Dinotasia: review

Dinotasia was a film lauded for a moderately long time as being a realistic look at dinosaurs, based on more recent and scientific knowledge. With this in mind, I was excited at the prospect of watching the feature from start to finish and learning what it meant to be a 'terrible lizard'.

My actual assumptions regarding the film were incorrect, and so I have to be careful when writing this review. The film wasn't close to Jurassic Park in nature, and wasn't a proper documentary in the style of Attenbrough or equivalent, lacking most commentary. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what it was, or what it can be compared to. If I had to choose, I'd say it was an amalgamation of various things, sort of an Ice-Age-March-of-the-Penguins-Shaun-of-the-Dead combination.

So, taking those three vague genres - that of an 'humanised' and 'relatable' animal adventure, that of an accurate and realistic documentary and that of a needless (and slightly comical) gorefest - I shall begin to describe and review this insane-but-not-bad film for those wondering whether they should watch it.

The film itself is framed by a modern look at dinosaurs, re-imagining flesh being attached to bones and showing how the skeletons may well have looked. The film flits about from time period to time period, with some sections in the early or late Jurassic and some toward the very end of the Cretaceous. The animals are traced, as in some Big Cats TV documentary, and we can see how the children relate to their parents, to predators and to the concept of growing up. We see babies being killed in the ruthless environment, larger herbivores taking on smaller carnivores, and we see virtually every type of creature as both the protagonist and the antagonist. The ability to transcend types and take a look at dinosaurs from a viewpoint that wasn't placing them as monstrous villains was an interesting one, but in the process I felt that they made them too human-like. There were a number of occasions in which the dinosaurs were almost characterised as being sad, on the edge of tears, and it seems like a stretch from the modern amphibian, reptile or bird.

The documentary aspect to the film was relatively strong, a realistic approach to painting a view of this period of time. The emphasis on the dinosaur period lasting three times the length of time since the end of the dinosaur period was strong, as was the ability to chart progression into the animals that we see today, from pigeon to toad or alligator. If I had to criticise the film on documentary grounds, I most definitely would: the narration was horrific. The narrator sounded like a bored John Malkovich, and if the film had any more speech I feel that it would have been a bigger problem. As it was, there was a minor problem or two - and that included a few scenes in which the CGI was pretty bad - but it did give a relatively good feel for how dinosaurs would have dominated and roamed the planet.

And then there was the blood. When designing the film, I'm pretty sure that one of the producers put aside a large budget for CGI blood effects, because it seemed overused and needless at times. On the other hand, it gave a good impression of how grim the hundreds of millions of years would have been for attempting to survive. From a creature wandering around and twitching whilst spouting blood from where its head used to be to seeing a juvenile carnivore have its jaw broken to seeing a baby pterosaur eaten as its siblings look on, the film painted a realistic and slightly horrific portrait of death throughout the ages.

Naturally the film reaches the conclusion and shows the last of the dinosaurs struggling to adapt to the changing world, and by the end of it you do feel empathetic for the characters. The CGI was excellent for the most part, and was strong beyond its budget in that respect. The sound effects gave a good feel to the film, and despite its more-than-interesting blend of genres, it worked quite well.

In spite of all this, I would have to say that it was not action-packed, exciting or even enthralling. It was a relatively empathetic and realistic look at the world in which the dinosaurs lived, and makes a good documentary. I would heartily recommend watching it on television, but perhaps the big screen is superfluous for a film of this quality and style.

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