Walking with Dinosaurs


BBC, 6 30-minute episodes


TV should "educate, inform and entertain". This was the BBC's attempt to do all, which succeeded in doing none.

"Let's make a programme about dinosaurs in the style of our wonderfully successful natural history shows" might sound like a good idea, but such a format is doomed to failure. I realise that many of the shots in natural history programmes are faked, and much is simplified, but still there is an intention that "this is what it would have looked like, if we could have really filmed in the wild" -- and a lot of it is real. In Walking with Dinosaurs , everything is faked, obviously -- but there is no way of knowing from the show what the reality is. "There was no grass" intones an OTT Kenneth Branagh -- okay, I know from other sources grass hadn't evolved yet -- so this is real. "These creatures mated for life" he rumbles -- did they? what is the evidence? what evidence for this behaviour could possibly survive 100 million years ?

When the producer was interviewed on R4 a couple of days ago, he said that a pair of these creatures had been found curled around each other...

-- Paul Bolchover, cam.misc, 1999

Obviously, one of them had died and was lying there when the second, a wandering opportunist necrophiliac, came along, fancied it and was in the throes when they were both overwhelmed by a cataclysm of gargantuan proportions. QED.

-- Steve Kimberley, cam.misc, 1999

So -- the series is definitely not educative or informative -- there is no way of knowing from the shows alone what is fact, what is extreme extrapolation, and what is pure fictional detail added to make it look like a real natural history programme. The only thing I feel I learnt from the entire series is how to pronounce Diplodocus -- not Diplo- doc -us as I have always said -- but Di- plod -ocus as Branagh declaims -- but how do I even know that's not just him?

[walking companions]

Given it's not informative, maybe it's entertaining? After all, the special effects have been hyped as spectacular. Sorry, but no. Herds of identical herbivores slowly stomping from left to right across my screen is not entertaining. The makers seem to be striving to recapture the pathos of the dinosaur scenes in Disney's Fantasia -- they fail. The special effects -- stunning maybe five years ago -- today look relatively crude -- the dynamics of the leaping dinosaurs looks wrong, the dynamics of the tails looks wrong, and I don't think I ever saw a muscle moving under the immobile skin.

What about fictional details? Maybe it works as an entertaining account of the everyday lives of dinosaur folk? Again, no. As (science) fiction, it fails to be at all imaginative. For every single invented behaviour pattern, one could say "oh, like meerkats", or "oh, like elephants", or "oh, like sharks", or...

When they only bit that is any good is a T.Rex chick being blown away by the meteor-impact shockwave, then something is seriously wrong. This is all Just So stories, and not very interesting ones at that.

Rating: 5

[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 8 November 1999