Saturday, August 23, 2008

Walking with Dinosaurs

I recently re-watched Walking with Dinosaurs. The Television series was made by the BBC and tells about dinosaurs in the style of a nature documentary. They used CGI and animatronics to recreate how they believe dinosaurs were. It is a pretty good series though generally I do not like CGI all that much. The main reason I dislike CGI is because the movements are quite often not fluidic, they are odd or unnatural. The CGI used in this television series was pretty good, unlike Beowulf. In that movie, some of the perspectives shown and odd movements creeped me out.

I like dinosaurs and have read several books on them over the years. I like to keep abreast of the newer theories. Some are quite interesting. Quite a bit of the series was actually on reptiles and some on mammals not dinosaurs. This makes sense since dinosaurs lived with other creatures as well. The thing is since it is a series on dinosaurs, I wouldn't have expected that the primary focus of a couple episodes was on reptiles and not on dinosaurs. The episode about the sea and the episode on flying reptiles. Those are creatures that lived during the time of the dinosaurs but were not actually dinosaurs. They were reptiles. While dinosaurs evolved from reptiles they are usually considered a separate class of creatures. At least since the 1970's, before that dinosaurs were considered to just be reptiles. Those episodes weren't bad but I would have expected them to stick to telling about the dinosaurs and talk about the other creatures of that time period more in passing.

Though walking with dinosaurs is a very good series, it has become dated some of the information told in the film is no longer the most accepted theories. As we dig up more specimens and learn more about the dinosaurs our understanding of them changes. An example from the series is: It mentions that birds unlike raptors have developed feathers instead of scales. Newer findings show that at least some raptors had feathers. They found fossils of raptors that had feathers. At another point they mention that Brachiosaurus was the largest land animal to exist or will ever exist. Since the series was made several fossils have been found showing evidence of even larger sauropods.

The series makes many assumptions, extrapolations, and guesses using the prevalent theories. Many things about dinosaurs are under debate. As more specimens are found and our knowledge grows it is likely that at least some of these assumptions will be no longer the most accepted theories. Dinosaurs of popular culture, e.g. movies do not always follow the prevalent theories so many people have an inaccurate view on them. If you had seen Jurassic Park there is a scene with the Tyrannosaurus unable to see the people because they stand still. It is not the prevalent theory nowadays, in that no one believes that - What is known of Tyrannosaurus rex brains, they likely had very keen vision, it's facial structure had adapted to allow it binocular vision and allow it to see "over" its snout like a wolf does. These are not the kinds of adaptations you expect to see in animals with poor, movement-based vision. Though judging by other factors sight was not it's strongest sense, it's sense of smell was likely better, to a significant degree, than it's sight.

There is an episode about antarctic dinosaurs. They make a lot of guess and extrapolations about them, more so than most of the other dinosaurs. Very few antarctic dinosaurs have been dug up only about 8 species have been found in Antarctica. The reason for this is because Antarctica is covered by ice and is extremely hard to dig/live in. Most of what is known about those dinosaurs is guess work. They are judging the behavior based on other dinosaurs habits (similar type dinosaurs with more fossil remains than are known for that particular dinosaur) and are assuming since they are physically similar their behavior will be similar. It might or might be. We do not know and are unlikely to ever known with complete certainty. We don't even know about the behavior of all the living animals in the world today and the behavior of much more recent creatures than dinosaurs (last few million years). A lot of the animals alive do things for reasons that we do not know or at least do not completely understand.

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