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How To Build a Dinosaur could have been titled How Not To Make a Dinosaur Video, produced at the start of the 1990s and released by Mazon Marketing. It is a half hour children's video but did we need so much footage of Milwaukee Public Museum's Rolf Johnson - dressed like Indiana Jones - singing into a dinosaur "microbone" and singing animated allosaur and camarasaur skull graphics? The intended focus was on how to restore Torosaurus, and John Ostrom, Paul Sereno and Peter Dodson all make appearances, seemingly unaware of their pariticipation in such a silly video. A work in progress, the final mount of Torosaurus is never properly presented. Johnson tries to justify a slightly sprawled reptilian position for the forelimbs, yet in situ fossil discoveries (i.e. Triceratops "Raymond" in the 1990s) have always indicated upright posture.
In Search of the Dragon: The Greatest Dinosaur Hunt of the Century is a feature length documentary at 96 minutes, produced by Great North and the Ex Terra Foundation in 1991, and released to Image laserdisc in 1993. The hunt itself was the Gobi Expedition of 1987, a joint venture of thirty Chinese led by Dong Zhiming and ten Canadians led by Dale Russell and Phil Currie. Heat, no toilets, no electricity, sleeping in their work clothes on the sand and the desert doesn’t give up its dead dragons easy. A week into it, and twenty minutes for the viewer, things get interesting as the skeletons start to be unearthed. Sandstorms that last for days limit the time they have to continue searching and eventually they’re forced to leave for the year. Breaking up the real footage are cartoons, including some cute caricatures of Currie and Russell, and decent stop-motion and animation segments. The second half finds the lead explorers back in Northern Hemisphere, with visits to Alberta and the Arctic. And you can’t have Dale Russell without a discussion of the dinosauroid. The film was released on Goodtimes VHS in LP mode as The Great Dinosaur Hunt (not to be confused with the Infinite Voyage show of the same name.)
Not to be confused with the 1985 program, Arts and Entertainment Network/Granada Television’s Dinosaur! was a four part, four hour plus, primetime Walter Cronkite-narrated disaster with jaw-droopingly awful stop-motion/puppets throughout based on John Sibbick paintings. A & E reps claimed they wanted Cronkite because he was “the ultimate credible presenter” but at 74 years old had no business in this as a host, in one exchange with Ken Carpenter, he says “you’re making Tyrannosaurus sound like he’s a pretty mean beast.“ Each episode is based on a particular milestone discovery in paleontology. Here is a recap:
The Tale of a Tooth (Sep. 8, 1991) - Cronkite and a boy walk into a museum and he tells him about some marvelous creatures of the past…, Jack Horner and Cronkite sit in front of a dig camping area at dusk, Ken Carpenter explains how Godzilla got him hooked on dinos, Bakker in a Bart Simpson shirt, guides us through early discoveries, re-used historical re-enactments of early discoveries from Learning About Dinosaurs (1982), Bakker’s religious/scientific reconciliation, World Trade Center used as a vertical geological time line, Brachiosaurus and Coelophysis puppets, track ways, David Norman on Iguanodon and Richard Owen, Jim Gary’s scrap metal dinos, Ray Harryhausen visits sculptor Robbie Braun’s lifesize Allosaurus, Sue’s T Rex, Tyrannosaurus eating Coelophysis puppet. The Tale of a Bone (Sep. 9, 1991) - Fossil hunters in the early 20th century, Bakker and Cronkite in Wyoming, Cope and Marsh’s bone wars, Allosaurus and Diplodocus puppets, Andrew Carnegie‘s Diplodocus exhibit, Gertie the Dinosaur, David Norman on Brachiosaurus, Dry Mesa Quarry, Jim Jensen and Supersaurus (its leg bone set up in a football field), One Million Years B.C. movie clip, Diplodocus bites the newspaper out of Cronkite’s hands, Martin Lockley’s trackway research, sculptor Dave Thomas and his Albertosaurus, Royal Ontario Museum’s Chris McGowen, flightless birds, Ely Kish and Dale Russell, Stephen Czerkas and his Carnotaurus sculpture, Chris Mays and Dinamation animatronics. The Tale of an Egg (Sep. 10, 1991) - Dragon lore, Roy Chapman Andrews and Jack Horner’s egg discoveries, coprolites, diet, Matt Smith’s Maiasaura model, David Weishampel’s Parasaurolophus sounds, Peter Dodson on color and display, Centrosaurus puppets, Darren Tanke and Phil Currie on Centrosaurs, Tyrannosaurus puppet, John Ostrom on Deinonychus, Stephen Czerkas’ Deinonychus, Deinonychus puppets, Bakker and David Norman on sauropod hearts, Cronkite in a classroom of children singing along to dino songs, amateur fossil hunters, David Gillette on Seismosaurus, Peter Larson and Sue the T Rex. The Tale of a Feather (Sep. 11, 1991) - Peter Wellnhofer on Archaeopteryx, David Norman, John Ostrom on Compsognathus, Bakker and David Norman on sauropod organs, Cretaceous flowering plants, Centrosaurus puppets, re-enacted Cuvier, Stephen Jay Gould on extinction, asteroid impact, Peter Dodson, a dinosauroid news anchor with Cronkite’s voice.
See them for yourself on Lumivision VHS or even Laserdisc - but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Goodtimes Video packaged a 100 minute condensed version but even for the die-hard, that may be tough to sit through. Only two of the episodes (egg and bone) are on DVD Dinosaur Discoveries released in 2009. A dreadful companion book by David Norman was also released.
Writer/producer/director Robin Bates from the NOVA series helmed PBS’s The Dinosaurs!, a four part series produced by WHYY-TV that aired in 1992. This series easily blows away the Dinosaur! series but is still among the dullest series ever produced. One annoyance for me was every time the narrator Barbara Feldon pronounces “saurs” it ends up sounding like “sars”. In the first episode, we see actors re-enacting historic discoveries. Unfortunately, the series is on the dry side and each hour only seems more forced as it progresses despite sparse use of anatomically accurate animation sequences by David Alexovich, replacing what would have been time-consuming and far more expensive stop motion re-enactments. What stop-motion is shown is taken from the Phil Tippett material in 1985’s Dinosaur! Pacific Arts Video released a laserdisc and VHS of this series. A soundtrack CD of the score was also released commercially but it’s a painful one.
Highlights: The Monsters Emerge (Nov. 22, 1992) The significant discoveries of the 1800s-1900s and their changing view of dinosaur posture. Christopher McGowen discusses prehistoric sea dragons, David Norman explains Iguanodon’s discovery by Gideon Mantell and its remains (this plays out almost identical to the Dinosaurs Fun Fact & Fantasy re-enactment), Richard Owen and the Crystal Palace, Peter Dodson displays the first American discoveries, Robert Bakker covers the Marsh-Cope bone wars, Roland Bird’s Paluxy track way discovery, Michael Novacek on Roy Chapman Andrews‘ expedition, John Ostrom on Archaeopteryx, animated evolution of dinosaur to bird. Flesh On the Bones (Nov. 23, 1992) is not about restoration but on extracting information from fossils and tracks. Sue Hendrickson’s T Rex discovery, John Ostrom’s Deinonychus, McNeil Alexander and Jim Farlow both estimate dinosaur speed, endothermy, hibernation, migration (animated herd of pachyrhinosaurs shown), Jack Horner on Maiasaura growth, animated Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, the Barosaurus/Allosaurus mount in American Museum of Natural History. The Nature of the Beast (Nov. 24, 1992) is on random aspects of dinosaur life. Paul Sereno on Herrerasaurus and the Argentinian Triassic fossils, Rob Long and the Arizona Triassic fossils, Coelophysis, Bakker gives another fun lesson in Brontosaurus, David Gillette on Seismosaurus and its gastroliths, the Cretaceous rise of flowers, Iguanodon, Jeremy Rainer on pterosaur flight, Jack Horner’s baby dinos and nests, birds, Phil Currie on centrosaurs. The Death of the Dinosaur (Nov. 25, 1992) is naturally on extinction. Robert Bakker persuasively argues for gradual extinction by pandemic disease, Walter Alvarez on his asteroid impact theory, Peter Ward on ammonites, Yucatan crater evidence. The producers mistakenly credit Gregory S. Paul, a consultant, as 'George Paul', the name of an award-winning producer at ABC.
WGBH Boston’s NOVA made a welcome return to paleontology subjects first with ‘Hunt For China‘s Dinosaurs‘ (Feb. 5, 1991) and ‘Case of the Flying Dinosaur’ (Feb. 12, 1991) which merely states the case of the link between birds and dinosaurs, a theme which would be revisited again. There is no final verdict on whether bird flight originated from the trees as endorsed by Larry Martin in University of Kansas, or the ground via a running dinosaur ancestor, as supported by Kevin Padian. The episode begins with an introduction to pterosaurs, then Archaopteryx. Footage from John Ostrom’s team’s discovery of Deinonychus in 1964 is a welcome surprise, and Jacques Gauthier‘s then-new computer cladistics program is shown. Martin challenges the wrist anatomy of avian dinos and meanwhile dislocates a Archaeopteryx skeleton in order to force it to “sprawl” to back up his tree theory, and Texas Tech’s Sankar Chatterjee ends the program with his defense of Triassic bird fossil “Protoavis”, infamously disregarded by paleontologists for the lack of official scientific description for so many years. Legendary narrator Peter Thomas is prophetic when he says the fossil may be just another false lead.
‘T. Rex Exposed’ (Feb. 19, 1991) documents the cultural legend of T Rex, and the discovery of "Sue", the world’s first complete rex specimen, while ‘Curse of T. Rex’ (Feb. 25, 1997) covers all of the people who wanted to get their hands on her - the ranchers, the Sioux Indians and the Feds - as well as the impact of the fossil black market trade on science. All of these programs cannot be missed. The DVD known as ‘Dinosaur Hunt’ is a three pack of Curse of T. Rex, Case of the Flying Dinosaur and T. Rex Exposed.
NOVA also squashed all hopes for ‘The Real Jurassic Park’ (Nov. 9, 1993) narrated by Park star Jeff Goldblum (a.k.a. Ian Malcolm) and served up with plenty of movie clips. Scientist George Polnar has the most experience in extracting insects from Mesozoic era amber, and in turn DNA from the blood in those insects. He admits finding examples of these is exceedingly rare, and that the process of extracting DNA would be several months worth of work. And that it would it would be impossible to determine even which dinosaur species whose DNA would be present in the blood. No to mention ALL of the creature's DNA would have to be recovered. Bakker offers the prospect of turning on the off switch in bird DNA to activate the growth of teeth and tails. Horner and Bakker visit various habitats to point out which would be great recreations of the Jurassic or Cretaceous environments but stress that modern vegetation would likely be incompatible or even fatal with prehistoric appetites. Notable also as probably the only time you are likely to hear Bakker drop the S bomb.
Like the other NOVA shows, ‘Dinosaurs of the Gobi’ (Jan. 25, 1994) also saw individual VHS release from Vestron Video but was a less impacting edition of the serie about a 1992 expedition into the Flaming Cliffs with Mike Novacek and Mark Norrell among others. Velociraptor, Protoceratops are practically the only dinosaurs mentioned within the first half hour, and there's significant coverage of the importance of small fossil mammals found in the area. Novacek comments, "I found all the Protoceratops you could ever want...but I'm not interested in those. Just that we're interested in the goodies...small mammals, Velociraptor...those are rarer." Norrell tells the viewers "one discovery a day and we're happy." Quite reliant on the animated raptor sequences from PBS's The Dinosaurs! and paintings by John Sibbick, as the production was originally made in 1993 by the BBC for the series Horizon.
(Wasn’t going to mention it, but NOVA did cover some Pleistocene animals with ‘Mammoths of the Ice Age‘ , aired Jan. 10, 1995, and ‘Cracking the Ice Age‘, aired Dec. 31, 1996).' The Beast of Loch Ness' (Jan. 1999) mentioned plesiosaurs of course, but was nice for NOVA to devote a show to debunking cryptids.
Dinosaurs of the Jurassic and Other Periods may seem like a Jurassic Park cash-in by United American Video, but it actually beat the movie by two years. It was one tape, with the debut video release of the National Film Board of Canada’s short film 64,000,000 Years Ago from 1981. The other half is Clearvue Video’s 1980 reel Dinosaurs & Other Prehistoric Life, a forgettable half hour parade of names out of a badly illustrated book.
A 1992 Goodtimes Video release Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies is an improvement over the lacking 80s title Hollywood Dinosaur Chronicles. Ray Harryhausen is interviewed in archival footage, and shown at work on a Sinbad film (of which there were not any dinosaurs.) There’s a heap of material and even unrelated trailers for Sinbad movies, Them!, Jack the Giant Killer, padding out the 75 minutes between actual bad dinosaur movie trailers. But there’s at least 20 of them represented if you’re into that sort of thing. If you are, I recommend authority Donald Glut’s Dinosaurs!, a two tape compilation of these and more obscure dino clips (among them Man’s Genesis, Brute Force, The Lost Whirl, Secret of the Loch, Valley of the Dragons, etc.) Jim Danforth, Ray Harryhausen and Forry Ackerman provide guest appearances. The second part covers man in dino suit movies and the Godzilla phenom. Simitar Entertainment released this set in 1993.
Some producer out there wanted to make a show on extinction for kids and the result was What Ever Happened to the Dinosaurs? (1992) from Golden Book Video, another quick direct to video job. I’d probably have skipped this entirely had it not managed to lure comments from Erle G. Kauffman and Bob Bakker debating about disease vs. asteroids, and Mark Norrell (clearly reading cue cards) explaining dinosaur-bird evolution. The first ten minutes of the half hour are wasted setting up the four amateur kiddie actors who inexplicably get caught in some fantasy world with talking roach characters arguing about what caused dino extinction. (I can hear your groans already). Without any recreations and long explanations by the paleontologists struggling to “dumb down” the jargon for the target audience, this will absolutely bore young and old alike. Digging For Dinosaurs was direct to video, aimed at very young children with musical cues and a character named Dr. Fossilworth. Eyewitness, a juvenile science series also aired on PBS in 1994, had one episode called ‘Dinosaur’ from Dorling-Kinderley Vision, 1994, narrated by Martin Sheen. There’s not a single comment from a paleontologist and cartoonish characters and the worst rubber toys substitute for animation models. Both of these titles are common; lot of people don’t want them.
1993’s Dinosaurs: Messages In Stone, ended up in a Learning Channel series - The Ancient World - retitled as “Searching For Dinosaurs”. The original 52 minute program exists on video cassette, solely following the excavation, preparation, and reconstruction of Pachyrhinosaurus. The box mentions that “over six minutes of animation portray these dinosaurs as they lived and ultimately died.” What they don’t say is how rubbery the models are and how much limited movement there is in the stop motion. On-camera host Leslie Nielsen and always interesting sound bites from the usual paleontologists (Currie, Bakker, Horner, Russell). Four years later the excavation of Albertosaurus was the subject of Dinosaur Park which refers to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada.
Film Australia got it right when they made Muttaburrasaurus: Life in Gondwana in 1993. Douglas Langdon shows how he discovered its remains, and its skeletal mount is elaborated on by paleontologist Ralph Molnar. Later Tom Rich and Pam Vickers- Rich discuss finds at Dinosaur Cove. The highlight is unquestionably the stop motion animation: the title dinosaur youngling wanders away from its family onto a shore inhabited by pterosaurs, and encounters a theropod.
Dinosaurs: Myths and Reality is not worth your time or the tape it‘s on. Smithsonian’s Michael Brett-Surman was apparently the only paleontologist brought on and he surely deserves to be in a better-produced feature than this. Wretched mistakes such as on-screen dinosaur name misspellings, static interview shots, excessive Dinamation footage, irritating Australian narrator, and (gasp!) useless Land Before Time clips, make this one among the poorest of the nineties videos. Reissued as Jurassic Giants.
Make sure you have your 3D glasses included in your copy of Natural History Museum (London)'s Dinosaurs, a gift shop souvenir, so you can see all the hideous animation. The premise is the usual unoriginal kid lost in a darkened museum where he meets the late Sir Richard Owen (a "ghost"?) who bores him to death with a dinosaur lesson. Top it off is a typical poor EP transfer by Simitar Video.
Visiting dinosaur parks was the focus of Cleval Films’ 1994 programs America’s Dinosaur Parks (30m), Dinosaur Digs: A Fossil Finders Tour and Dinosaurs: Next Exit (48m) which was an edited composite aired on PBS of the two other titles. They’re well-made, well-written, kid and adult friendly documentaries with appearances by John Ostrom, Jim Kirkland, Donald Glut (and you even get to hear his theme music). Next Exit is most recommended, with stops to at least 17 dinosaur-themed parks, some of those with owners as charming as their often inaccurate half-sized models. It’s subtitled Volume One, but according to Cleval, they never did make another.
Dinosaurs: Piecing It All Together (1993) was a sleepy Canadian hour-long feature also released to video. Artist Eleanor Kish is the focus, from her sculpting the Tiny Perfect toy skeleton of Leptoceratops, to her stunning paintings she is known for. Dale Russell, Phil Currie and a few artists like Donna Sloan explain the process of their animated work, except Bill Maylone, whose stop motion work has improved since his 64,000,000 Years Ago short film. Besides the behind the scenes with Kish, the highlight is the paleobotany lesson. The Learning Channel’s Voyages series aired this in 1994.
Geoffrey Williams, author of Dinosaur World, wrote a script based on his book about a theme park where the exhibits are prehistoric, and it became a Jurassic Park cash-in called Lost In Dinosaur World, aired on public television a month before Spielberg’s blockbuster took the world by storm. One of those ‘adults will hate it, kids may like it‘ things. All the dinosaurs except for a poorly done hatchling Allosaurus puppet effect, are Dinamation animatronics shot at San Diego Wild Animal Park. Price Stern Sloan Video released this junky mess in small numbers so it is quite hard to find. Jack Hanna, the San Diego zoologist famous for his appearances on David Letterman, on his television show, World of Animal Adventure, covered dinosaurs with a visit to the San Diego Dinamation exhibit. In another scene, a Cincinnati zookeeper makes a crazy comment about how the komodo dragons looks just like a Velociraptor.
Another Dinamation promotion showed up on home video the same year called Dinamation’s Dinosaurs In the Wild, also filmed in San Diego’s Wild Animal Park. The opening is polarized footage of our modern day world with a narration - “Imagine Earth … with no freeways. Imagine Earth … with no pollution. Imagine Earth … “ Thirty minutes is hard to fill in with just shots of the seven animatronics shown, so interrupting the footage are Myth Buster clips. The best part of the video is the final few minutes of behind the scenes at Dinamation. How Dinamation developed their wildly inaccurate Utahraptor animatronic (thank you George Callison), was a segment of a 1996 How’d They Do That?, a series co-hosted by Access Hollywood’s Pat O’Brien.
Jurassic Utah (1993) is a bone dry, shot-on-video lesson aired on local PBS stations in Utah. Norman Bosworth wrote and produced it, as well as releasing it on VHS himself. The first part is largely without any illustrations, no animation, just interiors of the Utah Museum of Natural History. The history of Utah’s early discoveries are covered well thanks to photos and ample Monsters of the Past: The Story of the Great Dinosaur silent footage, and we even get to see the scant traces of Marshosaurus and Utahraptor. Of course, you cannot visit Utah without covering Dinosaur National Monument, and here we hear from Dan Chure and fellow fossil preparators. The real saving grace of the hour is a visit to Stephen Czerkas’ studio where he is sculpting a Herrerasaurus amongst other beasts, with wife Sylvia Czerkas.
The New Explorers episode ‘Skeletons in the Sand’ was presented by Arts and Entertainment network and premiered Oct. 19, 1994. In the early 90s, young explorers from the University of Chicago are led by Paul Sereno to discover new species in the Sahara Desert in Africa, where the last finds were made some 50 years before. The first obstacle is the government which denies them access to the desert, as their quest may be unsafe from bandits. Funds scheduled to arrive are held up due to an airline strike. Some of the team leave back to the U.S. Soon after Sereno calls it off, the government relents sending them an armed escort, and the funds arrive and despair turns into exhilaration as the group finds new species almost immediately, among them the bones of Afrovenator.
When The Learning Channel (TLC) arrived in 1994, long before it had reformatted to home improvement/social programming, it was all science and tech content all day and all night. Thanks to the New Dominion Pictures production company and consultant Don Lessem (Dinosaur Society), PaleoWorld (debuted Sep. 28, 1994) was the first and only weekly half hour series - 50 shows total - devoted to all things prehistoric, filled with artwork from everyone‘s favorite pioneers Gregory S. Paul, Douglas Henderson and Mark Hallett, though Ely Kish and John Gurche were always strangely absent. Did we need an opening with more dreadful Dinamation animatronics shot in the dark? Apparently that was all because Dinamation were part producers along with Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia. TLC even aired more than one marathon, such as their 15 hour marathon on Nov. 25, 1994. In early 1995, TLC had a Sex Ed Night and the innovative episode "Dino Sex" was part of the evening line-up. The company and the series won a Cine award in 1995. In Europe, the program was aired under the title (sigh) Jurassica. The producers changed to British company Wall To Wall Television after season one, with consultant Michael Benton now, who focused more on dry facts, showing tedious field work and the debates between select paleontologists, and with that came a decline in the show’s quality and popularity. (Note the outrageous titles in season two.) The narrator in this period was Nick Schatzki, whose slow, sleepy voice work convinced me his idol was Douglas Rain (aka HAL 9000). The final season had narration by Ted Maynard - if only the producers knew that he pronounced dinosaur "dina-saw".
My full capsule reviews can be found here but here is the full chronologic episode list as aired:
1 - Rise of the Predators
2 - Flight of the Pterosaurs
3 - Back to the Seas
4 - Carnosaurs
5 - Missing Links
6 - Sea Monsters
7 - Tale of a Sail
8 - Attack of the Killer Kangaroos
9 - Dino Sex
10 - Mistaken Identity
11 - The Legendary T-Rex
12 - Dino Docs
13 - The Mysteries of Extinction
* In 1995, Discovery Channel ran "Prehistoric Predators" which was an hour long consolidation of certain episodes.
PaleoWorld - season 2 (1995)
1 - African Graveyard I: Hunting Dinosaurs
2 - African Graveyard II: Discovering Dinos
3 - Earthshakers
4 - Trail of the Neanderthal
5 - Monsters on the Move
6 - Mystery of Dinosaur Cove
7 - Dinos in the Air
8 - Mammoths!
9 - Are Rhinos Dinos?
10 - Killer Birds
11 - The Land That Time Forgot
12 - Island of the Giant Rats
13 - Troodon: Dinosaur Genius
PaleoWorld - season 3 (1996)
1 - Ancient Crocodiles
2 - Dawn of the Cats
3 - Boneheads
4 - Amber Hunters
5 - Dinos in the Snow
6 - Armored Dinos
7 - Flesh on the Bone
8 - Ape Man
9 - Horns and Herds
10 - Treasure Island
11 - Dino Diet
12 - Dwarf Dinos
13 - Early Birds
PaleoWorld - fourth and final season (1997)
1 - Prehistoric Sharks
2 - Loch Ness Secret
3 - Secrets of the Brontosaurus
4 - Baby Monsters
5 - Valley of Venom
6 - Dawn of the Dinosaurs
7 - Killer Raptor
8 - Clash of the Titans
9 - Dinosaur Doomsday
10 - Valley of the Uglies
11 - Troodon: Portrait of a Killer (not aired in U.S.)
A juvenile version of the series entitled Bonehead Detectives of the PaleoWorld was produced in 1997-99, airing on Discovery Kids. The expression “bonehead” is used by the kid hosts when they are referring to a fossil finder. The program would begin with a paleontology question and characters Sam and Allie would discuss it with a real paleontologist (“a bonehead detective“). In 1998, VHS tapes were released with two episodes each: Dig Those Dinos!, Dueling Dinos!, Awesome Ancestors.
Revenge of the Boneheads
Beasts of the Sahara
Reptile in the Family
Mystery of the Neanderthals
Attack of the Sea Monsters
The Dino Diner
T-Rex the Destroyer
The Headless Dinosaur
The Dino Killers
The Dino Clones
The New Monsters In Town
The Wandering Dinos
The Dinosaur Genius
Who’s the Baddest?
For the most part, 1990’s children’s shows offered an emphasis on the facts instead of the obvious monstrous aspects common in the 1980’s shows. The spazzy Bill Nye the Science Guy’s ‘Dinosaurs: Those Big Boneheads’ (Oct. 12, 1994) got video release from Disney, with whimsical animation and a cute reworking of the Cheers program theme song called “Ferns“. Whether kids watching even got that joke, I don’t know, but Cheers alumnus John Ratzenberger makes a cameo as well. One of the best parts are the football game announcers using the field’s yardlines as a geologic timeline. Nye visits Montana and Dinosaur National Monument, explains with a Apatosaurus toy how fossils are left behind and how meteors impact the earth. Everything seems pretty accurate except one kid pointing to a Dimetrodon model as he raps “this is a dinosaur”… The show ran 26 minutes so another episode on the earth’s crust fills the rest of the tape.
If you find a double VHS pack (from the Quality Video company, whoever they are) called Digging Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs Are Very Big and/or Dinosaur Families, beware. It is an unwatchable direct to video cheapie made by Richard Diercks. I think it would probably dissuade your kids from wanting to pursue paleontology if anything! David Suzuki's Nature Connection: Buffalo Grass To Dinosaur Bones from Morningstar Video (1995) is a very dull video showing children how grasslands of western Canada can and should be conserved. During the program, Suzuki and the kids hunt for fossils with a lesson on native dinosaur life.
Dinosaurs Then.....And Now (1995) was a half hour National Geographic production aimed for classroom use. The show relies on some very Jurassic Park inspired animation by Miguel Munoz. There are appearances by James Kirkland, talking about his then recent Utahraptor, Bob Bakker who discusses the homalies in elephants and rhinos to dinos, visits captive cassowaries to explain the birdlike aspects of raptor dinosaurs. David Weishampel with his Parasaurolophus sound demo once again.
The Great Dinosaurs Of China: A Fernbank Experience is a rare half-hour program, made for and by Georgia Public Television about the Fernbank Museum’s skeleton exhibits in 1995. The dinosaurs (ornithomimids, protoceratopsids, psittacosaurids, ankylosaurids, etc.) are actually Mongolian not Chinese proper. A veteran of the SinoCanadian expeditions Dale Russell recounts the more unpleasant aspects of the experiences. Talking of duckbill sounds, Georgia area paleontologist David Schwimmer (not the actor who merely played a paleontologist in Friends) credits a ‘Phil Dodson’ (he must mean Peter Dodson). Between the errors (“mammoths are the largest land mammals ever”), the quick running time, and the video footage of mounting skeletons (even a time lapse of sauropod specimen “Nancy” (made of 70% real bone) it’s not worth a look or the $25 price when it first came out.
Hunting The Dragon was originally a Japanese program. It was released by Brentwood Home Video in 1997 as Beyond Jurassic even though that title doesn’t appear on screen. (Not to be confused with Beyond Jurassic Park supplementary disc on the making of the Spielberg movie.) The first half hour is all about Tyrannosaurus rex. One highlight is brief: a time lapse of the tyrannosaurus skeleton being assembled. Mamenchisaurus is the focus of the second half hour, mainly around how its neck should be restored. You can’t talk about rex without Phil Currie far behind, and this is another program filmed in part at the Royal Tyrell Museum. There’s some acceptable but not stunning CGI animation but along the lines of the kind seen in Planet Of Life ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled/Creatures of the Skies’ and ‘Ancient Oceans’ - which were also released to VHS. In the former, we mainly get a herd of Barosaurus and Edmontosaurus. Most of the program dwells on angiosperms and gymnosperms. Despite an appearance by Phil Currie, Planet’s a yawner narrated by Stacey Keach of all people.
Recommended viewing is Discovery Channel‘s The Ultimate Guide - Tyrannosaurus Rex, which first establishes the environment, lineage, gait, then habits of the quintessential dinosaur species. The aerial footage of the Badlands may be gratuitous as is the repeated use of a model head in the re-enactment footage. For as long as its on screen, the model head doesn’t move but looks good - my only complaint would be the neck is too thick and the eye poorly done. Premiering April 21, 1996, the program ushered in a week of dinosaur programs, was frequently re-played and later was released to video.
The late Steve Irwin got it wrong in one dreadful episode of The Crocodile Hunter - ‘Dinosaurs Down Under’ (1996). “Here is a living dinosaur”, Irwin says holding a monitor lizard. He didn’t stop there. Pointing to a Dinamation model, he tells viewers “Triceratops grew almost to the size of an elephant.” Almost?! There are more other animals than dinos, like koalas, the short-faced kangaroo, wombats, Diprotodon, emu, Megalania, tortoise (about a dead one, he says “we’re gonna lose these dinosaurs”). Let‘s not forget “Queensland’s Marine dinosaurs”… They do get to actual dinosaurs but not much is said about them except his silly declaration that “This is concrete evidence of dinosaurs in Australia!”
Produced by Unapix Entertainment in association with WGBH, Great Minds of Science was a public television series hosted by Discover Magazine‘s Paul Hoffman. 1997’s episode Dinosaurs, begins with the requisite overview of the history of dinosaur discovery. Certainly the best paleontologist to feature on a program of this type, Robert Bakker’s unscripted off the cusp dissertation is as per usual, passionate, humorous, informative and inspiring. But those expecting or wanting lots of cutaways to artwork, museum displays will be disappointed during the 42 minutes. Reissued under the title Paleontology: How Dinosaurs Lived and Died.
Really Wild Animals: Dinosaurs & Other Strange Creatures (1997) is narrated by Dudley Moore as the voice of a spinning globe character appearing in videos under the National Geographic Kids series. Robert Bakker appears between numerous Phil Tippett stop motion from Dinosaur! Unfortunately this is yet another video with a dinosaur rap song.
National Geographic Video’s Dinosaur Hunters: Secrets of the Gobi Desert (1997) followed Mike Novacek and Mark Norell from the American Museum of Natural History, as they enter the Gobi Desert to unlock the world of the Oviraptor and others. Running an hour long, nothing much is seen in the first twenty minutes what with their jeep’s mechanical issues and getting lost with poor GPS and signless dirt roads. There is the requisite silent footage of Roy Chapman Andrews’ 1920s expedition leading to the discussion of eggs and Oviraptor. Fifteen minutes later, the guys are still struggling to find what they want, battling frustration, exhaustion and the harsh heat. It’s one of the more unique looks at the discovery rigors, less about the discoveries themselves. Four months later, after being tied up in Chinese customs, their excavated Oviraptors, lovingly called Romeo and Juliet, make it back to the American Museum safe and sound.
In late 1997 came Dinosaurs Inside & Out series from New Dominion, the season one producers of PaleoWorld. It was comprised of four one hour programs that were released TWELVE years later to DVD by Timeless Media Group. Each episode is The Killer Elite re-enacted discoveries of the “Sue” Tyrannosaurus rex, Giganotosaurus and Bakker discusses the "allosaur lair". Renaissance of the Dinosaurs leads the series with an overview of our changed image of dinos and the public love affair with them. Herbivores are the stars of Land of the Giants, where James Farlow demonstrates his water displacement weight method for an Apatosaurus using an unreliable Invicta model, tracks are mapped by Martin Lockley in the Jura Mountains, Bakker shows us sauropod belly armor and Rolf Johnson shows skepticism at the discovery of the first Triceratops (Raymond) in situ with upright front legs, as Bakker and Greg Paul have always depicted them. And Then There Were None hardly shows any dinos at all, focusing on the scientists extracting Cretaceous/Tertiary rock layers from the ocean floor, Bakker offering his disease theory, Keith Rigby's quest for amber reserving Cretaceous era air bubbles (which indicate falling oxygen levels better suited for mammals). The last ten minutes are entirely devoted to what humanity is doing to avert threats from space. Most of the shows are comprised of field work and museum skeletons - and the dreaded, dimestore animation that looks more like a prehistoric video game. That running T rex looks as if a first grader rendered it; it's a nightmare. How do shows with these flaws win 'industry' awards? An Aurora Platinum and an Omni Intermedia in this case.
Presented by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Dinofest: The Science and the Spectacle was released the same year as the 1998 show as a souvenir. Therefore footage of the actual event is not included. Instead there’s a lot of uncrating of fossil skeleton mounts. Eileen Grogan discusses fossil sharks. Nick Fraser remarks on a few dinosaur genera intercut with some poorly done/rushed black and white sketches. The only other on-screen cutaway art is Wayne Barlowe and a model by Bruce Mohn. The highlight is seeing artist Bob Walters at work in his studio, as well as modelmaker Paul Sorton. Bob Bakker gets into allosaur teeth and brontosaur blood pressure and Peter Dodson gets into ceratopsid frill displays. John Ostrom makes one of his last on-screen appearances commenting on recent feathered dinosaurs.
Do not judge it by its lame cover, Beyond T Rex was aired on Discovery Channel and released through BMG video in 1998. Not a bad hour about the two possible heirs to the tyrant king throne with flawless stop-motion models by Hall Train, superior computer graphic size scaling and decent narrative. Phil Currie explains how a Nabisco cereal premium T Rex got him hooked on dinosaur. Paul Sereno is here to detail his grueling expedition to Africa where he found: Carcharadontosaurus, alongside of actual footage. Rudolfo Coria’s Giganotosaurus is described with a visit to the dig site, with Dinosaur Society founder Don Lessem providing commentary. Bob Bakker at the Tate Museum surmises that an as-yet-not-fully-known megalosaurus may be the largest predator. The usual skull in CAT scans to see how large the brains were, eye sight depth perception, life span, and Jack Horner returns to argue that Rex only scavenged due to puny arms and its bone crushing jaws, Bakker counters it with the only true answer: these apex predators hunted and scavenged.
I decided to include T. Rex: Back To the Cretaceous because even though it’s more of a big budget afterschool special than a true documentary, it contains a fair amount of facts and paleo-history references. It was IMAX’s first dinosaur presentation in 3-D, and premiered Oct. 23, 1998. It’s close in concept to Night At the Museum, except it’s a paleontologist’s young daughter, Allie, who is left in a museum where she is transported back not only to the Cretaceous but also into the early part of the 20th century to converse briefly with her idols Charles Knight and Barnum Brown. Kids will likely be confused by the story, which switches from era to era every other minute. Most importantly they will expect dinosaur action and there’s very little of that. Sure we go back to the Cretaceous, mainly running through the soundstage forest. No Triceratops, no herds of Edmontosaurus. This Cretaceous encounter is just a Pteranodon and small predators. There is maybe five minutes total of T Rex. In fact, just as there seems to be any threat or danger, the G-rated 45 minute adventure ends. Allie entering back into her father’s lab and the egg she brings along as a souvenir, which of course, hatches just as they‘re leaving the lab. The John Williams-like score is good - actually too dramatic, too sweeping - with the non-events on-screen. The only intriguing thing I can say about this failed attempt is that it still was a smash in terms of IMAX films, grossing $100 million to date globally in its ten year theatrical run. And it achieved that even with a video release by Warner Brothers. The only other highly successful IMAX film on dinosaurs was the one with the Rolling Stones. Or maybe that was a zombie film.
Secrets of the Dinosaur Hunters (1998) was produced for the History Channel's "In Search of History" series. The first half highlights the earliest discoveries and the Marsh/Cope "fossil feud" (Thom Holmes, author the book of the same name, appears throughout the show.) The second half picks up with the "Sue" auction and J. Keith Rigby's then recent vandalized dig. Bob Bakker, Ken Carpenter, Jack Horner and Mark Norell are some of the notable scientists who provide commentary. What makes this program better than later Cope/Marsh documentaries is its inclusion of dinosaur biology (e.g. Marsh's Apato/Bronto mixup, Cope's correct reconstruction of sauropod posture).
When Dinosaurs Ruled was a sort of reincarnation of the cancelled PaleoWorld series in that it was produced by Wall To Wall Television for The Learning Channel. A vast improvement, the first of five parts premiered in August 1999. Its main flaw however lies in overuse of filler footage in each episode from “The Ultimate Guide to T Rex” and the shaky camera work as predator’s POV as it stalks in the foliage. Do not expect quality CGI either. Some will likely also shame Jeff Goldblum’s mutilation of dinosaur names and even Bob Bakker‘s last name as “Baker“. Ground Zero explored South America, with Paul Sereno on Valley of the Moon fossils, Zupaysaurus, Rudolfo Coria on Giganotosaurus and Argentinosaurus, the first titanosaur skull found, Megaraptor, and Dino Frey on pterosaurs like Pterodaustro, Criorhynchus and Quetzalcoatlus. North America is the setting for The Real Jurassic Park, with coverage of the Morrison Formation in Colorado and Dale Russell describing the carnage at Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, Jim Kirkland on Stegosaurus, the most complete Allosaurus skeleton, Big Al’s nineteen injuries, a computer simulation of whip tailed Diplodocus, and some Cretaceous Park thrown in for good measure, including an updated audio simulation of Parasaurolophus’ built-in trombone (a first octave D), and the world of T Rex according to Keith Rigby and Peter Larsen. The Land That Time Forgot is Africa - where paleontologist Paul Sereno and his expedition, in four years, more than 4,300 loads of bones were dug up and nine families of dinosaurs were found. In Tendaguru Formation, we have brachiosaurs. Carcharodontosaurus, Spinosaurus and Deltadromeus are also covered. Kirkwood Formation, we learn about Kirky, and in Madagascar, Scott Sampson tells us about Majungatholus and Rahonavis. At the Ends of the Earth refers to Antarctica and Australia, with studies on track ways, dwarf dinos and stunted growth as evidenced by microscopic bone structure, and Leallynasaura, Rhoetosaurus, Cryolophosaurus, Muttaburrasaurus, Minmi. In Birth of the Giants, we return to Europe, the birthplace of dinosaur science. There’s an emphasis on eggs in this one, especially those found in France, plus an embryonic Telmatosaurus. European genera like Ampelosaurus, Tarascosaurus, Struthiosaurus, Iguanodon, Baryonyx, Italian Scipionyx and Spanish Pelecanimimus are all detailed. Listen closely and you can hear the strains of PaleoWorld’s theme in the background score. There was a rarely seen addition on China, which aired in 2000.
Dinosaur Giants Found!, a 2000 National Geographic Video is a good deal for the money: three specials on one tape, all in order of quality. “Africa’s Dinosaur Giants“ belong to Paul Sereno, who is back in the Sahara for four months. From the unloading of the team’s supplies (“eight hundred rolls of toilet paper”, Sereno’s wife tells the audience) to the delays and inconveniences, this is another great document of Sereno’s incredible passion for paleontology (who else would run a Chicago marathon to raise funds to display the skeleton?). Indeed, as before, a new dinosaur is found, headless as it so often happens. On a side note, this the only program to mention the paleontological curiosity that was “Scrotum humanum“... The world’s best dinosaur photo-journalist Louis Psihoyos goes on a “Dinosaur Egg Hunt“ (1996), that is, around the world in eight days for a National Geographic magazine feature story. Psihoyos covers Jack Horner’s egg finds in Montana, In England, Terry Manning is slowly “hatching” dino eggs through a chemical solution, and in China, mechanical problems don’t stop Louis from capturing an overhead shot of an entire dino egg nest. In Alberta, Canada, Brian Cooley’s dino embryo sculptures are realistic enough to make the magazine cover. Once again we learn about “Sue the T. Rex” with footage of her C-T brain scan at Boeing. Not featured in any of the shows, why a Giganotosaurus (painted by James Gurney) is on the front cover is beyond me. A National Geographic Kids Video called I Love Dinosaurs was a repackaging of “Africa’s Dinosaur Giants” and “Sue the T. Rex” with an intro showing children being asked what their favorite dinosaurs are, and questions for classroom viewers like “What kind of sound did dinos make?”
The decade ended with an earth shaker of a miniseries - Walking With Dinosaurs, wherein The British Broadcasting Corporation ushered in a new era of dinosaur documentary. Due to the painstakingly loving care of computer generated image (CGI) experts Framestore, for the first time viewers could see how it looked back in the Mesozoic era, observing dinosaurs of all three periods in their natural habitats (simulated by the real life locales of Chile, New Zealand and California redwood forests). There are no on-screen paleontologists, no cutaways to museums or fossils being excavated. The script - narrated by Kenneth Branaugh - is quite clever despite some storytelling licenses taken with speculative behavior of many species. Avery Brooks replaced Branaugh for the Discovery Channel stateside airing. With Guinness Book of World Records confirming that it’s the most expensive documentary per minute ever made, it still only cost $10 million but this figure doesn’t include the marketing, including a line of books, plush and plastic figures and a “live experience” in 2007. Walking premiered April 16, 2000 in the U.S.A. on Discovery Channel and later took three Emmy Awards. It had previously been premiered in the fall of 1999 in England where it was heralded as the highest rated science program ever. Released on DVD as Prehistoric Earth: A Natural History in Australia. The New Blood, the first part, logically takes place in the Triassic where thecodont Postosuchus meets Coelophysis, which usher in the first dinosaurs, such as Plateosaurus. Time Of The Titans is a tour of the Jurassic Period fauna of Colorado: Ornitholestes, herds of sauropods, a textbook confrontation between Allosaurus and Stegosaurus. The Cruel Seas of the Late Jurassic England, large marine reptiles Liopleurodon, Opthalmosaurus, Cryptocleidus breed and hunt, and on land dinosaurs like Eustreptospondylus stalk close to shore. Early Cretaceous Pterosaurs are the focus of Giants Of The Skies, particularly Ornithocheirus, despite the inclusion of Iguanodon and Utahraptor. Spirits Of The Ice Forest are found in what is now Antarctica, where tiny Leallynasaura flocks and Muttaburrasaurus evade allosaurs, a Koolasuchus and the freezing winter. The most disappointing Death Of A Dynasty, looks like the budget or time ran out by the Late Cretaceous period however, with the Tyrannosaurus, Euoplocephalus and Torosaurus looking flat and unreal and the effects increasingly lacking until the predictable meteor impact causes the final extinction.
In 2003, the exact footage from Walking was recycled for the Prehistoric Planet DVD from BBC Video and a new script was narrated by Ben Stiller. Since this package was aimed at younger viewers, the violence was toned down and/or removed.
On to the 2000s