‘Planet Dinosaur’ DVD review

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I don’t know about you lot, but I’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs. The first experience of the cinema that I actually remember was a trip to see Jurassic Park back in 1993, and since then, I’ve ploughed through books, TV series, museums and more, entranced by these real-life monsters.

Given the BBC’s previous record for bringing pre-historic creatures to life, I was rather pleased to hear that they were throwing out a new examination of dinosaurs. After the event, I can happily report that whilst Planet Dinosaur is not without problems, it’s still a more than welcome burst of informative, dramatic documentary that just about manages to not outstay its welcome over its six episode run.

We’ll start with the problems, and those that most frequently raise their heads are technical ones – the CGI, for instance, resides almost laconically bang-slap in the dip of the uncanny valley. Water never quite looks right, despite a very clear effort to get this looking great. The movements of the dinosaurs, too, seem a little stiff and lacking in weight, and there are strange frame-rate dips in their movements, which is rather distracting.

Sound effects are frequently simply missing from some scenes, and in others don’t quite match up to the imagery being displayed. That 1999’s Walking with Dinosaurs still looks and sounds better is rather worrying, given that Planet has an additional decade of technological advancement under its belt.

Furthermore – and to paraphrase comedian Chris Addison – ‘the only thing you can know with 100% certainty about dinosaurs is that they were all skeletons who lived underground’. Anything else is guess-work.

Informed and educated guess-work, maybe, but the examples of it on display here are occasionally a little bit off. I’m no palaeontologist, nor an expert on birds, but the entire second episode stretched my belief to breaking point. Giant dancing turkey monsters, anyone?

Still, we’re not a science website, and can hardly make comment on Planet’s scientific accuracy. As a piece of informative entertainment, it manages to work despite frequent raised eyebrows.

The flaws in the CGI can be over-looked in light of the scope and ambition of the series – an attempt to broaden the general public’s appreciation of just how much more we do know about the monsters that roamed the Earth before us, whilst at the same time catering to the fascination that both kids and those who are in touch with their inner kids have for the subject matter.

John Hurt’s narration, along with the decent soundtrack and the handheld-camera stylings, give the proceedings a sense of drama and tension, and there’s certainly enough information that was at least new to me to keep us interested enough to see it through to its conclusion.

For those uninitiated into the wonders of dinosaurs, Planet Dinosaur is as good a starting point as any, and for those seeking their fix, the series successfully satiates that particular craving. But no, it’s not as good as Walking with Dinosaurs.

> Buy the DVD on Amazon.

Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 24th October 2011 by 2entertain.