Walking With Dinosaurs

Walking With Dinosaurs (1999)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Making Of Documentary Trailers

When 20th Century Fox Home Video first announced "Walking With Dinosaurs" for release on DVD I had no real idea what the production was really about, other than what the title obviously suggests. Over time I learned a lot more about this incredibly educational feature and with every bit of additional information that I was able to gather on this series of documentaries from BBC I got increasingly excited. This six part series sounded unlike anything I had seen before. The thought that someone would finally allows us to get an almost realistic look at the Earth during the time of the dinosaurs was enough for me to pick up this disc the second it made it on my desk. I was in for a treat as I quickly learned and after years of simplistic computer animation and painted illustrations, life on Earth during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods has taken on a completely new shape in my head. Without the shadows of a doubt I believe it will also change the way you think of this pre-historic era and its inhabitants.

Split in six half-hour episodes the series begins in the Triassic period, a time when dinosaurs first appeared and were still rather small with an episode called "First Blood". The planet was still recovering from a mass extinction in which 90% of all plants and animal species had been eradicated. It was during this time that the dinosaurs began their reign of the world.
The second episode is entitled "Time of The Titans" and takes us to the late Jurassic period. In this era size did matter, and dinosaurs grew to monstrous proportions. It was the time of the largest and hardiest animals that ever roamed the Earth.
In "Cruel Sea" the series takes a look at the water world during the late Jurassic period. While fish and molluscs already inhabited the seas, it were huge dinosaurs that really ruled the waters. This spectacular episode gives viewers a rare look at marine dinosaurs in a way you have never seen them before.
"Giant Of The Skies" goes the opposite direction then and introduces viewers to the Ornithocheirus and other flying dinosaurs during the early Cretaceous period. The largest creatures ever known to fly are making a graceful appearance in this episode and it gives viewers a good impression of these pterosaurs with wingspans that rival that of modern airplanes.
When the climate on the planets changed the animals had to adapt and "Spirits Of The Iceforest" takes a look at the arctic dinosaurs that had to adjust in order to survive the harsh elements of fierce polar winters.
The final episode called "Death Of A Dynasty" takes viewers to the late Cretaceous period, the time when Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled the Earth. While he was one of the most dominating creatures on Earth, he too was helpless to the disaster that was about to hit the planet – a giant meteor that caused the demise of all these magnificent creatures.

Never was watching and learning about dinosaurs more exciting, and viscerally thrilling. What producer Tim Haines and his colleagues have achieved here is unparalleled and makes this ancient history of the Earth tangible like never before. Just as "Jurassic Park" had the quality to make you believe the Velociraptors and T-Rex were actually alive, "Walking with Dinosaurs" does the same thing, but on an educational level. For the most part of the production you will simply sit there in amazement, ignoring the fact that no one could have actually filmed these animals. The sociological behavior, the mannerisms and the presentation is so good that you immerse yourself in it as if you were watching a real-life documentary. The great script that went into the series also helps to give each episode and the animals presented within character and drama that keeps the viewer in its grip. While there may be some arguments whether the series is entirely accurate in depicting this long extinct animals, undoubtedly this is the most realistic and most informative look we have ever gotten at them.

20th Century Fox Home Video has prepared a mind-boggling package for "Walking With Dinosaurs" that by far exceeded my expectations. Although this is a television production, the series is actually presented in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> presentation in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This almost indicates that the series has been created with 16×9 or high definition television sets in mind, which are much more popular in Europe than here in the US. As a result we get to see a transfer that is marvelously detailed and rich and staggeringly sharp. The colors are superbly rendered without any <$chroma,chroma noise> or bleeding and the entire presentation is without any signs of grain or noise. It has a rock solid image quality that makes the pictures even more vivid. The black level is perfectly balanced to create deep, dark shadows without losing detail or definition, while the highlights are bold and bright. The compression is also without flaws, and not a hint of compression artifacts is visible anywhere on the discs.

"Walking With Dinosaurs" contains a <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track that is well produced, although real surround effects are rather sparse. If at all you find them to enhance the ambiance of the world we are visiting, adding depth and credibility to the sound stage. The narration by Kenneth Branagh is very good and well integrated so that is always very clear and understandable.

The disc also contains an interesting feature that takes you behind the scenes of the production. Using a picture-in-picture approach, an optional commentary can be added to the episodes while watching them. Unlike running length commentaries however, that commentary highlights certain key scenes only and uses a small additional picture within the current film to explain the things you see in more detail. Producer Tim Haines shares additional information about the animals or the technical aspects of the these scenes in detail in this commentary. While not as exhaustive as an <$commentary,audio commentary>, the added value of the picture within the picture is significant however, especially given the documentary’s subject matter as you can often see directly how a scenes was realized by the filmmakers.

While the first disc of the 2-disc box set contains the six episodes of the series as separate titles with individual chapter stops, the second disc in the package features a documentary called "The Making Of Walking With Dinosaurs." With a running length of 50 minutes, this documentary takes you behind the scenes of the lengthy production of this television series. It is also narrated by Kenneth Branagh and gives viewers a good look at how monstrous the production has been. Not only does it show the technical aspects of the production, but also the paleontologic background that lead to the modern view on dinosaurs. With quite some humor and tons of valuable information this documentary is just as valuable as the series’ episodes themselves. Don’t miss to check it out or you are missing an important part of this release. Two promotional spots can also be found on this second disc.

This is release is a remarkable achievement that has a number of surprises. Not only is it the best and most vivid documentation you will find anywhere about the time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, its presentation on this DVD is also spectacular to make the best of the material. So good in fact that we decided to honor this release with our prestigious "Gold Seal Of Excellence." The package comes in a nice full-color custom case that contains the 2 discs and a small inlay. Made of cardboard the entire packaging is printed with breathtaking images inside out, it gives the box set a great look that will catch your eye.
For the longest time the world has been waiting for an entertaining and educational reappraisal of the dinosaurs and it has finally arrived. Filled with valuable information and stunning images, presented in a superb DVD release with even more valuable supplements, this is a DVD no one can afford to miss!