Prehistoric Planet: Long Hot Polar Summer

TV review

Prehistoric Planet’s third installment takes us to the Late Cretaceous poles, an environment that seems to have featured surprisingly often in palaeo-media. It opens in North America with some Arctic dromaeosaurs, drawn to migratory edmontosaurs fording a river. There are much stronger shades of the old ‘pack hunting dromaeosaurs’ trope here, with the animals seeming to co-ordinate their efforts, although they are clearly after juveniles and, in the end, scavenge the remains of an individual killed by the currents of the water. The dromaeosaurs remain unnamed, but appear to have more robust skulls when compared with the Velociraptor previously seen (which makes sense). They also sport a pair of fabulous blue tail plumes, the better to look flawlessly elegant and really rather stylish when seen running along from above.

The edmontosaurs aren’t bad looking either, and the juveniles are almost cruelly cute (I’m wondering how long the sound designers spent on creating such an utterly pathetic, plaintive cry for them). Nevertheless, they can’t compare with the Olorotitan that appear later because, well, it’s Olorotitan. Finally, the crested hadrosaurs I was hoping for! And they look magnificent, the adults being hulking walls of scaly flesh, heading north to build their nests in warm, welcoming volcanic terrain. When their eggs hatch into suitably adorable hadrosaur babies, the weather gets warmer and a plague of mosquitoes is born around them, literally draining some of the infants of life. The Olorotitan are forced to leave, abandoning any babies too weak to walk. You bastard, Favreau.

A less stiff-upper-lip-troubling nest building sequence revolves around a colony of male Ornithomimus. They are building their nests ahead of the females’ arrival, with the best nests attracting mates. However, stealing of nesting material is rife. It’s reminiscent of the behaviour of certain living birds, and another enjoyable speculative behaviour that doesn’t seem at all far-fetched. I did very much enjoy the red display feathers on the animals’ arms, as well as their birdlike movements.

Down in the southern hemisphere, we follow the travails of Antarctopelta, which is seen looking for a suitable den to tough out the winter; an allusion, no doubt, to those burrowing ankylosaurs from further north. What with the little ankylosaur passing a group of migrating (anonymous) hadrosaurs moving back to warmer climes, it reminded me a great deal of the WWD episode Spirits of the Ice Forest. No theropods around, though. The ‘hero’ Antarctopelta, driven away by its brethren, eventually finds a large cave inhabited (in a rather whimsical touch) by hundreds of glowing insects. How pretty.

A brief sojourn involves an anonymous troodontid (because who even knows what genera they should be in nowadays?) hunting mammals at the edges of a forest fire. The creature design is, as ever, fantastic, with the troodont sporting a feathery crest at the back of its head, perhaps to distinguish it from the dromaeosaurs for the benefit of viewers. It’s a nice touch nevertheless, with the animal raising and lowering the crest according to its mood (I loved the fluffy feet, too). It’s once again described as one of the most ‘intelligent’ of dinosaurs, apparently smart enough to flush out its prey by deliberating setting fires, which seems like a bit of a stretch to me, but there you go.

The real blockbuster segment is saved for last – a herd of Pachyrhinosaurus being accosted by Nanuqsaurus. This whole section seems rather ‘conventional’ for Prehistoric Planet – it’s a herd of bellowing ceratopsians, with the youngsters in the middle, being harassed by theropods acting as a coalition. It’s been done a number of times before (sometimes with Pachyrhinosaurus itself), and I’m sure the idea of group-hunting tyrannosaurs is bound to stir controversy from everyone except Phil Currie. Nevertheless, the animals are some of the most fantastic-looking in the whole show, especially the pachyrhinosaurs. While a Wittonesque fluffy coat is avoided, they do notably sport sparser fibres emerging from between their scales, with a thicker clump towards the ends of the tails on males, as well as impressively gnarly, fearsome-looking faces. We haven’t seen ceratopsians like this before on-screen, and these are still more welcome speculative touches that remain plausible, based on what we know about the integument of some ornithischians. The tyrannosaurs, meanwhile, are rather fluffy, but in a way that looks entirely natural; they don’t look like they’re wearing cute feather suits. Say what you like about the behaviour depicted here, the creature design (and animation) remains exceptional. Also, I did say that I wanted to see exactly this a couple of reviews back.

Today’s All Yesterdays moment

Er…the pachyrhinosaurs are a bit like John Conway’s quilled Triceratops, I guess? OK, that’s really tenuous. I know there’ll be one tomorrow!

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  • Reply
    Timur Sivgin
    May 26, 2022 at 3:24 pm

    Deliberately manipulating natural fires to flush out prey is something that has been recorded in living birds of prey.

  • Reply
    May 26, 2022 at 10:23 pm

    I saw everyone on the planet (myself included) expecting the nodosaurs from the original trailer to be Struthiosaurus, given we also have Hatzegopteryx and Zalmoxes about. This made it all the better when there was the wonderful surprise they were actually Antarctopelta.

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