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 alternative with the apparently never-ending parade of films, video video games and documentaries that includes animated dinosaurs, however this programme stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to the accuracy of its animals and the naturalism they evoke.
The soar from Ray Harryhausen classics equivalent to One Million Years BC within the mid-Nineteen Sixties to Jurassic Park in 1993 was large. Jurassic Park confirmed dinosaurs in a brand new option 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 appear and feel, 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 displaying dinosaurs as we expect they actually have been.
The obvious development is the variety of dinosaurs being accurately proven with feathers and different filamentous coverings. For the reason that late Nineties, the truth that birds advanced from dinosaurs has turn 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 may 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 screen 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 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 plan. 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 will not be that these historic animals are reproduced 100% precisely, however that they’re delivered to life realistically. Displaying dinosaur mating rituals, dad and mom nurturing their offspring and small animals difficult predators a dozen instances their measurement is new, or very uncommon – and but these are behaviours which might be fully regular for animals. On high of this, it’s simple 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, equivalent to a battle 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 area (not simply one other procession of jungles). Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, plesiosaurs and different historic animals usually are not monsters or legendary creatures, however have been actual (if very odd by as we speak’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 lifelike 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 often strikes on incrementally, and infrequently in main jumps, however public perceptions are inclined to lag behind. It takes time for brand spanking new concepts to turn 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 reducing fringe of scientific discovery. It exhibits 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 must 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