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.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.