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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good series with some fascinating information, 26 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: Planet Dinosaur [DVD] (DVD)
Recently shown on the BBC, this 2-disc set contains all six episodes of the CGI documentary series that highlights recent discoveries about the Mesozoic world, as well as a "behind the scenes" documentary on a second disc. Admittedly, as some people have pointed out, this series does not contain the best computer animation possible. It DOES, however, contain better CGI material than I've seen in several other places; it's very good, just not mega-budget cinema quality. However, it's not so much the digital dinos that matter in this series, it's the discoveries and theories that are brought to light.

Episode 1, "The Lost World," covers Saharan Africa, which has once again started to yield interesting insights into the lives of its dinosaurs. The bulk of the episode is devoted to two giant predators, Spinosaurus and Charcharodontosaurus, as well as their prey, environment, and a few of the other creatures that live alongside them.

Episode 2, "Feathered Dragons," focuses on the strange feathered dinosaurs being uncovered in the Far East, especially China and Mongolia. See such marvels as the four-winged "biplane dinosaur" Microraptor, its venomous cousin Sinornithosaurus, the bizarre, long-armed, aye-aye-like Epidexipteryx which uses its chisel-like front teeth and extra-long fingers to get insects out of trees, and the strange Gigantoraptor, an oviraptor that's bigger than the local tyrannosaurs.

Episode 3, "Last Killers," features the famous tyrannosaurs (which dominated the northern hemisphere continents), and the abelisaurs, which were the top predators in the lands of the southern hemisphere (and which looked a bit like a cross between a dinosaur and a pit-bull). Watch a pack of Daspletosaurus hunt, see the cannibalistic fury of the Madagascan Majungasaurus, and find out what fills the top predatory niches when you go too far north for most tyrannosaurs to be comfortable with the cold.

Episode 4, "Fight for Life," deals with new discoveries in predator/prey relationships. In Europe, we see the plesiosaur Kimmerosaurus try not to become lunch for the massive pliosaur known as "Predator X," a relative of the Liopleurodon. In North America, we find a mixed-species herd of Camptosaurus and Stegosaurus work together to increase their chances of survival against predators like Allosaurus and Saurophaganax. Also, to prove that scientists like a laugh as much as the next person, the tail end of Stegosaurus now seems to have been officially dubbed "the thagomizer," paying homage to a certain 1982 panel of "The Far Side" by famed nerd cartoonist Gary Larson, who is a favourite amongst scientists.

Episode 5, "New Giants," shows us the colossal South American Argentinosaurus and its predators, Skorpiovenator and Mapusaurus, as well as the African Paralititan and its nemeses, Charcharodontosaurus and Sarcosuchus. Also important to note: find out why, despite what you may have heard in a folk song long ago, you should never go walkin' in the footsteps of a sauropod.

Episode 6, "The Great Survivors," reveals some of the survival mechanisms that enabled dinosaurs to adapt and survive in a changing world. See the dwarf sauropod Magyarosaurus, a titanosaur not much bigger than a horse, the Hatzegopteryx, a ground-stalking pterosaur as tall as a giraffe, the carnivore-turned-vegetarian therizinosaur Nothronychus and its huge defensive claws, and the nesting behaviour of Gigantoraptor.

The extra behind-the-scenes documentary on the second disc, "How to Build a Dinosaur," is presented by Dr. Alice Roberts. Intelligent, competent, attractive, and charming, she also has what I find to be possibly THE MOST IRRITATING vowel-shifted accent I've ever heard in a TV presenter. The documentary is based around finding out how, in Dr. Roberts' own words, these "ore-inspiring" creatures "licked and meeved." Most of the time is spent on the reconstruction of a family of tyrannosaurs for a museum display, and how modern research techniques and comparative anatomy in modern animals help scientists visualise what dinosaurs were like as accurately as possible. This is also probably the only place where you'll get to see in close-up, during a dissection, an ostrich's vicious-looking finger-claw (something I never even knew existed), as well as the "tee tays" on its feet. At least she pronounces "dissection" correctly, which very few people do, so props to her on that.

On the downside, the editing is not as tight as that of previous similar series. We get told three times in the space of about ten minutes that Spinosaurus was 17 meters long, just in case we forgot the first couple of times we were told. John Hurt mispronounces a few of the creatures' names on occasion and it wasn't caught and corrected. He seems to have the most problem with Daspletosaurus, Troodon, and Epidexipteryx. Some of the subtitles don't match the audio track. The wrong words or incorrect spellings occasionally slip in, such as John Hurt saying "Zunityrannus," while the subtitles show "Sinotyrannus." Also, some of the little factoid frames don't match up with the narration. In one instance, the narration says Spinosaurus was discovered in 1912, while the pop-up factoid frame says 1915, for example. Although it is not explicitly mentioned in the series (but can be inferred from later episodes), the pop-up factoid frames list the year in which one specific fossil specimen was discovered, not the species itself.

Still, it's a fascinating new series with amazing new information for all palaeontology buffs young and old. Highly recommended, but with a grain of salt. The hardcover companion book for this series is also available here on Amazon, but it's mostly aimed at youngsters.
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Location: Torbay, Devonshire, England

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