Chasing Dinosaurs Through Dinosaur Week

Not surprisingly for a guy who has something called "Dinosaur Week", I'm a big fan of the Walking with Dinosaurs series. I have them all, and I've walked with Monsters and Cavemen and Prehistoric Beasts and an Allosaurus called Big Al. The only one I wasn't particularly interested in was Chased by Dinosaurs, which I was afraid would be too silly. I was never all that fond of "Crocodile Hunter"-style nature shows, so I really wasn't sure the evolution of "Walking with" away from narrated documentary to participative safari was a good idea. I'm ready to eat crow (or whatever its ancestor was). Chased by Dinosaurs includes 5 special episodes of Walking with in which enthusiastic zoologist Nigel Marven (and his hard luck camera crew) travel back in time to interact with all manner of prehistoric creatures. Marven has been compared to an extreme Steve Irwin, swimming with Great White Sharks unprotected and wrestling rock pythons. But dinosaurs are much more dangerous, aren't they?

The Land of Giants
The first special sends Marven to Cretaceous Argentina to seek the largest land dinosaurs to ever walk the Earth - the long-necked Argentinosaurus and its fearsome predator, Giganotosaurus - and having all sorts of other encounters (and close calls) in the process. Though it sometimes verges into silly territory, such as when he swoops down with a one-man plane through a herd of Argentinosaurus, the focus on animals as yet untouched in the series makes the special, well, SPECIAL. It's helped by the inclusion on the DVD of an episode of Horizon entitled "Extreme Dinosaurs" which discusses important finds in Patagonia and how the paleontology on show was worked out by scientists, including the controversial pack behavior of the featured carnosaurs. Extreme Dinosaurs came out a year before Land of the Giants, but serves as a good example of how our understanding of the dinosaurs is continually evolving.

The Giant Claw
In this second special, Marven is sent back to Late Cretaceous Mongolia to find the owner of a large and mysterious claw. Marven discovers the strange Therizinosaurus, which might make you wonder if the bizarre animal is pure conjecture, but no, paleontologists have confirmed its existence. This time around, we are much more aware of Marven's crew, which creates moments of comedy as Protoceratops corner the sound man or Velociraptors chase the camera up a tree. By this point, I had become comfortable with the format and was enjoying the ride. Marven's enthusiasm is contagious, even if the animals aren't really there, and the show has fun putting him in situations where he might (or does!) get hurt, making you wince as he gets too close to an animal, laughing as Mononykus raid his tent, or feeling his joy when he manages to touch one of the great beasts.

Sea Monsters
Comprising three half-hour episodes, Sea Monsters promises to send Marven and his crew to prehistory's seven most dangerous seas. The countdown makes him go back and forth along the timeline, and the show continues to play it for real, with contraptions and gadgets designed to protect its reckless star from the sea creatures he means to encounter. As with the previous two specials, there are animals here we've never seen, and by visiting various eras, we get a lot more than dinosaurs. The first ocean, on an Earth that has yet to have land vegetation, is particularly well done, with Marven needing a respirator on the beach and getting his ankle sliced open by a Sea Scorpion. Of course, it's the Giant Orthocone (above) that steals the show. From there, he heads to other eras, encountering armored fish, sea reptiles and giant sharks. There's an amazing variety of animals, and a nice amount of thrills even if we don't spend entire episodes exploring a single sea (land animals intrude as well, lest you think it's all underwater action), and the first two episodes even end on cliffhangers.

I wasn't sure putting a human into the dinosaur action would work - the time traveler in Walking with Cavemen didn't interact with his subjects - but the technology was already advanced enough in 2002-2003 to make such encounters credible. And of course, it's Nigel Marven who really sells it, infusing humor into the proceedings. Kenneth Branagh's narrations in the previous series wasn't dull, but it wasn't FUNNY. The episodes on Chased by Dinosaurs really do benefit from the human point of view.


Craig Oxbrow said...

He later goes on to be eaten in Primeval. Something to be proud of in my book.

Siskoid said...

And at the time, it didn't register with me because I didn't recognize him. But it's a stand-out moment NOW. :)

And after surviving 5 trips through the anomalies in Chased by Dinosaurs too...

Michael May said...

David was just watching the Sea Monsters episode yesterday. He's totally on board for Dinosaur Week! (Also known in our household as Every Week.)

We loved that episode of Primeval. It's what should have happened in every episode of Chased by Dinosaurs. That wacky Nigel.


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