Overlook Jurassic Park: contained in the beautiful David Attenborough collection that’s redefining dinosaurs | Tv

Jurassic Park was launched 30 years in the past, however in these three a long time our notion of dinosaurs has largely remained static. Within the public consciousness, they had been big, scaly beasts with big claws and enamel who spent their days chasing down victims and ripping them aside in brutal style. Suppose dinosaur and you’ll in all probability image a primal, primitive power of unbelievable fury.

After which alongside comes the brand new collection of Prehistoric Planet (Apple TV+), which, in a single prompt, undoes virtually all the pieces we thought we knew. The moment in query issues the Hatzegopteryx: an enormous, vicious-looking, giraffe-sized pterosaur. Had the Hatzegopteryx been depicted on display screen at any level till now, it could undoubtedly have been to swoop down like a monster and gobble up its prey.

However Prehistoric Planet exhibits us one thing totally different. It exhibits us Hatzegopteryx’s mating ritual, which can qualify as one of the stunning issues you’ll ever see. A male rigorously arranges varied naturally occurring trinkets round himself on the spit of an island and gently begins dancing, eyes by no means leaving the sky, within the useless hope {that a} feminine may go overhead and take curiosity. It’s heartbreaking, lovelorn and beautiful to look at. Hatzegopteryx – who knew?

A Hatzegopteryx confronting a T rex, as realised in Prehistoric Planet
A Hatzegopteryx confronting a T rex, as realised in Prehistoric Planet. {Photograph}: Apple TV

“Nothing is primitive about dinosaurs,” says Tim Walker, Prehistoric Planet’s collection producer, over a video name. “They weren’t lone hunters or killers. They had been actually social and they might have been actually flamboyant due to the social mindset. Our mission, for those who like, was to point out the viewers that these aren’t senseless monsters.”

The second collection marries two irresistibly compelling forces: MPC, the visible results home that helped Jon Favreau create his photorealistic remakes of The Lion King and The Jungle E book; and BBC Studios Pure Historical past Unit. The outcomes of this union are astonishing. You’ve got all of the respect and scientific rigour that you’d discover in a historically shot documentary comparable to Planet Earth offered with totally convincing CGI. After some time, you cease noticing that it’s not real-life footage.

A part of that is right down to the producers’ strategy to what they depict. Mike Gunton, a Pure Historical past Unit mainstay and the present’s government producer, says their strategy stems from the horrifying sequence in Planet Earth II the place an iguana hatchling runs for its life from dozens of rushing snakes. “The rationale that sequence felt so highly effective was as a result of it felt uncontrived,” says Gunton. “It was very a lot: ‘Oh my God, we didn’t know that was going to occur!’ We’re undoubtedly copying that feeling right here. The CGI can do something, however we’ve tried to make it really feel as if we turned as much as shoot one factor, however then: ‘Oh my God! Have a look at this!’ We’ve tried to shoot and edit as if it had been discovered footage.”

This strategy – deal with the digicam as if it had been positioned by a flesh-and-blood documentarian – performs out via the collection. There are T rex sequences, however don’t anticipate any excessive closeups. After we see a T rex, Gunton explains, it’s depicted as being “just about shot on the longest telephoto lens in our armoury”, to cease the digicam operator from being eaten. “It’s a delicate distinction, however I feel it’s a important one when it comes to authenticity,” he says.

A family scene from Prehistoric Planet
A household scene from Prehistoric Planet. {Photograph}: Apple TV

Talking of authenticity, Prehistoric Planet presents itself with the swaggering confidence of any Pure Historical past Unit venture. What we see, we’re instructed, is how it’s. That looks as if a tall order, particularly when making a present set hundreds of thousands of years in the past primarily based on knowledge that’s consistently growing. I ask Walker how the group managed to land on what to create for the collection.

“Every little thing begins with the fossil document,” he says. “That’s our baseline. The present is about 66m years in the past. So, for those who have a look at the fossil document, what was round? Not simply the massive dinosaurs, however all the pieces else that lived alongside. All animals have gotten to carry out a collection of behaviours. They’ve all acquired to mate, they’ve all acquired to eat. All this shall be dictated partly by what sort of animal they’re and what their environments are like. It’s a mix of the fossil document, then the expertise of wildlife film-makers who’ve noticed animals within the discipline. And so you can begin to convey all these totally different disciplines collectively, marry them with the CGI, and also you construct the plan.”

This new view of dinosaurs takes some getting used to. After I first heard of Prehistoric Planet, my response was to jot down it off as a barely jazzier model of Strolling With Dinosaurs. In any case, these animals are many hundreds of thousands of years outdated. What extra might we now have discovered within the house of a few a long time?

Rather a lot, it seems. “We now have a weekly scene assembly with our manufacturing group,” says Walker. “Our lead scientific advisor, Darren Naish, is a part of that group. Every week, we now have Dr Darren’s Dino Obtain, by which he provides us the most recent information from palaeontology world, and we now have to guess what number of new dinosaurs have been described. On common, annually, during the last couple of years, a brand new dinosaur has been described each week.”

That’s quite a lot of new dinosaurs, I say. “Who knew that palaeontology was such a fast-paced science?” Walker replies, with a smile.

The truth is, Prehistoric Planet has even helped to nudge our understanding of dinosaurs forwards slightly additional. “There’s a mosasaur sequence, the place we present it leaping out of the water,” says Walker. “The group that we had been working with didn’t absolutely understand how the mosasaur might propel itself as quick as we present it. And they also set about doing a bit of educational work to search out out the rate that this specific sort of animal might obtain.”

An adult T rex swimming with a juvenile in Prehistoric Planet
Going for a swim … an grownup T rex with a juvenile in Prehistoric Planet. {Photograph}: Apple TV+

Gunton provides: “They knew the mosasaur was an ambush predator. However they weren’t certain the way it might generate the thrust to speed up at such pace. They’d some suspicions, so that they formulated a calculation.”

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“Look, here it is,” says Walker, palpably giddy as he holds up his phone and shows me a mathematical formula that takes up his entire screen. “There is extraordinary scholarship here,” says Gunton. “Every single minute, every single second, is underpinned by serious and deep scientific interpretation. That’s one of the things that we’re super-proud of. The science and the reality of how you shoot this forces you into a position where it feels true. And we know from watching documentary, the truth of the world is always more engaging than something that we make up.”

Realism was less important in terms of the CGI, however. The series may be consistently breathtaking, but, to sell it to viewers, Gunton and Walker found themselves having to pare it back. “Some of the photography that we can now do in the real world, and that we’re currently doing with Planet Earth III, is insane,” says Gunton. “But if we did that in Prehistoric Planet it would look wrong.

“This is a conversation we’ve had with Jon Favreau. We’ve dialled down the photography, because otherwise it would have looked like a VFX show. The footage here feels more akin to what we were filming maybe eight years ago. It’s a really weird mind game to play.”

Another thing that helps to sell the show, of course, is the participation of Sir David Attenborough, who not only narrates but also presents several sequences to camera. He is such a warm and reassuringly authoritative presence that you sense the producers could have staged a CGI dinosaur dance sequence and Attenborough would be able to convince you that it was scientifically accurate. “Not bad for 96,” says Gunton of his longtime collaborator.

More of the creatures brought to CGI life in Prehistoric Planet
More of the creatures brought to CGI life in Prehistoric Planet. Photograph: Apple TV

Attenborough’s participation was not a done deal, however. “He was very assiduous,” says Gunton. “If he was going to do this, then it had to be the last word on the matter. And it had to be all about authenticity. No fantasy. I remember the day we first showed him footage; he sat there watching on the computer, tapping his fingers. When it finished he turned to me – he’s so theatrical – and he paused. Eventually, he said: ‘I don’t know how you could have done it any better.’ He works on the scripts. He’s been a fantastic asset, of course, a fantastic supporter. But also you still get notes. He’s 96 and he still gives notes.”

Earlier this year, there were reports that the BBC series Wild Isles would be Attenborough’s last appearance filming on location. Gunton is one of his closest professional collaborators – and perhaps his most qualified successor – so, as we wrap up, I ask if the rumours hold any truth.

“I’ve been working with him for 35 years,” Gunton says. “The first show I worked on with him was The Trials of Life, and the news then was that this would be David Attenborough’s final series.”

So that’s a no? “The only person who knows when it’s David’s last year is David. He’s in this project, and I’m working with him on at least two other projects in which he is a significant contributor.” Could one of them be Planet Earth III? “Could be,” says Gunton, grinning. “He’s still working and he’s still amazing.”

  • Prehistoric Planet Season 2 is on Apple TV+ from 22 May.

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