Walking With Prehistoric Beasts (2001)

Directed by Nigel Paterson
Written by Kate Bartlett, Jasper James, Michael Olmert, & Nigel Paterson
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh


Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Own It.

Everyone knows the dinosaurs. They were huge, they ruled the earth, they ate each other, and eventually, they died out. That about sums up the age of the dinosaurs. And in the minds of most people, some indeterminate amount of time later, humans showed up and built fast food restaurants. What most people have not been aware of, though, is that the period of "indeterminate time" in their minds was pretty damn vast. And in that time period, there lived some of the freakiest looking mammals you've ever laid eyes upon. Not just the wooly mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat (it's properly called a cat, as we learn, not a tiger)--we're talking wooly rhinos, the Megatherium (a sloth built like a tank), and the Indricothere (imagine a giraffe crossed with a rhino and you might come up to its knees).

And they're brought to life using not only cutting edge CGI animation, but also animatronic puppets. The presentation is that of a Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom program, and you forget that you're watching animals that have been extinct for forever and a weekend. Amusing moments ensue: scuffling long-dead animals kick up dirt onto the camera lens; giant ants swarm through the camera's field of vision and over the lens; an Indricothere knocks over a cameraman. It's a little bit that is never overdone and brings a good chuckle each time it happens.

While the series itself is cool enough to stand on its own, kudos to Warner Home Video and the BBC for providing the features that make this a flawless set. The two "behind-the-scenes" featurettes are each fifty minutes in length, and not only give you a glimpse behind the curtain into what makes the series tick, but they also provide more information about the beasts, plus the science that enabled them to make the educated guesses into how these creatures would move and interact with their environment. They're also done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as each featurette wraps up with some of the sickest, most hilarious visuals you've seen in a while.

In addition to those, there are fact files on each of the beasts, which provide much needed comparisons of scale between the creatures and modern man. Then you have the handy interviews with the creators, in which they outline their educational background and experience on the film.

This set is the perfect gift for the Discovery Channel or nature show enthusiast on your shopping list. However, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying this show, because it really is just flat out brilliantly crafted. Educational and entertaining, you just can't beat it. Highly recommended.

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