Sunday, December 22, 2013

Walking with Dinosaurs Review

In 1997, a wonderful man came up with an idea for creating a new type of documentary on dinosaurs. Like you could go back in time and feel like you are actually watching these incredible animals live their lives. His name was Tim Haines. And so, he created one of the best ideas in television history. Not to view dinosaurs as dusty dirty old bones in the ground and in dingy museums, but to see them as real animals. 
It may be outdated and inaccurate, but Walking with Dinosaurs was to start a whole new generation of television making. Using animatronics and CGI to bring lost worlds to life. It was positively the spark that ignited the interest in dinosaurs for children, especially me. 

That being said, the recent movie adaption doesn't even give off an iota of light. Sadly, it is full of cliches, useless voice overs, and insults to the original series.

Before I bash this movie repeatedly in the head with my words, I will talk about the positives. I was happy to see lesser known animals on the big screen, especially those who have never been depicted for the first time. Those include Hesperonychus, Alphadon, Chirostenotes, and Parksosaurus. 
The other cool part was about how accurate this film was. I have never been happier about an accurate depiction of dinosaurs than this. I enjoyed seeing feathered dinosaurs on screen, and they where correctly feathered. Primaries on the second finger, no noticeable shrink-wrapping, and no half-ass feathering. However, despite that there is one caveat that I will go into a little later in this post. 
I was also happy to see that none of the theropods had pronated hands. At least form what I saw. There where a few times when the hands kind of moved, but never full pronation. There could have been a few slip ups I didn't focus on, but for me it has past the accuracy test, not 100%, as paleontology always progresses, but I have never seen such an accurate depiction of dinosaurs anywhere.
I also loved the colours on the animals. The dull patterns on the Pachyrhinosaurus, Alphadon, and Quetzalcoatlus where not impressive, but the Hesperonychus was beautifully coloured after the golden pheasant, Alexornis resembled an ivory-billed woodpecker, the Gorgosaurus was a beautiful iridescent blue, and Troodon resembled a hoatzin. However, the best, best animal of the entire film, was Chirostenotes, which was by far, the most beautiful feathered dinosaur I have ever seen! Oh boy was I laughing like a second grade girl when I saw them move!
The movie itself was also beautifully filmed, and the shots of the Alaskan and New Zealand landscapes where breathtaking, especially that brief shot of the north pole in space. 
The animation and CGI felt right in all places, and the interaction of the CGI animals and the live backdrop was also spot on. I also got to see it in 3D, and the 3D was absolutely breathtaking, and when two azhdarchids are pecking at the main characters eye, your eye is being pecked out too!

Unfortunately, all those positives above are no match to the enormous amount of negative to follow. Head bashing words are about to flood.
This is an insult to the BBC series in everyway. It is marketed at one audience; children, and very young children at that. It is pretty evident in the annoyingly non-stop shitty voice-overs with terrible puns, shit and vomit jokes, and modern day uses.
The voice overs where pretty needless, and while the main characters are slightly anthropomorphized, the voice overs seemed out of place with the animal like behaviour of the characters, and it really took me out of the film more than once. During the Gorgosaurus attack sequence, the voice overs where so frequent, I didn't really feel like the Pachyrhinosaurus where in peril, and that they had nothing to fear. Way to go with immersing your audience, Fox! However, I will say that the very brief second on the beach with the male and female Pachyrhinosaurus, with no voice overs and the female making a dinosaur noise was at least fun. However, the best part of the film was the moment of silence as the two Pachyrhinosaurus brothers where just sizing each other up, and it was just animal noises, for about 30 seconds. I wish the whole movie was like that!
At times it felt like the movie was having trouble deciding which genre it is. First it is paleontologist uncle wants to show nephews dinosaur bones, with the teenage boy not interested in dinosaurs and wants to text to friends (like I've encountered a teenage boy who hates dinosaurs), and then turns into family adventure, but then turns into educational movie, which then turns back into family adventure, but then turns into an educational movie, and then turns back into a family adventure, and then turns into documentary (not a very serious one), and then turns back into family adventure, ect, ect. By educational, I mean, everytime a new dinosaur or animal is encountered the movie pauses for a brief second, and has text on screen showing the animal's name, its meaning, and diet, which is then read in, get this, a kids voice! It's totally appealing to a wider audience! I was also disappointed that they indentified Edmontonia simply as, ankylosaur, because they thought the audience would confuse it with Edmontosaurus which is sort of excusable. But then, in some translation of the film, they could be saying Ankylosaurus! However, they just identified the Quetzalcoatlus in the film as, pterosaur. Not even azhdarchid. If it is because they though the audience couldn't pronounce it, then that's a pretty freaking young audience!
They could have worked that identification better in the script than pausing, and then you're not even sure if what's on screen in trustworthy, which it is! 
The big problem is that the movie is trying to be something it isn't, and was never intended. A family film. From what I heard, it was originally designed as a silent film, with narration only coming in very briefly to provide continuity to the audience. That would have made it into the best dinosaur film of all time.... But oh, no! One freaking studio had to come in and stop the party, and say "Oh, shit! Kids will find this boring, lets add voice overs! And pop songs, and stop the movie so that people can hear a kid read out facts about a dinosaur- oh their not all dinosaurs? Whatever- and then say where reaching a wider audience!" That's basically what Fox did. Jeez, this is the film Dinosaur all over again, in more ways than one!
David Krentz was a character designer for both Dinosaur and Walking with Dinosaurs and both times the same thing happened. In the case of Dinosaur, it was meant to be a silent film, but then Disney decided that the animals should talk! That is excusable since it was Disney. In Walking with Dinosaurs, it was also meant to a silent (but more accurate) film, but literally at the last minute (the voice cast was casted in November 2013, that's how last minute it was) Fox (not BBC Earth) decided to add voice overs! At least this time the mouth doesn't actually move when they talk. Fox also made a very American decision. "The audience won't understand this, let's dumb it down!" I think that BBC Earth was just fine with no voice overs, and also, out of all the possible options to get a wider audience, voice overs? Really? They could have had just Morgan Freeman narrate it... or Kenneth Branagh. 
Also, the storyline of the film is just a copy and paste of Dinosaur. Migrating dinosaur, family gets separated, trying to win his love with a female but another male is in his path, but then he leads the herd and gets the female. 
The scene when the lead character runs from the dark forest and towards the herd reminded me of when Aladar was trotting to get to the herd and warn them not to go on the cliff and the follow him. 

Now, enough about the movie itself, and onto some not-really-negatives-but-controservial-stuff. The first is about the depiction of the feathered dinosaurs. Yes, accurate feathering, except when you get to the face. It's scaly! It's scaly! It. Is. Scaly!!!!! It is more likely that they had bird like faces, since they are more related to birds than they are to other reptiles. The same can be said of Gorgosaurus.
It's scaly! It's scaly! It's. So. Freaking. Scaly!!!!! What's so wrong about a scaly Gorgosaurus? Oh, yes, science happened! This is really not that bad compared to the scaly-faced feathered dinosaurs, but they did miss an opportunity to show a feathered tyrannosaur kick ass on screen! The models for the Gorgosaurus where made just before the announcement of the giant feathered tyrannosaur, Yutyrannus. However, I think they should have put feathers on it, because Gorgosaurus did live in a cold climate, and probably would need feathers. And despite the find of skin impressions found on the base of a Gorgosaurus tail, I could argue that it didn't preserve the feathers. But still, this is a small caveat, that actually got more controversy than I expected. They did give the antagonistic Gorgosaurus iridescent blue scales, but I'm okay with that. I also notice that the juvenile Gorgosaurus, or what I thought where juvenile Gorgosaurus, lacked feathers too!

So in the end, we have an Americanized version of an inspirational BBC series. Seriously. I used to watch it on a daily basis when I was young, and I still do if I want to know what it was like when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. All in all, no laughs are coming out of the mouths of the audience, only tears from the eyes, and negative thoughts.
A massively missed opportunity. 

For this movie, I was hesitant for this rating, and it has nothing to do with the visuals. My final score is: 3.5/10. 

Aurora borealis can't save it. Not even the golden pheasant Hesperonychus or the bright blue Chirostenotes can save it. A disappointment, and a waist of $85 million.

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