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Walking with Dinosaurs – Movie Review

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Walking with Dinosaurs – Movie Review

Rating: D (Very Bad)

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Watching Walking with Dinosaurs, it’s easy to be reminded how some companies think children need to be pandered towards and it’s that mindset that leads to lesser quality products that completely undermine them. The elements are there for a wondrous movie that takes viewers of any age to the world of dinosaurs, that can be both educational and fun. It is obvious that directors Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale planned to create a special film that would excite anybody with an admiration for those creatures that walked on Earth million of years ago. However, somebody on the higher executive ranks seemed to think children would not be able to sit still for a film simply showing dinosaurs migrating and surviving. The result is a movie that panders so much, without realising that people of all ages love dinosaurs, whether they are talking or not. If people wanted to watch a sitcom with dinosaurs, Jim Henson already created a pretty good one with more wit and intelligence than the insipid dialogue presented in Walking with Dinosaurs.

It should be noted that the original BBC documentary series that this film borrows its name from is very good. It was a clever idea to present a nature show with prehistoric animals inserted via computer animation and Kenneth Branagh’s narration is a compliment to those majestic beasts, without detracting their power. Walking with Dinosaurs looks like the filmmakers wanted to go in that direction, but the decision to give the title creatures dialogue looks like a last-minute idea and it’s a half-realised one at that. The voice-over that plays over the scenes is aimed at the lowest-common denominator and mainly consists of tired jokes. If you thought one joke about extinction wasn’t funny, be prepared for five more through the almost ninety-minute running time. The material the voice actors are given range from sitcom-caliber humour to jokes that would not even find their way onto candy wrappers. The characters do not stop yapping for even a minute and it gets irritating very quickly. Scenes meant to leave an emotional impact are not allowed to sink in, because the dinosaurs start talking like Full House cast members a few seconds later. Even the rare educational interludes feel the need to talk down to the audience by annoyingly reading out the dinosaur introductions and wasting a good portion of a lesson on Gorgosaurus anatomy making fun of their small arms.

The framing device that bookends the film is as jarring as the added voice-over. The opening spends time giving back story to characters the audience will only see for about two minutes and it’s the fairly cliché story of a teenager losing passion for the very subject he will love again by movie’s end. Karl Urban’s talents are particularly wasted as the boy’s paleontologist uncle, though he probably didn’t have to travel too far from his home to participate in the filming. The transition is odd and disjointed as the John Leguizamo-voiced bird begins speaking telepathically to the teenager, who doesn’t react befuddled in the slightest. The way this sequence is written and how it awkwardly jumps directly to prehistoric times makes it look as slapped together as the annoying voice-overs.

What is especially bothersome about the low-quality dialogue is how it contrasts with the stunning animation. The team behind Walking with Dinosaurs have gone to great care to portray the dinosaurs as historically accurate as possible and the way they move is fantastically handled and quite stunning. The real-life photography, shot in Alaska and New Zealand, is beautiful and succeed in transporting the viewer back to the Late Cretaceous Period. Care has certainly been taken in making the dinosaurs fit into the real surroundings, so when the characters actually stop narrating, it’s easy to admire the hard work put into Walking with Dinosaurs. Those few minutes where Cook and Nightingale’s original intentions are allowed to be fulfilled are such a breath of fresh air. However, that only makes it more sad and irritating when the soundtrack returns to Justin Long joking about feces. It’s amazing how much a misplaced vocal track can take one out of a movie.

Walking with Dinosaurs is not the first silent dinosaur film to gave words to the animals due to executive worries. However, Dinosaur and The Land Before Time had the advantage of being more narrative tales, the plan to add dialogue was decided in pre-production and the final cuts knew when to let the visuals tell the story. Walking with Dinosaurs does not have that luxury and the result is an educational nature documentary desperately trying to break out of a pandering children’s film. It is rare to come across a movie that has one major flaw that ultimately derides the entire product and this is sadly one of those cases. When it hits Blu-Ray, a simple tap of the mute button and the additional purchase of James Newton Howard’s musical orchestration for Disney’s Dinosaur will easily transform Walking with Dinosaurs into a watchable and exciting picture. The version currently playing on cinema screens is an embarrassing display of what happens when studio executives underestimate the potential demographic.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

THE SCENE


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