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Dinosaurs Documentary reviews

Prehistoric Planet: A Thrilled Paleo-Nerd Shares his Thoughts

Awesome animations? Accurate science? David Attenborough??? Mark your calendars, folks!

For years, the paleontological community has hoped that an accurate dinosaur documentary would be produced.

It may finally be upon us.

To most paleo-nerds, the BBC classic Walking with Dinosaurs is the best dinosaur docuseries. WWD presented dinosaurs within the framework of a nature documentary akin to Planet Earth with brilliant results. Stunning animations brought dinosaurs to life with a vibrancy and complexity that has evaded dinosaur documentaries in subsequent years. Though other series have attempted to recreate WWD’s magic since its 1999 release, they have often fallen flat.

Baby Triceratops, featured in Apple TV’s Prehistoric Planet

Luckily for us, the void left by WWD may soon be filled. On May 23rd, Apple TV is set to release Prehistoric Planet, a docuseries focused on the dinosaur’s reign. Based on the promotional material released, Prehistoric Planet may just be the spiritual successor to Walking with Dinosaurs. Admittedly, that’s a bold declaration for a series that hasn’t been released yet. So why the hype?

Beautiful & Realistic?

To say that dinosaurs have never looked better may be understating it. Utilizing the latest research, the dinosaurs of Prehistoric Planet appear to be as accurate as one could possibly hope. Subtle details like a feathered Pachyrhinosaurus and a chunky Tyrannosaurus rex with patterned skin may go over most viewers heads, but they are exquisite details that utilize the most current research to flesh out long extinct animals.

Of course, this realism can only be brought to life by beautiful animations. Fortunately, Prehistoric Planet’s visual appeal may be one of a kind. Vibrant colours and skin patterns make the dinosaurs pop out of the screen. Beautiful perspective shots allow for a sense of grandeur to develop. Speculative features, such as sauropod neck air sacs, make for intriguing glimpses into what life may have looked like in the time of the dinosaurs.

Gone are the days of featherless raptors, and I am all for it.

It’s not just dinosaurs’ appearances that stand out in the trailers; their behaviours do as well. Within the trailer, we see pairs of sauropods and tyrannosaurs bonding; ceratopsians, hadrosaurs, and marine reptiles exhibit parental behaviours; and mating rituals of Carnotaurus and a sauropod herd. In the sneak peak, we follow a baby Tyrannosaurus as it forays onto a beach accompanied by its siblings and father. This doesn’t mean that the series won’t feature any action – just that said action will be interspersed with realistic and endearing portrayals of dinosaurs.

A Relevant Scientific Framework

Like most dinosaur documentaries, Prehistoric Planet sought consultation from paleontologists to create the most realistic forms possible. However, instead of relying exclusively on older paleontologists, Prehistoric Planet’s consultation features younger paleontologists with contemporary insights. Paleontologists Darren Naish and Mark Witton, and paleoartist Gabriel Ugueto, are some of the names associated with the project. Instead of outdated views of dinosaur behaviours and appearances, a more modern outlook on prehistory will be undertaken.

What surprised me was the influence that paleoart had on some of the design choices. The artwork of both Ugueto and Witton is brought to life in some scenes, most notably the clash of sauropods being directly inspired by one of Witton’s pieces:

Prehistoric Planet (top) vs Mark Witton (bottom)

Another major artistic influence comes in the form of All Yesterdays, a paleoart book co-written by Naish and paleoartists John Conway and C.M. Koseman. Featuring speculative reconstructions of dinosaurs with strange characteristics, All Yesterdays is one of the most fascinating pieces of dinosaur literature out there. Though many of the dinosaur depictions may seem strange, they all attempt to bring layers of complexity to dinosaurs not featured in most paleoart. It’s influence on Prehistoric Planet isn’t exactly subtle; take for instance the Carnotaurus featured in the trailer, which exhibits a pose that directly mimics All Yesterdays:

Carnotaurus in Prehistoric Planet (top) vs All Yesterdays (bottom)

You know what they say: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

A Legendary Ensemble

Aside from beautiful dinosaurs and modern science, one reason to be attached to this project is the names associated with it. Legendary BBC broadcaster David Attenborough will narrate Prehistoric Planet, continuing a personal trend of prehistoric media (it will be his second dinosaur docuseries of the year). Hans Zimmer, composer of film scores such as The Dark Knight trilogy and The Lion King, will be composing the soundtrack for the series. Most surprisingly, Jon Favreau – creator of The Mandalorian and the guy who started the Marvel Cinematic Universe – will be attached as a producer. The only thing to make it more star-studded would be if George Clooney did the voices of the dinosaurs.

What Dinosaurs Should We Expect?

Prehistoric Planet will have five episodes, with each featuring a different environment. Based on the episode previews and trailers, most of the action takes place in the Late Cretaceous period, from about 72 million years ago to the end of the age of dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. The series will take viewers across the globe and follow both dinosaurs and the other extinct organisms that lived alongside them.

Deinocheirus

Marine reptiles from New Zealand – the long-necked elasmosaurid Tuarangisaurus and the mosasaur Moanasaurus – take center stage in the first episode titled “Coasts”. The second episode, “Deserts,” will travel across the globe to places like Mongolia, Morocco, Argentina, and potentially Madagascar. It is unclear what will be featured in episode three, “Freshwater,” beyond the strange Mongolian ornithomimid Deinocheirus. Episode four (“Ice Worlds”) will travel to the arctic circle, while episode five (“Forests”) will take viewers across the globe and likely feature dinosaurs such as Carnotaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex.

My most anticipated dinosaur isn’t a dinosaur at all – rather the devil frog Beelzebufo, whose brief appearance snatching a dinosaur left me all the more excited.

Beelzebufo

May 23rd will be a big day for the paleontological community. With modern science, cutting edge digital effects, and more dinosaurs than you can wrap your head around, Prehistoric Planet has the potential to become the best dinosaur documentary of all time.

Cheers to its success!

Prehistoric Planet Trailer:

Prehistoric Planet Sneak Peek:

I do not take credit for any images found in this article. All images are credited to Apple TV.

Brontosaurus clash courtesy of Mark Witton, found at his website here

Carnotaurus mating dance courtesy of John Conway, found in his book All Yesterdays

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