also Walking With Monsters : Complete BBC Series £4.49
Walking with Dinosaurs, which must have surprised even its makers by reaching the viewing figures usually reserved for royal weddings, was the undoubted television event of 1999. (The companion book and soundtrack album became bestsellers, too.) Extending the computer animation techniques developed for Jurassic Park (1993) these six 30-minute programmes, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, became the first blockbuster special-effects documentary. Here was natural history with a difference, recreating "the lost world" of the Cretaceous and Mesozoic with modern technology, the remarkable visuals enabling the programme-makers to show what life may have been like during the estimated 160 million years "when dinosaurs ruled the Earth".
As well as the dinosaurs, the series investigates the plants, insects, climate and geography of the distant past, and considers the mystery of why the creatures became extinct so suddenly. There has been some argument over how much is scientific fact, and how much is entertaining speculation--after all, Life on Earth (1978) and The Living Planet (1984) had the advantage of living subjects to film--but for the moment this series must stand as the definitive visual chronicle of the life and times of the fascinating "terrible lizards". A year later the BBC followed this with the surprisingly sympathetic The Ballad of Big Al (about a youthful Allosaurus), before the equally ambitious, and equally enthralling Walking with Beasts (2001).
On the DVD: Those interested in special effects techniques will appreciate the inclusion of a 50-minute "making of" documentary (which is also on the VHS). There's also an informative director's commentary, plus some behind-the-scenes picture sequences and additional graphics. The sound is vivid Dolby stereo and the picture is anamorphic 16:9 widescreen.--Gary S Dalkin