Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dinosaur Revolution: Evolution's Winners

Probably every dinosaur enthusiast has heard of this new show by now. The first two episodes aired in the US last week. Spoilers ahead.

The first episode ("Evolution's Winners") is a mishmash of various short stories, all to do with the reproductive behaviors of dinosaurs (and, in one story, a mosasaur). Just one maniraptor shows up in this episode, and is, in fact a main character. This is the giant oviraptorosaur Gigantoraptor. It gets one of the shorter and simpler stories in the episode: a male Gigantoraptor performs an extravagant courtship dance to attract a mate but collapses a mammal burrow and stumbles, while the family of Zalambdalestes living inside barely avoid being crushed. This is a segment that some may find goofy, and color scheme for the inflatable sac that the male Gigantoraptor uses as a visual display is something of a ripoff of the modern-day tragopans'. Regardless, few (if any) of the behaviors shown in this story I found particularly implausible, and (get this), the Gigantoraptor actually have actual pennaceous primary feathers, which most depictions routinely get wrong. The dances, sexual dimorphism, and inflatable sac are good demonstrations of the fact that behavior and soft tissues rarely fossilize and that they were likely as complex and elaborate in some extinct animals as they are in many modern ones. Also, as we're never shown anything beyond the speculative courtship of the Gigantoraptor, they don't get the less plausible reproductive behaviors postulated for some of the other theropods in the show. I can say I liked this segment more than the terrible mosasaur story (think lizards with extensive parental care and cetacean calls), the Eoraptor story with various strange bits (for example, some glaring cases of What Happened To The Mouse and Bloodless Carnage), and the afore-alluded Cryolophosaurus story (which does have some interesting Shout Outs to classic paleo art pieces). (No, it's not because it's great to see Gigantoraptor on screen... okay, perhaps that's one of the reasons!) Interestingly, my favorite story in the episode, however, was probably that of the basal sauropodomorph Glacialisaurus! Commendably, the show has a good number of rarely-featured or newly-discovered taxa.

I agree with what looks like the majority that the second episode ("The Watering Hole") is excellent and is overall better than the first (story wise, accuracy wise, and animation wise). However, I won't go into much detail here as there are no maniraptors at all in that episode (unless Ornitholestes turns out to be one). Unlike the first episode, this episode tells one long, continuous story about an Allosaurus in the Late Jurassic of Portugal (instead of the stock Morrison Formation).

According to various episode descriptions on the Internet, between the last two episodes (which will air this week; in fact it's reportedly airing in Canada as I type), there will be at least four deinonychosaur taxa featured (most of them in starring roles), so no shortage of maniraptors there. I'll probably have plenty to say about those once I get to watch them. It appears to be widely agreed that the first episode is the lowest point of the show and that the upcoming ones (especially the last) are excellent, so we'll see.

Some good, some bad about this show so far. It's a wonder that we're getting the amount of great stuff we've got, considering the insane levels of being Screwed By The Network that it has received. Had it been allowed to continue with the original plans for it, I have little doubt it could have been one of the best dinosaur shows ever to air. While marketed as a documentary, Dinosaur Revolution is really intended to be more of a story-driven show that uses the latest science. The animals actually feel like characters, not just completely arbitrary individuals. Original plans for the show had no narration and talking heads at all! (There was originally going to be a separate accompanying series that would detail the science and speculation that went into the show.) As it is, however, it ends up as a strange hybrid that it's not meant to be. The talking head segments, while featuring many of the top paleontologists and paleo artists out there, are (as usual for dinosaur shows) too brief for much of the science to be explained in detail. They also (particularly in the second episode) cut into the main storyline too much. The narration also interrupts too frequently, sometimes with useful background, but often stating the obvious. Another point of criticism is that some of the behaviors for the animals shown are a little too anthropomorphic, and in this respect I certainly concur. (One scene in the otherwise great second episode stands out to me in this respect. After a Dinheirosaurus and Allosaurus inadvertently work together to kill a Torvosaurus, they "acknowledge" one another in a rather... cheesy manner. It looks like something out of a Disney movie, instead of something real animals would do.) Nonetheless, I find the show worth watching. Who knows, maybe if it's successful they'll decide to finish up the two episodes that were cut from the show.

Fortunately, there may be some hope yet for the original format of the show actually seeing the light of day. Dun dun dun...


  1. Just in case you haven't seen them.

    DR: End Game:

    PD: Feathered Dragons:


  2. I've seen both; it's the third episode of Dinosaur Revolution that no one appears to be able to find!

  3. "it's the third episode of Dinosaur Revolution that no one appears to be able to find!"

    Looking at the date of this post, and the dates in my browser history, it seems you were indeed correct. I only stumbled upon a download link for the elusive ep. 3 a mere fifteen minutes later.
    But has no one else since then or what?

  4. Hold on, you found a link to it? Where? O_O

  5. On some obscure, hidden-in-the-depths-of-the-net media-sharing forum I've never heard of before. Accessing it requires registration, so I'll just copy over the download link itself, hopefully it still works.

    Not the very best recording in the world -- the darker scenes get blurry, and the sound is slightly out of sync for a few minutes (though only by half a second or so), but it's watchable. And it's the only one we've got, it seems.

  6. You're quite welcome.

    Now hurry forth and spread the word. The complete DR, or at least its broadcast version, is finally here.

  7. The following links are maniraptor-related episodes of docs/tv shows that I'd also like to get your opinions of if/when you get a chance to watch them.