‘Prehistoric planet’: the swimming tyrannosaurus and other wonders | TV | The USA Print

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The swimming tyrannosaurus from 'Prehistoric Planet', with a calf.
The swimming tyrannosaurus from ‘Prehistoric Planet’, with a calf.

The scene is hypnotizing: in a crystal clear sea a tyrannosaurus Rex, the deadliest beast to ever walk our planet, swims so richly towards an island. The thick legs propel him more than the ridiculous little arms (although no one would have laughed at them in his face, and in fact it seems that they were useful for holding onto prey while it tore it apart with its jaws). In the expression of the tyrannosaurus there is, along with the ferocity shown by its forceful features and the natural alertness of someone who is not in its midst, a kind of happiness: although it is a work trip (it is going to expand its hunting territory), the critter is deriving obvious pleasure from the aquatic experience. More overwhelmed, the five feathered pups like ducklings that swim with the adult are seen; and they have reason, since they are surrounded by a kaikaifilu, a mosasaur, a large aquatic predatory reptile whose name comes from Kai-Kai filú, a reptilian-looking Mapuche oceanic divinity that would have delighted HP Lovecraft.

The image of the T. Rex swimming, tremendously realistic, full of life, is one that is not forgotten, and one of the many amazing prehistoric planet, the five-part series from the BBC and Apple TV+, which takes us through the world of 66 million years ago: the late Cretaceous, as if we were there thanks to a Ray Bradbury-type time machine (and with less danger). , when dinosaurs still ruled the Earth. Among the wonders that stick to the retina with the forcefulness of a titanosaur footprint in the mud, other scenes such as the march of 17 males of these large sauropods (of the species discovered in Argentina named Dreadnoughtous, by the British battleships of World War I, which gives an idea of ​​the size and strength of the creature: 26 meters, 40 tons); the one with the extravagant pterosaurs Nyctosaurus, with long antlers, chasing juveniles of other pterodactyl species into the air in spine-tingling flights worthy of dogfights and practicing courtships of membranous wing exhibitionism, or the one about the triceratops getting into an underground cave (we see them with night vision cameras to make it seem more real), in which, by the way, a baby is lost like Tom Sawyer and Betsy in the MacDougal cave.

In a series like this, having David Attenborough as the narrator is as fundamental as having T. Rex himself, with whom the presenter shares experience and iconic quality. His voice is one of those that claim the original version: hearing the way he pronounces, or rather savors, words like “three-ceratops” (he pronounces it that way) puts you as much in the Cretaceous as the roar of the tyrannosaurus. Traveling back in time with the doyen of naturalists—whose passion for reptiles has been proven since his visit to Komodo in 1956—is a privilege, and his wonder and enthusiasm are deliciously contagious. The formula is very similar—and there is some deja vu— to the highly successful Planet Earth, the same effort to awaken a sense of wonder in nature, but here recreating (with the use of real landscapes) a world and creatures that disappeared millions of years ago. There is the magical scene of bioluminescent ammonites glowing in the sea under a full moon, pure mystery and beauty. The always evocative music of Hans Zimmer is an important asset in the antediluvian journey.

A pterosaur recreated in the documentary 'Prehistoric Planet'.
A pterosaur recreated in the documentary ‘Prehistoric Planet’.

It’s been a long time since Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) and the degree of realism with which dinosaurs are now visualized is incredible, not only in their appearance and movement, but also in their integration into the environment. That realism is thanks to technological achievements, of course, but also to advances in the study of these animals. In prehistoric planet we see them as real and living creatures, fascinating in their diversity (there are fifty different species, some very rare) and complexity, vigorous and adapted to the most varied ecosystems. Beautiful and moving are the scenes of hadrosaurs lying in the shade of the great dunes, like the tents at Feisal’s camp in Wadi Rum, and then on their epic journey to the sea, or, in a completely different habitat, those of the stampede on the ice by another herd of those duck-billed dinosaurs stalked by dromaeosaurids. Extraordinary episode of the three velociraptors (much more birdlike than Spielberg’s) hanging down a cliff to prey on a colony of pterosaurs: a scene that has a taste of the famous episode of The man and the earth in which a golden eagle catches a mountain goat. What Felix, our ill-fated Attenborough from Burgos, would have done with a tyrannosaurus!

Titanosaurs in 'Prehistoric Planet'.
Titanosaurs in ‘Prehistoric Planet’.

Lots of fine details in the series: parental care in different species, the ingestion of gastroliths by elasmosaurs, the insects that infest hadrosaurs, the bristle-like feathers on the nape of the tyrannosaurus, the desolate gaze of the flying giant Quetzalcoatlus when he discovers that his nest has been depredated, the position and march on land of all the pterosaurs… Not in vain the advisor of prehistoric planet is paleontologist Steve Brusatte, whose book is highly recommended The rise and fall of the dinosaurs, the new story of the lost world (Debate, 2019), a delight that recalls that T. Rex was no fool (more intelligent than a dog), although he did run no more than a jeep as portrayed, among other mistakes, Jurassic Park. Incidentally, Brusatte describes in his book in a shocking way the fall of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, a dramatic point and end that, curiously, does not appear in the series.

The commitment to emotion means that there are some excesses of epic, sentimentalism and anthropomorphism, even Walt Disneyism, in prehistoric planet, which are more than compensated by the scientific solidity and the fact that, despite the altruistic plesiosaurs, the violence inherent to the world of dinosaurs, and to the natural world in general, is not hidden. The T. Rex will enjoy swimming, it will have his little heart (a hundred times bigger than ours) and Attenborough will spy on it, like voyeur Cretaceous and lowering his voice, in a sex scene, but he does not hide that it was the largest biological killing machine that has ever existed and without a doubt the transcendental terror that never ceases to ignite our imagination. There would hardly have been a place in the world for him and for us at the same time…

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