Terra Nova and the Future of Small Screen Dinosaurs
Breaking news concerning Stephen Speilberg’s newest television project has the paleo-media blogosphere-what there is of it-rather excited. Entitled Terra Nova, it concerns the adventures of a time traveling group of colonists tromping around the Cretaceous. Having left a dying earth behind them in the future, they go off merrily to change history and save the human race. It’s just the latest show to attempt to catch the zeitgeist of Lost, but since I’m of the opinion Lostwould have been a far superior show with dinosaurs, this bothers me not at all. There’s no living director who has a better track record with dinosaurs then Speilberg, and the prospect of an entire TV on Fox show devoted to them gets me pretty excited. But even if it sucks, as it might (and even if Fox cancels it, which it almost certainly will) we have other places to get our dinosaur fixes. The last few years have been spectacular when it comes to dinosaurs on the small screen.
First, it’s worth noting that dinosaurs of one kind or another have been on the small screen almost since its inception–usually in reruns of old movies, but occasionally in shows like the wheezy, cheezy Land of The Lost. In a far more sitcom-style take on the terrible lizards, Dinosaurs ran for a while in the 1990s, joined by the occasional dinosaur episode of Sliders. However, putting dinosaurs on TV, with TV budgets, has always been a bit costly, so most science fiction shows never attempted it.
The CGI revolution brought the terrible lizards back to the small screen in a big way, beginning in 1999 with the airing of the groundbreaking Walking with Dinosaurs and its ilk. For those unfamiliar with the miniseries (and if you haven’t seen it, it cannot be recommended strongly enough) it presented the world of dinosaurs in much the same way as a wildlife documentary, without talking scientific heads, with intriguing speculations on natural behaviors, and with a minimum of sensationalism. Followed by several sequels and spin offs, Walking with Dinosaurs opened the door in America as well. The Discovery Channel got in the act with When Dinosaurs Roamed America and Dinosaur World, both of which featured some intriguing ideas and creature design but were hampered by poor special effects and stunt voicing (such as, in a truly stupid move, getting the voice of Fred Flinstone to narrate.) Further attempts by Discovery to air such specials have been roundly lambasted by the science blogosphere, as can be seen in mine and other’s reviews of Jurassic Fight Club andClash of the Dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs began to appear more in drama, as well. After some tentative attempts in shows like Sliders failed to convince, the show Prehistoric Park on ITV aired to mild interest in Britain and the US. With an admittedly awesome concept (catching prehistoric animals and figuring out how to care for them) it did rather well and is excellent family viewing. Torchwood, a spinoff of the wildly popular Dr. Who relaunch, took another step by incorporating a pet pterodactyl into its cast, though little was done with the animal.
As it happened, however, we were just being warmed up.
Airing in 2007 on ITV, Primeval began with a killer concept; holes in space and time are opening in Britain, releasing prehistoric animals into the modern world. Taking a chance, the show did not feature a single dinosaur during its initial six episode run, preferring instead to bring in less well known animals. In the first season alone we were treated to a bestiary of Gorgonopsids, Mososaurs, Dodos, Pterosaurs, and a menacing Arthropluera. The second season upped the ante on the very first episode, dumping three Deinonychus into a shopping mall and moving on from there. The show is not simply a monster of the week extravaganza-though it does have inclinations in that direction-but has an overarching story and juggles a likeable ensemble cast. The third season caught something of a slump and was canceled on a cliff hanger, leaving several cast members stranded in time. It was thankfully un-canceled, however, and will be returning in 2011 for two more seasons.
With rumblings of a new faux nature documentary in the preproduction stages, Terra Nova gearing up with Speilberg at the helm, and the promise of new episodes of Primeval next year, it’s starting to look like an excellent time for dinosaurs on the small screen. Let’s just hope it stays that way for the foreseeable future.
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