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WWD: TOTAL SPOILER



*****WARNING: DO NOT read this message if you would rather find 
out about WWD for yourselves: I am about to ruin the whole series 
for you.

I am in two minds about WWD. On the one hand, much of the 
animation is excellent, the creatures look really good, and people 
truly are inspired and excited by what they see. While there are a 
few genuine mistakes (surprisingly few actually), some things that 
don't look so good, and some things that are just plain silly [see 
below], there are some superbly animated creatures and some excellent 
and really clever scenes. A giant pterosaur gets mobbed by hoardes of 
little birds, hundreds of iguanodonts walk along a beach, churning 
up all the sand, a tyrannosaur forages for carcasses in a Virunga/
Yellowstone-style sulferous spring, and a _Eustreptospondylus_ runs 
through a foraging group of rhamphorhynchoids. The last episode - 
Death of a Dynasty - has a superb nighttime sequence where two 
dromaeosaurs try to separate a young _Torosaurus_ from its herd. The 
dromaeosaurs use psychological warfare - roaring in the dark (I guess 
they took this from a similar behaviour seen in leopards [the 
homotheres in Steve White's _Cat Nation_ use the same strategy on 
mammoths]) - to confuse the torosaurs and split up the herd. The 
dromaeosaurs seem to have been patterned so as to mimic 
hypsilophodonts, but this is not mentioned.

The iguanodonts that feature in episode IV - _Giants of the Skies_ - 
are absolutely excellent, in my view the best animals in the series. 
There are two species, an okapi-striped North American one, and a 
green and brown, larger, European one (_I. bernissartensis_ surely). 
The animals walk on all fours (notably, with the hands in the David 
Norman style and not in the 'palms inward' style suggested recently 
by Jo Wright (!) or Mette Rasmussen) but run, rear and fight 
bipedally - the power and robustness of their forelimbs is very well 
depicted. The flying and walking pterosaurs are excellent, the 
_Liopleurodon_ is utterly convincing (rostral caniniforms might be a 
bit too sharp though), and the rearing diplodocids are very nicely 
done indeed (the sauropods push down trees to get at ferns).

OTOH, as has been pointed out many times on this list and vrtpaleo, 
there are no caveats and there is no cautionary language. 
Extraordinarily detailed life histories, behaviours and ecologies are 
concocted for the animals as if they have been carefully worked out 
from the evidence. The cynodonts in episode I (_New Blood_) - the 
cynodonts are not named but I guess are meant to be _Thrinaxodon_ 
(episode I is set in the Chinle [main characters are _Placerias_, 
_Coelophysis_, _Postosuchus_ and cynodonts], there is also a herd of 
plateosaurs  at the very end) - are monogamous, nocturnal, lay a 
clutch of 3 eggs, suckle their young, and  eat the babies when 
stressed. I am guessing that laypeople might think that, 'Oh, OK, 
there must be some evidence for that in the form of xxxxxxx (e.g., 
fossil teats on a female cynodont), there must be evidence 
for that in the form of xxxxxxx (e.g., fossil cynodont with baby 
cynodont in stomach), etc etc etc'. No, all of these things 
(sauropods with retractable ovipositors, _Anurognathus_ as a sauropod 
'oxpecker' commensal, tapejarids as lek breeders, _Postosuchus_ as 
territorial, _Leallynasaura_ forming 'sleep heaps' during the cold, 
etc.) were speculations made up by the WWD team. That should have 
been made clear, and it wasn't.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF

Following the lack of cautionary language, the thing that annoys me 
most about the series is the noise. It seems that no animal can do 
anything without vocalizing about it: the creatures whizz, purr, 
churr, roar, grunt, bark, huff and groan to themselves, much as do 
the CGI dewbacks in Star Wars Special Addition, and most of the other 
animals in motion pictures for that matter (e.g. dogs in Hollywood 
films spent their entire screen time growling, whining and whimpering 
to themselves, much like senile humans). Fact is, most animals are 
quiet except when they don't want to be, and the growling and roaring 
of many of the animals - even when they are supposed to be hunting 
or are trying to be inconspicuous (e.g. the bathing _Peteinosaurus_ 
in episode I) - was a bit OTT. But then, hey, this is just my 
opinion and maybe the Mesozoic was a much noisier time:)

The _Peteinosaurus_, incidentally, uses very thinly disguised 
guineafowl calls and captures dragonflies. Given that the only 
extant animal I can think of that routinely catches dragonflies is 
the Hobby (_Falco subbuteo_), is it really likely that a primitive 
Triassic pterosaurs did the same?

The marsupial _Didelphodon_ - it plays the role of pesky little 
generalist scavenger in episode 6 - looks like a cross between a 
miniature panda and a jack russell terrier, and barks like a terrier 
too. The didelphodons were apparently based (as you'd guess) on 
Tasmanian devils, and scrap and growl much like that animal. But then 
they go and jump up into the air, which looks a bit silly, plus they 
run like clockwork toys.

Sorry, I don't like the tyrannosaurs one bit. The head shape of the 
WWD animals does not capture anything of the real _Tyrannosaurus_ and 
the midline ridge, preorbital, postorbital and jugal bosses of _T. 
rex_ skulls are not evident in the WWD animals. Also, the scales in 
the WWD animals are big and like those of croc skulls: this is not in 
keeping (AFAIK) with what we know of dinosaur skin (I am aware of two 
reports of tyrannosaur skin - from the _Nanotyrannus_ snout, and from 
a Canadian albertosaur/gorgosaur - I don't think either have been 
technically written up). The cryptoclidids in episode III have very 
peculiar eyes that don't look big enough. The _Anatotitan_ in episode 
VI have forelimbs that look way too robust, plus on the hand they 
have a large blunt digit I - is this because WWD cannibalized the 
iguanodons, or are they really suggesting that hadrosaurs had a 
relictual 'pad' for a thumb? 

The Maastrichtian world, incidentally, is depicted as rather 
desolate, polluted by volcanic materials, and with small pockets of 
dispersed greenery. The animals are generally lonely and detached 
from their conspecifics (we are told that the female tyrannosaur has 
to call for weeks before a mate comes along) and, coupled with the 
demise of the main character and then the impact of a COMET (yes, 
comet), the episode is quite depressing. I thought this approach was 
very interesting.

Some of the kill scenes - viz, where theropods dispatch other 
dinosaurs - are done in slow motion, much like cheetah vs. gazelle in 
many real documentaries. But this makes them look all too fast - much 
as I like my Bakkerian dinosaurs, I really think that _Allosaurus_ in 
episode II and the _Utahraptor_ in episode IV cover the ground far 
too quickly. The allosaur *leaps* onto the side of its diplodocid 
prey, falls off, tries to grab the head, gets toppled by the tail of 
another diplodocid. It gets up and is OK. Great stuff, it really 
looks good, but it might be a bit too vigorous. The utahraptors kill 
iguanodon by administering a throat bite... I don't think so.

THE SILLY STUFF

A few mistakes make me wonder exactly when in preproduction the WWD 
team consulted the experts. In episode I, a male _Postosuchus_ 
urinates all over the ground to mark the territory he has just taken 
over from the previously dominant female. Oh dear, this is basic 
biology gone wrong. Ammonites in episode III have an operculum and 
close it in self defence. You could defend this by saying that we 
know next to nothing about ammonite soft tissues and that live 
ammonites might have had a soft tissue operculum (in fact, the 
WWD book describes the operculum as a 'fleshy hood'). Of course, you 
could also say that they just got it plain wrong (and most 
palaeontologists that I've spoken to are saying just that).

Other things I find unlikely, but due to personal taste rather than 
conviction. The cryptoclidids bask and rest on land and also vocalize 
like seals - I thought all of this was silly. _Koolasuchus_, the 
giant temnospondyl that lurks in the streams and ponds of episode V 
(_Spirits of the Ice Forest_), is also able to drag itself around on 
land, which looks unlikely given the size of its limbs.

Some of the animals are the wrong size. All of the eustreptospondyls 
(there are about five of them in the third programme, _Cruel Seas_) 
are about 5 m long, whereas the only known and type specimen is 
probably juvenile/subadult: thus adult eustreptospondyls would be 
bigger. _Liopleurodon_ in the same episode is a ridiculous 25 m 
long.. yes, 25 m. Not even Dave Martill thinks they were that big 
(joke Dave:)). I think the WWD makers must have taken the maximum 
size, and then added about 20% (either that or they heard the 
measurement wrong). _Diplodocus_ reaches 40 m in episode 2 (_Time of 
the Titans_), but this is because they followed Kent Stevens' advice 
and regarded _Seismosaurus_ as a super large, old adult _Diplodocus_ 
(apparently this was the subject of Brian Curtice's thesis).

VERY VERY TRIVIAL STUFF

If like me you are a complete zoology nerd, there are lots of little 
details to look out or listen for. As mentioned above, there is lots 
and lots of vocalisation - I think all the animals reconstructed for 
the series make noises at some point and it is quite fun listening 
out to hear for the derivations. The didelphodons are fighting foxes, 
the iguanodons are bellowing alligators and there is even a bit when 
two young iguanodons do a sped up 'whinny-bark' of a plains zebra. 
Occasionally in the background you hear things like 6 o'clock 
cicadas. The pterosaurs generally call like puffins or guillemots - 
the giant ornithocheirids and the _Quetzalcoatlus_ (episode 6) have a 
weird gannet like 'gronk'. The _Ornithocheirus_ clacks its beak like 
a stork when displaying.

BTW, many of the animals do an awful lot of 'head shaking': rotating 
their heads about the long axis quickly, much as a dog does when 
shaking its fur. I can't help thinking WWD took this from the 
tyrannosaur in Lost World which also does this. The dinosaurs in WWD 
do it an awful lot. Again, though, this is me being unbelievably 
banal.

A few scenes use real, living animals, and when the subjects are 
dragonflies or damselflies, I can let them off. But in episode V a 
COATI - - yes, a coati - - stands in as a Cretaceous mammal. There is 
also stock footage of a live tuatara and a weta in the same episode. 

DARREN'S FINAL THOUGHT

My final verdict: a must see, with some excellent content. BUT 
there are some unlikely speculations that should have been pointed 
out as such (how, I don't know), and there are some plain silly 
things that they should have researched better. Take care of 
yourselves, and each other (see you at SVP).

DARREN NAISH 
PALAEOBIOLOGY RESEARCH GROUP
School of Earth, Environmental & Physical Sciences
UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH
Burnaby Building
Burnaby Road                           email: darren.naish@port.ac.uk
Portsmouth UK                          tel: 01703 446718
P01 3QL                               [COMING SOON: 
http://www.naish-zoology.com]