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THE 2000s

After the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs, dinosaur documentaries could no longer survive with the typical formula of dry facts, static museum skeleton shots and an occasional painting. The bar had been raised by the British and the Americans responded quickly in the 2000s with CGI-filled programs of their own. Allosaurus got his own showcase spinoff, known as The Ballad of Big Al but released to American DVD as Allosaurus: A Walking With Dinosaurs Special. This is the only program to begin in the modern day, at University of Wyoming’s display of Big Al’s bones, which reveal nineteen injuries, all a story in themselves. It then goes back to the Jurassic, as Big Al starts his life hunting and struggling to survive against herbivorous dinosaurs and even its own kind.

Discovery Channel’s Emmy nominated When Dinosaurs Roamed America (2001) is 90 minutes of the best known genera. Actor John Goodman is a competent narrator, with occasional interruptions to the recreated Mesozoic by on-screen paleontologists. It opens in Manhattan, pulling back to space-view of Earth, to set up the super continent Pangaea, and the birth of North America. Nowhere as dramatic as Walking With Dinosaurs, the first recreation we see is in the Triassic where a lone Coelophysis meets Desmatosuchus. In Pennsylvania, a Syntarsus pack stalks Anchisaurus, that is until Dilophosaurus appears. In dry Jurassic Utah, the Dryosaurus and Stegosaurus looks as impressive or moreso than Walking With’s. Finally a dino sex scene! Ceratosaurus, Apatosaurus, Allosaurus and Camarasaurus look very good in particular. Jim Kirkland appears to describe the drought that must've resulted in the bounty of fossils at Dinosaur National Monument. The Cretaceous cast include Zuniceratops and heavily feathered dromaeosaurs in New Mexico and the spectacular therizinosaur Nothronychus. South Dakota's where we find Quetzalcoatlus, Triceratops, Anatotitan and Tyrannosaurus rex (with comments by Phil Currie). The CGI models are pleasingly accurate, with a much more satisfying Tyrannosaurus anatomy than Walking With Dinosaurs. And though the animation is inferior to Mainframe‘s in general, it was still good enough to win an International Monitor Award for best 3D animation in a TV special. The DVD from Artisan Entertainment includes bonus features such as a total of four minutes worth of behind the scenes clips, a 360 degree view on only a few CGI dinos, and a useless "music video".

Walking With Prehistoric Beasts (2001) was originally titled Walking With Beasts, the original broadcast was narrated by Stockard Channing (best known as Rizzo from Grease). A second season of Prehistoric Planet used re-edited/re-narrated footage of these six parts: New Dawn taking place in Eocene Germany features the ‘walking whale’ Ambulocetus, giant bird Gastornis and the shrew-like Leptictidium. In Whale Killer depicts Basilosaurus finding its way from a changing ocean climate to a mangrove swamp in Late Eocene Pakistan and the largest mammal predator known, Andrewsarchus. The Land Of Giants is Late Oligocene Mongolia in the middle of a drought where an Indricotherium, a giant ancestor of the rhinoceros, gives birth to a calf who faces predaceous entelodonts and chalicotheres. Australopithecus are our Next Of Kin, encountering Dinofelis and Deinotherium in Pliocene Ethiopia. One million years ago in Argentina is the backdrop of Sabre Tooth, the Smilodon episode, with appearances by glyptodont Doedicurus, Megatherium and Phorosrhacos. And set 30,000 years ago, Mammoth Journey is self-explanatory. After watching the struggles of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, be sure to catch the last image of modern society. This was followed by Walking With Cavemen, and if you check that out, be sure to get Prehistoric America (2003) which will be a total of five hours worth of CGI/live action recreations of Ice Age America over five episodes: Land of the Mammoth, Canyonlands, Ice Age Oasis, Edge of the Ice, Mammoths to Manhattan.

I don’t remember these Standard Deviants ever being on PBS but apparently they were a group of young actors hamming it up in skits as they “educate” their child viewers about a given subject. The big problem is that, unlike Bill Nye’s delivery, the Deviants program is just as filled with nonsense skits (the fastest dinosaur was the “Jetpackasaurus”) as it is with decent information (the Triassic and Jurassic mass extinctions are well-covered). When there’s no “Deviant” onscreen in costume playing a detective, hipster, or a dinosaur itself, text and graphics clutter all corners of the screen.  Tickers potentially distract younger viewers along the bottom and top. Supercheap dinosaur CG that would make elementary students laugh out loud. They produced these shows - A Day as a Dino and Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner? - in 2001 but with the music, fashion and video cam you’d think it was the late 1980s. Kids deserve a bit better than learning about dinosaur hips, ornithischians and saurischians, while watching some girl hula hoop.

The birth, childhood and maternal nature of dinosaurs is definitively explored in Dinosaur Eggs and Babies (2002), a recommended documentary. Besides a good bit of animation of Velociraptor and Protoceratops, there’s Kenneth Carpenter, Robert Bakker, Mark Norell offering their usual expertise with Martin Lockley and Phil Currie also appearing.

A low-budget cover may fool you but the 'Dinosaurs' edition of Bennett-Watt Productions' Discoveries...Argentina video series is a widescreen, high definition, very professionally done documentary whose only weakness is extremely poor brachiosaur and tyrannosaur CGI. Rudolfo Coria is shot on location of Patagonia and there is ample coverage of the Tiniest Giants exhibit. There are fadeouts through out the hour long program for commercial breaks, but whether this was aired on television is unknown (it would have been perfect for the Travel Channel).

Beware of an abomination from 2000 called Tyrannosaurus Rex: Jaws of Death from Kultur Video, narrated by actor Brian Blessed. Apparently the third in a series called “Dinosaurs: Rulers of the Earth”, this British production’s jacket synopsis has the audacious claim that the program has “the latest 3D computer animation”. Paul Barnett’s work looks like a grossly disproportionate mutant dinosaur from an old video game. Add the sin of gratuitous Dinamation footage, inaccuracies like “Tyrannosaurus remains have only been found in North America”, recycled geologic time charts from 1993’s Dinosaurs: Myths and Reality and you have a recipe for disaster.

Volume 8 of video series Animal Safari was entitled ‘Exploration Dinosaur’ but it only concerned the anatomical connections to modern day animals, the emu, macaw and tegu lizard.

Valley of the T Rex (2001) is a recommended show about T Rex focusing on its fossils found in Hell Creek with guide Jack Horner. He continues to paint T Rex as a scavenger, this time, with stronger points. Much is said about the completeness of the skeleton called “G Rex”, but the CGI, by the same company (Meteor Studios) who did When Dinosaurs Roamed America, look like leftovers and rehashes from that program - and yet were again nominated for best 3D effects.

Then came one of those important paleo shows. A show National Geographic Channel should have produced to save face for being duped into printing a hoax fossil in the now-infamous story on fossil birds in 1999. This is the dino equivalent of the Piltdown hoax. Even sculptor Steve Czerkas declared the suspicious, Chinese-found, 'Archaeoraptor' as "the missing link" and Phil Currie used it to promote the dino-to-bird evolutionary theory. NatGeo editor Bill Allen does relate the embarrassment in 2002's The Dinosaur That Fooled the World aired on the BBC via the Horizon series.  Perhaps if the fossil had reached dino-to-bird expert Greg Paul early on, he would have called it a chimera first.  Chinese expert Xu Xing was the paleontologist to first officially identify it as a fake, after analyzing another piece of the same exact fossil that showed a mirror image of part of the skeleton. The biggest revelation of the program is the practice of creating forged fossils by unidentified enterprising amateurs in China who've figured out that whole skeletons make more money. Especially whole transitional forms. In reality, it was found that the two different skeletons used in the fake, are important finds on their own. The forged fossil sold for $80,000 but now in the hands of scientists, is valued at $1 million, according to the producers.

 

The gap in the middle portion of the Jurassic fossil record has frustrated and puzzled paleos for a long time and Horizon’s Mystery of the Jurassic (aired by the BBC March 28, 2002) attempts to address it. The loose script describes geological change in the Jurassic with ample Walking With Dinosaurs footage thrown in for good measure. Oliver Rauhut uncovers a mid-Jurassic graveyard in Argentina while in England, shale from the same age suggests an oceanic mass extinction. Climate change is not enough to explain the evolutionary explosion of dinosaur diversity. Because this one is more geology and no biology, some may find this Horizon show a bit dull side.

The 30 foot prehistoric crocodile Sarcosuchus was the subject of National Geographic Channel's Super Croc (2002), one of the best prehistoric documentaries, astonishing and engaging throughout its 90 minutes covering extinct and extant crocodile behavior effectively. This one is not for small squeamish kids! Paul Sereno, ever the modern Roy Chapman Andrews, brings along reptile specialist Brady Barr to the Sahara to free the six foot long skull of Super Croc from what was once an ancient wetland. Barr brings Sereno to capture live crocodiles - some 14 foot long -  while Greg Erickson estimates Sarc's fearsome bite force. No punches are pulled with the violent attack footage of Nile crocodiles. The last 40 minutes takes us from Gatorland in Florida to see how crocodiles can be trained, to Australia where Adam Briton reaches inside a live crocodile's roundworm infested stomach, to India for a ghariyal capture with Sereno and Barr, and back to Canada for the final unveiling of a lifesize model. The only negative is the brief subpar CGI animation. Jurassic Park's Sam Neill narrates.

More state of the art CGI is found in Dinosaur Planet (Discovery Channel premiere Dec. 14, 2003) was divided into four episodes, each narrated by Christian Slater, and following the hardships of different genera across the globe. Though cartoonish at times, in many ways this is not suited for small children. In “Whitetip’s Journey”, an abandoned raptor witnesses an Oviraptor courting ritual and the narrator explains casually “there’s no food here just sex”, and baby dinos are snatched away from their parents. Encounters Prenocephale and Protoceratops are also violent confrontations. The strongest entry in the series is followed by the weakest, “Alpha’s Egg” set in Patagonia where a young Saltasaurus tries to survive in a world of abelisaurs and carcharondontosaurs. An almost entirely feathered Pyroraptor in “Pod‘s Travels“ escapes the hostile world of Tarascosaurus and is stranded on an island of Liliputian dinos like Magyarsaurus, where it eventually becomes king of the jungle so to speak. A Daspletosaurus in “Lil Das’ Hunt” set in Cretaceous Montana (the locations actually modern day New Mexico). Quetzalcoatlus flocks soar above, Eineosaurus and Maiasaura herds graze the grassy lowlands (the BIG no-no in the series, grass didn’t exist yet) until the area is devastated by a volcano. Scott Sampson is the only on-screen cutaway commentator during every episode, and quite the effective speaker. Very noisy, constant screeching, and much feather ruffling may make this better to be seen in four separate servings.

TMW Media’s Tell Me How series is a classroom video series, each about 14 minutes long, that explains to children how they can become doctors or scientists. An on-screen host asks questions to a professional, such as “do you have to write a lot?”, “do you need college?”, etc. In the 2003 Tell Me How: Paleontologist, Chris Cunningham, curator for St. Paul Museum of Natural Science, encourages a dinosaur lover pursue academic achievement in geology and botany, and suggests working as an artist, and/or for a museum, university or oil company.

Highly watchable and certainly a classic, Chased By Dinosaurs (2004) was yet another groundbreaker from the Walking team. An Australian explorer named Nigel Marven travels back in time to Cretaceous Mongolia to encounter the owner of The Giant Claw (a therizinosaur, with special appearances by Protoceratops, Velociraptor and Tarbosaurus), is Chased By Sea Monsters (Deinosuchus, Megalodon), and explores the Land of Giants (Argentinasaurus). A making of called “The Science of Giants” pads the disc out with on-screen lessons by Phil Currie.

A year later came both the finale and prequel, Before The Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters. Now the Paleozoic era was fully recreated with the same state of the art effects as in previous programs. Life starts underwater in the Cambrian period in the first (untitled) episode, continues into the Carboniferous with arthropods and amphibians and the third part presents Permian period favorites like Dimetrodon and Lystrosaurus. The graphics again are wonderful but there are holes in the science and gaps in the timeline: truly monstrous creatures, such as the sharks of the Paleozoic are not shown, the bizarre Estemmenosuchus and Protorosaurus were left out, and no coverage of their extinction, possibly the greatest mass extinction of prehistoric species. Parents may note that the DVD does have quite a bit of bloody violence compared to the other Walking With’s.

The Dinosaur Quiz (2004) from Carousel Video, is a grade school educational film with picture looks like it’s suffered from multi-generational loss. There are basic questions like “biggest dinosaur was?” and some poor line drawings. Not helping matters are the useless clips from Abbott & Costello and Three Stooges between for comic relief. The best relief is avoiding this one.

Devoid of any valuable educational value at all, Digging for Dinosaurs (2004, Thinkeroo Video) is strictly for the tiniest of children. Dinamation footage tinted Sepia, ridiculously oversized prop “fossils”, annoying mad professor (Dr. Fossilworth) character singing some maddening songs about how he loves digging for bones out in the desert. Yet he looks like he hasn’t been out in the sun for years.

Science Channel began making a series of 45 min. quality provocative dinosaur programs in 2004. The Dinosaur Feather Mystery asks where did the first feather come from. As important as the fossilized Archaeopteryx is, it doesn't tell us. Jacques Gautier gets into some technical of the hand anatomy of maniraptorids (Deinonychus), that led to the bird flight stroke. The multitudes of Chinese feathered dinosaurs discovered in 1997 still don't offer any conclusions, as they were not necessarily the first feathers. Phil Currie comments on Caudipteryx's feathers that did not serve flight functions. Sinosauropteryx is described by Mark Norell and this is the first show to display Microraptor's amazing four wings. Remarkably the producers didn't seek Larry Martin's opposing theories.

Utah’s Dinosaur Graveyard  (June 6, 2005) concentrates on Falcarius, a primitive therizinosaur (known from massive grave sites in North America), and perhaps the missing link between predatory and herbivorous dinos. Jim Kirkland leads the crew and the on-screen commentators and the cheerful Suarez sisters make their (TV) screen debut. Watch for them in years to come.

Bob Bakker has called it the Rosetta Stone of dinosaurs. Jane: The Mystery Dinosaur, another Science Channel job aired July 1, 2006. She was found in the area and time as T rex. She was young (12 yrs. old). Is she a young rex? There’s her similarity to the much-debated Nanotyrannus. But there’s a roundtable of paleontologists who think she is not a T rex. And they’re all here to offer their expertise. The CGI is certainly among the lousiest produced to date, but the detailed breakdowns of Jane’s anatomy that distinguish her from Tyrannosaurus make up for it. A highlight is the process of Taylor Keillor’s Jane bust. Just when you seem convinced if Jane was juvenile or an adult of a separate genus, you’re thrown a curveball…

Turner Learning’s Dinosaurs is a collection of nine news segments on various fossil discoveries i.e. Sue the Tyrannosaurus, the Yucatan crater, as seen in original CNN broadcasts. For the completist with everything else.

The BBC’s The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs (Sep. 2005) known as Dinosaur Face-Off in the USA, pitted CGI Tyrannosaurus Vs Triceratops and Velociraptor Vs Ankylosaurus. Some sloppy errors crept in. Narration makes it seem that Microraptor IS Velociraptor and therefore has the same feathers. Crocodiles are claimed to be Velociraptor's "ancestors". The CGI Velociraptor, despite its palms facing down most of the time, is animated better than usual and looks great with its cassowary style coloration. There is quite a bit of flesh ripping, blood and guts in this program. The "Ankylosaurus" (species unidentified) and Protoceratops are disproportionate messes however. Recreation of Velociraptor's sickle claw proves less capable of disemboweling simulated bellies than thought in the mechanical test but Ankylosaurus's tail, overseen by paleontologist Ken Carpenter, is devastating. Greg Erickson appears in the T rex program. The highlight is witnessing the huge T rex skull made of steel (based on the Stan specimen) attacking a car. Triceratops' horns are recreated of a bone-mimicking epoxy for a flawed, inconclusive "crash test". Certainly the precursor to Monsters Resurrected and Jurassic Fight Club.

To celebrate 100 years of T. rex - even airing it on the day the skeleton was discovered by Barnum Brown (Oct. 5), BBC/Impossible Pictures released T Rex: A Dinosaur in Hollywood in 2005 but it would be five years until it made its way to DVD. Paleontologist Nate Murphy who appears throughout later was famous in 2000 for discovering "Leonardo" specimen (but became infamous four years after this program for stealing bones from federal land.) Bob Bakker provides the science, Ray Harryhausen and Don Glut relate the stories of Ghost of Slumber Mountain, The Lost World, King Kong, and er, Valley of Gwangi? Bakker, Glut and Harryhausen go on as if Gwangi was a rex and not the allosaurus he obviously is. There's wasted emphasis about rex's arms being puny,  and as you can tell by the cover (a dino in sunglasses on the Hollywood walk of fame) the program is lighthearted and silly most of the time.  big career revival in Jurassic Park and the Framestore chubby rex CGI is surprisingly poorly done. The writing is a bit misinformed, as there's talk that rex may have just been a "big bird" - this purely based on some feathered ancestors. Good for Harryhausen fans wanting color footage from his unfinished Evolution project.

History Channel’s excellent Dinosaur Secrets Revealed (June 28, 2005) was 100 minutes, begins with separating Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus myths from fact. An overview of the first dinosaur discoveries follows, how fossils are excavated and the bone wars. William Stout and Mark Norell provide background on many paleontology aspects past and present, including coverage of Charles Knight, Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen and dino movies. We get to see Bakker and Currie in childhood photos in a segment on how they first became interested in the creatures they study so passionately. There’s more cultural impact than hard science. (It was also released with A & E’s DVD release of the BBC’s remake of The Lost World, the best version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s book to date.)

The Science Channel aired Rise of the Feathered Dragons on June 19, 2006 but it hasn’t been rebroadcast too many times thereafter. It’s a shame because it was actually quite engaging. Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum, narrates very informally and in nontechnical language, recounting work done by Hitchcock/Huxley/Heilmann. He joins fellow paleontologists in China in search of Cretaceous feathered dinosaur fossils. There’s not a lot of artwork or any significant CGI shown but it’s a ‘fieldwork’ type of program. The good news is that you can find the program on the Prehistoric: Predators of the Past DVD.

And by now, not as exciting as past videos, Nigel Marven returns to create a modern day sanctuary for soon-to-be-extinct animals in Prehistoric Park (2006). Six episodes over four hours: T-Rex Returns, A Mammoth Undertaking, Dinobirds, Saving the Saber-tooth (Smilodon), The Bug House (Arthropleura) and Super Croc (Deinosuchus). Though the CGI was once again by Framestore, beginning with the first sighting of the Parasaurolophus, all of the creatures looked rushed, less-detailed and just less real than the WWD series. The T. Rex is however, an improvement over the one in Walking With… A real disappointment but still entertaining enough to check out.

Science Channel's Dino Lab (Oct. 23, 2006) is truly one of the worst programs ever made on dinosaurs with its long list of factual mistakes. The CGI is Meteor Studios' recycled When Dinosaurs Roamed America models, and while that's not a problem, the show's producers confuse various species. Coelophysis is called Troodon (mispronounced as True-a-don), threehorned Triceratops is discussed while they run twohorned Zuniceratops CGI, Diplodocus substitutes for Apatosaurus (called the 'largest dinosaur'), pterosaurs are called winged dinosaurs, etc. The title lab's fictional scientists observe Troodon handle a ball, a pterosaur in a wind tunnel, and a CGI T rex running on a treadmill. If Kent Stevens is one of the experts a show's credibility is already suspect. Nothing said in Dino Lab is news. The speed estimates for Rex are basically the same as those 25 year old estimates from Bob Bakker and Greg Paul. (I, for one, noticed the unauthorized and uncredited use of Greg Paul's T rex designs for the lab's logo, and Bakker's not credited for coining the Rex nickname "roadrunner from hell".) They're both on Discovery's compilation DVD "Dinosaur Collection" but I'd strongly urge readers to avoid this one and its 2009 sequel. Science Channel however made up for it with T. Rex: New Science, New Beasts (Nov. 26, 2006) which may seem at first like another exhaustive rehash of past programs on the world’s most celebrated dinosaur but there are some new surprises. Meteor Studios once again provides the effects, most of which are reused footage from previous programs. Gregory Erickson from University of Florida determines Sue's age and demonstrates her bite force. John Hutchinson reconstructs the leg muscles to test its speed, Elizabeth Regan believes the holes in Sue's jaws were not caused by another T rex. Mark Norell discusses an early ancestor of T rex named 'Dilong'. You'll learn a lot about your favorite predator here.

 BBC found a new reason to re-use Walking With Dinosaurs  footage in a tongue-in-cheek Horizon show which asks the simple question: "What if the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs... missed?" What dinosaurs would humans eat? (Actors are shown hunting hadrosaurs they way they would deer.) Could they have become almost human? (Thirty years later, thanks to Dale Russell, who is uncredited, the dinosauroid is still exploited in these shows...) The show was called My Pet Dinosaur and aired on March 13, 2007. Don Lessem is on to point the question to adults, "what's the matter with the grownups who DON'T love dinosaurs?" On-screen paleontologists Kristi Curry-Rogers offers youthfully exuberent commentary (she always wanted a pet dinosaur herself), Gregory Erickson walks through a Palmetto Florida swamp (he thinks dinos could be domestic livestock if they were around today) and Phil Currie is filmed on location in the Badlands. Due to the scifi nature of the speculative adapatations, this one's not a must see by any means.

Dinosaurs Alive was released to IMAX theatres March 30, 2007 and Image Entertainment DVD and Blu Ray Oct. 6, 2009. Produced in association with American Museum of Natural History and Maryland Science Center, it was originally presented in 3D (which costs $11 per second) so the thrills are minimal - shoveled dirt on the screen, exploding title graphic, etc). The first 20 minutes are Gobi-centric with the same Roy Chapman Andrews footage seen in countless other programs, and the Southwest USA is the focal point of the final 20 minutes. Damn FX render some damn good CGI (feathered velociraptor, Protoceratops, Seismosaurus,  brooding Oviraptors seen from way overhead, Confuciusornis, Coelophysis, etc) but they weren't blended in the real landscape footage as realistically as say Framestore's Walking With Dinosaurs. With Tarbosaurus we have the usual incorrect predatory walk that curses every one of these productions. Why must every theropod swagger and roar at the prey before attacking? Really there's just too much roaring (would the producers have crocodiles roaring if they were long extinct?) Mark Norell, Mike Novacek and Julia Clark are the paleontologists in both segments. One wonders how much money could have been saved by hiring a professional narrator instead of former actor Michael Douglas. The on-screen timeline and dinosaur species names are too small to read on most televisions. The "making of" featurette about the hardships of filming in the desert included on the DVDs is probably more interesting and informative than the feature itself. DamnFX continued to do paleo CGI for National Geographic.

Starting April 20, 2007, IMAX theatres were the only place to see Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of Patagonia, the first of a trilogy. This one in case you couldnt' tell by the title, is about Argentinosaurus and Giganotosaurus primarily with appearances by Rudolfo Coria. It's like a big screen version of Discoveries...Argentina but with better effects. Donald Sutherland is a welcome narrator.

NOVA’s ‘Bone Diggers’ (June 19, 2007) was about Thylacoleo, a prehistoric marsupial lion from Australia but not was not nearly as good as ‘The Four-Winged Dinosaur‘, which aired on Feb. 26, 2008. This was another engaging hour on the puzzle posed by Microraptor, whose squashed but otherwise intact skeletons were unique in that they revealed feathered hind limbs. As fascinating as the fossils are, and the clades analysis, it is the two opposing schools of thought that make these programs compelling. Two teams develop life-size models of Microraptor, one headed by Mark Norell, and another by Larry Martin (who in 17 years since his last NOVA appearance he is still not convinced that birds descended directly from the ground up.) Norell’s artist - American Museum of Natural History’s Jason Brougham - created a model looking far more accurate and meticulous than Martin’s artist, so detailed that its jointed wings allow a test flight in a wind tunnel. It is during this section that Xu Xing who first described Microraptor possibly solves the mystery of how this dino bird actually flew. In their second dino show in one year, NOVA went to Alaska in search of ‘Arctic Dinosaurs’ (Oct. 7, 2008), finding Tom Rich (Antarctic Leallynasaura's discoverer) blasting away rock to expose remains of mainly pachyrhinosaurs and edmontosaurs. If dinos lived in cold temperatures, would this rest the endothermy-ectothermy debate? It could, but paleobotanist Rob Spicer shares expertise on leaf patterns found in cold climes confirming the environment in Alaska was not arctic at all in the Cretaceous. As the subject was covered before at length, this NOVA is too late, like an also-ran sloppy seconds version of a PaleoWorld season 3 episode with the kind of animation later seen in Jurassic Fight Club. Been there, done it, better…

National Geographic released a series of only half-recommended DVDs in the 2000s. Pterosaurs Nature's best flying creatures? So say the researchers in the 90-minute Sky Monsters (2006). Dismissing Paul MacCready's 1985 model Quetzalcoatlus (with footage from "On the Wing"), Margot Cerritsen and a team - Paul Sereno is part of - are on a mission to really fly an improved model (an Anhanguera) and their tireless work is fascinating to witness. Kevin Padian is on hand to explain the difference between bat, bird and pterosaur wings. Researcher Dino Frey's claim of an enormous pterosaur turns out to be a flight of fancy. As usual, National Geographic's CGI is lacking and lazily-designed; some of the 'raptors' resemble the Jurassic Park’s too much.

A year later, follow up Sea Monsters was released to IMAX theaters. The DVD cover sure looks impressive with its lenticular cover. Taking place in Kansas, there are some bad scripting and amateur actors simulating “discoveries” of their fossils including the Sternbergs, much in the T Rex Back to the Cretaceous vein. DamnFX's CGI as with most aquatic recreations are sufficient though not on the WWD level of being highly photorealistic yet it didn't keep them from winning a Visual Effects Society award. Beaks are in your face as Pteranodon swoops through the sky over the oceans. At the center of the action are "Dollies" (Dolichorynchops) with appearances by Styxosaurus, Platycarpus, Tylosaurus, Ziphactinus and others. Another missed opportunity is usually fine musician Peter Gabriel (ex-Genesis) serving a bland soundtrack. A tie-in line of figures scheduled for 2008-09 were cancelled.  DamnFX, like Meteor Studios, another Montreal-based effects studio, ceased operations shortly after with loads of unpaid and disgruntled employees falling by the wayside.

Dinosaurs Unearthed, actually consists of two programs previously aired on National Geographic Channel: “Dino Autopsy” is about the intact mummified hadrosaur inside a cocoon rock going into Boeing’s C-T scan. The rock matrix proved too thick for scans to yield any serious secrets just yet. A better all-around episode is “Dino Death Trap”, where Xu Xing and Jim Clark explore the Gobi Desert for new species and end up with at least forty, from a bizarre stacked pile of skeletons, some of which prove to be “missing links“. The only complaint is the same, repeated footage of CGI dinosaurs every ten or 15 minutes. Prehistoric Predators re-enacts the lives of the saber-toothed cat, short-faced bear and dire wolf.

 “Jurassic Park seemed impossible until now",  begins The Science Channel’s Dinosaurs: Return To Life? (Feb. 17, 2008), one of the most significant programs of the decade so far. The amber/insect extraction attempts of the past and seen in Jurassic Park are out the window. Now witness the new ways scientists may be able to reverse engineer prehistoric life. Mary Schweitzer’s chemical dissolving of fossil Tyrannosaurus bone exposed microscopic soft tissue that may yield some DNA. John Fallon and Matthew Harris put teeth and tails in bird embryos. The prospect of an “Emusaurus” is tantalizing. Jack Horner believes that within 50 years it will be possible that a dinosaur will be born in a lab. Geneticist Sean Carroll doesn’t think uncoding the DNA will be possible within that time however.

NHK (Japan) produced the two-hour Mammals vs Dinosaurs in 2006, brought to North America by Discovery Channel in Oct. 2007. As you'd expect for an Emmy-nominated work, the program is quite good, exploring the biology and evolution of a handful of Mesozoic mammals.  “The Age of Gigantism” is set in the Jurassic. There’s exaggerated thundering Supersaurus footsteps literally shaking the screen. “Mammals on the Rise” is set in Cretaceous China, home of fairly inoffensive CGI of Dilong, Sinosauropteryx and Microraptor. Greg Erickson again shows the bite force demonstrations and Phil Currie talks packhunting tyrannosaurs.

History Channel's How the Earth Was Made (Season 1) (April 15, 2008) was primarily geocentric but ten minutes into the program dinosaurs are covered, with CGI Diplodocus and Triceratops herds grazing in a green grassy field. Paleontologist Reese Barrick is talks on screen about the increasing CO2 levels and volcanic activity and there's the usual asteroid/dino doomsday reenactment.

History’s two hour special Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (July 27, 2008) were Dunkleosteus, Mosasaurus, Meganeura, Arthropleura, Velociraptor, Therizinosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus, Pteranodon, Giganotosaurus, Argentinosaurus, Spinosaurus, Phoroshacos, and Doedicurus, all “revealed“ by rather poor effects by 2008 standards. Released on DVD June 29, 2010.

Another repercussion of the public’s Jurassic Park cultural acceptance, the word Jurassic keeps getting thrown around almost as if a synonym for all things prehistoric - especially by producers. In the case of Jurassic Fight Club, History’s summer-fall 2008 weekly prime time series, only two episodes actually took place in the Jurassic. The series was designed to depict hypothetical CGI prehistoric duels, many shown in the same angles gratuitously. Kreg Lauterbach, director and co-executive producer deserves to be commended on handling rather repetitious war dances episode after episode, though the same dino locomotion errors that plague most of these 2000s productions are still evident.

The most animated of the on-screen paleontologists who appear throughout the series (Jim Kirkland, Peter Larson, Thomas Holtz, Phil Currie, Larry Martin, etc.) is George Blasing, whose descriptions are entertaining if too speculative. Usually he is given the most to say. One is tempted to count the times he reminds us that (insert predator's name here) had small forearms and couldn't rely on them. Overall, the series is certainly too scientific, morbid and violent for younger children. The video release actually is bloodier if you can imagine that. One gets the sense that the series could have been a bit more biting at a taut 30 minutes but is knocked down and dragged out to kill an hour. In Europe, the series was retitled Dinosaur Secrets.

Cannibal Dinosaur - Majungatholus versus a female Majungatholus in a mating ritual gone wrong. The best possible morbid start to the series. T-Rex Hunter - Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Nanotyrannus (misspelled as ‘Nanotyrannosaurus’ throughout the program, with an inaccurate computer restoration compounding the flaws in this episode. Its snout in the show looks too dromaeosaurid.) Problem is Nano is likely a juvenile itself. Gang Killers are Deinonychus vs. Tenontosaurus. Bloodiest Battle results when mud-trapped stegosaurs and a Camarasaurus face a pack of Allosaurus and a Ceratosaurus. Sometimes cartoonish.Deep Sea Killers is a pretty big deviation from the Mesozoic let alone Jurassic battles, taking us undersea for the large ancient Great White shark Megalodon vs. a family of Brygmophyseter, a prehistoric sperm whale. Hunter Becomes Hunted - Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus, a stand off and a rehash of footage from “Bloodiest Battle”. Largest Killers is sort of a roll call of rehashed footage of Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Deinonychus, Utahraptor, Majungatholus, Albertosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex. (No mention of Giganotosaurus or Carcharadontoaurus since they was not in any of the other episodes.) Raptors Last Stand - Gastonia vs. Utahraptor. Very predictable stand off. Ice Aged Monsters - “Mega-Lion” vs. Short -Faced Bear in the Cenozoic. River of Death takes place 70 million years ago in Pipestone Creek where panicked herds of Pachyrhinosaurs flee from Albertosaurs. Tom Holtz and others stress how we simply don't know what that horn on Pachyrhinosaurus really looked like (the CGI designers take a conservative approach to the horn but were liberal in dressing them in saggy rhino hides). One of the only programs to show Wann Langston (U. of Texas). Antarctic dinos Leallynasaura and Timimus are mentioned but not shown.Raptor vs. T-Rex - Edmontosaurus vs. Dromaeosaurus vs. Tyrannosaurus. Armageddon is not even a fair fight, using rehashes footage for about 30 minutes establishing the dinosaurs that are about to die by meteor strike - all the while paleontologists remind us that gradual extinction and environmental change were constants during the reign of the dinosaurs.

History’s Evolve (aired July 29, 2008) consisted of 13 hour long shows, that highlighted a different aspect or behavioral trait of life on earth rather than certain groups of creatures for each program. First up was Eyes, showed tyrannosaur and allosaur head comparisons with eyesight studies and how mammals evolved night vision to hide from dinosaurs, and in the Guts episode, Karen Chin discussed coprolites (fossilized dino droppings) concluding that dinosaur diet was somewhere between reptile and bird. The problems with dinosaur size plays into how they had Sex. As one scientist says, how they did so is a mystery. Ken Carpenter goes through reptile sex, elephant sex and bird sex (a series of quickies) before speculating that cat sex may be the closest comparison. The most famous evolutionary predators are covered in Jaws including Dunkleosteus, sharks, T rex and even the Cambrian predator Anomalocaris which probably took nature's first bites. Greg Erickson appears in a few episodes, and here defends the T rex as primarily a hunter theory with a revealing bite test using a T rex tooth and a cow bone. Computational biologist Bill Sellers in the Speed episode in yet another (probably flawed) computer test determines that rex would be able to run about 18 mph. Sauropods figure heavily in Size mainly in terms of how much they ate and matters of neck muscles. Dinosaurs are covered in Skin (well of course, but I mean the episode) with particular focus on armored species like Ken Carpenter's most complete Stegosaurus. Sinosauropteryx's feathered hide and the amazing find of fossilized impressions of Triceratops skin are the highlights. As you could guess, pterosaurs - especially Quetzalcoatlus - are given a lot of time in Flight, as are the evolution of birds from theropods. Only episodes with either minor inclusion (but perhaps one or two prehistorics) are the ones on Venom, Shape and there are none in Communication. The series is now available as a four disc set and each program is fully recommended despite the same horrible CGI of fighting T rexes with bodies of alligator scales and flat platelets down its snout.

Morphed, National Geographic Channel's answer to Evolve, had one episode entitled "From Dinosaur To Turkey". Velociraptor is first shown in an orange-tinted CGI sequence you may wonder where are the feathers? Alan Turner from American Museum of Natural History describes how he discovered the forearms of Velociraptor had quill knobs, and the footage is redone with feathers. Mark Norell and Xu Xing cover the same territory, and Eoraptor, Monolophosaurus and pterosaurs are also animated. Well worth your time. 

The National Geographic Explorer episode documented Hall Train's challenge of making a mobile mechanical one year old Tyrannosaurus called T Rex Walks Again which premiered Dec. 19, 2008 and is recommended viewing (now available on DVD). Once the anatomy is approved by Mark Norell and other experts, Train studies emu leg motion to emulate the proper locomotion in his lifesize young rex model. The complaint is again the CGI, problematic probably since Kent Stevens provided the computer modeling. Jason Brougham sketches out downy feathers properly on paper, but the animators of the CGI rex gave it perhaps a little too much fluff and the adult specimen has no lips and poorly defined arms.

Peter Ward is the main commentator for Animal Armageddon (spring through summer 2009) was an ambitious series of eight episodes on mass extinctions from Animal Planet. Dinosaurs figured into at least three but generally, these were the worst of the eight shows. It's easier to convincingly CGI nautiloids and eurypterids in "Death Rays",  than the terrible (as in TERRIBLY ANIMATED) lizards in "Doomsday" and "Panic in the Sky" (the K/T event/asteroid episodes). Proof that even in the 2000s not every studio knew how to create an accurate dinosaur. The Rex in particular is highly stylized, comic book. Fairly effective is the Dunkleosteus in "Hell On Earth", simulating the superplume of magma during the Devonian. This is available on DVD and Bluray from Genius Products. Avoid these if possible.

Bizarre Dinosaurs (aired Oct. 11, 2009) is National Geographic's examination of a host of dinosaurs with claws, sails, spikes and horns. The main problem once again is poor CGI - it looks rushed and one dimensional. Spinosaurus - did it rest under water like a crocodile with its sail exposed? Did T rex use its absurdly small arms for "tickling" mating rites like anacondas do with their hind 'legs'? Raptorrex - the prototype for tyrannosaurs? Mamenchisaurus - Nigersaurus - did its head always face down while it vaccuumed the land? Stegosaurus - did it really use those shockingly thin back plates for defense? Did Triceratops have three horns for display like Jackson's Chameleon? Epidendrosaurus and it's lemur-like hands? The show is excellent demonstration of convergent evolution among the dinos and full of sound facts and speculation by Horner, Kristi Rogers, Larry Witmer, Mark Norrell and even Bakker, but whoever advised Deinocheirus was likely 45 foot long was wrong; that's what they thought when it was first discovered. Narrated by Optimus Prime (aka Peter Cullen). Repackaged as Weirdest Dinosaurs for National Geographic Wild channel.

While the producers skimped on good animation in Bizarre Dinosaurs, the CGI animation in National Geographic's Dinosaurs Decoded (aired Oct. 11, 2009, DVD release July 6, 2010) is very good with rich detail (although the brightly colored Triceratops shields may have been a little exaggerated.) Mark Goodwin and Jack Horner are the primary paleontologists in the program and offer up compelling evidence that a consolidation of some of the bone head dinosaurs into one taxa may be in order (something I always agreed with). showing that the brittle bone structures of their domes probably prohibited the head pushing fights they've long been associated with. Based on a collection of juvenile skulls, it's found that as some Triceratops matured, its horns began to sharply point forward. Not only that, they may have not been for defense/offense at all. Whether Nanotyrannus is a juvenile T rex is covered again, Thomas Carr and Jack Horner are on hand to say yes, but where are others to argue? Horner believes if the same methods of analyzing growth patterns were applied to studying all other dinos, at some point at least a third of all known dinosaur species would be sunk into other taxa.

Discovery Channel closed out the 2000s with several paleo programs including a four episode Clash of the Dinosaurs. Whether you saw Extreme Survivors or Perfect Predators (aired Dec. 6, 2009), The Defenders or Generations (aired Dec. 13, 2009), you endured the exact same bits of CGI footage repeated about 5 times per show (around every ten minutes). Easily one of the worst violators, this wannabe Jurassic Fight Club bores us with bow-legged Sauroposeidon herds (one defecating), a fairly well-represented Quetzalcoatlus (eating rex chicks no less) and the (yawn) Triceratops vs. T. rex sequences copied from a dozen other programs. The cutaways to the skeletons and internal organs seem more like filler between commentary by Tom Holtz and Bob Bakker, than integral to the show. On DVD as of August 24, 2010.

After shows on Phorosracus ("Terror Bird" and mosasaurs ("T Rex of the Deep", both Sep. 13, 2009) under the abandoned Mega Beasts series title, Monsters Resurrected (Dec. 6, 2009) profiled Spinosaurus with "Biggest Killer Dino". The history of the scant fossil elements lost to wartime bombing raids, then regained via new African discoveries led to a starring role in Jurassic Park III, where (like anything else in the franchise) facts get erased and behaviors and appearances exaggerated by zealous producers and effects studio bosses. In this program, CGI puts Spinosaurus in variety of hypothetical situations right up to its 'Achilles sail', and its might is measured by paleontologists and engineers in Italy who re-create its enormous arms and claws out of steel. One part that annoyed those in the know was the constant use of a Suchomimus skull substituting for a Spinosaurus skull. The Acrocanthosaurus episode "Great American Predator" I am pretty sure never aired. None of the species are 'resurrected' other than in brief CGI reenactments (by Cinevision) run over and over, and the most interesting aspects to nondinosaur fans is the destructive, surrealistic man meets dinosaur bits (Megalania in the meat section of a grocery store, terror bird killing two junkyard dogs, etc). Shaking like jelly when it moves like most CGI dinosaurs in programs like this, the Acrocanthosaurus (wrong positioned eyes intact) was obviously patterned after one of the Kaiyodo Dinotales figures. Due to its arms, Tom Holtz calls it "the Arnold Schwarzenegger of dinosaurs" twice in different scenes. These were finally released to DVD in April 2010 with an excellent 90 minute bonus feature "What Killed the Mega Beasts?" from 2002, which probes several kinds of mega fauna and the suspects of their extinction: disease, climate, man, etc.

New York always is the epicenter of action it seems, and always has been apparently. From mastodons, giant beavers and short faced bears where Central Park now stands all the way back to Ordovician sea scorpions under Coney Island, Prehistoric New York (Dec. 13, 2009) is actually watchable, with geologist Alex Gates, local paleontologist Paul Olsen and Bob Bakker providing commentary. There's light reuse of When Dinosaurs Roamed America footage and some new CGI of coelophysids and Postosuchus. D.C. was always a center of power struggles: in the Miocene there were 30 species of sharks, "bear dogs" on land, acrocanthosaurs vs  astrodonts, stegosaurs and allosaurs in the Mesozoic; Thomas Holtz appears in this one. Not much to report except mostly giant Carboniferous invertebrates but Chicago was always the home of giant structures, like mammoths. The program also visits neighboring state of Missouri, and Guy Darrough's Lost World Studios. Denver is more dino-centric, with all stars like T rex and Triceratops but also has Mike Everhart discussing mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. (Denversaurus is conspicuously absent). Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the famous tar pits, reused Megalodon  and hadrosaur footage from other episodes. Is everything bigger in Texas? By the time you get to Dallas you've seen the astrodonts, acrocanthosaurs, mosasaurs, mammoths, etc. from all the other shows as well as new Homotherium and glyptodonts. And they don't forget Dallasaurus! The Prehistoric DVD that contains all these programs is highly recommended.

On to the 2010s