I wanted to like Dinosaur Revolution. Despite a few clunky dinosaurs and some ludicrously over-the-top set pieces, I quite liked the idea of a Mesozoic journey in which the show’s prehistoric creatures were left to play out their stories on their own terms. The show as originally conceived—as a silent epic with a separate, accompanying show about the science behind the drama—sounded like a promising new direction for a documentary subgenre dominated by Walking With Dinosaurs wannabes. That version of Dinosaur Revolution never aired. Late in the show’s production, Dinosaur Revolution was transformed into a more traditional show, sprinkled by annoying narration and talking heads.
But now the constantly scrapping stars of Dinosaur Revolution are being given a new life in movie theaters. The program’s virtual prehistoric world has been re-cut into a feature film dubbed Dinotasia, narrated by Werner Herzog and set to premiere this spring. The new cut looks closer in sentiment to what Dinosaur Revolution was meant to be.
Herzog, known for exploring the dark and dramatic, casts the age of dinosaurs as a time when monsters were real. And he is present to guide viewers. According to a piece about Dinotasia published this week in The Times, Herzog gravitates toward the shockingly violent nature of dinosaurs. “If I’m the voiceover, 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 said. The amount of dinosaur gore in the trailer alone underscores the point that the film is not a tamed image of prehistoric lives meant for kids. Dinotasia is a celebration of destructive dinosaurian power.
Exquisitely rendered Jurassic ultraviolence isn’t a new thing. Even before the name “dinosaur” was coined, paleontologists imagined the fantastic battles between Megalosaurus and Iguanodon. The early 19th century artist John Martin, who specialized in painting apocalyptic biblical scenes, created a vision of the two creatures as intertwined wyverns clawing at each other in a primeval jungle in an 1837 mezzotint called “The Country of the Iguanodon.” More recently, Disney’s Fantasia reveled in the brutality of Mesozoic life. A grotesque Tyrannosaurus kills an anachronistic Stegosaurus to survive, but ultimately, all the dinosaurs turn into piles of bleached bones in an intense global drought. Fantasia was not as outright bloody as Dinotasia, but both exploit our fascination with dinosaur destruction and death.
In truth, we have made dinosaurs too violent. The Age of Dinosaurs was not simply a world of eat or be eaten, just as lions are not constantly tearing at their herbivorous neighbors on the African savanna. Blood and guts are simply the staples of nature documentaries, and the same goes for shows about prehistoric creatures. We have a persistent habit of bringing dinosaurs to life only to have them destroy each other. That will never change. From the time of John Martin’s paintings to Dinotasia and whatever comes next, we will undoubtedly remain obsessed with how dinosaurs employed their formidable arsenal of jaws, horns, spikes and claws.