Years ago, I (and many others like me) made the observation that the pervasive use of CGI in telling stories will have a downside so far as the narrative is concerned. It wouldn’t happen right away, certainly not while audience and film nerds were falling in love with the use (and abuse) of such new technology, but eventually it would get in the way of telling stories unless it was regularly updated with the sole directive of making it more and more real. Thankfully, innovators listened, and CCI is now being used to tell entire stories in and of itself (hello Pixar!). Some of these movies and programs are getting it right. Others? Well …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
No matter what you may think of the application of special effects technology to tell stories independent of live actors, you’ll doubtless agree that CGI breaks down barriers in ways that continue to boggle the mind. PLANET DINOSAUR is one such attempt, though I’ll happily point out how it’s equally a throwback to the dangers I mentioned in my opener shortly. As scientists and researchers continue to unearth new bones and fossils – forcing our understanding to change of what life coulda/woulda/shoulda been like for these lurking behemoths – utilizing CGI in a science program to update audiences is nothing short of ‘inspired.’
Much of PLANET is very solid. The technology (CGI) is certainly cutting edge. The quality is very consistent throughout these six episodes, offering up a close look at these pre-historic monsters in ways we couldn’t have done two or three decades ago without the use of massive practical special effects. Also, it’s very kid-friendly, though like any nature program, parents might want to screen it privately first in order to decide if and when they’ll allow youngsters to watch one predator hunting, trapping, slashing, and eating another. Remember: this isn’t “Barney.” These dinosaurs don’t sing and dance. This is life on a primitive frontier, and that can be eye-opening for little Johnny or Alice.
Sadly, though, while I found much of PLANET interesting from an educational point-of-view, I didn’t find it all that compelling as a viewer. It’s a rather dry presentation of facts, figures, and speculation about how these newly postulated dinosaurs lived their lives, and some of that may be due to the narration of John Hurt. He’s an accomplished actor – to say the least – but his vocal stylings here are very slow and relaxed. Now, that could be appropriate because it involves an awful lot of big, scientific words; but, personally, I thought it didn’t always combine seamlessly with the visuals. That’s a minor quibble, but it’s an honest one; I shared it with the sole purpose of letting you know that, yes, it impacted how much I enjoyed the totality of the program.
Still, it’s an impressive feat, bringing these carnivores and herbivores to life in a fashion not all that unlike the JURASSIC PARK series of movies. This time out, the dinosaurs are meant to bring viewers into a realm of greater understanding of how they came to be, how they lived, and even how they died.
PLANET DINOSAUR is produced by Jellyfish Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled through BBC Worldwide Ltd. As for the technical specifications, this production looks and sounds nothing short of unimaginable as an era from billions of years ago is brought back to life. As for the special features, there’s a nice short exploring “How to Build A Dinosaur” that’s nice, but it ain’t nothing all that grand.
RECOMMENDED. As a young boy, I loved dinosaurs. I think all young boys do. Watching PLANET DINOSAUR allows this old boy to experience that love again. Though it may not have kept my interest consistently so far as John Hurt’s dry narration went, it was still a sight to behold for the eyes and the heart, so, on that count, I give it a solid thumbs up.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at BBC America provided with a DVD copy of PLANET DINOSAUR for the expressed purposes of completing this review.