Prehistoric Planet: Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

TV review

IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! As such, I’ve decided to hammer out a short post on the day that each episode is aired to the world on Apple TV+. Naturally, like every other palaeo-enthusiast on Earth, I’ve suddenly signed up for a free trial of Apple’s streaming service. And, like most others, I’ll be delving into the settings menu before the payment period begins. But I digress. It’s here! The One True Heir to Walking With Dinosaurs. However, it would be a mistake to think of this as a purely dinosaur-focused show; here, we are truly talking about an entire planet. (I should probably mention that there will be minor spoilers.)

As such, dinosaurs are but one component of a vast, interconnected ecosystem. In the first episode alone, we are treated to the travails of hatchling pterosaurs, mighty territorial battles between truly terrifying mosasaurs (that are genuinely scary because they look like real animals and not absurd kaiju), surprising social behaviour in plesiosaurs, the breeding rituals of bioluminescent ammonites, corals, turtles, and and and….well, Tyrannosaurus rex itself.

By this point, it’s well established that this is a stunning-looking show. It’s also worth emphasising just quite how convincing these animals look. Of course, one might well expect that from the team at Moving Picture Company, the very same people responsible for the photo-real creatures in 2017’s The Jungle Book. But – and I’m sure the readership of this blog hardly needs reminding of this – it’s very easy to get prehistoric animals, and dinosaurs in particular, disastrously wrong. They often fall victim to hackneyed preconceptions not only of their behaviour, but of their anatomy. Pterosaurs will act like giant birds or bats, giant theropods will jiggle and bounce around improbably, and so on.

There’s none of that here. My sole disappointment with the first episode – Coasts – is that we didn’t see more of the adult Tyrannosaurus rex. Naturally, I don’t expect everyone else to necessarily feel the same way about what is, admittedly, the most over-exposed prehistoric animal of all time. Tyrannosaurus remains my favourite dinosaur, but the one with the most pop-culture baggage attached to it, and truly excellent depictions remain depressingly rare. Naturally, Prehistoric Planet‘s is absolutely gorgeous – an impeccably researched creation with utterly convincing heft and mass, a regal reptilian giant that seldom vocalises and wants to look after its offspring…to a point.

Cropped from a screenshot. Copyright Apple TV and that. Please don’t Sue.

It’s flawless. I would happily have watched it walking around, swimming, and feeding for the entire episode. This is a T. rex that knocks the Jurassic World half-remembered nostalgiabeast into a cocked hat, and happily banishes memories of the dodgy design from WWD. More, please. MORE!

Still, while T. rex appears at the start of the episode and then disappears from screen, it’s hardly as if the rest is anticlimactic. Further highlights for me included the pterosaur colonies, and especially the stalking azhdarchid with its perfectly realised intense, reptilian stare. In fact, the creatures’ eyes are another aspect that the show nails, which might seem an odd thing to say, but again, it’s another crucial detail that’s easy to mess up. Here, the animals’ eyes speak of their characters in ways that are hard to put one’s finger on, even while maintaining a convincingly reptilian look of animalistic indifference. There’s something about the adult T. rex’s eyes that reminds me of Komodo dragons, reptiles of unusual intelligence and ferocity that nevertheless seem to maintain a quiet dignity much of the time. Like they know…

Teeth teeth teeth teeth

Speaking of lizards, different mosasaur species put in an appearance, including Mosasaurus hoffmanii – referred to (rather cleverly) as ‘Hoffman’s mosasaur’, as if it were an extant species like a Rothschild’s giraffe, the better to maintain immersion. The scene in which a huge male is attended by cleaner fish, before being ambushed by (and fighting off) a rival, was another highlight for me – combining an awesome close-up look at the lizard with intriguing interspecific interactions and a thrilling (but realistic-looking, and evidence-based) fight between two giant predators.

I should probably stop there, though – I have four more of these to get through yet! (And I’ll probably only miss one of them due to a pub visit.) One last thing…

Today’s All Yesterdays moment

The displaying Tuarangisaurus, highly reminiscent of John Conway’s vertically-orientated elasmosaurs. (I almost expected Darren Naish’s grinning face to slowly fade in as a transparent overlay while watching.)

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    June 6, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    I love, LOVE how the mosasaur is shown having a gentler side. It’s easy to think of them as vicious prehistoric monsters, but seeing him just…relaxing at a fish spa and even rolling over like a big sea kitten was adorable. A nice reminder that they were just like animals today, minding their own business and not always fighting. We do get a fight, at least, but it’s not the mosasaur’s entire personality. And the fact the audience is endeared to him by seeing this huge apex predator be oddly cute also gets us to root for him when he gets rudely interrupted by a younger male, and cheer for him as he rises triumphantly from the depths backed by that top tier epic Hans Zimmer score.

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