Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Planet Dinosaur, episode four - review

This week, Planet Dinosaur served up some plesiosaurs. Now, this creates a problem for me - while I have just enough knowledge of dinosaurs to occasionally convince people that I know what I'm talking about, my knowledge of plesiosaurs amounts to exactly the square root of bugger all cubed. I interviewed Adam Smith once and tended to just sit there dumbfoundedly, nodding and making sure my dictaphone was working. Fortunately a few dinosaurs from the Morrison formation were also included - so don't mind me for focussing on those.

Above: Allosaurus and Camptosaurus from Planet Dinosaur. Copyright the BBC.

Entitled 'Fight for Life', the theme of this episode was predator-prey relationships in the Late Jurassic. The terrestrial star of the show was good old Allosaurus, which (a few too-hollow fenestrae aside) was rendered very well; unlike in Walking With Dinosaurs, the animal's horns were correctly positioned, while its enlarged thumb claw was present and correct. Nice colour scheme, too. Pleasingly, the show drew on research from recent years when talking about Allosaurus' bite, noting that it likely used its head as a sort of 'hatchet' when attacking its prey.

Allosaurus was depicted hunting Stegosaurus and Camptosaurus, which were themselves portrayed as living together for mutual benefit (plausible). Stegosaurus was one of the more poorly rendered dinosaurs in the show, lacking throat ossicles and having 'old-fashioned' hands. Camptosaurus was mostly fine, although it did display a side-to-side chewing motion similar to a mammal, which was something that no dinosaur could do.

Still, it was a thrill to see Allosaurus tracking its prey, and the "incredible" evidence for Stegosaurus-Allosaurus interactions was duly shown to us. We even got a brief glimpse of Saurophaganax, scaring Allosaurus away from its kill. Even if you're of the opinion that Saurophaganax should be lumped into Allosaurus, it was great to see a non-Allosaurus fragilis Morrison predator get a look in.

To the plesiosaurs, then. Ah. Erm. Um. Well. Yes. Naturally, the show lavished attention on 'Predator X', the gigantic pliosaur that has yet to be named (it's a shame that there are only three plesiosaur researchers in the world*). And hey, both it and Kimmerosaurus looked pretty decent. To me. As in, there were no major howlers like swan necks and overly floppy flippers. There were, similar to the Allosaurus, recessed areas of the head that shouldn't have been, but based on my very very limited knowledge of plesiosaurs they looked acceptable.

And blimey, those above-water shots looked stunning, didn't they? Yes they did.

The best parts of these scenes, as is so often the case with this show, were when we were shown various fossils that provided evidence for plesiosaur feeding behaviour and predator-prey relationships. Being not normally so concerned with marine reptiles, most of it was brand new and therefore fascinating to me; it made it easier to appreciate what a good job the show is doing when it comes to educating non-enthusiasts about dinosaurs. In the future, if any documentaries about prehistoric animals don't provide the fossil evidence, they are going to receive howls of derision and a shower of rotten fruit for sure.

Overall, a good episode; while it's unfortunate that the fact that plesiosaurs were not dinosaurs was not explained, enough people hopefully know this by now. Hopefully. The restorations were also pretty good, the Stegosaurus aside. Keep an eye on Adam Smith's Plesiosaur Bites blog, as he may well be reviewing it soon.

*Not literally true.

UPDATE: Adam has now uploaded part 1 of his review of the show's plesiosaurs.


  1. I enjoyed this episode too. Again, less sure about the ever so slightly sensationalistic shower of Camptosauus blood as the Allosaurus delivered the death blow. I also paused a little at the Stegosaurus being described as a 'heavily armoured tank', and I do agree that they were perhaps the least well-rendered animals of the episode, not just for the reasons you've already given; they just seemed the least 'fleshy'. But still, a great episode on the whole.

    I thought the marine reptiles were beautiful, actually, in my even more minuscule knowledge of them than yours. The Kimmerosaurus' movements were lovely. I gave a small shout of glee to see Dr. Adam Smith at the very top of the end credits.

  2. While not my favorite episode (I don't know/care as much about marine reptiles as I do dinos), I did like the Morrison parts. The Stegosaurus/Camptosaurus stuff was especially interesting. Also, it was pretty awesome seeing Saurophaganax in a dino doc for the 1st time.

  3. I didn't like this episode nearly as much as the others. I was looking forward to the stegos and was really disappointed. they didn't seem to get as much attention(cgi) as some of the others in this series. They don't seem to want to linger on anything that isn't a predator.
    I enjoyed the marine reptiles. All my books while growing up had sections about sea reptiles, so I like to get a little dose of that with my dinosaurs.

  4. Terry: 'They don't seem to want to linger on anything that isn't a predator'. That does seem to be the case with this series so far. I'm looking forward to the (?)titanosaurs, though I rather fear they won't fare too much better...

  5. @Niroot: They are definitely titanosaurs. I've heard they're Argentinosaurus, actually.

    @Terry: Completely agree about the predator overload. Hopefully, as Niroot says, the titanosaur episode will seem them focus on a herbivore. Much as I like theropods, other types of dinosaurs ARE interesting too!

  6. @Everyone else

    To be fair, the herbivorous dinos have been more involved in the newer episodes (although I do agree w/the general sentiment).

    BTW, what was the Allosaurus hiding behind, termite mounds?


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