Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie (Pre-Release Thoughts)
Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie (BBC Earth/20th Century Fox)
To be released on December 20th, 2013
In 1999, Walking with Dinosaurs stormed on to BBC. While the earlier Jurassic Park was the first film to accurately depict dinosaurs as active, warm-blooded creatures with a modicum of intelligence, this six-part miniseries was the first to show them as animals rather than monsters--living organisms forced to wrestle day-to-day with their environment and with each other in the Mesozoic era. Aside from a few bumps here and there, the program has held up very well both scientifically and technologically. And while many similar, subsequent documentary films and programs about dinosaurs have attempted to capture the same magic as Walking with Dinosaurs, none of them, in my opinion, have quite matched it in quality, let alone exceeded it.
Thus, you can imagine at least some of my feelings a few months ago when I saw the two trailers for the upcoming film adaptation of the same name. The production of this film wasn't news to me, but having gotten a taste for the look and (perhaps) the feel of this project, I am filled with mixed emotions.
Causes for Hope
For all my love of the original series, there were aspects of the trailers of the Walking with Dinosaurs movie that gave me cause for great optimism.
The film is set in late Cretaceous Alaska, roughly 70 million years ago. This picture won't be the first to showcase this environment, as it was the focus of Impossible Pictures' March of the Dinosaurs and appeared briefly in BBC's Planet Dinosaur (both released in 2011). Visually, however, the Walking with Dinosaurs film immediately looks to be more promising than the tedious March, which had remarkably drab dinosaurs, detailed yet vacuous computer-generated landscapes, and forgettable action sequences. In the two trailers of this upcoming 3D film, we have much more colorful and convincing dinosaurs inhabiting a much more colorful world, where majestic landscapes in modern Alaska and Australia serve as the Cretaceous Alaska.
In addition, both of the trailers feature glimpses of what look to be multiple scenes of riveting action, from a Gorgosaurus hunt to a wildfire. Ultimately, the placement of these scenes will make or break the film's structure, but even with exhausting action sequences sandwiched together, this film will almost certainly be more satisfying than March.
As for the dinosaurs themselves, many of them will be also be the same, including Pachyrhinosaurus, Edmontosaurus, and Troodon. However, while March focused on a young Edmontosaurus' first year and Planet Dinosaur featured a Troodon pack's nocturnal hunt, the Walking with Dinosaurs film will follow the life of a male Pachyrhinosaurus, a much more visually striking yet less famous animal. It will also be the first dinosaur documentary to focus primarily on a ceratopsian, as other examples of this genre have almost always featured theropods or sauropods as their protagonists.
From the trailers, it's hard to tell how consistent the portrayal of its animals will be with our current understanding of these animals, and the protagonist's growth from hatchling to herd-leader will need to be paced carefully. But judging by what we see of the Pachyrhinosaurus in the trailers (as well our hero's punctured frill), this creature's life story will be far from a dull one.
Causes for Concern
On the other hand, there are aspects of both trailers that give me things to worry about.
Both feature soothing, generic narration making it clear that this iteration of Walking with Dinosaurs is meant to be child-friendly, if not primarily for kids. While I recognize that trailers are only advertisements for films at the end of the day, and sometimes are not true indicators of a film's tone or quality, I am worried that the film will go too far in trying to please children and make the dinosaurs cartoon characters rather than wild animals. This is a decision the creators of dinosaur documentaries like Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Revolution (both from the Discovery Channel) occasionally made at the expense of their programs' credibility. In the case of the former program, the dinosaurs had cutesy nicknames and human emotions grafted on to them by the narration, while the latter often resorted to otherwise lifelike dinosaurs involved in personal vendettas and Looney Tunes-like slapstick. If the Walking with Dinosaurs movie makes the same mistake, it will not only jeopardize its believability but go against what made its television predecessor so special.
Even more worrying to me, though, is the possibility that the creators of this film will further undermine their project's scientific credibility and make their dinosaurs talk. While there's nothing in either of the trailers to indicate this, since all the dinosaurs featured bellow, roar, and squeak, the 2000 Disney film Dinosaur was initially marketed without its dinosaurs speaking, only to give them human voices, personalities, and motivations. In addition, Variety reported in January that "the lead role" of the film had been given to the young British actor Charlie Rowe (The Golden Compass, Never Let Me Go). I can only hope that Rowe has been cast to provide first-person narration for the film and that is his voice won't be coming the beak of the protagonist Pachyrhinosaurus.
One more comparatively minor concern I have about Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie is the 3D format. I'm not particularly fond of the 3D film format, since directors rarely use it to their film's advantage and because it drains the bright colors from the screen. In addition, it's a very obvious financial crutch for many films, given that 3D showings cost more than 2D ones.
Regardless of my qualms about 3D and my concerns about the presentation of its dinosaurs, I will definitely be watching Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie on the big screen this December and reviewing it on HubPages.