moment. Combining nature-documentary stylings with a competent narration from smooth-voiced John Hurt, Planet Dinosaur is sure to please budding archeologists and older dinosaur fans alike.
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