Friday, September 16, 2011

Dinosaurs: Review: "Walking with Dinosaurs" BBC

Walking with Dinosaurs”, BBC, 1999

Walking with Dinosaurs” (BBC, 1999) is a six part documentary on the Time of the Dinosaurs, the Mesozoic Era.  The first episode features the beginnings of the dinosaurs amongst the therapsids (mammal-reptiles) in the Triassic Period.  The next one focuses on the charismatic dinosaurs of the Jurassic.  Two episodes feature the flying and marine reptiles of the Mesozoic Era.  One episode depicts the lives of the relative unknown polar dinosaurs.  Finally, the series concludes with the Cretaceous period and the meteor strike that spelled the end of the dinosaurs.

Walking with Dinosaurs” uses computer generated imagery and animatronics to recreate the Mesozoic Era.  Adding to the realism of the series, the producers filmed landscapes that resembled various periods and habitats during the time of the dinosaurs.  In keeping with the natural effect, the “Walking with Dinosaurs” provides the sounds of Mesozoic Era – animals call, bellow, snort, and make all sorts of noises in general.  The producers took great care to show a realistic portrayal of prehistoric life.  Along with the dinosaurs are the other animals that live with them, each in its natural habitat.

This series sought to engage viewers by showing nature stories about the lives of the featured animals.  Because little is known about the actual lives of dinosaurs, the series offers plausible speculations.  Some of the ideas are a bit farfetched whilst others have been confirmed by science.  However, In some cases, some of the dinosaurs are either in the wrong period or location.

The first episode, “New Blood” presents the Triassic Period during the recovery from the Great Dying of the Permian Period.  One of the first dinosaurs, the Coelophysis is shown trying to survive the long dry season.  In her coping until the rains come, the Coelophysis attacks a Placerias (a theraspid (mammal-reptile)), eats a Thrinaxodon pup (an ancestor of the mammals), and later eats a dead Postosuchus (a top theraspid predator).  Finally in desperation, the Coelophysis eats her young and other adults.  However, it was later disproved that these dinosaurs were cannibals.

The second episode, “Time of Titans”, focused on the life of a young Diplodocus, a huge sauropod.  She and her fellow sauropodlets must endure the gauntlet of egg eaters, other predators, and forest fires to achieve adulthood.  As the young Diplodocus grows, she encounters an Allosaurus (a raptor), Brachiosaurus (a large sauropod), and Stegosaurus.  Finally joining her herd, she is saved from an Allosaurus attack by an older Diplodocus who defeats him with her whiptail.  The series posits that the Diplodocus communicated with each other with their tails, which is still under review.  Also scientists are unsure if the Diplodocus housed a small ecosystem of insects and small pterosaurs.

Episode Three, “The Cruel Sea” investigates the lives of marine animals.  The only dinosaur featured is the Eustreptospondylus (a medium-sized carnivore) swimming from island to island looking for food.  Meanwhile Episode Four, “The Giant of the Skies”, which focuses on flying reptiles, follows a journey of a giant Ornithocheirus (pterosaur) to his breeding grounds.  This episode has Utahraptors attacking Iguanodon.  A dinosaur swimming from place to place is not something people think of these animals doing.  However, the Utahraptor is misplaced in Europe, since these raptors lived in Mongolia and North America.

The most speculative episode, “Spirits of the Ice Forest” presents the dinosaurs of the South Pole.  A clan of Leaellynasaura (small bi-pedal herbivores) forages in the endless days of summer, and survives the dark and cool days of winter.  In the spring, a herd of Muttaburrasaurus migrate south for the summer to where the Leaellynasaura live, and returns north when autumn comes.  Meanwhile, the little Leaellynasaura raise their young, suffer the loss of the matriarch, and finally settle in with a new breeding pair in the spring.  The speculation in this episode ranges from the family life of these little dinosaurs to how they survived the winter.  The Leaellynasaura are shown moving to the center of the forest where it is warmer.  Later they huddle together to conserve body heat, and then go into a brief torpor.

The last episode, “Death of a Dynasty” emphasizes the polluted environment of the late Cretaceous Period.  Volcanoes frequently erupted poisoning the environment of the dinosaurs.  The mother Tyrannosaurus rex lost her brood to the pollution.  Later she raises another brood until she is killed by an Ankylosaurus.  As her chicks wait by her body, a giant asteroid slams into the earth.  The blowback from the meteorite kills them.  The series ends with the dinosaurs becoming birds.  The speculation in this episode is whether extensive volcanism with the meteor strike killed the dinosaurs.

Watching the series brings the world of the Mesozoic Era to life.  Entertaining though “Walking with Dinosaurs” may be the viewer must understand that many of the things presented about prehistory are speculative.  The series does introduce little known dinosaurs such as the Leaellynasaura, sparking more interest in them.  It is an enjoyable series to spend an afternoon in the Age of the Dinosaurs.

Works Used
Haines, Tim and Paul Chambers, “The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life”, Firefly: Ontario, 2006.

----, “Somewhere A Palaeontologist Is Crying”, TV Tropes,,

Strauss, Bob, “Dinosaurs at”,, 2011,,

Various, “Prehistoric Life”, Dorling Kindersley: New York, 2009.

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