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Re: Dinotasia article in Sunday Times

Hmmm... my words have been a bit twisted here. I never said 'most
dinosaurs were herbivores', for one thing. And I said Triceratops may
have been more cantankerous than we imagine (you know, the 'herbivores
are gentle and peaceful animals' illogic), but I didn't say it was the
most dangerous dinosaur _ever_. Oh well, that's the media for you...

One thing they did get right, though, is my opinion on the dinosaur
reconstructions in Dinosaur Revolution/Dinotasia. Say what you like
about the programme, but the animals look _amazing_. David, and everyone
else who worked on the show, you did a fantastic job. If I need to show
people what dinosaurs look like nowadays, stills of this show are my
first port of call. 

Also, glad to see that we're getting a British release of this in its
intended (i.e. Age of Reptiles: the Movie) format. Unsurprisingly, the
local multiplex doesn't have it in its listings (presumably because it
doesn't feature any superheroes or aliens), but fingers crossed that
other chains and independent theatres will give it a run. 



Dr. Mark Witton
Palaeobiology Research Group
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Portsmouth
Burnaby Building
Burnaby Road

Tel: (44)2392 842418
E-mail: Mark.Witton@port.ac.uk 

If pterosaurs are your thing, be sure to pop by:

- Pterosaur.Net: www.pterosaur.net 
- The Pterosaur.Net blog: http://pterosaur-net.blogspot.com/ 
- My pterosaur artwork: www.flickr.com/photos/markwitton 

>>> David Krentz <ddkrentz@charter.net> 22/04/2012 19:21 >>>
Theres a nice piece on the feature film Dinotasia in the Sunday Times
in the UK.  I think you need a subscription (to the website), but just
in case here is the text.

>>>It was the triceratops that hooked me. First, though, I hated T rex.
The picture in my book showed a tyrannosaurus in a full tooth-and-claw
attacking frenzy on a hapless brontosaurus, in livid colour. The T
rex’s hind legs ripped across the docile vegosaur’s back, and its
teeth closed around the waving neck, with every muscle on both beasts
marked out in sharp, almost pornographic detail. This was primary
school, so I hadn’t encountered that many pictures of battles to the
death. It terrified and fascinated me.

After that, I was snared, riffling through books in search of vicious
battles until I found a picture, and eventually made an Airfix model, of
a sturdy, determined tricera-tops facing a T rex charge, sitting
patiently behind its horns like Roman legionaries settling their shields
against Hannibal’s elephants. Dinosaurs, I thought, what’s not to

Since we first stumbled across giant fossilised bones, the vast beasts
have proved a cultural obsession to rank alongside Nazis, sharks and the
Titanic. Last year’s BBC epic Planet Dinosaur started just as Pixar
announced it was making a 3D dinosaur movie and Spielberg kicked off
work on Jurassic Park 4. This year, there’s the cheesy David’s
Dinosaur — a child finds a dinosaur egg in his grandad’s basement as
the audience fall asleep — and there’s Werner Herzog narrating
Dino-tasia, an animated documentary out this month.

It’s hard to explain the curious effect that the German director’s
rasping vocals have over hyper--realistic footage of well-loved dinosaur
favourites tearing each other’s arms off, scrapping for survival with
twisted, broken jaws and staring in mute beast incomprehension as giant
rocks hurtle to earth to seal their doom. This is The Sopranos let loose
in the Mesozoic era, and it’s a bit like hearing Rutger Hauer intoning
his final Blade Runner speech over footage of Goofy emptying an AK-47
into Mickey and Pluto.

“Death will usher in life again,” Herzog rasps towards the end, as
clouds race across a derelict planet. “And our life, too, is complex
and fragile. We too might disappear.” A little on the hardcore side,
Mr Herzog?

“Most o
f the time, you see dinosaur movies written for
eight-year-olds — with a neat moral or a happy ending.” The enfant
terrible of New German Cinema chuckles at my British accent. “But this
film is to Walking with Dinosaurs what The Wire was to Z-Cars. Look, I
have a certain voice and a certain reputation. If I’m the voice-over,
then I’m speaking almost as God — and I fit much better as a
villain. So my voice of God is never going to comfort you.”

Herzog’s recent documentary career has tended towards the grimly
realistic or darkly fantastic. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a slightly
hallucinogenic 3D piece about cave paintings in southern France; Grizzly
Man tells the story of a bear enthusiast who gets eaten by bears; Into
the Abyss profiles a convict on death row. A speculative “factual”
like Dinotasia seems a logical step, but he got involved almost by
accident. “My longtime collaborator Erik Nelson was working on a TV
programme with this footage for the Discovery Channel,” he says,
somehow sounding faintly threatening even when relaying a few simple
facts. “I was in his office watching footage and said, ‘You know
what? This should be a movie.’”

Nelson agrees demurely. “He actually said that on stage at Comic-Con,
in front of a huge audience,” he explains. “So I said, if I do that,
will you supply the voice-over? You know, people talk a lot about all
sorts of things that Werner does, but they never talk about how he
mentors people like me. You know that story about him eating his shoe?
Well, he did that as a bet with the director Errol Morris — ‘If you
ever finish your movie, I will eat my shoe’ — but he did it to
encourage him.”

As Herzog is the kind of man who can be shot in the stomach during a
filmed interview with Mark Kermode and carry on, saying, “It is not a
significant bullet”, I suspect I’d be motivated if he simply growled
“Hurry up and finish your damned movie”. But he shook on it with
Nelson, and Dinotasia is the result. “We both love Fantasia,” Herzog
says, in possibly the least likely quote of the decade. “This is
Disney meets art-house documentary meets Werner Herzog, but it’s about
dinosaurs — I have no idea if it’s going to work for everyone, but
it really works for me.”

All the stories in Dinotasia are inspired by fossil evidence, something
Nelson used in the pitch to Discovery that won him the contract to
produce the TV version, beating the team behind Walking with Dinosaurs.
Like the dinosaur subplot in Fantasia, Disney’s trippy 1940s mashup of
visuals and classical music, little scenes of dinosaur life tell tales
taken from specific fossil finds. The death of an allosaurus gravely
injured as a juvenile is based on a Jurassic fossil in the Smithsonian
with the same healed jaw injuries as those on screen. A T rex with a
missing arm prompted a violent on-screen T rex tear-up in the film,
while the buddy story of two protoceratops comes from fossil boneyards
of the Gobi Desert, which provided a detailed tableau of their Upper
Cretaceous battle with a veloci-raptor. Perhaps most bizarre, the sight
of a monstrous frog picking off baby dinosaurs with its foot-long tongue
is based on fossil evidence of beelzebufo, a dino-eating frog preserved
with the remains of a carnivorous theropod inside its stomach.

The film-makers worked with the palaeontologist Thomas Holtz on the
anatomy of the creatures, which means the appearance of T rex babies
covered in feathers chimes with current scientific thinking. “There
are about two people on the planet who don’t believe birds are
dinosaurs,” says Dr Mark Witton, a lecturer at the University of
Ports-mouth who has consulted on various dinosaur series. “A seagull
is a dinosaur, a hummingbird is a dinosaur. I think the depiction in
Dinotasia is probably the closest I’ve seen to what we think dinosaurs
really looked like — it’s the best yet.

“The one thing I would point out is that, like all wildlife
documentaries, the
y have focused on the gory stuff. In reality, most
dinosaurs were herbivores, and the T rex probably slept 22 hours a day.
If we did go back in a time machine, we wouldn’t find much going on,
and they almost certainly wouldn’t chase after tiny morsels like

Then he drops the bombshell. “The one creature I’d hate to meet is
triceratops. We think they’re the good guys, but they were probably
the most bad-tempered, ag-gressive dinosaurs ever. Imagine them as a
giant herd of constantly rutting stags, battling each other and anything
that comes near.” So the T rex was mainly asleep and my triceratops
was a nightmare. This is what you get if you let Werner Herzog near a
dinosaur doc. Just don’t let him loose on sharks.

Dinotasia is out on May 4<<<