movie review: walking with dinosaurs

though almost nothing but disaster and tragedy has come in the wake of my cousin larry visiting me, one good thing has emerged from the whole affair...

larry being the biggest dinosaurian actor in hollywood (in modern times anyway), has the behind the scenes scoop on nearly every high profile dinosaur movie of the modern era. as larry loves talking about himself and his various exploits, during his recent dropping by i've gotten the low down and behind the scenes gossip on pretty much every film larry has ever been a part of!

perhaps the most dear to his heart were the BBC prehistoric series including such legendary documentaries as walking with: dinosaurs, beasts, and monsters. the chased by dinosaur series, sea monsters, and prehistoric park all with nigel marvin.

larry giving me stories about these shows coinsides quite nicely with my birthday present from craig all of them on DVD. so i shall impart on you an very insiders view into the production of these shows. starting at the very beginning...

Walking with Dinosaurs

Summary of Review

(Remember this is all from a Dinosaur point of view)

Score: 120%

Good Points:

the LARGEST cast of dinosaurs EVER in one project!

unmatched accuracy and attention to scientific detail for its time

authentic casting

easily among the best dinosaur, and prehistory portrayals of all time!

Bad Points:

some out of date dinosaur behaviour included (but this was cutting edge in its time. so i'm cutting scales here as it were)

i wasn't in it!


Plot Summary

not much of a specific plot in human terms of a movie due to NO humans appearing in the movie at all! instead near perfect portrayals of dinosaur existence before their various extinctions millions of years ago.

in dinosaur terms of plot though these 6 episodes have it all.

romance. nearly every episode has a storyline or plot thread related to love. these vary from the heart warming (the love affair of the diplodicus), to the comedic (the out of date loner tyrannosaur story), to the very tragic (the ornithocheirus' epic). to all you dinosaurs reading this walking with dinosaurs is a great date movie!

epic. the saga of especially the coelophysis comes to mind as they muscle their way into a none dinosaurian world.

comedy. the antics of the leaellynasaura had me laughing the whole time. their such cute little buggers.

horror. the last episode is full of scary menaces to us dinosaurs leading up to the final extinction 65 million years ago (i highly discourage hatchlings from being allowed to watch this episode). From egg eating mammals, to volcanic gas traps, to large crocodiles, to the asteroid impact. a very scary note to end the series on.

action. okay too many great action sequences to list. to the guys out there, this film has so many scenes of hunting, stalking, pouncing, and ambushing it'd make even the most scavengeristic theropod yearn for the hunt...

Production History

for these particular films to be fully appreciated their behind the scenes story must be known first. so for this review i diverge with this new category (due to a few of my later review aspects being kinda sparse).

like SO much in modern dinosaur culture this series owes a great deal to jurassic park. with the majority of us surviving dinosaurs being dependant on public interest in us (due to our only occupations being in museums, theme parks, and oh so few lucky of us as movie stars) jurassic park brought a whole new level of public interest back to dinsoaurs.

at the forefront of this wave of public interest, was the flagship dinosaur of the jurassic park franchise (at least in the 1990's), my cousin larry. now whatever differences me and larry have in real life (caused by his being a JERK and all!) i can't bad mouth his actions in the 1990's (partially cause i hadn't been discovered or hatched yet) as larry put a lot back into the dinosaur community with his stardom.

larry has always been a staunch believer and proponent for dinosaur rights and cultural identity. militantly so in fact. it isn't exactly a tightly held secret that larry hates humans, and sees them as taking from us a world that we rightful owed millions of years ago.

though his politics may be a bit controversial inside and outside the dinosaur community one thing is for sure, they compelled larry to seek the making of a remarkably unique series. emerging from jurassic park and jurassic park the lost world a tried, tested, and true hollywood star larry decided to push for a side project he'd envisioned while working in mainstream hollywood.

that of an accurate and factual version of dinosaur existence be told. one where humans weren't injected in as the heroes. one where our heritage and past could be explored in a truly dinosaurian way...

larry found no one interested in north america, but when word of his aspirations hit britain film makers the BBC pounced on the opportunity. backed by both larry and the BBC the beginnings of history were in the making.

it is interesting to see how these human co producers would effect production. on the one side larry's extreme pro dinosaurian views shine through, yet some of the human sensitivities and misconceptions disrupt larry's vision.

the most public of these are the jurassic episode and larry's own finale episode. the human producers saw the late jurassic period as the Utopian dinosaur era, and as of such the episode has a rather loving and optimistic approach in it's story telling. this differed from larry's viewpoint (and mine) that the late cretaceous was the pinnacle of dinosaur existence.

larry's wishes were mostly kept for the finale (in which he starred) to be of a tragic nature, and a moving and swaying testament to the end of the dinosaurs reign of the earth. however the british producers were so keen to catch the hype from jurassic park they insisted on incorrect tyrannosaur social behaviour like that from JP2 (mostly the t-rexs being loners when we were in fact packing animals). i'll talk about this later, but i mention it early so you follow my small brains logic throughout...

the series before it had even started had one star, but in order to bring the prehistoric past back to life larry and the BBC were going to have to assemble a massive cast... which launches us perfectly for a look at...

Dinosaur Celebrities and Stars

with a staggering 21 dinosaur species in the cast, and 16 other very extinct animal types in this series it was show casing nearly a quarter the surviving prehistoric animals who still dwell the earth today!

by this point in the late 90's dinosaurs were getting used to being in the public eye, and more and more obscure and less main stream species were making their way into films and movies. what made walking with dinosaurs so unique was the prehistoric none-dinosaur creatures it featured. suddenly opportunities for fame and exposure were opened up to these otherwise unnoticed minorities (a trend the british have pushed up into the present with shows like primeval).

i list all the various cast members by episode rather then importance just due to the sheer number.

first episode "new blood" set in the early days of the triassic. larry wanted to tell the story this seldomly talked about era of dinosaurian history (at least in pop culture). it presents the then current reptilian rulers of the earth in some of their glory, but they are also depicted as grossly out matched by the dinosaurian new comers (true they were out matched on a geologic timeframe, but larry's dinosaurian supremacy over plays this to seem like a single year of time)

Placerias among the last of the mammal like reptile get a big spot light in this episode representing the old guard rulers of the earth.

Coelophysis a commonly overlooked by hollywood, but very important early theropods who finally as of walking got the public attention they rightfully deserved! in real life they were played on screen by all the members of the only modern surviving pack of coelophysis left today. they work at several museums throughout the world, and this was a rare chance for them to all work together. this family reunion aspect and their being able to act out their culture and past these guys apparently had a lot of fun while filming, and it shows in the quality of this episode.

cynodont are the token mammal infusion into this episode. as mammals would become important later on in geologic time it's good to see their origins on screen. at the same time one can't help but smell the humans at the BBC insisting that the cynodont storyline be an important one in this first episode.

Postosuchus this proto t-rex was a must for the pilot episode. a close ancestor of us dinosaurs postosuchus is viewed as distant family by us theropods even if he ate our primative ancestors. larry specifically wanted them included in the series. out of both respect for another archosaurian top predator, but for the more humbling role of being shown subcoming to dinosaur supermacy.

Peteinosaurus was more then thrilled at presenting flying reptiles in a NONE hollywood manner. typically pterosaurs are portrayed as nothing more then flying man killers, and the oppurtunity to set the record straight was a real treat for all the pterosaurs of the walking with dinosaurs series.

Plateosaurus were the giants of their time, but due to hollywood typically not doing dinosaur period pieces (and if they do they always get it wrong!) prosauropods are always over shadowed by true sauropods in movies. walking was just what the prosauropods needed to show the world what they had!

the second installment "time of the titans" is the only uplifting and happy episode. which makes for a refreshing watch. the other episodes tend to overly hint at or outright speak of the impending doom of the eras and environments their about. this episode is a power house of mega dinosaur appearances. never before in history has so many HUGE dinos been in one film...

Brachiosaurus having broke out into films with jurassic park the largest of dinosaurs makes a short appearance in time of the titans. however due to the attention the first brachiosaurus scene of jurassic park received in 93 (that interest peeking in a oscar nomination) the brachiosaurs bought into their own new popularity a bit too much. when JP2 entered production these sauropods made too high a salary demand, and were written out of the movie and gained something of a bad name for themselves in the movie making biz. their reputation was still damaged as of the late 90's, and the BBC not wanting to be too associated with them, but still needing them to appear in the episode about large american dinosaurs offered brachiosaurus this grand and quite complimentary appearance, but only for a minute. a jesture that eventually would lead to brachiosaurs being cast in JP3

Diplodocus being among the longest of sauropods is no stranger to film, but hadn't appeared in anything for decades till walking with dinosaurs. in time of the titans they are THE titan. the shots of the diplodocus herd on the move became instant classics, and are among the most iconic of this whole series.

Stegosaurus after enjoying their trimphant come back to movies in the post-jurassic park movie era with a prominent appearance in JP2 the stegosaurs were given a very short but high profile appearance in walking with dinosaurs. much like the brachiosaurs the stegosaurs are given very high notice part, but very little screen time. rumour has it that larry didn't get along so well with these martial artists of the jurassic while filming JP2, and thus manipulated the BBC to keep the stegosaur moments to a minimum.

Dryosaurus being a hypsilophodon were among dinosaurs that could almost never hope to appear in a movie. however being a numerous, but yet somewhat low key, member of mesozoic ecosystems walking with opened up a whole new oppurtunity for the whole hypsilophodontid family to appear. this would cummulate to episode 5 centering around some of Dryosaurus' relatives from down under.

Ornitholestes the small ancestor of tyrannosaurs and raptors, for their introduction to show biz, is given a key role as the nemisis of the baby diplodocus in the early parts of this episode. larry is known to get along very well with these primitive members of our ceolorasaur family, and insisted they be given a big part in the series.

Allosaurus is one of the few lucky dinosaurs to appear in two of these episodes. not only time of the titans, but also the aussie episode. allosaurs are of course NO stranger to the big screen, and as of such have a strong voice in hollywood. one that even matches larry's which was how they negotiated so much time on the series (this was also helped by their family's living so long throughout geologic time!).

Anurognathus the tiny sauropod cleaning pterosaurs were a requirement in this episode as per contractual demands by the sauropod stars. the sauropods required the BBC to provide the Anurognathuses to keep them comfortable. it was an interesting time where the actors offstage requirements could be included in the movie to enhance the film. it also wasn't hard for the participants in these scenes to perform as this was natural behaviour for all involved. the producers of the series were so impressed by the Anurognathus that they were cast again in a solo role (removed from sauropods making it a very unrealistic portrayal) in primeval this year.

the third installment "cruel sea" is among my most favourite mesezoic shows of ALL time! i've always had a soft spot for marine reptiles. dating back to my days living in the tyrrell museum. i used to feed the mariners on display every night before i'd goto bed. they were so majestic. former rulers of the blue. i always wanted to see them alive (rather than the tyrrell's being nothing more than bones). this episode is the first time in decades that marine reptiles have been done well...

Ammonite the shelled cephalopod (squid/octopus relatives) make a brief, but important cameo in this episode. sadly only one LIVING ammonite is seen on screen, and that's at a distance. larry informed me these guys are very hard to direct for filming (maybe explaining their brief but equally disappointing appearance in primeval). this made for not as great an appearance of ammonites as should have been warranted. ammonites were as common as fish during this period of time, and though the episode acknowledges their importance it sweeps them under the rug quickly.

Cryptoclidus though not the most spectacular of long necked plesiosaurs was a good representative of this family. despite popular depictions of plesiosaurs, most of them had medium lengthed necks like cryptos. these guys had immense fun filming with the underwater acrobatics and maneuvers of their heritage.

Eustreptospondylus the token dinosaur in the episode is the first high profile appearance of a megalosaur on screen. this is odd as megalosaurs are the longest known dinosaur by humans yet they've never appeared in film before walking with.

Hybodus the odd jurassic shark became a fan favourite with their anvil shaped fin. so popular and memorable they were asked to return in chased by dinosaurs sea monsters one of the few sea creatures to get a double appearance.

Liopleurodon the short necked pliosaur behemoth of nightmares made a very trimphant debut into showbiz with the intro scene of snatching a dinosaur off the beach (this was a very tricky scene to film as only one tiny bit of beach was deep enough for the liopo to duck behind the rock, and that barely permitted the room for it to grab the dino and lunge back into the water convincingly). among the largest predators of all geologic time was also asked to return for chased by dinos sea monsters.

Ophthalmosaurus the star of the episode is yet another first time appearance. this of the whole ichythosaur family. amazing to think that the fish lizards had never appeared in anything before, but it's true. probably the speed that they move at, even while going slow, proved prohibitive of old era filming technology. walking with remedied this fortuently.

Rhamphorhynchus were the only verteran actor prehistorians in this episodes cast, and served a real leadership role to the others on what to do.

the fourth epsiode marked the beginning of the creteaceous episodes (which made up half the series) "giant of the skies" is a tragic tale chronicling the demise of a single male Ornithocheirus. through the narrative of his finale journey we fly from one end of the prehistoric earth to the other, and get a very indepth view of dinosaurian life of the mid creteaceous.

Ornithocheirus among the largest of winged reptiles is the star of this episode. like so many of the other animals in the walking with series this was a first time appearance for these guys. on the behind the scenes side this was a surprise move made by larry who spurred pteranodon in favour of a less known pterosaur, which allowed the showing of the igaunadon era of time.

Iguanodon was the first really famous dinosaur in human culture ever, and played a big part in the really important early dinosaur fiction the lost world, but yet hadn't appeared in a film till this point (being brushed off in the 1925 film based on the book for newly discovered north american dinosaurs). however after appearing in walking they were immediately cast for the modern HBO remake of the lost world (in my opinion the best film adaptation of it by far!).

Utahraptor the giant dromaeosaur made famous due to it's discovery around the release of jurassic park actually hadn't been in anything up till this point. typically tyrannosaurs and dromaeosaurs don't get along, but larry and the utahs developed a real friendship while filming walking with. i figure this is because dromaeosaurs evolved from big lugs like utahs and got smaller and more annouying throughout geologic time. the bigger theropod the less annouying is the common contention of us tyrannosaurs!

Polacanthus despite being the first known ankylosaur a century and a half ago these guys had, you guessed it been in nothing... It was fitting that they got to walk along side other old timer igunadon in all their scenes.

Tapejara the debut of these huge crested pterosaurs was a real victory for the pterosaur community who'd been calling for more exposure in films than pteranodon or dimorphodon. larry sensitive to their request made sure this episode satisfied this demand.

Iberomesornis larry is proud of tyrannosaurs being a direct relative of birds (a status no other large theropod can claim. the carnosaurs and spinosaurs are distantly related to birds, but we t-rexs as the giant ceolorasaurs are directly linked) and wanted an appearance of an early bird species. due to the prehistoric geographic locations picked for walking with this episode was the first oppurtunity to show case such a primative speicies.

the close to home episode of the series "spirits of the ice forest" is set next door to new zealand in prehistoric austrilia which during this time was attached to us and antarcticia. this episode is about the extreme adaptability of us dinosaurs, and our overcoming extreme environments with extremeness! This episode is poplulated with the biazarre and novel survivors of geologic times past. Due to the sever nature of the polar environment a number of animals that had gone extinct elsewhere, but had adjusted to the colder climate, survived down under. as of such this episode features a very unique cast:

Koolasuchus the giant amphiban equivilant of a crocidile, surprisingly was not a new comer to film. in the old era movies at the earth's core and the people that time forgot both featured a koolasuchus. in this movie they were depictated as the water dwelling animals they were.

Leaellynasaura are the only hypsilophodon in history that will probably be the star of a dinosaur movie. Their funny and cute antics are very memorable, and lend well to exploring the strange south polar world of the cretaceous.

Muttaburrasaurus the rather large igunadontid are the true sterotypically aussies (their dinosaurian accents are even austrilian!) and give the episode that true down under flavour.

weta were once a wide spread species throughout the world, but now are extinct everywhere but new zealand! i'm going to have to find me one to see here in the present!

tuatara are a species of reptile that is inbetween lizards and snakes. in other words it is a common ancestor for most modern reptiles. virtually unchanged in 220 million years (but still a little different mind you!) these guys still again are around in isolated new zealand. again another something i have to find here!

finally the end of the series "death of a dynasty". the big end of cretaceous piece, and larry's most passionate performance ever (at least till prehistoric park). this episode captures my species past and heritage well. the only problems are the glaring mistakes of tyrannosaur behaviour, and it is a little different being that i'm an albertan t-rex not a montana one (same with larry for that matter).

Anatotitan the massive non decorated duckbill. very surprising that these guys or their ubber closely related relatives the albertan edmontosaur haven't been in films before. edmontosaurs are by far the most common dinosaur you find around drumheller. you'd think they'd come cheap for anything as a result!

Ankylosaurus the tankosaur, and t-rex nightmare (this episodes climax shows exactly why!) surprisingly had no roles previous to this. being one of the most iconic and popular of plant eating dinosaurs this is interesting. showing this popularity after this appearance the snap desecion was made to get these guys in JP3, even if it was a bumged up appearance it shows how these guys can easily sell themselves and dinosaurs in hollywood!

Deinosuchus the colossal crocidile makes a very short and unexciting debute with a very minor cameo. realizing their blunder some years later the BBC would rectify this by having the finale ep of prehistoric park centre around this large croc.

Didelphodon the token mammal of the episode. granted by this stage in geologic history mammals cropped up a lot, and the didelphodons were amongst the most common. you guessed it, and i'm getting tired of saying it, but i must. yet another new comer to hollywood...

Parksosaurus one can only think that the hypsilophodons had a very razor sharp agent. these otherwise completely ignored dinosaurian family (both in the popular eye and even scientifically almost) manage the most number of appearances at 3 out of 6 episodes. it helps that they were geologically successful, and present in a lot of prehistoric ecosystems, but man to get that conveyed ON SCREEN. i might have to get peter bond in touch with their agent, cause they sure got results!

Quetzalcoatlus a very brief but loving cameo for the largest flying animal of all time. quetzies are no stranger to the screen though getting the honour of killing the main character caveman in land that time forgot (mind you the quetzy there had to wear dentures for the role LOL).

Torosaurus beat out its close and much more popular relative triceratops for the role of lead ceratopsian. at the time touted as the largest skulled animal ever (now of course this title belongs to pentaceratops) it was hoped by the BBC this might gain some interest as torosaurs had never been on screen before. instead their rookie acting, and lack of majastey (compared to a triceratops anyways) left them sort of flat.

Tyrannosaurus nuff said

Dinilysia an early snake and mammal catcher makes an amuzing appearance as the target of tyrannoaur chick curiosity.

Dromaeosaurus the original raptor (in that it was found by humans first) finally get on screen, and earn themself stature and recognition towards (but not equaling) their cousins the velciraptors.

Triceratops the iconic and ultimate ceratopsian somehow yet again in the 90's is given an almost insulting role in a movie. in this case forced to play a mere carcasse right on the heels of JP1 where they were portrayed by a sick tranquilized individual (which is just a tad better than dead body in my opinion). the modern era just hasn't been kind to these guys. once they were acknowledged as the masters of the horned dinosaurs with epic roles such as 1 million years bc. it won't be up until last years (after massive protests and demands by the public) prehistoric park that triceratops finally got a modern appearance worthy of their stature of tyrannosaurs main prey item... er i mean rival.

Dinosaur Portrayal

walking with dinosaurs did nothing but good things for the public's understanding and appreciation for us saurians. not to mention their exposure to other prehistoric creatures never even hinted at before in popular culture.

even years later at the museum we were asked questions about our fossils and displays directly spurred by walking with.

perhaps where this series achieved the most was how it expanded on jurassic park's conveying dinosaurs as living breathing creatures. we saw everything from how some dinosaurs ate, to slept, to mated, and even how they died.

it showed that we didn't exist solely to inhabit isolated far away places simply to eat humans dumb enough to wander there. rather that we had been a very successful and thriving group of animals removed from humans, and totally undependant on them.

Impact on Dinosaur Perception

larry's goal of a series to inindate humanity with an accurate and realistic view of dinosaurian culture was truely realized.

not only did it succeed, but it was an international hit. spawning numerous sequels and spinoffs (which i have sitting in front of me waiting to be reviewed...).

Overall Score: 120%


Albertonykus said...

Ancestral dromaeosaurids were pretty small flying creatures, actually, a la Microraptor. They grew to larger sizes in the Early Cretaceous but then got outcompeted by bigger predators such as you tyrannosaurids, Traum.

By the way, are you going to review the other dino docs?

traumador said...

Albertonykus- that is true on the ancestral dromaeosaurs...

though back when i wrote this post 3.5 years ago (AHHHHH seriously?!? that's how much time its been!?! i feel like i wrote that a few months ago...), the ancestry of the dromaeos wasn't as solid (at least in what i'd read about it at the time). its really only been in the last couple of years that a solid picture of early dromaeos has emerged.

i was referring more to cretaceous dromaeos (aka very derived from the early jurassic raptors). There is contention (at least among technicans I've spoke to on the issue) as to whether smaller Dromaeosaurids (Dromaeosaurs, Atrociraptor, and Deinonychus) were direct descendents of something like Utahraptor (and reshrank after Utah'd grown bigger) or if Utah did its own thing and these smaller ones are more the norm for the line.

at the time i was in the "small to big to back to smallish" camp, but alot of these newer primitive dromaeos (i hadn't heard of as of this article) are bringing me to the mutant Utahraptor line of thinking.

as for other reviews, funny enough i've had the pictures for posts on nearly EVERY dinosaur documentary and movie i could think of in late 2007, laid out since this post... i just haven't had the time to get to them. that and i wasn't sure if anyone found them that interesting.

i do plan SOMETIME (whenever that is) to return to dinosaur movie/documentary reviews... if it is something you'd be keen on reading (or possibly seeing... yes, i'm returning to vlogs again this fall!) let me know...

Albertonykus said...

Yikes, I didn't realize how much has changed since '08. I was only poking around in your older posts looking for material to put on your TV Tropes page.

I'd love to see more of your reviews and vlogs, Traum! If you ever catch a breather from perilous situations and extreme get-famous-quick plans it'd be great to have a look at some!

*Zen said...

Hey, thanks for reviewing one of the best BBC production, one of the best dinosaur's documentary.
Your review is perfect ^^ Objective, informative/educationnal, and by the way funny, when Traumador give his point of view as if he talked with full knowledge of the fact.
I agree with your rating, althought, I'd rather put 200% ^^
Anyway, I had trouble to reach this page, because the link in your blog is false ^^

I love your blog Traumador.
I'd hope you to make more review, however, that might take you a lot of time, but that make me discover greats movies/documentaries on dinosaurs and palaeontology, you should make an article on listing movies/documentaries you know.