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 assume 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 by way of the accuracy of its animals and the naturalism they evoke.
The soar from Ray Harryhausen classics akin to One Million Years BC within the mid-Sixties to Jurassic Park in 1993 was huge. Jurassic Park confirmed dinosaurs in a brand new technique 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. Nevertheless, 30 years on, most dinosaurs in mainstream movie and TV nonetheless comply with its feel and appear, 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 appropriately proven with feathers and different filamentous coverings. Because the late Nineties, the truth that birds developed from dinosaurs has turn out to be 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 small print of the fashions, from the form of the pupils, the scale 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 earlier than.
In fact, 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 could possibly be. The place sure concepts are inevitably considerably speculative, they’re primarily based 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-reduction plan. This isn’t one thing recorded within the fossil file, however we all know that some fashionable animals – together with elephants – do it, so it’s completely affordable and sure that some dinosaurs did the identical.
For me, the important thing factor shouldn’t be that these historical 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 can be fully regular for animals. On prime of this, it’s simple to identify varied 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 file, however this compelling tv is clearly primarily based on actual analysis.
And Prehistoric Planet doesn’t simply present the inevitable gory scenes, akin to a struggle to the demise 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 discipline (not simply one other procession of jungles). Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, plesiosaurs and different historical animals aren’t monsters or legendary creatures, however have been actual (if very odd by in the present day’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 real looking 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 folks 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 often strikes on incrementally, and sometimes in main jumps, however public perceptions are inclined to lag behind. It takes time for brand new concepts to turn out to be mainstream after which to look on display. Prehistoric Planet’s actual achievement isn’t just bringing these animals to life, however doing so on the chopping fringe of scientific discovery. It reveals the general public what palaeontologists imagine 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 needs 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 e book is The Way forward for Dinosaurs