Monday, August 11, 2008

That One Dinosaur Show...

At Brian's recommendation, I recorded the first two episodes of the History Channel's "Jurassic Fight Club." With some apprehension, I watched the first episode for twenty minutes before getting sick to my stomach and deleting it from the DVR's memory. I started the second one, and only lasted fifteen minutes. This is not a good sign. Here are problems, as I see them:

1) Dinosaur George (never heard of 'im) seems to like rampant speculation. His narrative was unappreciated. I preferred hearing from guys I've read papers by, like Thomas Holtz and Phil Currie. But this is clearly Dinosaur George's show, and he likes making everything an adventure.

2) Okay, so we're going to determine that, based on predatory birds, that a female Majungatholus was larger than the males. Great. But then, we're going to say that males were prettier than females...also based on modern birds (like domesticated turkeys!). However, in predatory birds, there is virtually no sexual dimorphism aside from body size. It's like the people who put the show together just jumbled a lot of facts together, and then forced those facts to fit a dinosaurian paradigm. This does not always work! Dinosaurs were different than modern animals.

3) There seemed to be budgetary constraints on the CGI. How many times are you going to show the exact same animation sequence? Oh wait, it was mirrored that time. Totally different. And in many cases, the CGI was awful. I can't begin to describe my problems with the tyrannosaurs in the second episode, both with Tyrannosaurus itself and Nanotyrannus. The latter, it would seem, did not have a bony pelvis, but instead a "waterwaist" that just flopped around while it walked. Awful, awful, awful.

4) Why haven't I heard anything about a juvenile T.rex with lots of broken bones? And how, exactly, is Nanotyrannus implicated in its death? Shed teeth? I have no idea. These finds are being presented without any kind of reference system. I liked especially how Dinosaur George discussed, at length, this brutal slaying of a juvenile T.rex, but none of the other talking heads mentioned the find. Would somebody point me in the direction of this beat-up juvenile T.rex?

5) The baby tyrannosaurs were just scaled-down versions of the adults. By the way, I have never seen a worse CG model of a Tyrannosaurus rex in my life. And I hated the Walking with Dinosaurs tyrannosaur. In 2008, a full seven years away from Walking with Dinosaurs, surely we're able to come up with better CG models of dinosaurs. Surely.

6) And maniraptorans should have feathers now. There's just no excuse anymore. The barenaked dromaeosaurs briefly shown in the tyrannosaur episode made me sad.

7) I'm always amazed at how shows on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, and Learning Channel are somehow able to take a paragraph of information and turn it into an hour-long show. Majungasaurus was a cannibal. We've got intraspecific remains with Majungasaurus tooth marks on it. There's no way to know whether the animal actively killed its cousin or just scavenged it. Happy? I can give you the references, too. And in doing so, I have just given you more information, and more accurate information, than was presented in the first episode of Jurassic Fight Club.

8) Surely there are topics about paleontology that would better occupy a 42-minute show. The extinction of the dinosaurs, or the end-Permian extinction, maybe. Or how about the rise of mammals following the extinction of the dinosaurs? Or the dynasty of the therapsids before the Permian extinction? And can we stop using horrible, bottom-of-the-barrel CGI? Remember that old "DINOSAUR!" show on PBS hosted by Christopher Reeve? It used Phil Tippet stop-motion animation for the dinosaur sequences. These stop-motion efforts were worlds better than the horrifying CG in virtually every dinosaur "documentary" that's come out since Walking with Dinosaurs.

9) I'm currently watching the DVD of the BBC's "Chased by Dinosaurs" series. It's more-or-less a follow-up to Walking with Dinosaurs, and I would go so far as to say it's more enjoyable. The technology is better, and thus the character models are better. The narration is more flowing because it's being narrated by a real guy, and the science is better. Flawed at times, sure, but better than Jurassic Fight Club. I'm not sure why Sarcosuchus ended up in Argentina, though.

Don't watch "Jurassic Fight Club." It's not worth your time! There are any number of better dinosaur shows out there, including that ancient PBS show.


lantaro said...

Glad to hear the show was captivating, to say the least. Although in what respect, it's hard to tell.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if this is off topic, but did anyone catch this release this week? Thought it might be of interest to all prehistoric fans.


Hollywood actress Lana Wood, who once played Plenty O’Toole opposite Sean Connery in the James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever, was attacked by what eyewitnesses say was a Megalodon, a 70-foot, 70,000 pound prehistoric cousin of the Great White shark. The attack occurred in the waters off the coast of Monterey, California. . .in the pages of New York Times best-selling author Steve Alten’s new release MEG: Hell’s Aquarium.
Lana Wood, a former Playboy centerfold, has an extensive career in the movies, and wrote a best-selling memoir about her late sister, actress Natalie Wood, back in 1986. She contacted Steve Alten a year ago and asked him to make her a character in his new MEG book, the fourth and best story in the series.

In his review of Hell’s Aquarium, Steve Donoghue, Managing Editor of Open Letters Monthly states, “Alten writes the whole thing in hyperkinetic present tense, with turns and twists in every scene until it squeaks…there’s a scene late in the book involving a shark autopsy that any thriller-writer would give a tonsil to have thought up! The whole thing fizzes with the kind of fun delirium only the most effective giant killer shark novels dare to attempt.”