Either this show was not heavily advertised or I missed it completely, but I literally happened to switch on the TV as this started so I inevitably watched it and made a few notes and here’s my thoughts on the subject. I’m not normally a big one for reviews like this, but it almost seemed churlish not to in the circumstances. For those who missed it (or those not in the UK) this was a CG show broadcast jsut yesterday about dinosaurs of the arctic.
Inevitably given my job and experience, I tend to notice only the flaws and errors or problems with these kinds of things and I’m especially programmed to be annoyed by shows that present things as simple statements without the science behind it. It’s not that I dislike narrated dinosaur shows, you don’t have to base everything on bones and talking heads, but it be nice to have just a few token words towards the science a little more often, not least on something billed as a ‘documentary’. And of course there are things that are somewhere between contentious and made-up that are presented as reality and in a bizarrely odd or overstated manner.
Let’s start with the statement about Troodon that “their reactions are so fast it’s like the see in slow motion”. Really? I’ve never seen any paper that even suggests they had super fast reactions, and even if there is and I just missed it, is that really the best way to explain it? Others are there like Gorgosaurus being ‘perfected’ for nocturnal hunting or that young Edmontosaurus eat only soft leaves (with those teeth and beaks? and in a conifer forest?!).
Obviously the most striking thing is the CGI of this show and while it’s perfectly OK, it doesn’t seem to be any better than that of the benchmark Walking with Dinosaurs. With another decade of computer power etc. this clearly is below the level it could have reached. What’s more the backgrounds and environments are not real as in WWD, but CGI too, and these generally do look cheap and less good than the dinosaurs themselves. There’s also a lack of real depth to the environments – you never see insects or birds or pterosaurs in the background and there’s no climbing plants or moss on the trees etc. That said the animals themselves look fine and are generally accurate down to some nice details (like feather and scale patterns, no pronation in the theropods, proper first toes) with the occasional errors (like ears sitting in the lower temporal fenestra, the pterosaurs have no fingers apart from the wing).
However, as a perennial complaint, everything is a shade of grey with occasional bits of black and brown. What little splashes of colour there is, is all orange (as seen in the troodont heads, ceratopsian crests). Was the Mesozoic really just based on grey and orange? There’s no need to make the green and blue with yellow and pink stripes, but a bit more colour variation is not out of the question and would be a little more realistic. The movement is also generally good, though the main protagonists, Edmontosaurus, seem to walk with bizarrely short steps most of the time.
The other thing that obviously gripes are the unnecessary and bizarre little behavioural ticks things tend to have in every one of these programs. The tyrannosaur that just bellows repeatedly at the troodontids scavenging his kill (just charge them!), the juvenile that gets picked off for “straying from the herd” when the herd is in plain sight and only about 10 yards away, and the fact that the herd only finally starts to migrate south when apparently they haven’t fed properly ‘for weeks’ because the plants are dying off. They’d move with the light, heat and fodder as soon as it shifted, not stand around in the cold and dark for a month, this is just dumb. Oh and a pliosaur living in a frozen lake. One that had frozen over entirely. I do hope someone explained that they probably couldn’t hold their breath for a month at a time.
For all this, these complains are generally nit-picky and you would have to be pretty knowledgeable about dinosaurs to spot even most of them (and things like the colour are admittedly as much about aesthetics as science). There’s very little that’s actively really wrong, or very bad. Given the horror stories from numerous colleagues over the years about how these productions can go and what advice is and isn’t taken, this is certainly much better than most. It probably helped that there was a long list of excellent scientific consultants for this, including one or two who have appeared on the Musings from time to time. It certainly does feature some nice hypotheses (like pack hunting Albertosaurus, or male troodontids building nests) which most of the public will probably be unaware of, so it’s nice to see them get an airing and to be put forward well. And obviously the underlying main story here – of dinosaurs living in the arctic circle and migrating annually to the forests of the south and back again – is one that has barely been mentioned in the past. It’s also nice to see some different taxa on the screen – no Tyrannosaurus, no Triceratops, no Velociraptor – but instead a rather different fauna. And the show generally steers well clear of misplaced anthropomorphism or hyperbole and the animals act in reasonable and realistic ways.
As ever, what always annoys me most is things that are wrong or strange when they have no need to be. Was it really any harder to make the ceratopsian crests a different orange to the troodontid feathers? Was it any harder to make the hadrosaurs take a longer stride forwards? Would it take much longer to add the fingers onto the pterosaurs? But these complaints are minor. For all the dinosaurs shows I’ve seen over the years I was able to sit through all 2 hours of this without being bored and only very occasionally going ‘eh?’ at some especially egregious error. That’s far more than I can say of many, and I’m sure than most people will enjoy this, and certainly they’ll learn far more about dinosaurs than the occasional error will tell them wrong.