Series / Planet of Dinosaurs

"The last scenes of Planet of Dinosaurs we've seen were sad and a bit moving. But we won't end with these images of devastation and death. We would preserve about these extraordinary animals a lively image, remembering them during their best moments, when filled the Earth with their strength and their vitality."
Piero Angela (the show's producer and host), at the end of the last episode.

Planet of Dinosaurs ("Il Pianeta Dei Dinosauri") was an Italian documentary from 1993, the same year in which the movie Jurassic Park was broadcast in this country. It was extremely popular, to the point to be translated in English and broadcast in USA and other countries worldwide — in Italy it was nearly as popular as Jurassic Park itself, and stood the competition from the Walking with Dinosaurs series in the 2000s.

It's divided in four hourlong episodes, always followed by a commentary. It’s produced and hosted by the most popular Italian science-writer (Piero Angela), and has actually Dale Russell as the paleontological consultant. Angela appears actually split in two “twin hosts” which talk each other: one remains in the studio (shaped like a hi-tech prehistoric cave), while the other time-travels in a “mesozoic world” and interacts with living dinosaurs. Like in WWD, landscapes are filmed from Real Life, but dinosaurs and other critters were animatronic puppets (CGI was still an unknown thing in docus). The score is entirely synth-made, except for some inserpts which have classical or jazz music. The show has also an accompanying book with the same name, written by Angela as well.

It shows examples of:

  • All Your Powers Combined: Tyrannosaurus rex is said to have had "the size of an elephant, the violence of a tiger, and the dentition of a shark".
  • Anachronism Stew: Deinonychus living in Late Cretaceous instead of the Early one.
  • Babies, Babies Everywhere: Mainly averted; except for a young Triceratops (and some dinosaur eggs), all animals shown are adults.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: In the first episode, a sleeping Stegosaurus is accidentaly awaken by the human and menaces him with its spiky tail.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Totally averted.
  • Crapsack World: Averted as well, except for the world one-week-after the Asteroid.
  • Designated Victim: The hadrosaurs are usually shown as chosen prey for tyrannosaurids, dromaeosaurids, and even giant crocodiles.
  • Downer Ending: At the end of the program the world after the asteroid is shown as an obscure, gelid world with dying plants and struggling Triceratops & Tyrannosaurus, all accompainied by a sad score.
  • Dumb Dinos: Averted. The dinosaurs are fairly intelligent and well-adapted in their environments.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Generally averted, except for Allosaurus which makes an attempt to eat the human, and Quetzalcoatlus attacking him when the latter was hang-gliding near it (though it's possibly for territorial defence, as the pterosaur could have mistaken the glider for a rival).
  • Flight: Piero Angela flying with a balloon across most the program, and also hang-gliding near giant pterosaurs in the third episode.
  • Giant Flyer: Pterosaurs Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus.
  • Giant Swimmer: Kronosaurus and Elasmosaurus.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: Played three times in the last episode. The Barringer Meteor Crater was made by a meteorite as powerful as 4 Hiroshima bombs; The Tunguska Event (1908) provoked by a mysterious body that hit Siberia with a power of 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs; and of course the Cretaceous Asteroid which had the effect of about 100,000,000 Hiroshima bombs.
  • Informed Species: The Brontosaurus more closely resemble Diplodocus in that they have longer necks and more lightly-built bodies, a fairly common mistake in media. The Mamenchisaurus also look more like Diplodocus, due to being a re-used animatronic of the Brontosaurus.
  • Lava Adds Awesome: Averted. The classic stereotypical Mesozoic landscape filled with erupting volcanoes is never shown except for the Triassic Era (the period in which Pangea started to fragment).
  • Lighter and Softer: As a whole this documentary has a lighter tone than other works dedicated to dinosaurs such as Walking with Dinosaurs – Piero Angela is known in Italy because his programs are conceived to appeal to young audiences. Nonetheless, some scenes of Planet of Dinosaurs can appear rather Nightmare Fuel -ish: the tyrannosaur eating a young Triceratops alive while it's painfully screaming (and losing blood from its nostrils) in the 2nd episode; and the Dromaeosaurus pack ripping the flesh of a young hadrosaur with their sickle-claws and beginning to eat it alive (also in the 2nd episode). Compensating this, the final asteroid scene (though very spectacular) is not particularly heart-breaking compared with the Walking With one.
  • Mama Bear: A female Triceratops chasing the human away from her eggs.
  • Mighty Roar: Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus roaring continously. The host, however, points out that their ability to roar is purely speculative.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: some examples through the series, even though not played really straight since the precise location of the creatures in the correspondent modern world is almost-never mentioned.
  • My Brain Is Big: The host compares the pachycephalosaur's swollen head to that of a philosopher (pointing out, however, that its actual brain was very small).
  • Nature Documentary: The program shows footage taken from classic documentaries, portraying elephants, lions, birds etc., and of course several modern reptiles (crocodilians, Komodo dragons, iguanas, and even the frilled lizard).
  • Nepotism: This could be considered a Real Life example: Piero Angela's son Alberto is present in the show as the second host, travelling in the Real World to show significative places linked with dinosaurs. Note however that Alberto is also a palaeontologist other than a journalist.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Deinosuchus in the third episode.
  • Noisy Nature
  • Prehistoric Monster: Gorgeously averted: the animals are all genuine. Only some marine reptiles are called sea monsters at one point, but not portrayed as such.
  • Raptor Attack: The Dromaeosaurus pack attacking and killing a much heavier Parasaurolophus.
  • Real Is Brown: Partially played straight: Dinosaurs here are coloured differently, but never brightly.
  • Rock Falls Everyone Dies: The dramatic asteroid scene in the last episode is particularly well-remembered (if rather inaccurate). Note that this was one of the first documentaries to report the "Chixculub Crater" discovery, made around the same time.
  • Scenery Porn: The landscapes in which dinosaurs live are wonderful to behold and taken from Real Life locations. You can see, for example, the arches of the Arches National Park in Utah and the redwood trees of the Sequoia National Park, among others.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Dromaeosaurus and Mamenchisaurus (animatronics re-used from Deinonychus and Brontosaurus respectively) make appearances in the show. Lambeosaurus, Camarasaurus, Deinocheirus, Supersaurus (referred to as "Ultrasauros"), Torosaurus, Pinacosaurus, Astrodon (referred to as "Pleurocoelus"), Pterodaustro, Istiodactylus (referred to as Ornithodesmus, which was later reassigned to a dromaeosaurid), and Tropeognathus are referenced.
  • Shout-Out: The submarine used by Angela to observe marine reptiles recalls that of Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (as lampshaded by the host himself).
  • Small Taxonomy Pools: Partially averted. Other than a lot of well-known critters, the shows also mentions several other prehistoric animals. For example, fossil pieces shown in the studio include a Triceratops skull, but also the Deinocheirus arms, a Therizinosaurus claw, and an "Ultrasauros" limb. Also mentioned are some Mesozoic birds, "Protoavis", non-stock pterosaurs such as Pterodaustro and Tropeognathus, Mesozoic mammals, "thecodonts" (the old term for basal archosauriforms), trilobites, and armored fish.
  • Speculative Documentary: Obviously, since non-bird dinosaurs are now extinct.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Almost every dinosaur that was stock before Jurassic Park is represented in the show; an odd exception is Iguanodon, since it lived in Europe (although it was never found in Italy). Robotic dinosaurs include Coelophysis, Plateosaurus (mainly quadrupedal), Brontosaurus (actually more similar to Diplodocus), Allosaurus, Stegosaurus (with incorrect posture), Corythosaurus, "Anatosaurus", Parasaurolophus, Tyrannosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus (oversized), Edmontosaurus, Deinonychus (still the stock dromaeosaurid at the time, and not yet called a "raptor"), Triceratops, Struthiomimus, Brachiosaurus, Oviraptor (wrongly crestless), Ankylosaurus (strangely accurate for its time) and Protoceratops eggs. Non-dinosaurs include Rhamphorhynchus, Pterodactylus, Pteranodon, Quetzalcoatlus, Ichthyosaurus, Elasmosaurus, Kronosaurus (its relative Liopleurodon became stock only 7 years later thanks to WWD) and Deinosuchus. There's also mention made of Velociraptor, Archaeopteryx, Ichthyornis, Hesperornis, Therizinosaurus, Compsognathus, Diplodocus, Protoceratops, Styracosaurus, Dimorphodon, Plesiosaurus, Mosasaurus, Dimetrodon, and trilobites.
  • Tail Slap: A "brontosaur" almost hits the human with its tail in the first episode. It's worth noting, however, that bipedal dinosaurs are all depicted with too short tails compared with their real counterparts.
  • Twin Tropes: The host Piero Angela split in two “twin hosts”.
  • Tyrannosaurus rex: Not surprisingly, this is the dinosaur that receives the greatest attention in the whole program.