Prehistoric Planet : Season 1
Might contain spoilers.
An imperfect yet incredible, grand, marvelous, and intelligent spectacle. Truly a feat. How wondrous it is to be able to not only see such realistically-depicted creatures from hundreds of millions of years ago but have the entire thing be narrated by the one and only David Attenborough! (Curious that he was unwilling to do the same for Walking With Dinosaurs.)
Indeed, it’s very close to being a documentary, though a rather family friendly one, with an interesting set of variations on the limited themes of predator and prey, family, mating, or old and young. It can be forgiven for feeling at times as though it ran out of ways to say ‘here is a dinosaur doing something you saw the other dinosaurs doing earlier’.
Many of the usual suspects make an appearance or two: T. rex, Triceratops, Velociraptor, Ankylosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus, Carnotaurus. One might miss other mainstays like Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus, or Utahraptor—that last primarily because I recently revisited Raptor Red—but a show of this sort can’t be populated only by the most famous and well-known faces. And after all, we do get a beautifully rendered troodontid who just wants to watch the world burn.
On a related note, I grudgingly admit there’s more to prehistory than just dinosaurs, but I can’t help feeling a little cheated by all the time spent on the mating habits of molluscs and the like. At the very least, some crocodiles would not have gone amiss. Regardless, I find it interesting that Prehistoric Planet incorporates what is evidently a great deal of speculative behaviour without acknowledging it as so. I do think it vastly improves the show and helps correct popular misconceptions about dinosaurs. I would also assume it’s confined to behaviour that is strongly suggested by existing evidence.
The comedic moments aren’t always effective: the small male pterosaur masquerading as a female feels like a forced joke that could have unfurled in a less marked manner. Similarly, the Carnotaurus displaying the blue on its tiny arms is deliberately and egregiously absurd, although, in fairness, I was contemplating how useless those arms were and questioning their purpose. On the other hand (if you would), the therizinosaur babies had me giggling with delight as they tried to get at the honey in the tree.
Part of what hinders the comedy is how unsubtle and straightforward the music is on the whole. It’s oddly generic a lot of the time. That said, the score does contain some unforgettable pieces, like the awe-inspiring percussion over the thrilling introduction of Dreadnoughtus in ‘Deserts’, vaguely reminiscent of ‘Kian’s Theme’ from Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. In fact, the epic music, the staging, and that last, lingering image of the abandoned, unmoving loser all combine to make it my favourite scene of the entire series.
Now, naturally, a five-episode series almost exclusively starring computer-generated creatures will have somewhat varying visual quality. The feathered animals fare better, with the strikingly good-looking, downy Tyrannosaurus Rex babies of ‘Coasts’ likely being the most photorealistic of all. Others that come close are the Therizinosaurs in ‘Deserts’ and ‘Forests’, the Deinocheirus of ‘Freshwater’ and the bright blue Corythoraptor seen from up close in ‘Forests’. The faces of the pterosaurs are extraordinarily realistic, too.
Their featherless relatives aren’t out of the running, though. The same Corythoraptor is hunted by an especially well rendered Qianzhousaurus; the Pacyhrinosauruses and Nanuqsauruses in ‘Ice Worlds’ occasionally look solid enough to touch. When the Barsboldia in ‘Deserts’ drink from the temporary oasis, one can feel the water dripping from their lovingly-detailed wet snouts, juxtaposed nicely with their parched faces and bodies.
The movements are a big factor in the quality, and as such a major reason for the variance. There’s a tangible weight to the T. rex lifting his head as part of the mating ritual in ‘Freshwater’, but a missing sense of weight robs more than a few moments of their realism, rendering them almost unintentionally comical. The colours look oversaturated at times as well: the brightness of the aforementioned Corythoraptors makes them seem artificially enhanced from a distance. The environments, in contrast—sometimes literally—are uniformly breathtaking. They could easily merit a show in and of themselves.
devil toad of ‘Deserts’ is astounding. Its shocking, slow-motion ambush of
the baby is seared into my memory. On the subject of which: nearly every baby dinosaur is
inordinately cute, including the sounds, like the Olorotitan babies pitifully chirping at their
mothers walking ahead. Even the frightening-looking baby plesiosaur of the first episode brought a
smile to my face in its innocent quest for a properly-sized rock to swallow.
Really, the sound is the best part of a magnificent production. The sheer diversity of calls, grunts, chirps, and more—categorically not including roars—is impressive, authentic, and pleasing. It’s also often deeply satisfying, whether it’s beaks clicking or the sublime sound of the Triceratops shaving off clay (again, using beaks).
It’s very clever to establish the old mosasaur in the opening scene as the most dangerous creature
around only for it to be ambushed by an invisible opponent. The sudden attack genuinely startled me.
Kaikaifilu is one of the greatest names I’ve ever heard.
The ending is a bit unsatisfying. David Attenborough’s little note about exploring the science further on the show’s page feels like an afterthought and the pterosaur flying off into the sunset left me wanting more. I would have liked to revisit the T. rex, and perhaps have it growling into a valley, Jurassic Park–style, as no dinosaurs have done in this entire series. Come to think of it, I would generally have liked more interaction between theropods and sauropods. What can I say? I’m just a 12-year-old in an adult’s body.
- This was the first time I’d ever seen his face. His mannerisms are quite amusing.↩