National Geographic Television gives Discovery Channel a run for the money in the nature-doc department with this splashy, thoroughly entertaining look at a 110 million-year-old crocodile.

What’s bigger and badder than a flesh-eating dinosaur? The 40-foot-long SuperCroc that ate them for dinner.

National Geographic Television gives Discovery Channel a run for the money in the nature-doc department with this splashy, thoroughly entertaining look at a 110 million-year-old crocodile.

Writer Simon Boyce and a host of skilled cameramen explore the implications of finding an ancient super-sized crocodile, as well as the backbreaking work it takes to go from a pile of bones in the deserts of Niger, Africa, to a full-scale model of Sarcosuchus imperator, or SuperCroc, for display around the globe.

It’s obvious from actor Sam Neill’s tantalizing narration and the action shots of scientist wrestling with ‘gators that the network reality TV sensibility has invaded even the far reaches of nature documentaries. Once the staid territory of the likes of Marlin Perkins, “SuperCroc” owes more to “Road Rules” and “Crocodile Hunter” than “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

That sort of splashy excitement, combined with solid “edutainment,” makes for a fascinating two hours.

Docu follows paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno as he makes the biggest find of his career, the 6-foot long skull of an ancient crocodile. In the 120-degree heat of the Sahara Desert, the crew unearths the skull with the hopes of returning the bones to Sereno’s lab in Chicago and eventually reconstructing a life-size model of the beast.

With only a skull in hand, Sereno tries to re-create SuperCroc’s ancient anatomy by studying today’s living reptiles. He joins forces with Dr. Brady Barr, an expert on modern crocodilian species. Together, they travel the globe from Costa Rica to Australia, India and even Gatorland in Florida to determine the size and habits of their prehistoric crocodile.

Along the way, significant discoveries are made. The scientists learn there is a direct correlation between skull and body size as well as a correlation between body weight and bite force. Big, modern-day crocs have an astounding bite force of 860 pounds, exceeding even that of a great white shark.

Through these calculations, it is determined that SuperCroc was approximately 40 feet long, weighed 10 tons and had a bite force of about 18,000 pounds — easily enough to take down a dinosaur.

As far as TV entertainment goes, “SuperCroc” runs the gamut from intellectual intrigue to action-adventure. Sereno and Barr are a new breed of scientific superhero literally wrestling crocodiles one minute and calculating bone density the next. Together, the two are quite an entertaining pair.

Sereno is the cutest paleontologist on primetime since Ross Gellar, while Barr, no stranger to jumping on a croc’s back, rivals “Crocodile” Dundee for bravado.

Docu offers a complete tutorial about crocodiles, showing witness not only the evolution of the crocodile, but also how the life-size replica is created in various parts by technicians and artisans all over the country.

Tech credits are top notch, with a big crew capturing not only the excitement but some beautiful scenery as well. The computer animation may prove a bit of a disappointment to audiences used to the eye-popping artistry of the latest theatrical releases, but it works well in this context.


Docu; National Geographic Channel, Sun., Dec. 9, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in various locations by National Geographic Television. Executive producer, David Royale; producer-writer, Simon Boyce.

Crew: Camera, West Ashton, Bruce Bernstein, Eric Cochran, David Goulding, David Linstrom; editor, Christine Jameson Henry; music, Lenny Williams; sound, Jeremy Ashton, Brian Buckley, Juan Caldera, Nandha Kumar, Vincent Nuccio, Dave Ruddick. Narrator, Sam Neill. 2 HOURS.

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