After almost comical hype (including featuring as an item in the Six O'Clock News), the Beeb's latest dino-fest is finally here. Planet Dinosaur is the other great CG dinosaur documentary event of the year, alongside Dinosaur Revolution (which David has already written about), although it is more in the Walking With Dinosaurs mould. It looks expensive. It features John Hurt's dulcet tones. And it's somewhat flawed. Looks like we're going to have to wait a bit longer for that dream CG dinosaur show.
(Above: the Planet Dinosaur Spinosaurus. Copyright the BBC, used with the assumption that it'll probably be alright, guv.)
Of course, there was much to commend here. For one thing, most of the speculation about the behaviour of the animals was backed up with fossil evidence, whether it was spinosaurs attacking pterosaurs or intraspecific competition in large theropods (although the assertion that such fighting was "likely territorial" was a spurious one). The animals looked pretty good for the most part, with the head of the show's star Spinosaurus being the closest that any CG documentary has yet come to the real thing, while Rugops had appropriately ridiculous, atrophied and largely immobile forelimbs.
That's the thing though - the forelimbs. Oh, theropod forelimbs, why must you trip people up so? For the most part in Planet Dinosaur they just look suspicously...human, but the pedantic dino-nerd is at least kept sated by the fact that the animals aren't adopting the classically erroneous bunny-hands posture. But then - gah! - the Spinosaurus does just that while attacking a sawfish. Shame.
At a more fundamental level, there's the animation. Say what you like about Jurassic Park 3 and that fight sequence, but at least you were left in no doubt there that the creatures smacking each other about were big. Here, while we're repeatedly told that Spinosaurus and its adversary Carcharodontosaurus were bloody enormous, the animation gives little impression of this. There's just no weight shifting, no sense of all that tonnage being smacked around. In fact all of the animals in Planet Dinosaur look unconvincing in this respect.
Still, at least the animals' behaviours were pretty convincing and, as I said before, frequently backed up with fossil evidence (although namedropping some of the palaeontologists involved in the research would've been nice). When Carcharodontosaurus was depicted hunting ornithopods in a forest, it didn't run out in full view, roaring and firing pistols into the air, unlike so many dino documentaries. When it tackled its prey, the show didn't skimp on the cruelty as the quarry hobbled away, bleeding copiously. Equally, Spinosaurus was depicted partaking in pleasingly plausible heron or grizzly-like fishing behaviour rather than tossing fully-grown Rugops about (as in certain other shows I won't care to mention).
Rugops did feature, however, and was described as having "weak jaws" and therefore being a "natural-born scavenger". Groan...
Oh, and that ornithopod? Well, that was Ouranosaurus, who must be too old for this shit. And I mean that literally, as Ouranosaurus lived millions of years before any of the other animals in the show. Well, bugger.
There we have it then - a mixed bag, with apologies for the cliché. Some good points - like including actual science in a dinosaur show! - and quite a few bad ones. I'm still looking forward to future episodes, which promise us properly winged dromaeosaurs if nothing else. If you've seen the show and think I've been too harsh (which I probably have), then do drop a comment.