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Very Good but Very Brief
on 16 January 2006
Tim Haines and BBC have really spoiled us with their work on Earth’s prehistoric life. Both “Walking with Dinosaurs” and “Walking with Beasts” were models of an almost perfect balance between hard science and popular entertainment. With the bar set that high, a minor disappointment is inevitable, regarding this latest forage into the planet’s evolutionary past.
Let’s put the record straight: the “Monsters” series enjoys the same high standards of craftsmanship and educating-entertaining value as its predecessors. The species chosen to illustrate the drama of life’s evolution, are quite representative of the surrounding fauna, the “stars” of their time. Their stories are well constructed and develop in a seamless manner from one period to the next. And the “intermissions” with the time-clock ticking and the species changing before our eyes, give a very good picture of life’s continuity and the marvels of evolution.
But we would like to have more, much more. Why not having a six-episode series for the six periods of the palaeozoic era? The answer is obvious: costs constraints. That realization does nothing to allay our hunger. Sure there are enough scientific data to enable the series’ creators to construct complex and marvelous stories for each period. And to prehistoric life enthusiasts, Cambrian arthropods and Devonian fish (where is Dunkleosteus?) are as fascinating as Permian mammal-like reptiles.
Furthermore, the series, following the tradition of the “Walking with...” sagas, creates dramatic stories by presenting fascinating animal behaviors which I suspect lack solid scientific justification. Educated guesses, an indispensable part of paleontology, can push the “poetic license” card a bit too far, even for non-scientists. I understand of course the principles of inference, but I think that they overdid it this time
Despite the above grudges, the series manages in three episodes to convey the richness and fascination of life’s evolution on Earth, for the first 300 million years of its existence. The animals’ CGI are usually of the highest quality, but unfortunately for the computer guys, they already have spoiled us and we expect nothing less. And a measly 90 minutes of material manages to create many regrets for what might have been, if the BBC people gave it the time and money necessary.