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Series / Walking with Cavemen

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Walking with Cavemen is the 2003 series of the Speculative Documentary franchise Walking with…. Focusing on the evolution of the human race, the series spans over the past three million years to show how early hominids first began to walk upright, create tools, and shape the world around them. Unlike other instalments in the franchise, Cavemen uses actors in make-up and prosthetics to portray humanity's early ancestors; although CGI and animatronics are still used to depict other species. It is also the only main entry in the franchise to have an onscreen host present; Robert Winston in the original cut and Alec Baldwin for the American release. A cut exists that brings it more in line with the others in the franchise, but with Andrew Sachs narrating instead of Kenneth Branagh and combining the first and second episodes and the third and fourth respectively. This cut is available on the ''Prehistoric Earth: A Natural History" DVD set.

Each episode focuses on a different point in the evolution of the human race and details how certain species contributed to how modern humans behave:

  • First Ancestors: (3.2 MYA) Following the expansion of the African savannah, Australopithecus afarensis becomes one of the first apes to walk exclusively upright. Lucy, a female A. afarensis, struggles to take care of her infant following the death of her troop's alpha male.
  • Blood Brothers: (2 MYA) The continued growth of the African grasslands leads to a wide variety of bipedal hominids to take advantage of the new opportunities. The Paranthropus boisei find success as slow specialized herbivores, while Homo habilis have difficulties as omnivorous opportunists.
  • Savage Family: (1.5 MYA - 500 KYA) Homo ergaster becomes one of the first hominids to form language and wield fire. With their success, their ancestors branch off into Asia where they become Homo erectus.
  • The Survivors: (400,000 - 30 KYA) Homo heidelbergensis are the first hominids to enter Britain and pave the way for the last two surviving members of the Homo genus: Neanderthals and modern humans.

This work provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Frazetta Man: This being a well-researched scientific documentary, it's mostly avoided.
  • Hide Your Children: The series dances heavily with this trope, not just because the violence taboo but also the nudity taboo, since most featured hominids are naked and often played by naked actors. When children have to be included, it is almost always as unborn inside their pregnant mothers or as babies played by puppets (in the case of the Australopithecus and Paranthropus segments). The H. sapiens segment has children, but they are clothed like the adults. The most risqué segment is the H. ergaster one, which pans over a large tribe including several children at one point, and they are, of course, naked. These children are always far in the background and so blurry, it is certain they shot their scenes in skin-colored suits and were later digitally inserted in the scenes with the adult actors.
  • Humans Are White: With the exclusion of Homo sapiens, all hominids are played by Caucasian actors, even though humanity evolved in eastern Africa.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: In the British version, at least. An odd case in that only pre-humans are nude, but Homo erectus and Homo ergaster are basically Homo sapiens from the neck down, so there's no functional difference.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The pan to the sea while explaining continental drift includes a shot of Basilosaurus from Walking with Beasts attacking the camera, even though it disappeared over 30 million years before the Late Pliocene.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Only modern humans and neanderthals wear clothes, with other Homo appearing nude and hairless on screen.
  • People in Rubber Suits: The most ancient hominids Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Homo habilis are live-acted this way.
  • Perspective Flip: In Walking with Beasts, hominids only had a protagonic episode starring Australopithecus; Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis were both present in "Mammoth Journey" in small roles as predators of Irish elk and mammoths. In this series, hominids are the stars of every episode, including the aforementioned two, and the Irish elk and mammoths have a small role as their prey.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: From Homo ergaster, hominids are practically identical to Homo sapiens from the neck down, so actors only need face prothesis.
  • Stock Footage: Due to sharing the same setting, the Australopithecus episode reuses some fauna shots from Walking with Beasts depicting fauna like Deinotherium and Dinofelis (and also a misplaced Basilosaurus).
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In the original version, Winston narrates from the site next to the cavemen but they rarely pay attention to his presence.