Attenborough on dinosaurs — do you need to know anything more?

‘Prehistoric Planet’ Review: Delightful Dinosaurs

David Attenborough hosts the five-night documentary, complete with high-tech visualisations, about the giant creatures

A scene from ‘Prehistoric Planet’PHOTO: APPLE TV+

By John Anderson, May 19, 2022 5:05 pm ET

‘Welcome to Jurassic Park!” proclaimed Richard Attenborough very early in the 1993 Steven Spielberg classic, and the actor’s brother David, hosting the five-night extravaganza “Prehistoric Planet,” might have said, “Welcome to the Cretaceous Period!” The setting is 66 million years ago, the characters are the largest creatures to ever walk (and stalk) the Earth, and the drama is, on occasion, plaintively Spielbergian.

Prehistoric Planet

Begins Monday, Apple TV+


Mr. Attenborough restrains himself. But he does explain, with considerable enthusiasm, that what we are about to see over the following nights is based on scientific research into how dinosaurs “really lived,” adding that “the latest imaging technology enables us to bring them all to life.” It’s been almost 30 years since “Jurassic Park,” and what animators have developed in the interim is a consistently amazing thing. What’s equally consistent is the human animal’s hunger for stories, which is how “Prehistoric Planet” frames its examination of the various species: the gigantic Hoffman’s Mosasaurus of the sea; the relatively tiny but tenacious Dromaeosaurs of the poles (which are furry-feathery and look like penguin relatives); the Pterosaurs buzzing the desert landscapes; and the two-ton turtles that are feasted upon by the ubiquitous T-rex. The male, it should be mentioned, cares for the children. (The series, being aired on consecutive evenings, is divided into “Coasts,” “Deserts,” “Freshwater,” “Ice Worlds” and “Forests.”)

Mr. Attenborough often breezes through the names of the various reptiles as if we know, like him, what he’s talking about. With executive producers that include Jon Favreau and Michael Gunton, “Prehistoric Planet” has music by Hans Zimmer and an approach that mirrors the many other nature programs with which Mr. Attenborough has been associated.

The hook to most of these series (this one is by BBC Studios and Apple TV+) is that what we’re seeing has been “captured” in the wild, even if the circumstances are a bit tamer than they might always be presented. We’re meant to feel as if we’re getting a glimpse into a secret world attainable only through advanced technology and the most patient souls. What “Prehistoric Planet” gives us has been based on research, but has also been manufactured—the animals could be doing anything anywhere, including getting themselves into the dire situations from which the series-makers do, or do not, rescue them.

A scene from ‘Prehistoric Planet’PHOTO: APPLE TV+

The biggest compliment that might be paid to “Prehistoric Planet” is that a viewer won’t care in the least—he or she will be swept up by the Mesozoic melodrama, worrying about the plight of the river-crossing Hadrosaurs the way they worry about lion-harassed wildebeest on the savannah, or be tickled by the monstrous Mosasaur—like a hippo wallowing in the cooling mud of Africa—having something of a prehistoric spa day as reef fish pick clean its molting skin. Once you’ve researched and created these extraordinary creatures you have to give them something amusing to do. “Prehistoric Planet” does.

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