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Documentary reviews Prehistoric Planet

Prehistoric Planet Episode Three: Freshwater

Splashing around the freshwater systems of prehistoric earth was no peaceful endeavor, as Prehistoric Planet’s third episode explores…

The dinosaur event of 2022 is here! Throughout the week of May 23rd, Apple TV’s Prehistoric Planet will release one episode per day. Gracing audiences with beautiful effects, entertaining storytelling, and modern dinosaurs that you can sink your teeth into, Prehistoric Planet is for all prehistory lovers! Each episode will be dissected and reviewed here at Max’s blogosaurus through the week! 

Prehistoric Planet week continues!

We are now at the halfway point in the series, and so far, it has lived up to the hype. The continued use of excellent designs, intriguing speculative behaviours, and modern science has brought dinosaurs to life in a way few other series have achieved.

At this point, it goes without saying that spoilers are to be expected. I will include a brief spoiler-free summary, then get into the juicy bits. 

What’s it About?

Episode three, entitled “Freshwater,” follows dinosaurs and pterosaurs living around the planet’s freshwater systems. For lovers of nature documentaries like Planet Earth, this episode leans more heavily into nature documentary tropes and trends, which works in its favour. Once again, prehistoric life pops out of the screen with brilliant designs and animations. Viewers are taken to southern North America, Central Asia, and Southern Africa to follow the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and marine reptiles living in these environments.

Velociraptor

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Raptor or Snow Leopard Hunt?

The opening scene follows a pack of Velociraptors hunting pterosaur hatchlings on the cliffs around a waterfall. A thrilling and exhilarating scene that demonstrates the hunting prowess of Velociraptor, this was easily the episodes highlight. The prolonged stalking, the quick ambush, the female Velociraptor tumbling down a cliff, it all felt extremely familiar. Indeed, it should feel familiar; the producers were clearly inspired by Snow Leopards chasing Ibex down the Himalayan mountains, a common scene featured in Planet Earth:

Velociraptor’s anatomy would have allowed it to operate in vertical and difficult spaces like the ones seen in the episode. Their infamous claws, which have often been depicted as instruments for killing, were also used to help coordinate and balance movement. A long and fused tail provided further balance, enabling Velociraptor to be a nimble and agile climber. Though some believe this evidence signals arboreal (tree-dwelling) capabilities, Velociraptor may very well have participated in cliff-jumping for a meal.

A Tyrant Take on Love and War

Following the Velociraptor’s successful kill, audiences are taken to North America to follow Tyrannosaurus. I love the attention paid to the male’s scars, as injuries are frequently found on predatory dinosaur fossils. Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus specimen, exhibits injuries such as a dislocated arm, bacterial infections, and arthritis. “Big Al,” a famous specimen of the theropod Allosaurus, exhibits 19 separate injuries, including a broken and infected toe that likely contributed to his death. Most pertinent to me is a specimen of Albertosaurus on display at the Royal Ontario Museum, whose leg shows evidence of being broken and having healed. While the lives of carnivorous dinosaurs were violent and painful, the fossils – and the series – demonstrate tremendous resilience amongst theropod dinosaurs.  

Tyrannosaurus rex

The male’s successful courtship of a female was cute…for an apex predator, that is. The male lifting his neck and humming to the female is clearly an imitation of some modern bird mating rituals. As I discussed in the previous episode, large dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus likely communicated through low-frequency vibrations, making his mating call a realistic action. Attenborough’s explanation that the female may see the scars as attractive was fun too; who doesn’t love a guy with his tail chewed off?

The Giant Duck-Camel, Deinocheirus

One of the strangest dinosaurs known to science, Deinocheirus’ inclusion felt almost mandatory. I mean, look at it:

Deinocheirus

To answer what you are thinking, yes, the massive duck-billed, camel-humped, giant clawed, and feathered dinosaur seen on screen really did exist. Yes, it really did spend time in swamps and feasted on aquatic vegetation, as the stomach contents of one fossil contain both fish and aquatic plants. Yes, it was feathered, and I really enjoyed the subtle reference to Deinocheirus having limited eating habits during the dry season. Storing nutrients in rougher months may explain the strange hump on its back, which so far has eluded paleontologists. Or maybe the hump was just a support structure. Either way, Deinocheirus remains one of the strangest dinosaurs out there, and it’s appearance in Prehistoric Planet lives up to that billing.

Pterosaurs, the Star Attractions?

Next, the episode follows a mother Quetzalcoatlus as she seeks to lay her eggs on a swampy island. I have been surprised with how prominently pterosaurs are featured in the show, with many different families and species making appearances. It felt like Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx, the two largest members, were certainly going to appear in brief roles. However, pterosaurs have become a large focus of Prehistoric Planet, with two of the six storylines in episode three featuring them in large roles. Not that I mind, of course; there are plenty of dinosaur documentaries, but those focused on pterosaurs are few and between.

So, cheers to them!

A Devil Frog and a Strange Inclusion…

Jumping ahead to Cretaceous Madagascar, the audience now follows a family of the theropod Masiakasaurus as they hunt for food on a riverbank. However, not all turns out well as one unfortunate youngster gets gobbled up by the devil frog, Beelzebufo:

Beelzebufo

What a way to go!

I was disappointed with the appearance of Masiakasaurus, however. The front teeth of Masiakasaurus were strange, with both top and bottom teeth jutting out from the front of their skull. We don’t see that in Prehistoric Planet’s depiction however, with it appearing to be a rather ordinary dinosaur. While I understand that dinosaurs like Masiakasaurus probably had lips that would have covered its teeth, I think portraying the teeth as odd fixtures would have been better.

Final Thoughts:

At the end of the episode, we follow a group (Pod? Herd? Shoal?) of Elasmosaurus as they hunt in estuaries where freshwater meets the sea. Watching a group of 10-meter-long aquatic reptiles traverse waterways while other animals (Quetzalcoatlus and an unnamed sauropod (Alamosaurus?)) watch them with confusion was rather humorous.

Prehistoric Planet’s third episode truly felt like an episode of Planet Earth. There were moments, particularly during the Velociraptor chase and Tyrannosaurus mating scenes, that I became so immersed with the action that I forgot I was watching animated dinosaurs. That effect is what has made the series so brilliant; even though some of the behaviours are speculated, and we will never know exactly what some dinosaurs looked like, Prehistoric Planet convinces you that the dinosaurs you are watching are alive.

Quetzalcoatlus

That alone counts for something incredible.

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

Except for the Snow Leopard Hunting scene, which is credited to the BBC.

One reply on “Prehistoric Planet Episode Three: Freshwater”

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