The title notwithstanding, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about “Dinosaur Revolution,” which lustily attacks everybody’s favorite extinct beasts with for-the-most-part impressive CGI effects and a cheeky storytelling approach that owes a sly debt to the old Disney nature films. Produced with limited narration and talking heads, the filmmakers anthropomorphize the dinosaurs in what amount to mini-vignettes, a conceit that works fitfully, and improves in subsequent hours. Even with its flaws, given the enduring fascination with the subject matter, the results ought to exhibit considerable dino-might for Discovery.
In a way, “Revolution” owes as much to “Fantasia” as it does to “Walking With Dinosaurs,” its most obvious ancestor. The main innovation here is trying to infuse individual dinos with a touch of personality, or at least get you mildly invested in their fates.
As for the “Revolution” part, it’s really just a fancy way of saying we continue to learn surprising new things about the way dinosaurs lived (nurturing young, hunting in groups), and that far from an evolutionary dead end, their legacy continues within innumerable avian species.
Effectively using realistic backgrounds behind the animated beasts, the first hour of this four-part program (airing back-to-back installments on successive Sundays) promises “startling new conclusions” about how dinosaurs lived, but delivers relatively little.
Fortunately, producer/writer/co-director Erik Nelson and his team hit their stride in a second hour devoted to life around the watering hole — where, much like modern Africa, the circle-of-life means predators hunt the plant-eating herds, with survival on the line. The most crowd-pleasing hour is probably a final installment highlighting everyone’s favorite monster, Tyrannosaurus Rex, along with the meteor strike that eradicated dinosaurs. (Admittedly, that last aspect’s kind of a downer and probably not terrific for young kids, feeling a bit too much like a big, scaly version of “The Road.”)
To their credit, the producers don’t sugarcoat the delivery, and challenge the audience to follow along by telling these stories visually (with periodic dollops of blood as limbs and heads get munched), as opposed to relying on the narrator or scientists to spell out every little detail.
Still, the most dramatic and comedic flourishes within the vignettes tend to take viewers out of the nature motif a bit by occupying an awkward place between animated “characters” and documentary that, pardon the expression, is neither fish nor fowl.
That disclaimer notwithstanding, even dinosaur aficionados will probably learn a few things, and there are enough solid moments of action to keep the program entertaining. Moreover, unlike Fox’s upcoming drama “Terra Nova,” there are no annoying teenagers in this world. (As a footnote, it’s also nice to see anything scheduled during this window not related to the Sept. 11 anniversary.)
Seeking to differentiate itself, Discovery has upped its ambitions in recent years with documentaries like “Life” and “Planet Earth.” Even if “Dinosaur Revolution” doesn’t quite rise to that level, it’s a creditable stab at offering viewers a taste of life on a prehistoric planet.