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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 4/17/01



Allosaurus:
A Walking with Dinosaurs Special
2000 (2001) - BBC/The Discovery Channel (Warner Bros.)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B-

Specs and Features

58 mins (2 episodes - approx 29 mins each), NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, custom slipcase packaging, "running storyboards" for one scene, production photo gallery, DVD-ROM features ("sampler" of Walking with Dinosaurs CD-ROM materials, including dino sounds, 8 video files, screensavers, wallpaper, cursors and icons), animated film-themed menus with sound effects, scene access (6 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

A year ago, the BBC and The Discovery Channel debuted the 6-episode miniseries, Walking with Dinosaurs. The highly-acclaimed series dazzled audiences with realistic depictions of dinosaurs doing their thing. This was no T-Rex stunt casting of the Jurassic Park ilk - these were dinos eating, sleeping, swimming, flying, fighting, migrating... you name it. In short, the series presented us with a virtual slice of daily dinosaur life. And now, the BBC and Discovery are at it again, with Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special.

Rather than cover another entire epoc of dino time, this 2-episode follow-up to the original miniseries narrows its focus. The first 30-minute episode, Allosaurus (also known as The Ballad of Big Al), tells the life story of an individual carnivorous Allosaurus, from its start as a tiny hatchling to its eventual death resulting from injury and starvation. Featuring the same dramatic, near-feature film quality CGI animation as the original series, we watch as the tiny dinosaur strikes out on its own, learns to hunt its prey and endures plenty of lumps, bumps and other misadventures over the course of its 7 year life. The best sequence features a group of Allosaurs diving into a herd of giant Diplodocus to isolate a weak individual - a classic pack hunting technique still used by predators today.

The second half-hour episode, Big Al Uncovered, tells us the story behind the story. It seems that, in 1991, one of the most complete dinosaur skeletons ever found was unearthed in the Badlands of Wyoming. That skeleton, an almost fully-grown Allosaur (quickly nicknamed "Big Al"), was unique in that its fossilized bones chronicled an amazing series of injuries. By studying the fossils and the injuries (using forensic and other techniques), scientists were able to make surprisingly detailed assertions about the life and death of the creature. Together, the 2 episodes greatly illustrate the process by which experts are unraveling the puzzles of the prehistoric world. And now they're both available on DVD from Warner Home Video, which has obtained the U.S. home video license to BBC properties originally held by Fox.

Once again, the video looks terrific, in full anamorphic widescreen on DVD. Clarity and fine detail are generally excellent, with good contrast and deep, detailed blacks. As with the first release, the color here is stunning and accurate at all times. There's a little bit of digital artifacting and some light edge enhancement, but it's never distracting. The audio is equally good, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. The narration (once again by actor Kenneth Branagh) is crisp and clear, and all those nifty dino screams, grunts, snorts and stomps all come across with good bass and nice ambience. The musical score is effectively woven into the mix, and fans of the original series will quickly recognize the Walking with Dinosaurs theme and motif.

Extras here are a bit lighter than on the original series' DVD, but what you do get is nice to have. There's a gallery of some 50+ production photos, which detail the making of this special and provide some material on the original series as well (including individual dinosaur shots). There's a "running storyboard" sequence, which features the Allosaurs attack on the Diplodocus herd - the storyboard drawings are presented in one corner of the image in a sort of "picture-in-picture" manner. And rounding out the extras is a DVD-ROM sampler of materials you'll find on the Walking with Dinosaurs CD-ROM. Among the items you'll find are dino sounds, video files, screensavers, wallpaper, cursors and icons. For an hour-long special, that's not a bad assortment of bonus material.

Walking with Dinosaurs was one of the coolest things I've ever seen on The Discovery Channel, and it became a wonderful and surprising DVD release. Allosaurus is a very nice follow-up. Think of the 2 episodes on this disc as the 7th and 8th episodes of the Walking with Dinosaurs series, and you've got the right idea. And, thankfully, there's more to come... the series' producers are even now working on Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, coming to The Discovery Channel in December 2001. I'll definitely be there. But in the meantime, Big Al on DVD is highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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