Prehistoric Planet

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐½ based on 2 reviews.

tl;dr: The best dinosaur documentary ever made, and one of the finest pieces of scientific outreach ever.



Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

We went to the public premiere in London; we bought Apple TV+ specifically to watch the rest; I have poured over Twitter for weeks, soaking up every detail; and I already follow half of the scientific advisers in some capacity on social media. To say I was hyped for this show is an understatement of titanic proportions 😅

So, with that said, I am incredibly happy to say that Prehistoric Planet absolutely delivered! The production quality was astounding, the creatures utterly beautiful, and the documentary-style narrative was just brilliantly done. With a score by Zimmerman and direction from Favreau, it's unsurprising that the episodes are each unique, well-paced, and beautifully scored, but I was amazed at just how much the show accurately mimicked the style of BBC documentaries like Planet Earth. I mean, I shouldn't be too surprised: the BBC Natural History and NHM London documentary units were both involved, and they deliberately filmed the show "on location", with actual wildlife cameras and videographers, so even the empty plates were produced by experts who know what kind of shot they would be looking to get. But man, does it all fit together so damn well.

Obviously, I would have loved for the season to be twice as long, but they manage to cram a lot into five episodes. I think focusing on individual biomes was a great idea, which allowed us to jump around and see a very wide array of extinct animals, as well as behaviours, but the scope still exceeded my expectations. Given that everything "alive" was computer-generated, they really didn't cut any corners. The world is alive with animals. Every wide shot has extra birds or pterosaurs flitting around; watering holes are busy with dozens of species. I imagine that we focus on around 30+ individual species over the course of the season, but there must be a good 20 or more additional species represented in the background of shots, too, which makes everything feel that much more real.

And speaking of feeling real, the CGI is utterly mindblowing. The theropods and pterosaurs particularly stand out; these are completely photo-realistic, believable animals, even when they look as alien as an azhdarchid strolling along a beach. I think pretty much all of my favourite moments involve one of these two groups: the velociraptor cliff hunting sequence; pachyrhinosaurus in the blizzard; the entire alcione hatchling chase bit, including the wonderful beach-based nesting colony of other pterosaurs; the various maniraptorans shown using fire; and of course the wonderful carnotaurus, which was such a moment of comedic absurdity 😂

But even typing those out, I'm aware that I haven't touched on the ammonites (utterly breathtaking), or the whole BRONTOSMASH! sequence (completely awesome), or Triceratops going clay-hunting in the caves; or the pliosaur fight; or ankylosaurs chomping on charcoal; or the majesty of swampy dinocheirus; or the maiasaurus geothermal breeding grounds; or T-rex swimming; or just everything about zalmoxes 🥺! Honestly, there are just too many to really count; if the show had given us half the number of iconic moments, it would have been an absolute triumph. As it stands, this is beyond my wildest expectations!

So are there any things I thought were less-than ideal? Honestly, yes. There were a few species which felt much more CGI than others, particularly the plesiosaurs, which did throw me out of the flow a bit. They're still great sequences, but they just felt somehow more jarring when everything else just seemed real. But most of all, I really wanted longer behind-the-scenes and making-of content. We got some short featurettes for each episode, which were great, but they're far too short. I would watch a full hour-long documentary on how they made this series, but 15-20 minutes per episode would have been brilliant. Luckily, some of the advisers (like Darren Naish aka TetZoo) have been doing a lot of that on blogs or Twitter, but I think they should have done more to really drive home just how incredibly accurate this show was. There's obviously a lot of speculation that goes into the behaviour of extinct species, but from my further reading, a lot of the stuff that was portrayed is much less speculative than you might think. From pigmentation, to feather distribution, to sauropod neck balloons, and even little details like the carnotaurus arm wiggling or mononykus having feather discs on their face like owls, many of the weirder or more "out there" behaviour or design choices are actually grounded in surprisingly solid evidence, and I think it's a genuine shame that this wasn't included. If it had been, the show would be getting a six-star rating right now, because I think a lot of people will come away thinking much more of it is "made up" than it actually was.

Still, it's an utter triumph and I genuinely think it will rank up there with the Crystal Park dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, Fantasia, and Walking with Dinosaurs in terms of long-lasting impact on the public perception of these incredible animals.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Doesn't quite hit the same wonder, mainly because this reuses a lot of the same species and instead doubles down on surprising behaviours and environments. Plus the last couple of episodes felt generally a little weaker. Still, an utterly incredible spectacle, and the earlier episodes are up there with some of the finest in the first season – Madagascar in particular.

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