Category: TV Reviews

David Attenborough’s Rise of the Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates

David Attenborough on Television Screens Once Again

For those of us in the United Kingdom, look out for David Attenborough’s new television series which starts on Friday 20th September and is being shown on BBC 2 (9pm).  This two-part documentary series which has the same format as the 2011 documentary series called “David Attenborough’s First Life” takes viewers through the evolution of the vertebrates.   The evolution of animals with backbones is one of the greatest stories in natural history. Brand-new discoveries of fossils, including some amazing fossil discoveries from China, combined with stunning CGI and cinematography enable Sir David to tell this fascinating story and reveal that humans (Homo sapiens) are just part of an amazing lineage of animals that dates back some 500 million years or so.

In the first episode, entitled “From The Seas To The Skies”, David Attenborough uses new fossil evidence to unlock nature’s most extraordinary story, the incredible ascent of the animal group that now dominates our planet, the vertebrates.  The origins of the vertebrates lie in primitive fish that once swam in ancient seas but remarkable advances allowed them to make the radical move onto land, and then take to the skies with the advent of flight.

David Attenborough’s Rise of the Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates

Sir David tells the story of the vertebrates.

Sir David tells the story of the vertebrates.

Picture Credit: BBC

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have rated this series ten out of ten, we highly recommend watching either on the television or via other channels such as online.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of BBC Media Centre for the compilation of this article.

BBC Series “Ice Age Giants” Episode 1 Reviewed

Episode One of “Ice Age Giants” Focuses on the Laurentide Ice Sheet

The BBC have put together a television series featuring the Mammalian “megafauna” of the Pliocene and the Pleistocene Epochs with a focus on the Ice Age – hence the title of the three-part series “Ice Age Giants”.  The first episode was entitled “Land of the Sabre-Tooth” and focused on the impact of the immense Laurentide ice sheet on North America.  With the assured Professor Alice Roberts, an anatomist (human anatomy that is), by training at the helm and undertaking the presenting duties the programme was up to the high standards expected of the BBC.

The first episode focused on a number of the large mammals that lived south of the two mile high Laurentide ice sheet that covered much of the continent, over thousand of years the ebbs and flows of the ice sheets led to the creation of some very rich and verdant plains and swamplands, these were home to an array of bizarre mammals, with only a few remnants of the Ice Age megafauna left today, animals such as the bison and the elk.

The Sabre-Tooth Cat, (Smilodon fatalis) was the star of the first programme with a focus on the latest theories about how those huge canines could have been used to kill prey.  The CGI was not overplayed, although the scene in which a single cat chases down and catches a horse did not look particularly authentic to our team.  Smilodon fatalis had immensely powerful arms and shoulders, this point was made in the documentary, however, the impact on this cat’s ability to run was not explored fully.  Most certainly, these apex predators specialised in big game, but they probably were not out and out pursuit predators, but more likely to have been ambush predators having to get very close to any potential victim before launching an attack.

The Magnificent Smilodon – One of the Stars of the Series

The famous "Sabre-Toothed Cat" - Smilodon.

The famous “Sabre-Toothed Cat” – Smilodon.

Picture Credit: BBC

It is incorrect to refer to these members of the Felidae as “Sabre-Toothed Tigers” to read Everything Dinosaur’s explanation: Sabre-Toothed Cats not closely related to Extant Tigers

The astonishing degree of preservation of the dung of the Shasta Ground Sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) and what the metre thick sediments found in caves in the Grand Canyon walls can tell us was the highlight.  Dating techniques have permitted scientists to plot exactly when these cow-sized sloths abandoned the Grand Canyon area and when they returned.  These results tie in very nicely with known ice age extensions and warmer inter-glacial periods.  It is amazing what you can learn from a 20,000 year old ball of dung.

It was pleasing to see that South American immigrant, the Glyptodont getting a look in.  Once thought of being a creature of the open plains, it seems that a substantial population thrived in the swamplands that once covered much of Arizona.  The explanation as to why most Glyptodont fossils are found upside down was interesting as was the the theory that these distant relatives of anteaters, sloths and armadillos may have had trunks.

An Illustration of a Typical Glyptodont

Bizarre armoured giant with a furry underside, a shell on top and a bony tail often with a club on the end.

Bizarre armoured giant with a furry underside, a shell on top and a bony tail often with a club on the end.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The polished faces of boulders being presented as evidence of these rocks being used as giant scratching posts as herds of giant Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), was something new to us, we had not read about this in any literature.  Most probably many animals used these outcrops as scratching posts over millenia, but the fourteen foot high polished areas could only have been made by something as big as a Columbian Mammoth.  That said, this part of California has been subjected to sizeable earthquakes and the land may have been raised somewhat, especially with the retreat of the heavy ice sheets, so it has to be presumed for the Columbian Mammoth theory to be accepted then these rocks would have had to remain somewhat “in situ”.

Interesting to see the many fossils from La Brea Tar Pits, a part of Los Angeles that team members at Everything Dinosaur have been lucky enough to visit.  The pathology, suspected sceptic arthritis on a pelvis and its potential implications on the social nature of Sabre-Tooths was very well explained.  Intriguingly, there was no mention of the proposed Californian sub-species of Sabre-Toothed Cat.  The tar pits at Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles have produced a lot of fossil material relating to the Smilodon genus (mainly S. californicus and not S. fatalis).  Everything Dinosaur has followed the work on the material removed due to the building of the underground library car park with great interest since excavations began back in early 2011.  We refer to the crates of sediment taken out as part of the ground works for the library as “box cart palaeontology”.

To read more about the “box cart” excavations at Rancho La Brea: Huge Haul of Ice Age Fossils from La Brea

All in all, a promising start to this series and we are already looking forward to episode two.

BBC Planet Dinosaur “Ultimate Killers”

High Definition, Three Dimensional Dinosaur Programme from the BBC

As part of the BBC’s continued research into optimising their programme quality using high definition and 3-D technology, the UK based broadcaster has put together a new dinosaur documentary.  The fifty minute programme uses footage taken from the six-part BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” that was first shown in the autumn of 2011.

To view the documentary, click the link below:

Link to the “Ultimate Killers” documentary: Ultimate Killers

Technicians at the BBC are using this programme to test how viewers perceive some of the new programme technology on various platforms, to read more about the BBC’s research: Testing television with dinosaurs

So to watch a documentary featuring the likes of Spinosaurus, Abelisaurids and the Allosaurids as well as learning about the latest Tyrannosaur research click the link above to the Ultimate Killers documentary.

BBC Test Dinosaur Programmes in 3-D

“Ultimate Killers” Documentary to air in 3-D

Technicians at the BBC are preparing to test a number of 3-D viewing platforms by showing a dinosaur themed documentary entitled “Ultimate Killers”.  This hour long programme has been compiled using footage from the six-part BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” that aired last autumn.  The broadcast will take place on Sunday the 19th of August with the programme starting at 5.35pm BST.

To view the original trailer for the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur”: Planet Dinosaur Trailer

The programme being shown on Sunday evening is only going to be available in 3-D so the technicians at the BBC will be testing the “Watch in 2-D” applications on the Freeview and Freesat platforms.  Andy Quested, the Head of BBC’s 3-D and high definition projects is asking for feedback from viewers with regards to the “Watch in 2-D” option.

Dinosaurs – TV Programme Helps Out the BBC

Dinosaurs help out with BBC research

Picture Credit: Ebury Publishing

To read details of what Andy is asking for and how to provide feedback, visit the BBC’s Internet Blog: 3-D Dinosaur Programme Feedback Information

This documentary will also be available on the BBCiPlayer format.  A number of different encoded versions will be available for download depending on which platform the viewer is on.  Not all the devices used to show the programme will be able to accommodate the 3-D images, but the idea at this stage is to gauge people’s reactions to the different formats and platforms and gather opinions.

Specifically the BBC technicians need to obtain information about the platform used to view the programme, Freeview, via PC or via the iplayer function, as well as the approximate speed of your broadband connection and the make/model of your TV or set top box.

Sources close to Everything Dinosaur have been informed that  the BBC is currently working on a number of 3-D projects including a new, feature length adaptation of the “Walking with Dinosaurs” franchise that is due to be aired in 2013.

Suggest you log onto the BBC Internet Blog for more information.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur worked on a cast of characters for the original BBC television series and advised CGI staff on some of the dinosaurs featured as well as writing a review of the book that accompanied the television programmes.

Who would have though it – dinosaurs such as  Mapusaurus, Allosaurus, Daspletosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus helping the BBC with their research into 3-D technology.

Survivors: Natures Indestructible Creatures

Exciting Science Programme Tonight on BBC 4 (UK)

Tonight on terrestrial television, at 9pm (BBC 4) there is the first episode of a new science series that explores extinction events.  The first programme in this three-part series deals with the period in Earth’s history known as the Permian mass extinction, a time when over a million years or so, life on Earth suffered a series of cataclysms that resulted in an estimated 95% of life becoming extinct.  The Permian mass extinction took place approximately 250 million years ago, one of five major mass extinction events recorded in the known fossil record.

Palaeontologist Richard Fortey (long association with the Natural History Museum – London)  investigates why some of Earth’s species have survived for millions of years, and explores the characteristics that gave them the ability to endure events that led to the extinction of other creatures.  As Richard’s love of Trilobites is well-known, we can expect to hear about these amazing invertebrates as well as horseshoe crabs – Arthropods that have survived nearly unchanged for millions of years.

The second programme in the series is to be shown next week (31st January).  It deals with the events and consequences of perhaps the most famous mass extinction event of all – the mass extinction that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous.  This programme is to be called “Fugitive from the Fire”

Final Episode of “Planet Dinosaur” Reviewed

“The Great Survivors” – Nothronychus, Hatzegopteryx, Magyarosaurus et al

And so the BBC’s computer generated dinosaur series comes to an end with a programme that illustrated Dinosaurian diversity and this Order’s ability to adapt to different environments and exploit niches in the food chain.

It is always a pleasure to see an intepretation of a Therizinosaur and the Nothronychus footage helped demonstrate the diversity of the Theropoda.  Such bizarre creatures, and perhaps rivalling the likes of Gigantoraptor in this series for the title of “most bizarre dinosaur”.

Bizarre Theropod – Nothronychus

The concept of Theropods brooding their young was introduced with the Oviraptorids, using reference material from the American Museum of Natural History/Mongolian Academy of Sciences discoveries from the Ukhaa Tolgod region of south-western Mongolia.  Tyrannosaurids got a mention again, it was pleasing to see so many different members of this family depicted in the series, although one or two of the comments about them, one in particular about them being the dominant predator in their environments in the Late Cretaceous we could take issue with.  However, this is only a minor quibble.

The highlight in the last episode was the sequence with the Azhdarchid Pterosaur Hatzegopteryx.  We liked the clever use of camera angles to give the impression of the sizes of the Titanosaur, the Dromaeosaur and the Pterosaur.  It was interesting to note the depiction of this super-sized Pterosaur as a terrestrial carnivore, snatching up small dinosaurs in the same way that Maribou Storks do in Africa (except of course it is frogs and lizards etc).

Our Illustration of Hatzegopteryx

All in all, an enjoyable series and one we shall see again repeated many times, or perhaps we will treat ourselves to the DVD.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s review of the book that accompanies this series: Planet Dinosaur Book Reviewed

Planet Dinosaur Episode Five Reviewed – “Giant Killers”

Argentinosaurus, Mapusaurus, Sarcosuchus et al

And so the fifth instalment of the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” is reached.  This episode entitled “Giant Killers” introduced a number of new prehistoric animals such as the nest raider Skopiovenator, an Abelisaurid formally named and described just two years ago as well as some dinosaurs that are already very familiar to dinosaur fans.  One of those dinosaurs regarded as “familiar” would be Argentinosaurus (A. huinculensis), recognised as the largest dinosaur known to science, indeed the largest terrestrial animal of all time.  With an estimated length of thirty-five metres and a mass of seventy-five tonnes, the programme makers did their best to convey the sheer size of this Titanosaur, we liked the clever use of the small Ornithopods running alongside.  Interestingly, the footprint death traps that  proved so fatal to these are not from South America, but China.  The programme rather glossed over this point.  The treacherous trackways have been associated with the Sauropod Mamenchisaurus, although ichnologists would argue that it is difficult to assign a genus to a set of tracks unless a specimen representing the animal that made them is found fossilised at the trackway’s end.

The main thrust of the programme seemed to focus on the fossil evidence to suggest that large carnivores (Theropoda and a prehistoric crocodile) lived alongside large herbivores (Sauropoda).  The programme suggested that when the large herbivores became extinct, the large meat-eaters that depended on them soon died out as well.  This is an extension of the predator/prey relationship that was discussed in earlier programmes.

The time lapse imagery showing the scavenging of a Titanosaur carcase was for us, the highlight of this particular episode, although it was a pleasure to see Sarcosuchus (prehistoric crocodile) once again.  This eight tonne super-croc was first seen in episode one “”Lost World”.   The narration claimed that Sarcosuchus was the biggest crocodile.  From what the fossil record shows, it was certainly was the biggest in that part of the world during the Cretaceous, but other crocodiles such as Deinosuchus and the much later Purussaurus could lay claim to being the biggest crocodile of all time.

An Illustration of Sarcosuchus

Everything Dinosaur’s scale drawing of Sarcosuchus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The South American Theropod Mapusaurus (Mapusaurus roseae) was also introduced.  We suspect that for many young dinosaur fans, this is a new meat-eater for them.  The fossils of this dinosaur come from the Huincul Formation in the Rio Negro and Neuquen provinces of Argentina.  This carnivore was a contemporary of Giganotosaurus and may have been a pack hunter, an animal that weighed perhaps as much as six tonnes.

Still our favourite has to be Sarcosuchus, I guess we just have a soft spot for those big crocs.

A Huge Skull of Sarcosuchus

My what large jaws you have

Planet Dinosaur – Episode Four “Fight For Life”

A Review of Planet Dinosaur – Episode 4 “Fight for Life”

Having bemoaned the absence of any Triassic dinosaurs in this excellent television series, it was a pleasure to see the warm, shallow seas of the Jurassic featured in this episode of “Planet Dinosaur”.  The focus on this particular programme was the predator/prey relationship, a rich hunting ground for the production team given the amount of fossil evidence that can be interpreted to show such affinities.  The fossil record and the various pathologies of body fossils, coupled with an examination of the natural world today and predator/prey relationships provides plenty of material.  The marine predator featured was the huge Pliosaur “predator X”, with its rosette of 30 centimetre long teeth.  The prey was the Plesiosaur – Kimmerosaurus langhami, one of our favourite Plesiosaurs, anything named after the Kimmeridgian faunal stage is fine by us.  This part of the programmes showed these long-necked beasts, ploughing through soft mud in search of shell fish, worms and other food items.  The fossil evidence for this behaviour comes from a cliff face in Switzerland which has a number of long, weird grooves preserved in the rock, which was once sediment at the bottom of a shallow, tropical sea.  Scientists believe these grooves were dug out by Plesiosaurs as they swam along with their snouts in the sediment searching for food.  They could also have been created as these marine reptiles searched for stones to swallow to act as ballast and as gastroliths to help them grind up food.  We noted that Dr. Adam Smith (Plesiosaur expert) was named in the credits.

The terrestrial part of the programme took viewers to the Morrison Formation of the western United States.  It discussed the relationship between Allosaurus and two prey genera – Camptosaurus and Stegosaurus.  The programme postulated that Camptosaurs and Stegosaurs lived together for mutual benefit.  The Camptosaurs with their bipedal stance acting as look outs for the heavily armoured Stegosaurs.  Such relationships are seen in nature today, for example, in Africa our team members have observed Ostriches and Zebra feeding together.  The Zebras rely on the Ostrich with their heads held high and superb eyesight to spot danger.  Whether or not Camptosaurs and Stegosaurs actually sought out each other for mutual protection is a little speculative, but certainly feasible, if difficult to prove given the fossil record.  Allosaurus fragilis was the hunter, an interesting interpretation, especially the colouration and the crests above the eyes – they reminded us of sun-shades, these would have been useful especially if this predator was most active at dawn or dusk, with the sun low in the sky, just like many predators today. Surprisingly, Saurophaganax got a look in, S. maximus a very large Allosaurid which was first studied in the 1930s.  We thought that this Theropod had been re-classified as just a very big A. fragilis, but no, there it was in all its glory, bullying the Allosaurus out of its kill, its twelve metre-length making it about 15% bigger than the other Theropod.

Interestingly, Saurophaganax is not featured or even mentioned in the book that accompanies this BBC television series.

To read a brief article on Utah’s Theropods: Articulated Theropod Fossil found (Morrison Formation)

A Review of Planet Dinosaur – “The Last Killers”

Planet Dinosaur – The Last Killers (Late Cretaceous Theropods Mainly)

Half way through the BBC television series already, it does not seem more than five minutes since “dear old auntie Beeb” introduced us to their version of Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus back in episode one.  These two dinosaurs were fierce carnivores and after a sojourn into the world of feathered dinosaurs, the majority of which would stand no more than a metre tall, we get right back to big Theropods, but this time with a focus on the very last few million years of the Cretaceous.

For all those enthusiastic dinosaur fans waiting to see Tyrannosaurs they were not to be kept waiting any longer.  However, it was not Tyrannosaurus rex that was the star attraction, other older members of the Tyrannosauridae were put into the spotlight – the likes of Daspletosaurus torosus allowing the evidence for the mobbing of herbivores (Chasmosaurus belli), reflecting what scientists have observed Komodo dragons doing, only scaled up to nine metre long Theropods.

It was a bad night for Ceratopsians all round with Centrosaurs getting caught up in a raging torrent and dying in their hundreds – a vivid explanation of bone bed formation.  The bizarre Abelisaurids, those dominant predators of the southern hemisphere were brought to life with a feature on the cannibalistic Majungasaurus (we still prefer the synonym Majungatholus).

An interesting programme that did its best to update viewers on how our understanding of the apex predators of the Dinosauria has moved on since “Walking with Dinosaurs”.

Planet Dinosaur – Feathered Dragons Reviewed

Episode Two of Planet Dinosaur – Feathered Dinosaurs

Some of the most important dinosaur discoveries over the last twenty years or so have come from the Liaoning Province of north-eastern China and it is these exciting feathered dinosaur finds that dominate episode two of the BBC’s new dinosaur television series.  The programme featured a myriad of cursorial (some arboreal) dinosaurs that roamed around the lush forests of this part of the world during the Cretaceous.  Great to see a Microraptor gliding from tree to tree, using its feather covered limbs to pursue its prey and to escape from potential predators.  Microraptor may be quite well known to the general public, but we doubt whether many viewers would have come across Epidexipteryx before.  This pigeon-sized dinosaur, with its bizarre appearance certainly showed viewers how diverse the dinosaur clade was.  In episode one, it was all about big Theropods, now in the second part of this six part series the production team want to show us just how unusual some dinosaurs were and Epidexipteryx was portrayed as an animal at home in the trees, using its long fingers, especially its extended second finger to dig out beetle grubs in the same way as the secretive Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) does.

To read an article on the discovery of Epidexipteryx: Is it a Bird or a Plane? No it is Epidexipteryx!

Take the feathered hunter Sinornithosaurus, the narrator alluded to the controversial paper published in 2009 that proposed that this fast-running predator may have had a venomous bite.  It is always refreshing to see some of the latest ideas and discoveries brought to life, the fast paced direction helped animate these dinosaurs and give the impression of creatures that lived “life in the fast lane”.  The more recent research (2010) into the diurnal or nocturnal characteristics of certain dinosaurs got a mention.  This refers to the widely publicised study into the orbits (eye sockets) of Theropod dinosaurs: the point we made at the time, one that the CGI backdrop designers miss, is that these forests were probably dark with lots of thick undergrowth.  The study of the orbits of dinosaurs would need to consider the possibility of these animals hunting in low light levels.

Whether the feathers were for flight, display or insulation the programme provided an insight into our increasing knowledge of “feathered dragons”.  So pleasing to see “Big Bird) – Gigantoraptor (Gigantoraptor erlianensis) featured, certainly based on the fossil evidence this is likely to be the largest feathered animal known in the current fossil record.

To read an article on the discovery of this dinosaur: New Chinese Dinosaur – Gigantoraptor as Tall as a Giraffe

A Drawing of Gigantoraptor erlianensis

The largest feathered animal known to science

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Credit must be given to the programme makers for the imaginative way in which they have brought to the screen some of the recent feathered dinosaur discoveries.

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