Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Planet Dinosaur, episode five - review

At long last, Planet Dinosaur brought us sauropods this week - in an episode entitled 'New Giants'. In particular, the episode featured the mighty titanosaurs of South America and Africa, Argentinosaurus and Paralititan, and the huge carcharodontosaurs that lived alongside them.



Above: titanosaurs on parade. Copyright the BBC.

A few dubious facts and figures were bandied about in this episode. Tedious as hyperbole-laden 'my dinosaur's the biggest!' contests tend to be, Argentinosaurus might not have been the heaviest sauropod, and Mapusaurus might have rivalled Tyrannosaurus in size, but was not definitely bigger, as described in the episode. (Admittedly, they may have been talking about Giganotosaurus instead, but that animal was not named.)

Unfortunately, the sauropods continued the tradition of looking a little hollow - especially when it came to their heads - and certain details about them were wrong, but overall the convincing impression was given of just how massive they were. Furthermore, the show did a good job of emphasising just how ridiculously quickly sauropods had to pile on the pounds as they grew up (if only they'd had access to packets of biscuits and the internet), and presenting sauropod breeding strategy as essentially being 'birth fast, most die young' (they were r-strategists, in other words). No sentimental scenes of mummy Argentinosaurus cooing over her hatchlings here, either - most of the poor, abandoned little sods ended up as cutesy-faced morsels for giant pterosaurs (Mark Witton-style) and the abelisaur Skorpiovenator.

Still, all did not go the predators' way. While the interesting theory of 'sauropod grazing' behaviour for charcharodontosaurs was presented, that didn't mean the big old dears were content to sit idly by while their allosauroid neighbours tore chunks from them. In one particularly gruesome scene, an Argentinosaurus killed a Mapusaurus by, well, stepping on it. Squish. I could almost hear the cheering coming from SV-POW.

Once again, the show did an absolutely tip-top job of showing off some wonderful fossil finds. In particular, I was bowled over by the fact that sauropod trackways in South America had been found to contain the bones of numerous other animals. I know I keep saying this in these reviews, but the importance of showing the fossils to the general public cannot be over-emphasised. In fact, having spoken to a few people outside of the wacky world of the dino-blog-o-sphere about Planet Dinosaur, this is definitely the aspect of the show that is most drawing in the general public. From a geek's perspective, this engaging with people using the actual science can only be good thing (and I'm sure my scientist friends will agree). The important thing about this show is that it is clear the makers are often trying really hard to make a highly entertaining, yet educational show, rather than just make something that's "RAR! DINOSAURS IN YOUR FACE!".

Also, that time-lapse segment was a pretty nice idea, don'tcha think? Reminded me of that bit in Life in which a whale carcass is stripped bare by freaky starfish and crustaceans. But with dinosaurs. Excellent. It made up for all those repetitive shots of twitching eyeballs (could they even do that? I didn't think they could, but now I'm not sure).

And, yes, the recycling of Sarcosuchus and Carcharodontosaurus did feel a little cheap. At least we got to see a little more of the former this time, and the scene in which the two partake in a tug-of-war contest using a subadult Paralititan was rather amusing. How awful. (Although it did get away in the end.)

Overall, a few irksome details aside, I enjoyed this episode. It feels churlish to expect every little thing to be perfect in these shows, and this series continues to do a good job of not over-sentimentalising its subject matter and presenting a suitable amount of scientific evidence. Roll on next week.

11 comments:

  1. What you said. Great episode. Still a little predator-oriented, but there is certainly sufficient sauropod presence and I enjoyed it (my distress at several moments nothwithstanding ;)). I too was 'bowled over' by that fact about the remains of eighteen animals found in one sauropod footprint. I also enjoyed the time-lapse sequence. Remember folks, one sauropod carcass is 'enough to feed an entire ecosystem for days'. Observe the enormous value (quite literally) which one such life contributes. ;)

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  2. ah, I wish I could finally see this series. Sometimes, it sucks to live in Germany.

    hey, whatever you did (maybe nothing), you did well: I can finally comment!

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  3. I believe after two mediocre episodes (the third and part of the fourth) the fifth episode brings Planet Dinosaur to all its glory. There are some gorgeous CGI scenes in this episode.

    There is still no story in the episode but that is part of what make Planet Dinosaur so good - basically be a 3D motion dinosaur book.

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  4. I agree. For me this is the best episode so far. Almost flawless animation, mostly educated guesses bassed on evidence, and "killers" being actually killed. :D Such a good balance.

    Although, I was thinking that this Argentinosaurus looked too diplodocid like. I think the forelimbs should have been a bit taller. I don´t think they could rear up that way and achieve such a vertical stance neither.

    The eye thing still bugs me a bit too, not only because of how they move (seems like eyeball mobility is quite limited in archosaurs, thats why birds need to be constantly twisting their heads), but also they look too "human". You know, like the apes in the last Planet of the Apes movie. Despite the excellent effects and animation you cant get over the fact that those arent real, just creatures with human-or doggy like expressive eyes.

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  5. Being a lifelong sentimental sauropodophile, this episode was about as tough to get through as "Time of the Titans." Stop killing Littlefoot, documentaries! Red in tooth and claw, I get it, but do they have to be so gleeful about it?

    The tug-of-war seemed awfully dubious to me, as surely Sarcosuchus would easily beat Carcharodontosaurus in such a contest? After all, if its teeth and jaws weren't designed for gripping, they can't have had much success keeping hold, in contrast to a Sarcosuchus with its big gripping jaws and teeth.

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  6. I sympathise, Taranaich, being a sauropodophile myself; hence my 'distress' in my first comment. ;)

    Although for whatever reason, I don't think I relished seeing the Mapusaurus being crushed to death either. I guess I'm just too nauseating a softie. :P

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  7. @Niroot: Yes, you are totally the artsy-fartsy type. ;D

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  8. @Marc Vincent

    "At long last, Planet Dinosaur brought us sauropods this week"

    To be fair, PD brought us a sauropod in Episode 3 (a dead sauropod, yes, but a sauropod nonetheless).

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  9. @Hadiaz: Oh come now, we can hardly count a corpse!

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  10. I do not even recall the corpse. -_-

    @Marc: I thank you. Your compliments are a gift, as ever. ;P

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  11. @Niroot

    It was being scavenged by Rahonavis & Majungasaurus.

    @Marc Vincent

    "Reminded me of that bit in Life in which a whale carcass is stripped bare by freaky starfish and crustaceans."

    That scene reminded me more of "The Elephant: Life After Death" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6D6yb_tJeQ&feature=channel_video_title ), although I am biased for terrestrial animals.

    "It made up for all those repetitive shots of twitching eyeballs (could they even do that? I didn't think they could, but now I'm not sure)."

    That sounds like a question for Witmer.

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