PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

It's 3am in a Jurassic Forest. It's 'Dinosaur Revolution'

Ross Langager

Dinosaur Revolution offers unrealistic predator-prey pursuits, more child-in-peril scenarios than a decade’s worth of Spielberg movies, and at least a few beats stolen directly from Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time.

Dinosaur Revolution

Producers: Erik Nelson, Alan Eyres, Brooke Runnette
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Discovery Channel
Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., Matt Lamanna, Scott D. Sampson, Scott Hartman, David Krentz
Directors: Dave Krentz, Ricardo Delgado
Air date: 2011-09-04

It’s 3am in a Jurassic forest that will one day be a part of the Iberian Peninsula. An Allosaurus mother hovers watchfully over her brood, kept awake by the nocturnal guttural chirping of a particularly irritating Ornitholestes. Driven at last to her breaking point, the mother gets up and moves through the clearing towards the source of the call. A moment later, the call is abruptly cut off. The Allosaurus returns to her offspring, followed by the theropod. It passes our view once, twice, and then collapses, blood spurting from the now severed neck upon which its chirping head once sat.

There’s no laugh track, but at moments like this, Dinosaur Revolution seems to demand one. More than any of the previous CGI prehistoric wildlife documentaries from the Discovery Channel, the most notable being the BBC coproduction Walking with Dinosaurs, this program prefers to get overly cute. In its awkward efforts to entertain while informing, Dinosaur Revolution indulges in many such silly gags: hunter and hunted become (exceedingly) unlikely friends, apex predators tease each other like schoolboys, males either dance elaborately to attract females or behave like the prehistoric equivalent of henpecked nebbishes.

This tendency towards the jokey flourish appears to run contrary to the central thesis of the four-hour miniseries, which airs on Discovery in two-hour primetime blocks over the first two Sundays of September. The “revolution” of the title refers to the fundamental shift in the scientific consensus on and public perception of dinosaurs over the past few decades. As elucidated by several of the series’ paleontological talking heads (or talking holograms, as the effects-heavy production renders them), this revolution has moved the general perspective away from the lumbering, blandly hued reptilian dim bulbs of classic dinosaur myth to intelligent, mercurial creatures with bright colors, complex social behaviors, and ecological interrelations.

Dinosaur Revolution illustrates this sea change in paleoscience in lovingly computer-rendered vignettes of engaging action, suspense, and humor. Much as the narrative execution leaves something to be desired, the visualization of this scientific “revolution” does too. Although the CGI dinosaurs are keenly detailed in their appearance and movements, their actions -- mapped out by the co-directors (established dino-illustrator Dave Krentz and comic artist Ricardo Delgado) and executed by the effects team (overseen by Douglas Martin) -- are more dramatic cinematic situations than well researched behavioral science. On the usual life-and-death-struggle foundations of the nature documentary narrative are erected petty rivalries, unrealistic predator-prey pursuits, more child-in-peril scenarios than a decade’s worth of Spielberg movies, and at least a few beats stolen directly from Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time. These make unprecedented discoveries in the fossil record seem cheap and inane.

Indeed, Dinosaur Revolution’s very title indicates its inclination to sensationalize. The term “revolution,” visualized in the title sequence in a peculiarly Soviet-style font, is used throughout the series to describe the shift in paleontological thinking, to preface this central change in consensus as a radical overturning of the past order of dinosaurid knowledge. “Revolution” is certainly the type of sexy and forceful word that television marketing demands, suggestive of furious, desperate, and brave action, of bodies pressed against barricades and sacrifices for tragic ideals. But it's a poor fit for scientific inquiry, in which empirical, methodical rigor informs an incremental adjustment of rational judgment.

A far better description of this process is “evolution,” which is applied liberally in Dinosaur Revolution as it is in so many biological science documentaries. Evolutionary change accrues progressively over time, while revolutionary change gains terminal velocity suddenly, like a falling chandelier. The former is a more appropriate descriptor of scientific method than the latter, even on television.

And yet, Dinosaur Revolution remains entirely watchable and even info-taining in its Discovery Channeled, simplified-science way. The prehistoric CGI scenes are often are fairly funny (however unintentionally). The exploits of less well known creatures, like the wacky-dancing Gigantoraptor or the massive sauropod Lusotitan, do prove to be revelations to the layman viewer. In the second episode, "The Watering Hole," there’s a fun little experiment investigating the speed and force of a whipping sauropod tail striking the cast model of an Allosaur jaw, conducted by co-director Krentz. Both the destruction captured by high-speed camera and Krentz’s geeky glee as he observes it, recall the appeal of one of Discovery’s beloved flagship shows, Mythbusters.

Additionally, the negligible amount of narration is welcome, especially when the voice-over disgorges bizarre clunkers like “Welcome to the Eoraptor version of a singles bar.” At the same time, Dinosaur Revolution’s delights include the evident nerdly passion of the holo-academics, chief among them University of Maryland paleontologist Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., who also consulted on Walking With Dinosaurs. The researchers' communicative enthusiasm emerges in even the most head-scratching of their chosen analogies: if a fossil field really is like a "pile of Christmas presents," as Holtz puts it, wouldn’t you occasionally get the paleontological equivalent of a pair of socks from your aunt?

When one cuts through its mix of slight pleasures and leaden annoyances, it's apparent that Dinosaur Revolution is not revolutionary in form or content, and moreover, that its melding of entertainment with science ends up disfiguring both. Tighter control over the tone may have prevented that, but maybe there really isn’t a way around it. Dinosaurs may not be the dull, inflexible creatures they were once thought to be, but cable television is another prehistoric beast entirely.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.