March 4, 2005 - February 25, 2005
Monday, April 17, 2000
The Television Connoissseur
"Dozing with Dinosaurs" an Educational Triumph
Those of you who watch for my
column know that it is a rara avis. I write only when I am moved by
quality of the sort infrequently aspired to by television producers.
Thus, it has been some months since I put pen to paper for the Times.
The last time I felt tempted, indeed, was in March, when the Evolution
Channel mounted its two-hour special called “Excising the Mammoth.” On
that occasion, I was profoundly impressed by the overall integrity of
the production. Lesser lights might have pandered to the audience by
insisting that the attending scientists remove the ice and reveal the
actual carcass of the animal. Instead, we were privileged to receive a
television treat—two hours of closeup footage of heavily accented
Siburians chipping away at an iceberg and the formless shadow it
In the final analysis I
demurred, however, because in the closing moments of the special a
certain amount of 'show biz' did regrettably intrude. I found the
reattachment of the amputated tusks mawkish and sentimental. Too, I was
repelled by the artifices employed to imbue the transportation of the
icebound mammal with suspense—the melodramatic music, the jump cuts
intended to suggest that the helicopter might not be able to carry the
load, et cetera. Taken together, the lapses culminated in failure to
meet my standards.
In a word, I am a stern critic.
That is why I am so pleased to be able to tender a fully glowing review
of the Evolution Channel’s most recent effort, an epic film bearing the
title “Dozing with Dinosaurs.” From first to last, it was magnificent.
I had not anticipated the
broadcast with much enthusiasm. Promotional pieces promised an
application of high technology to the project which inevitably
suggested Hollywood-style exploitation of the topic with computer
graphics and other sensational special effects. I was expecting ersatz
drama, stage-managed excitement, a determined effort to provoke and
retain my interest.
Happily I now confess that I
was wrong. “Dozing with Dinosaurs” dared to be true to its subject. For
three hours that could have been three years, we saw the life of
dinosaurs the way it must have been in reality—dull, repetitive, and
featureless. There was plenty of hunting and eating, lumbering and
scurrying, hatching and dying, but it simply did not matter. There is
nothing to like about dinosaurs. They had no personalities, no engaging
qualities. And to their immense credit, the producers did not attempt
to suggest otherwise.
I am, of course, untrained as a
scientist, and I cannot offer a technical critique of the information
provided about the extinct species to which we were exposed in the
show. For example, I am ignorant of the means by which the scientists
deduced the timbre of baby Raptor chirps, the choreography of
brontosaur mating dances, the trans-Alantic flight patterns of
pterosaurs, or the ocular architecture of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Nevertheless, I feel I can vouch for the meticulous scientific accuracy
of the film for two reasons. First, the scientists kept explaining how
much they knew about dinosaurs, and second, if they had been making up
their information, it would—at least occasionally—have verged on the
I make this point only because
certain other critics of my acquaintance have expressed a certain
dubiousness about what they call the “all-knowing manner” of the
scientists interviewed on camera. These critics suggest that if the
science of living animals is unable to answer major questions about the
lives of sharks, anacondas, and homing pigeons, then paleontologists
are perhaps presumptuous in deciding that dinosaurs can be
satisfactorily summed up as whale-sized chickens.
My rebuttal, as I have already
stated, is esthetic rather than scientific, but it is none the less
certain for that. If "Dozing with Dinosaurs" is in any respect the
product of imagination, that imagination is scarcely a human one. No
fantasy of the human mind could manage to be as devoid of charm,
beauty, creativity, and appeal as the wurld of dinosaurs captured on
film by the Evolution Channel.
I rest my case. This was
indeed a masterwork of educational television.
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