on December 11, 2001
WOW!! This is one of the most amazing documentaries on prehistoric life I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot of documentaries on prehistoric life)!
Walking With Prehistoric Beasts starts off 50 million years ago, just a few million years after the extincion of the dinosaurs. In the beginning of the show, the narrator introduces the small mammal called Leptictidium, a swift six foot tall bird called Gastronis, and other beasts. after on, the documentary shows a primitive whale that was 30 tons and four times the length of a great white shark, the planet's largest predatory land mammal (which is interestingly enough related to ungulates like sheep and goats), a two story tall rhino which was the largest land mammal ever on earth, a nasty scavenging hog (one of the most fearsome and ugly creatures in the show), and several other weird, fearsome, and magnificent beasts that once ruled the earth. Later in the documentary, the ice age comes, as well as an amazing and somewhat hairless ape... Man.
I could go on and on talking about this show, but I won't :-). Let me sumarise this amazing five star documentary to you, the reader, in three words: BUY IT NOW!!
on June 13, 2002
The Walking with Dinosaurs team could probably have contented itself with producing spinoffs for a long time. They made one special -- "Allosaurus" -- which basically seems to be a seventh episode that didn't get included in the earlier series. If they went on producing half-hour dinosaur shows for years, they'd have had me for an audience.
They didn't do that, though. Instead they traded on their success with dinos to make this great series about prehistoric animals after the dinosaurs. One of the producers mentions, in the "making of" documentary on disk two, that they knew they'd have to do the dinosaurs first because those were popular enough to draw money and attention. They seem to have made "Beasts" because they were just plain interested. Thank goodness someone's letting curiosity drive the work, you know?
This series works a lot like "Walking with Dinosaurs" did. There are six episodes, and each one's a storyline involving a particular species of animal and the world in which it lives. There's no "talking head" side to these shows; they're nonstop film of the (animated) animals living in their worlds, without other graphics. Kenneth Branagh narrates them very much like any other animal documentary, only you're seeing reconstructions of extinct animals instead of lions or elephants. The camera work is skilfully made to work like shots from modern nature shows, with a few minor conceits from the cgi animators thrown in for fun.
The "Walking" team really raised the bar for themselves here, though. First, for some reason prehistoric mammals don't knock people out the way dinosaurs do. A couple of years ago a Japanese team announced it was trying to produce a real, live mammoth, but nobody's making movies in which a series of ... scientists get lured out to an island for mammoths to stomp on them, you know? Then too, people know how a lion or tiger looks when it moves, so animating a saber toothed cat is going to be harder to pull off, leaving alone the primates. Also, and it's a simple thing, mammals have hair, which is hard to make right on a computer.
Well, it works again. The shows are wonderfully written, with an extremely good sense of timing and a nice range to each episode. The animals are stunning. Seeing a brontotherium browsing the shrubs is just dazzling. There's almost more evolutionary interest to this one, too, because we're seeing lots of animals that have modern relations. Glyptodonts, car-sized armadillo relations, are a kick to see bumbling around in company with giant ground sloths and smilodon, the largest saber tooth.
The shortcomings of Beasts are pretty similar to those of Dinosaurs. A couple of more typical documentaries on the second disk make up for the lack of hard core paleontology. The payoff of the documentary approach is worth underplaying the material you can find in more traditional programs and books. There might be a little less money behind this than the earlier show; the worlds we see are a little less lushly populated, with a handful of highlighted species the only ones we see. My only real reservation, though, would be that the complexity of human origins suffers. That's one story I don't think you can gloss over the scientific debate for... maybe another entire series would really be better.
So, what I'm asking for is more. Another series, please. And I trust you to stretch yourselves, out of curiosity, to give us something even better.
on January 7, 2004
and the Woolly Mammoth. But how about the Leptictidium? A tiny early mammal. A tiny meat eater the size of a cat, who has to keep clear of the top predator of her time, the Gastornis, a flightless bird as big as a man and just as hungry!
Or how about the Andrewsarchus, a five meter long wolf-like creature with bone crunching jaws over three feet long and related to the whale. In fact it BECAME the whales!
This is a two DVD set. The first holds six amazing episodes about six different periods of Earth's history, from right after the death of the dinosaurs to just before man starts to rule the planet. The second holds lots of fun extras: interviews, TWO 50 minute long behind-the-scene featurettes, photos, fact files and even storyboards.
Really helps fill in that space between dinosaurs and us. A must for any DVD library!
on December 20, 2008
When people think of Earth's past, it is usually the dinosaur age of which they think. They tend to forget the fact that the Earth has a huge history of which that Age was only a small part. This encompasses that portion of history often glossed over in favor of the rise of humans, and the very strange and fascinating creatures that existed even before we arrived and existed with us for a time before going extinct. While we might remember the Wooly Mammoth, the Cave Bear and the Saber-toothed Cat, We don't remember the Hyenadon or the Intelidont, or the Gastornis, the monster bird that ate early horses. This is a trip into a topsy turvey world that is strangely fascinating and fills in that gap between the Dinosaurs-and us.
on February 13, 2002
Another simply amazing documentary series from the BBC. This one definitely lives up to its predecessor- Walking with Dinosaurs, which was the first series to combine breathtaking digital effects with great scientific research and analysis, to create a lost world of creatures and times long gone. Walking with Prehistoric Beasts is actually just a continuation of where Walking with Dinosaurs left off, it begins right after the massive dinosaur extinction and ends during the ice age and the dawn of man. It looks mainly at the rise of mammals and the changing environment and earth. Some of the highlights of the series include: the first whales that actually walked on land, flightless carnivorous birds which were descendants of the dinosaurs, packs of saber-tooth cats killing and mating, huge pig like creatures that bully other carnivores, the first apes to walk on two legs, elephant ancestors that are four times bigger and really angry, herds of wooly mammoths, and much much more. And the computer graphics in this series may even rival that of Walking with Dinosaurs. The scenes and animals almost always look breathtaking and incredibly natural. Sometimes it was seriously hard to believe that these weren't real living animals. And all the sound effects matched everything perfectly, bringing it all to life. Also the music score is terrific, it really takes you on a great auditory journey along with the superb visuals. This series has brought to life a world that you could only imagine before and it does it with serious style, just like its predecessor.
The 6 episode series alone packs a serious punch, but the DVD includes two 50-minute behind-the-scenes featurettes, along with some other goodies. The first featurette discusses how we know what we do about the ancient mammals, the second focuses on the evolution of man from ape and also looks at the Neanderthal briefly. Both featurettes contain informative interviews with scientists as well as behind-the scenes footage of the making of Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, and are very nice additions to an already excellent and worthwhile purchase. There are also interviews with the creators of the series, as well as fact files about the different ancient beasts (really cool), and the usual photo gallery and storyboards. You know it's exceptionally good, when you've watched all 300 minutes on the DVD in one sitting and still want more. I just hope this isn't the last we see of the "Walking With" series...
on April 27, 2009
This BBC series is fantastic and we highly recommend them for adults and children who are interested in prehistoric life. My kids are enthralled with these creatures and -- at 5 and 3 years old -- can rattle off their multi-syllabic names with ease! Overall a wonderful learning experience.
Caution: Some violent or scary images in the natural world, as well as mating scenes, which are brief. One episode deals with the evolution of man in a way that may conflict with your beliefs.
on March 31, 2002
The team that brought you Walking With Dinosaurs brings you look at the world from time not long after the dinosaurs were extinct until just a few thousand years ago. Since I was reasonably familiar with dinosaurs already, this new series was a lot more informative for me.
We see a world where giant birds hunt cat-sized horses, where a pig is the meanest thing on the block, where the ancestor of sheep was a carnivore, where whales had teeth and attitude. We learn that there was really no such animal as a sabre-tooth "tiger," but there a large variety of sabre-tooth cats.
Technically, the team has progressed significantly, as the effects are, on the whole, much more realistic. Given that most of animals have hair now, this is a real accomplishment. There were a few moments when things didn't look real, and they had to do mostly with the early humans (austrailopithicus). These looked a little phony compared to the others, although they looked better on DVD than they did when I first watched this show on the Discovery channel.
Just an aside, was I the only one, when the tribe of pre-humans was driven away from their watering hole, who expected to see a 2001 monolith teaching them how to kill things with bones?
The only downside I found was the fact that there really wasn't enough room to adequately tell the human story, and many stages of human evolution where left out. I kind of wish they had left the humans out altogether and done a third special, "Walking with Early Humans," or something like that.
The narration by Kenneth Branaugh is, as before, superior to the American actor they hired to redub the show for the Discovery Channel, although Stockard Channing was a lot better than Avery Brooks. Why do they feel the need to redo the narration for American television? It's not like Branaugh isn't famous over here. He's sure a lot better known than Avery Brooks.
As usual, there are good supporting documentaries on the second disk. This time, these have more to do with the science involved than the production. Again, just like with "Dinosaurs," these extras are filled with as much sly good humor as good information.
on April 26, 2009
This video is designed and narrated as if you are watching a documentary of creatures that are alive today, only its prehistoric beasts, many of whom most of us have never heard of before. My 5 yr old boys love this video, and have watched it over and over again. Their favorite part is the 2nd disc "Making Of" video, which shows not only the technical aspects of making the video, but also how scientists know so much about these beasts and how they lived. This DVD is even better and more engaging than "Walking with Dinosaurs." Excellent graphics are complimented with interesting and informative narration.
on July 13, 2002
The team at the BBC got it right-there is another series of invigorating 'big animal' natural history stories AFTER the dinosaurs went extinct-the radiation and development of the mammals.
This DVD series covers the early expansion of mammals into vacant ecological niches left by the disappearance of (most) of the dinosaurs-from early cat-size horse ancestors, to big carnivourous flightless birds, to giants in the sea (carnivorous whales 18m long), to giants on the plains-eg rhinos trying to be giraffes (up to 6m at the shoulder), elephant ancestors (up to 4m at the shoulder), giant pig-like ancestors, giant carnivorous hoofed animals (Andrewsarchus-about 2m at the shoulder), the sabre tooth cats (smilodon-about 1.2m at the shoulder-bigger than the modern tiger), upright small primates wandering the African plains (australopithecus-about 1.4m at the shoulder), mammoths (about 3m at the shoulder) and eventually a 'big' primate-man (about 1.7m at the shoulder).
There are two DVDs in the set, 1)-the 6 part series, and 2) 2 40 minute-long documentaries, which for those who want deeper analysis, are better than the series. These documentaries take us to the famous fossil site of Messel in Germany, the Sahara desert, Ethiopia, South Africa, and various other locales, with background rationale explained as to various aspects of the series. Most of the stories are indeed based on scientific research-for example the lake beds at the famous fossil site of Messel in Germany appear to have been anoxic-and there is evidence of sudden unusual extinctions which have been surmised to be due to mass releases of carbon dioxide (episode 1). Other examples are leopard teeth marks found in skulls of australopithecus-(episode 4), mammoth kill sites adjacent to ancient cliffs (episode 6), impact injuries in Neanderthal skeletons (episode 6), and exposed fossil mangrove roots in the Sahara desert (episode 2). This sort of background information is essential for a deeper analysis of many of the stories in the main series, and provide good information for the enthusiastic amateur palaeontologist.
This is a wonderful 65 million year story, which has been somewhat neglected during the modern science era, and this series attempts to fill in many gaps for the wonder and scientific endeavour of the chattering and lumbering primates who eventually came down from the trees.
The BBC has left some significant Quaternary and Recent megafaunal extinctions out, in such places as Madagascar, Australia (eg diprotodon, megalania), New Zealand (eg the moa), and other places, so I hope they will visit these places in another series!
on June 11, 2003
With the enormous success of "Walking with Dinosaurs", it was only natural that Framestore and the BBC would follow-up that series with the age after the dinosaurs. "Walking with Prehistoric Beasts" is that series. In fact, this is the series that Executive Producer Tim Haines wanted to do, even more than "Walking with Dinosaurs".
My first experience with this series was in London with the episode "Whale Killer". I knew then that this was something I wanted to see when it came across the "pond", and it was something I wanted to buy. It was a little disappointing that Stockard Channing, not Avery Brooks, narrated the Discovery Channel version, but she does a fair job. However, one would be better off buying the video version than taping the series off Discovery.
The video version is the original version that aired in the UK, with Kenneth Branagh's original narration. As with "Walking with Dinosaurs", Branagh's narration is greatly superior to Channing or Brooks', though one has to remember that Branagh isn't working with a script written for a version that is chopped up to accomidate the slighty stricter US censors and commercial time. And the video has the *complete*, uncut episodes from the original BBC airing. The animation continues from "Dinosaurs" and appears just as realistic, despite the added difficulty of rendering fur and feathers!
Although this is a excellent series, there are certain flaws that prevent the series from getting five stars. The animatronics continue to be, IMHO, of a lesser quality than the animation; they still look like rubber puppets. This is perhaps at it's most glaring in the fourth episode, with the early humans. The humans in that episode, despite more than adequate animation, just don't "feel" real, either animated or animatrionic. In fact, in my opinion, the primates featured in this series look more like animated characters than real animals. Only the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans have any semblance of realism, and only because they are portrayed by actors.
The extras featured in the DVD make this series even more worthwhile. Included on the second disc are the two "Making of..." hour-long episodes. Also on the disc are interviews with the creators of the series, stats on the animals featured in the series, and various images of the animals.
All in all, "Walking with Prehistoric Beasts" is an excellent follow-up to "Dinosaurs", despite the technical flaws. Once again, Tim Haines proves why Framestore is to televison what Industrial Light and Magic is to movies. I hope that Haines and company will follow up this series with episodes of the animals from *before* the age of dinosaurs, though, from the previews I've seen, I hold no hope for "Walking with Cavemen"!