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Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie(2013)
Action, adventure, documentary feature, based on the 1999 BBC documentary series, which projects computer-animated dinosaurs into live action settings to tell the story of a young Pachyrhinosaurus. Patchi and his siblings Scowler and Juniper are born into the dangerous world of the Cretaceous period, where predators such as Gorgon the Gorgosaurus would be only too happy to make a meal of them. Can Patchi make it to adulthood and overcome the many hurdles required to become herd leader?
For more about Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie and the Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray release, see Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 25, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Charlie Rowe, Karl Urban, Angourie Rice, John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Skyler Stone
Directors: Barry Cook, Neil Nightingale
» See full cast & crew
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray Review
Stumbling is more like it.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 25, 2014
It's probably just an unfortunate coincidence that Karl Urban, the actor playing "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, plays a paleontologist in bookending sequences that surround the main story in Walking With Dinosaurs. "Bones" McCoy might have made one of his infamous "he's dead, Jim" (or perhaps more appropriately "it's dead, Jim") pronouncements about this visually spectacular but relentlessly dunderheaded film which combines CGI dinosaurs (and other primeval beasts) with live action backgrounds. Walking With Dinosaurs began life as a 1999 documentary series produced by the BBC and narrated by Kenneth Branagh (I have a vague recollection of having actually reviewed the series back in the DVD era for another site, but I can't find evidence of that particular fossil). The television series was made at the relative dawn of the CGI era, and so suffered somewhat from some rendering issues which hobbled an otherwise laudable, and at times incredibly informative, look at our prehistoric nemeses. Technology has of course advanced by leaps and bounds since the late nineties, but unfortunately you can't force screenwriters to similarly up their technique, and Walking With Dinosaurs is about as rote as you can get from a storytelling perspective. Even worse, evidently after some early test screenings put the fear of God (and/or low box office receipts) into Fox executives, the film was retooled, omitting what was planned to be a largely purely visual experience (with some occasional narration) into a voiceover filled carnival for actors like John Leguizamo. The executives may have thought that having the various characters "speak" would help the film's accessibility, especially for younger audiences, and yet these same bean counters wouldn't spring for additional animation to actually have the characters' mouths move, and so we get what is in essence a "narrated" film that simply features lots of different narrators, all evidently telepathically communicating with each other.
The opening sequence features Urban as paleontologist Zack, who is bringing his nephew and niece to a dig site in the wilds of Alaska, though only his niece seems excited by the prospect. When they arrive at a trailhead, Zack and the girl take off while the teenaged boy stays behind, at which point a talking (well—there's talking, but no lip movement) crow arrives to get the kid interested in prehistoric times. The crow morphs into a primeval bird named Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo), who then introduces the audience to the main thrust of the story.
Alex's best buddy turns out to be a young dinosaur named Patchi (Justin Long), the runt in a litter of Pachyrhinosauruses (some of the character names are "cutesy" shorthand for their species). Patchi is regularly picked on by his Alpha male big brother Scowler, but that doesn't diminish Patchi's enthusiastic attempts to explore the world beyond his nest. That pioneer spirit actually ends up getting him in trouble right off the bat, including being attacked by a kind of weird ostrich looking creature that ends up ripping a hole in Patchi's cartilaginous "mane" that gives him a distinctive "see through" appearance. Patchi also ends up getting pooped on by a huge dinosaur, a sad situation which some older viewers may feel like they're sharing, figuratively at least.
Patchi soon develops a crush on another Pachyrhinosaurus named Juniper (Tiya Sircar), though she belongs to another herd and soon migrates south, seeming to put her out of her would be boyfriend's reach. Patchi's father, who is the leader of Patchi's herd, decides that moving south is also a good idea, but tragedy soon strikes, leaving Patchi and Scowler to fend for themselves. There's at least a bit of a silver lining when Patchi is soon reunited with Juniper, but a selfish decision on the part of Scowler temporarily puts Patchi and Juniper in danger. Much later, another selfish decision on the part of Scowler would seem to threaten what Patchi has always felt was his destiny to settle down with Juniper.
Walking With Dinosaurs ticks off virtually every expected box that this type of "family adventure film" tends to offer. There's the occasional gross out humor, as evidenced by the poop sequence, the devastating death of the parents (if that's considered a spoiler, sorry, but it's so completely predictable I can't get too worked up about it), the sibling rivalry that ends up with the underdog (or underdinosaur, as the case may be) triumphing in the end, and the occasional misadventure that act mostly as sidebars. Aside from the aforementioned high parental mortality rate, Walking With Dinosaurs also mimics Disney's iconic Bambi in one other central way, by positing a raging forest fire as a major set piece.
While Walking With Dinosaurs is relentlessly formulaic in just about every imaginable way, it also does something a bit strange in terms of an ostensibly narrative film, indulging in a technique that harkens back to its television source elements: whenever a new dinosaur wanders onto the screen, the action stops—as in literally stops, with freeze frames—at which point the beast is labeled and its eating habits are described (as in whether it's a carnivore, herbivore or omnivore). At certain junctures, even more ancillary information is imparted, like how much an individual species would tower over a human. It automatically creates a lurching feeling with regard to the already precarious dramatic momentum the film struggles to achieve. It's certainly laudable that educational information is being imparted, but it's done in an extremely clunky manner this way.
What rescues Walking With Dinosaurs at least somewhat, and what will probably recommend the film to families with younger, dinosaur obsessed, children is the film's stunning visuals. The CGI here is really well done, with excellent characterization and good attention to detail. The integration with the live action backgrounds is also handled artistically, ably recreating an antediluvian world that often seems unexpectedly real. Unfortunately there's no actual story here to support the visuals, but at least receptive tots may learn a bit about Greek roots as they're introduced to various genii and species throughout the film.
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray, Video Quality
Walking With Dinosaurs is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1. Whatever the dramatic failings of this retooled version (see our Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie 3D Blu-ray review for information on the "original" cut of the film, which is available on that edition as a supplement), there's not much to complain about with regard to the film's high definition presentation. Colors are bright, bold and vividly saturated, and the CGI offers some exceptionally well done detail. The live action footage is seamlessly blended with the animation, and several of the outdoor vistas offer superb depth of field. The overall image is sharp and precise, though there are a couple of very minor stability issues when the camera pans across some landscapes.
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Walking With Dinosaurs' lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is fantastic as far as the film's foley effects and score are concerned, though somewhat less so with regard to what often seems like slathered on voiceovers. Several key sequences, including some dino on dino battles as well as the aforementioned forest fire, feature superb immersion and surround activity as well as some very effective LFE. Dialogue is always cleanly presented, and is occasionally fairly directional as well, but considering none of the creatures' mouths ever move, it just seems ridiculous after a while. Fidelity is top notch however, and dynamic range is extremely wide.
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Had Walking With Dinosaurs been allowed to debut without the added voice work, it would have been a much more effective piece, as the "Cretaceous Cut" included on the 3D edition more than proves. What's here is visually spectacular, but the pasted on story via the "dialogue" actually detracts from some relatively solid, if patently derivative, storytelling. The technical merits of this Blu-ray are top notch, so fans of the film can purchase with confidence, and dinosaur aficionados with smaller children may want to check this out as well. Get the 3D edition in any case—the included "Cretaceous Cut" is a significant bonus, and the 3D version has included 2D versions anyway, so even if your home theater setup isn't 3D compatible, you'll be fine.
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