Of course, before I delve into my personal favorite dinodoc, I have to pay a little homage to the father of them all, the series that opened an entirely new world of possibilities for recreating the lost worlds of all manner of prehistoric animals. I'm writing, of course, of none other than BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs. This documentary was a total game-changer: not only did it bring accurate dinosaurs to life, but it brought us right into the middle of their world. WWD brought dinosaurs from a legendary, bygone era and portrayed them as they actually were: living animals, surviving as animals do today, playing, hunting, being hunted, courting, mating, calling, laying eggs, urinating and defecating.
Since WWD was released, a number of documentaries have sought to follow in its wake, some with much more success than others. If you asked a pretty standard group of paleo-fans to list their top five dinodocs, I'm pretty sure my favorite would fall in there somewhere. My personal favorite happens to be a four-part series from the Discovery Channel, creatively enough titled Dinosaur Planet*.
*Not to be confused with the equally creatively-titled 2011 BBC documentary, Planet Dinosaur.
Dinosaur Planet was probably the first dinodoc to go beyond just depicting dinosaurs in a natural setting. Each of DP's (if that's an appropriate abbreviation) four episodes stars not just any old dinosaur, but a character. The stars and their representative locations include White Tip, a Velociraptor from Mongolia; Pod, a Pyroraptor from Romania; Little Das, a Daspletosaurus from the United States; and Alpha, a Saltasaurus from Argentina. All of the episodes take place roughly 80Ma, which is another big selling point for me. Perhaps you'll find out in another post why from about 80-70Ma was my favorite time.
|Daspletosaurus from "Little Das' Hunt".|
When watching any good nature documentary, personification is a no-no. But there are documentaries about a number of different extant animals which focus on a specific group, or a well-documented and observed individual. It is in this light that I view DP. Rather than personifying the dinosaurs, this documentary follows the trials and tribulations of each one as they are forced into completely new situations. In each, a life-changing event happens to the main character, making them to do what dinosaurs have proven to do best: adapt!
|Einiosaurus form a protective ring around their young in defense against a pack (yesss!!) of Daspletosaurus. The main character, Little Das, can be seen at the far right of the screen.|
|White Tip, a female Velociraptor. The landscapes in Dinosaur Planet are beautiful, even if a few of them have grass.|
First of all, humans make an appearance in it. Granted, it is paleontologist Dr. Scott Sampson, currently curator of the Utah Museum of Natural History. Sampson makes his appearances describing little snippets of information revealing new theories or fossils which shed a brand new light on dinosaur ecology and behavior. He's a brilliant man, and has done extensive research on the late Cretaceous in general, making him perfect for this series. He's not the narrator, though; that'd be Christian Slater, strangely enough. I dunno, I just never pegged him for the kind of person who would agree to narrate a dinodoc*.
Scientifically, the series has a couple of problems which aren't immediately obvious. Firstly, there is GRASS. See, I bolded and underlined that word to make sure you caught it. One of the most interesting things about the Mesozoic was that so many herbivores evolved in the complete absence of grass, the basic sustenance for most of Earth's herbivores today. Grass makes its appearance in all but one of the episodes of Dinosaur Planet and, of course, the only episode which lacks it is set in a bone-dry desert. The landscapes are still beautiful, there's no doubt about that. They just didn't limit themselves to filming locations which also lacked grass, as WWD did.
|A pair of Oviraptor from the episode "White Tip's Journey." Although a bit drab, the DP Oviraptors are my favorite depictions of these animals on the big screen. And look, they don't even have pronated wrists in this scene!|
So, there you have it. My favorite dinosaur documentary in a nutshell. Notice I didn't go through episode by episode and describe each one to you: yeah, that's right, 'cause I want all of you to go watch it for yourselves. You owe it to this blog! Go do it!
*My favorite dinodoc narrator, by the way, is John Goodman in When Dinosaurs Roamed America.