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Documentary reviews Prehistoric Planet

Prehistoric Planet Episode Five: Forests

Prehistoric Planet’s finale takes us deep into the forests of the Late Cretaceous to examine the weirdest and most wonderful dinosaurs science has to offer.

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! 

The end is upon us!

Following a thrilling week full of endearing dinosaurs, combating rivals, and more pterosaurs than you can get your hands on, Prehistoric Planet’s concluding episode is now up. So far, the series has presented dinosaurs not as bloodthirsty monsters but rather endearing creatures that are, at their core, animals like any other. While this may bother some people, it makes the series outstanding in my eyes.

Now, onto the obligatory spoiler warning. Yes, there will be spoilers. Except for a small introduction below, where I will discuss the episode without giving too much away. Onto the magic!

What’s it About? 

Episode five, entitled “Forests,” takes audiences deep within the canopies of the Cretaceous period to follow some of the most magnificent dinosaurs known. The claustrophobic forests act as a backdrop for a fascinating episode filled with intrigue and a sense of mystery. Viewers are taken to North and South America, China, and Romania to follow a host of dinosaurs and one special pterosaur. The episode moves quickly, meaning that the animals featured get little runtime. Despite this quick pace, Forests is an excellent conclusion to the series. While I won’t address the very end here, I’ll say that it is outstanding and almost had me in tears.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Clearcutting, Sauropod Style 

The episode begins in Brazil, where the audience follows a herd of the sauropod Austroposeidon as they feast upon an ancient forestLike modern Elephants, the Austroposeidon clear through the forest around them, pushing down trees to devour their leaves. The positioning of Austroposeidon’s neck -raised vertically towards the treetops – is based on new research on titanosaur neck vertebrae and posture. The attention paid to their teeth, which sauropods used to strip leaves instead of chewing them, was a nice touch. Though devouring entire forests was a tedious endeavour, the sauropod’s size and teeth maximized their ability to eat as much food as possible. Talk about efficient eating machines!

Spelunking Triceratops? 

Audiences then travel to North America, where a herd of Triceratops attempts to traverse an ancient cave system to find a strange dietary requirement. The design of Triceratops is brilliant, with each Triceratops having differently shaped horns and one even having part of its horn missing. Triceratops fossils with portions of the horn missing are known, possibly due to combat with another Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus. The infant Triceratops also reflects fossils of juveniles, whose frills and horns are undeveloped during adolescence.

Watching them travel through a cave system was interesting, to say the least. Seeing a herd of multi-tonne giants traverse the narrow and claustrophobic confines of a cave made for a fun, if not absurd, sequence. The clay structures they seek to eat – known as clay licks – are structures found in the present-day amazon rainforest. Macaws, a type of tropical bird, will eat these clay structures to support their diet with vital minerals, helping to maintain their health. While there is no evidence that Ceratopsians practised these behaviours, they likely did supplement their diet every now and then. I don’t think this supplementation should have come at the risk of abandoning their children in a cave, however…

A Dance For All The Ages… 

Next up are the forests of South America, where a male Carnotaurus attempts to woo a female with an extravagant dance routine. Spinning around and wagging his tail didn’t seem to do the trick at first, leaving the Carnotaurus to pull out a unique method to seduce the lady:

The scene’s inspiration is the book All Yesterdays, which depicts dinosaurs with speculative features and traits. Abelisaurids – the family of dinosaurs including Carnotaurus – are illustrated using their arms as tools for courtship, which we see in Prehistoric Planet. Today’s featurette explains it well. When you have arms smaller than Tyrannosaurus with no ability to grasp or claw but an ability to move them around, how else could they be used?

Wave to potential meals before you eat them?

Pinocchio Rex – A Brilliant Addition

From South America, we travel to China, where a type of tyrannosaurid known as Qianzhousaurus stalks a group of Corythoraptor, a species of Oviraptorid. The Qianzhousaurus is magnificent; with an accurately long snout, a pair of terrifying and forward-facing eyes, and a brilliant yellow striped colour pattern, the design of Qianzhousaurus is easily my favourite portrayed so far in the show:

Her stalking of the Corythoraptor was spot-on. Even smaller tyrannosaurids like Qianzhousaurus weren’t the fastest, making ambush hunting essential for these animals. Watching the Corythoraptors run away was quite amusing, as their necks bobbing was clearly made to mimic ostriches. The constant drumbeat accompanying her chase added a tense atmosphere to the scene in what is otherwise a (somewhat) peaceful episode.

My grandfather did wonder about eating all the feathers of Corythoraptor. My answer? Hairballs or indigestion. Though I suppose Qianzhousaurus would make pellets instead…

Ankylosaur Representation!

Back in Canada, the episode explores the aftermath of a forest fire. The small dromaeosaurid Atrociraptor uses the smouldering remnants of a forest to smoke out parasites, making it the second small predatory dinosaur to harness fire in this series (see my episode four review for context). Before you think these behaviours are too complex for dinosaurs, modern birds use similar strategies to their advantage, meaning their ancient cousins could have too. It’s funny that every time a raptor comes on screen, no matter how small, the camera immediately focuses on the killing claws…

The Atrociraptor’s peace is soon interrupted by an ankylosaurid, either the genus Ankylosaurus or Anodontosaurus. Its green scales are beautiful; unfortunately, I can’t call two dinosaurs – in the same episode, no less – the most beautiful in the series. Top five will have to do to for now. Eating tree bark may seem strange, but large herbivores occasionally ingest these materials to aid digestion. Though I wouldn’t recommend trying bark to help yourself down there… 

Sleeping Giants & A Precious Taste of Honey 

The episode then travels back to a night in central Asia, where we meet a sleeping sauropod. I seriously believe this may be the only depiction of a sleeping sauropod dinosaur in pop culture. Why? It may be because paleontologists aren’t quite sure how they slept. While some believe they lay down – as shown in Prehistoric Planet – others believe they were too large and thus shut parts of their brains off like modern Albatross. It’s still incredible to see one asleep, reminding audiences that even the largest dinosaurs needed to take a snooze from time to time.

Baby Therizinosaurus

The nights of Cretaceous Asia weren’t necessarily quiet, however, as a group of infant Therizinosaurus crashes the party to steal honey from a beehive. While Therizinosaurus wasn’t the ecological equivalent of Whinny the Poo, their massive claws certainly could be used as tools for hive destruction. Speaking of claws, seeing them already present on the babies was adorable. Even more cute was their hero warship of the adult Therizinosaurus, who came along and gave them free honey. Bees were around in the Mesozoic, and with a diet comprising large amounts of ferns and conifers, honey would have been a lovely treat for dinosaurs like Therizinosaurus. 

The Perfect Ending? 

The final scene takes place in Central Europe, where dwarf dinosaurs appear. Zalmoxes, a dinosaur described as “the last of an ancient dinosaur lineage,” is a rhabdodontid – a subset of the Iguanodontids. Iguanodontids became replaced by hadrosaurids in other parts of the world, leaving small populations scattered in places like Europe. Unfortunately, the island forests of Romania weren’t entirely safe, as one juvenile finds out in the jaws of the pterosaur Hatzegopteryx.

Haţeg island seemed devoid of large terrestrial carnivores, leading some to hypothesize that Hatzegopteryx was the top predator. Indeed, studies on Hatzegopteryx and its kin have revealed they were capable predators on land, allowing them to gobble the mini dinosaurs of Europe’s islands. I love that the Hatzegopteryx looks nothing like the Quetzalcoatlus in episode three and the Phosphatodraco in episode one. All three are in the same family, the Azhdarchids, and some documentaries would have given them the same appearance but with different colours. However, they all look unique, which adds to the details of Prehistoric Planet. 

The series ends where it began, on the beaches of prehistoric Earth. Two Sauropods – likely the dwarf species Magyarosaurus – nuzzle into each other, another rare sight from a dinosaur documentary. The series ends with the Hatzegopteryx taking off from the beach and flying into the sunset.

This ending was perfect. We all know what happened to the dinosaurs; having the series end with a meteorite destroying all the life we have spent time with would defeat the purpose of the series. Prehistoric Planet has been about portraying dinosaurs as vibrant living creatures. Ending their story with destruction would completely undermine that effort. Also, we all know what happened to the dinosaurs; at this point, including their destruction would be akin to watching Batman’s parents die for the millionth time. We get it – you don’t need to beat our heads over it.

I loved this series. My reviews of dinosaur media are usually “I was surprised this was good!” or “Jurassic World, gross.” It was refreshing to go into a series with high expectations and have those expectations completely blown away. While I will write a more in-depth summary of the series’ best moments, science, and more, this was amazing. Short and simple, it’s an outstanding series that I strongly recommend all dinosaur lover’s watch. 

I think it will take some time for me to put this somewhere on the dinosaur-documentary hierarchy, but I will say that it’s in the top two. Prehistoric Park will forever have my heart, but this series may have caught up. A perfect portrayal of life in prehistory, Prehistoric Planet makes dinosaurs out to be living creatures in a way few other dinosaur documentaries have. Whether that’s what people want to hear or see is something completely different, but for me, it’s all I could ask.

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

For more about dwarf dinosaurs like the ones featured in today’s episode, check out an article about Haţeg Island here at Max’s Blogosaurus.

Prehistoric Planet: Episode Five Uncovered

Prehistoric Planet: Forests Trailer

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