Last night in the UK saw three, yes three, dinosaur shows running consecutively on the BBC, starting with the second episode of the new Walking With Dinosaurs ‘update': Planet Dinosaur. Readers of Tet Zoo will already have an idea of how I feel about it, but a few words of my own might be more revealing.
First off, let me step away from my normal caricature and say that, on average, I liked the first episode. The animation was OK, if not great, certainly better than many I’ve seen of late, and the overall design and colour etc. was well done. It looked reasonable and thought through and while there’s always nits to pick, it was basically ‘good’.
It was certainly a near revelation to see the actual science and fossils shown behind these things. It’s one thing to have a talking head but another to actually show chunks of jaw and slabs of specimens to demonstrate just how how much material there was and how it looks and what we are basing the science on. That was a major improvement and great to see. Also good was the judicious use of caveats to reveal bits of uncertainly like “X is thought to do Y” and “A may have acted like B”. Much more of this in the future please.
So the bad? Well, as ever there was some injudicious hyperbole, exaggeration and downright unsupported speculation on screen. As noted on TZ, I can buy Spinosaurus as being 17 m long, and yes, that was said once in the literature. But there’s good reason to think that this is not only an upper estimate, but a very high one, so why is this not the subject of a bit more “may have been / could have been / the biggest of which might have got to”?
The mix was frustrating and pointless when they have done so much good work to show the fossils and explain the data, why then just throw in the Rugops was a dedicated scavenger based on errr, ummm. What compounds this is they can’t complain about bad advice or declare incompetence. They had a good list of advisors and got lots very right, so why the need for the mad speculation or suddenly drop a lot of caveats. I also suspect it’ll give a very false level of confidence in the data since the casual viewer would, I suspect, even hope, be impressed by the level of data given for various ideas but then might not notice the glossing over of some of these other points and simply assume they’re as well documented when they are not.
Moving on to the second episode, I was rather less impressed sadly. If nothing else there was simply some bad writing – in near consecutive sentences were were told “it’s impossible to be certain that Gigantoraptor had feathers” and “it seems almost certain that they had feathers”. Errr, yeah, not quite opposites, but surely better could have been done with the text. We were also told that oviraptorids [sic] had no teeth, but the example they gave was Caudipteryx – one of the few toothed species. And then yes, they went there and had Sinornithosaurs not only gliding around but being venomous. Ah yes, you see what documentary makers still have yet to learn it seems is that just because something has been said, doesn’t make it right. Please don’t use things this speculative, unsupported and unpopular, it’s not helping communicate or entertain which I rather assumed was the point of this.
So on balance I was really pretty impressed with the first episode and rather less with the second. I guess we’ll see how the series pans out over the coming weeks. For all my whinging, it’s already better than many I have seen, though it would have been nice if the second episode improved on the first rather than fell away.
Late little edit: I forgot to mention there are some odd little inconsistencies in there too which I assume are the result of different teams doing different things. Sharp eyed people might have noticed the pterosaurs with ankle attached wings (yay) but their little black and white skeletal outline during the flash-up science section showed the wings attaching to the end of the tail with the legs completely free. Eeek twice. Not only is that horribly wrong, but isn’t what they’d even illustrated seconds before.