The totally extraordinary Prehistoric Planet has returned this week for a second season and, as a palaeontologist, I stay totally enthralled by the entire thing. You would possibly suppose I’d be spoiled for selection with the apparently endless parade of flicks, video video games and documentaries that includes animated dinosaurs, however this programme stands head and shoulders above anything when it comes to the accuracy of its animals and the naturalism they evoke.
The soar from Ray Harryhausen classics comparable to One Million Years BC within the mid-Sixties to Jurassic Park in 1993 was large. Jurassic Park confirmed dinosaurs in a brand new method to huge audiences and ushered in a brand new wave of curiosity and illustration, most notably within the BBC’s Strolling with Dinosaurs collection in 1999. Nonetheless, 30 years on, most dinosaurs in mainstream movie and TV nonetheless observe its feel and look, regardless of our scientific understanding of dinosaurs and their contemporaries having superior enormously since then. Prehistoric Planet is as a lot, if no more, of a leap ahead in exhibiting dinosaurs as we predict they actually have been.
The obvious development is the variety of dinosaurs being accurately proven with feathers and different filamentous coverings. Because the late Nineties, the truth that birds advanced from dinosaurs has change into firmly established in palaeontology. Quite a few fossils of absolutely feathered dinosaurs have been found, implying that many extra bore feathers too. Seeing these animals rendered as they need to be could be very thrilling. The main points of the fashions, from the form of the pupils, the dimensions of the scales, the design of the colors, patterns and the curve of the claws, all converse to a depth of organic understanding not seen on display screen earlier than.
After all, some particulars are contentious and others unknowable, however the look and, extra importantly, actions of the dinosaurs in these collection are about as correct as they may very well be. The place sure concepts are inevitably considerably speculative, they’re based mostly on our present understanding. For instance, in collection one we see a herd of triceratops strolling into caves to entry some uncommon minerals wanted of their weight loss program. This isn’t one thing recorded within the fossil report, however we all know that some fashionable animals – together with elephants – do it, so it’s completely cheap and certain that some dinosaurs did the identical.
For me, the important thing factor shouldn’t be that these historic animals are reproduced 100% precisely, however that they’re dropped at life realistically. Displaying dinosaur mating rituals, dad and mom nurturing their offspring and small animals difficult predators a dozen instances their dimension is new, or very uncommon – and but these are behaviours which are fully regular for animals. On high of this, it’s straightforward to identify numerous references to actual scientific papers on the behaviour, look, actions and ecology of dinosaurs and different animals in each episode. There would possibly essentially be some extrapolation and filling in to account for the gaps within the fossil report, however this compelling tv is clearly based mostly on actual analysis.
And Prehistoric Planet doesn’t simply present the inevitable gory scenes, comparable to a battle to the loss of life between a tyrannosaurus and triceratops; it additionally offers the animals (and viewers) an opportunity to breathe and take within the view, whether or not it’s a swamp, desert or ice subject (not simply one other procession of jungles). Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, plesiosaurs and different historic animals aren’t monsters or legendary creatures, however have been actual (if very odd by at this time’s requirements) residing, respiration and behaving creatures interacting in thriving ecosystems.
And so it’s welcome to see different animals getting their due alongside these nice reptiles. The inclusion of frogs, snakes, birds, mammals and ammonites, all set into coherent and life like environments, makes the programme stand out much more. Though tyrannosaurus, velociraptor and another family names seem, it’s extraordinarily refreshing to see animals that few individuals have heard of, from alcione to zalmoxes, in addition to quite a few animals and landscapes which have by no means been proven earlier than.
Science normally strikes on incrementally, and infrequently in main jumps, however public perceptions are likely to lag behind. It takes time for brand spanking new concepts to change into mainstream after which to seem on display screen. Prehistoric Planet’s actual achievement is not only bringing these animals to life, however doing so on the chopping fringe of scientific discovery. It exhibits the general public what palaeontologists consider these animals have been actually like, not only a barely polished model of what scriptwriters think about they have been.
As somebody who’s actively engaged in analysis into the biology of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and in outreach and communication to the general public about these animals, I discover Prehistoric Planet to be a shining instance of bringing them to life. The brand new collection ought to be appreciated not only for its lovely cinematography and Attenborough’s narration, however as a bleeding-edge illustration of the science of the extinct.
Dr David Hone is a reader in zoology at Queen Mary, College of London, specialising in dinosaurs and pterosaurs. He blogs at Archosaur Musings, and presents the Horrible Lizards podcast. His newest guide is The Way forward for Dinosaurs