Reviews: Walking With Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs in documentary style: a great challenge

Walking With represents a novelty among works about prehistory and documentaries in general. It's not the first time that a TV show tries to recreate a realistic prehistoric world populated by extinct animals, but this one is universally considered the highest level ever reached by this type of popular-science products, to the point that it has been imitated several times (with generally minor quality).

However, making such a good show was a very difficult task: people has already seen spectacular CGI dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park film series, and the producers had to create an equally astonishing product capable to attract general audience other than the fan of dinosaurs, combining great visual effect with scientific accuracy; this has led to some controversial points, since some animals clearly appear rather inaccurate to paleontologists and dinosaur fans (however, the reason behind that is more due to Rule Of Cool than to They Just Didnt Care in my opinion). Another controversy is the presence of some Nightmare Fuel scenes throughout the episodes (expecially Monsters) that may scare children (useless to say that kids are the more enthusiastic viewers of anything related with dinosaurs); these scenes were unnecessary in my personal thought.

Walking With Dinosaurs and the following Beasts and Monsters follow an approach similar to the classic naturalistic documentaries (like those of National Geographic). However, this generates a great problem: showing animal behaviour like it's observed by the scientists instead of recreated, and thus presenting speculation as facts (remember that paleontology is mainly educated guesswork; even the appearence of the animals always has a bit of uncertainty). There also is the Science Marches On problem, but this one is unfair to apply to the judgement of the general quality. Sadly, the producers don't inform the viewers about all these issues: the only exception is "Big Al", which is the best piece of the whole serie in my opinion, just because it points about this.

Other spinoffs feature a visible presenter (usually Nigel Marven) and thus have a more adventure-like style, but without loosing the realism of the recostructions; the most remarkable one is Prehistoric Park with its original theme.

WWD is a modern classic now, and its rare completeness and realism will make it remembered for years.