Prehistoric Planet Review – You’ll Really Think You’re Looking At Real Dinosaurs | Television
OWhat is the opposite of an existential crisis? Because I think I have one. Watching Prehistoric Planet (Apple TV+) induced an existential feeling in me – joy/pleasure? – which I don’t really know what to do with.
To explain. Because it’s new, made of money, and eager to fill its schedules with high-profile productions to attract the kind of viewers and subscription rates that keep its coffers full and reputation polished – thus creating a virtuous cycle of programming from quality for you, me, and whoever shareholders/billionaires need to be kept in space rocket funds – Apple TV+ has recreated dinosaurs.
I mean, not quite in the Jurassic Park way (although I suspect it’s only a matter of time) but in a way that’s much safer and more accessible to a wider audience. Prehistoric Planet is full of CGI renderings of the reptiles that roamed the Earth 66 million years ago. And not just your ordinary dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus rex is there of course, but beyond that there is mosasaur, pterosaur, hadrosaurus, tethyshadros, edmontosaurus, dromaeosaurid, antarctopelta, pachyrhinosaurus, nanuqsaurus and so many other than that you may have to beg the loan of a 10-year-old dino-fan if you’re going to hope to spell the names of all species and genera correctly. I couldn’t find any, so I probably made a billion mistakes in the list above. The internet, plus the 47-year-old brain, is no match for the sponge of knowledge that is the preteen hobbyist, and I can only apologize.
There is no strange valley here. The beasts – big or small, parent or juvenile, flightless or thriving – created by Moving Picture Company, the special effects experts behind The Lion King, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Blade Runner 2049 , made them look… real. I can not say more. You look at the screen and you see dinosaurs. You watch the first episode and find yourself thinking, “Wait. I just saw dinosaurs. Almost as damn it, they just filmed a documentary about wildlife in the Cretaceous period and I watched it. They walk, run, and hunt (in packs, if you’re a tenacious but tiny dromaeosaurid aiming for a massive hadrosaur instead of your usual bug-eating), chirp (if you’re an olorotitan baby just hatched from the egg your mother spawned in volcanic sand to keep you warm), and sometimes just hanging around, oblivious to any extinction event that will one day occur.
It’s an exhilarating, if slightly disorienting, experience. For UK viewers, the sense of confusion is heightened by the fact that, despite being on a decidedly new and modern channel that looks like the antithesis of the BBC, it is presented by David Attenborough. Is that allowed, you wonder? Aren’t there any statutes on this? Can he, too, travel the world as he pleases? Its presence is because the five-part series (covering forests, sea coasts, freshwater habitats and frozen landscapes) is produced by the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, but it still takes a while to adjust.
Its presence assures us of the veracity of the program’s claim to have used the most recent research available on all dinosaurs before us. Species that have been proven to be feathered – the ancestors of modern birds – are feathered. Nest building methods are detailed, and we are given countless other details of feeding behaviors, how young are raised, and winter survival techniques that – presumably – have been inferred from the fossil record and currently constitute the best of our knowledge.
The show is magnificent and the information valuable. But maybe in the end there will be an appetite for something more about how these fossil records tell experts what they are doing. How do you look at a single skull – all that remains, that we know of, of some species – and come to know anything about its owner and its kin? Where do facts end and educated guesses begin? Does the educated guess melt into the imagination? How to know the color of a dinosaur? I could take as many hours of explanation as needed from well-chosen workers in the myriad of subfields of expertise to tell me all about it. The 10-year-old in me awakened, and with it the primary atavistic directive of childhood: trust, but verify. How do you think we humans have survived this long?