From the moment the first Tyrannosaurus swam across the screen in prehistoric planet I was a lost cause – I laughed with joy. My thoughts instantly went from “I’m a science editor seriously considering this nature show” to “Holy shit, it’s a dinosaur”.
prehistoric planet is Apple’s attempt to answer the question: what if we did Earth but 66 million years ago? The result is shockingly beautiful, especially since the producers actually failed to invent time travel, or pull a jurassic park and brought the dinosaurs back to life.
It’s a lot of cinematic magic that makes the five-episode series actually feel like a nature documentary, even if its main subjects haven’t been swimming in seas, soaring in skies or traversing forests since the end. of the Cretaceous. period. It’s not perfect – some heads looked animatronic and some herds had a decidedly animated feel. But those few visual hiccups were drowned out by the film’s meticulous attention to detail. Snowflakes falling from a Nanuqsaurus after a blizzard or dappled sunlight hitting the cobalt feathers of a Corythoraptor in a forest do the dinosaurs appear real, even if every movement, every shadow, is engineered. This kind of leap forward in dino-realism was last achieved 29 years ago when the first jurassic park the film was released.
Since this is the second mention of the movie, it’s time to talk about the titanosaur in the room. At the time of its creation, jurassic park was remarkable. He depicted dinosaurs as science understood them at the time and inspired a generation of paleontologists. This generation has now been part of a massive wave of discoveries made in the decades that followed. So many discoveries, in fact, that some of the science depicted in the original film is now stale – something the many sequels have struggled with. We now live in what is often called the “golden age of paleontology” – especially for dinosaurs. We now know a lot more about how dinosaurs behaved, what they looked like, and where they lived than 29 years ago.
So for a paleontology nerd, it’s deeply exciting to see some of the fossil discoveries of the last few decades unfold on screen – not just feathered dinosaurs, but nesting behaviors, species fights, and even the functioning of their digestive system. . No doubt we’ll see a lot of discussion from the paleontological community about the show, including which parts were speculation, which parts were probably correct, and what people disagree with the most, and some of this discussion has already taken place behind the scenes.
Each scene for prehistoric planet involved a large amount of research, discussion and comparison with the animals we see today. “Everything we show is plausible with the latest science,” Jon Favreau, the show’s executive producer, said at a press conference, noting how different it was “from Hollywood, where you could kind of invent anything and put anything on the screen.”
“Now all of that can change elsewhere, over the course of a year,” Favreau said, referring to the pace of research. “But right now we can point fingers at everything we do and none of it is done for flash. None of this is done for show. Everything is defined in science.
Even with extensive research libraries, there were some questions that the team’s scientific consultant paleontologist, Darren Naish, could not answer with newspaper articles alone. But the film often ended up finding an answer regardless.
Take one of the Plesiosaur scenes. “We have to decide if we show plesiosaur paddles that stiff when beating them or if there was a bend, you know, if they were a little soft,” Naish said in an interview with The edge. “We went with the floppy disk because that’s what the animators explained would work best.” This choice turned out to be the right one. The animators had noticed that the biomechanics made the most sense with the “floppy disk” option, and a later paper by researchers showed that this interpretation was likely correct, Naish said.
The depth of research is also reflected in the wide variety of ancient creatures on display. There are popular favorites, like the T. rex with its bundle of T. rex juniors. And the velociraptors are here in all their glory – smart girl. But there is also Ornithomimus, the nest-building thieving dinosaurs that look like punk rock ostriches with dark mohawks and bright red sleeves. Or Barbaridactyl, a pterosaur that has a ridiculous giant antler on its head. Or Beelzebufo, a giant frog that will absolutely haunt my dreams. And charismatic megafauna aren’t the only ones making a difference. Other organisms, including fungi, ammonites, and ancient plants, all appear as secondary characters.
It’s fitting because, at its heart, this is still a nature documentary with the king of all natural history storytellers: David Attenborough. While it doesn’t have all the same creatures we see today (crabs and dragonflies make cameos), the series has the same beats and stories you’ll find in any Attenborough documentary – they just started in the fossil record and not in a field shoot. There are life-and-death battles, fun mating rituals, and cute young dinosaurs just trying to get by in a cruel world.
(Fair warning to all other new parents: the scenes with young dinosaurs in peril certainly hit harder than they ever did when I was a pre-child.. I may have shouted, “Don’t you dare hurt that baby, David Attenborough!” more than once over the five-episode arc. Hormones are one thing.)
What’s really remarkable about watching the series is how it brings home how things do not have changed in 66 million years. Of course, the continents have changed and different forms of life have invaded the planet, but the same forces are still at work. Seasons still turn, lifeforms still have to deal with wild events like storms, wildfires, and even mosquitoes. In these familiar settings, the dinosaurs feel as alive as any bird, rhino or tiger we would see today – even if only a few fossilized remains of them remain. It turns out that with the right cinematic technology and enough research, life, uh, finds a way.
“Prehistoric Planet” premieres Monday, May 23 on Apple TV. All five episodes will air daily throughout the week.