I went to see this today, because Walking With Dinosaurs. It is both good and awful.
The awful comes first, because it really is important that you know about it before considering watching this movie (I did and took my chances).
Like many wildlife films, Walking With Dinosaurs sets up some of the animals as characters to follow through the movie. The awful bit is, it gives them voices. Actually no, the really awful bit is that the script for those voices is straight out of a bad Saturday morning cartoon. There are two American kid brothers growing up (pachyrhinosaurs). One is stronger but a bit less bright than the other – the underdog’s the hero of course – and there’s a girl pachyrhinosaurus who becomes a love interest. Then there’s a wise-cracking Mexican bird (John Leguizamo – perhaps he’s fed up with being a sloth). There’s no attempt to lip-synch the dialogue – although actually this might be a good point, as I’ll explain below – so there’s a further alienating disconnect between what you’re seeing on screen and what you’re hearing.
Maybe all this will draw in a big junior audience; but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve been to some fairly sparsely attended cinema showings, but I don’t think I’ve ever had Cinema 1 at the NPH to myself before (at least the circle – I can’t swear to the stalls being empty but it was awfully quiet). On a Saturday evening just before Christmas. Maybe it clashed with a lot of Christmas parties?
So what are the good bits? The visuals, as you would expect from the Walking With Dinosaurs brand, are really good. Without the physical models that distinguished the earliest Walking With Dinosaurs output, you’re often aware you’re watching CGI, but it’s still pretty good. There are a few places where it’s played for laughs visually, but these are generally not too intrusive. The most gratuitous example is our hero suffering a terrible indignity under the tail of a much larger adult. Other examples are along the lines of dinosaurs slipping on ice and aren’t too overstated. I rather suspect the facial expressions are a bit anthropomorphised, but again it doesn’t seem too heavy-handed.
Given what I said above about the awful script for this movie, it may come as a surprise that I think it actually tells a powerful and effective story. Visually, considering they’re clearly targeting a young audience and have complete control over what happens, few punches are pulled. While it’s not totally nature red in tooth and claw, animals die in this movie when they’re attacked by carnivores, including some we care about. The terrible dialogue detracts from the impact of the scenes, which is perhaps to some extent what it’s supposed to do.
This could actually be a good and quite moving movie, if it had a completely different soundtrack. If you’re an adult, wait until it’s available cheap on DVD, and play it on mute. The lack of lip-synch will help here, as it's not obvious the animals are talking. It would be great if someone could create an alternative score to accompany it.
In the category of “noteworthy, but why?” bits:
- The story’s book-ended by scenes with some kids and a palaeontologist played by Karl Urban (Éomer in LOTR, Judge Dredd, and Dr. McCoy in the rebooted Star Trek). He’s totally wasted in this role and I don’t know why they spent money on getting a decent actor for a few insignificant scenes when they don’t even use him in any way to promote the film.
- A herd of migrating Edmontosaurus are accompanied by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Er? OK, it’s a nice track and I guess it’s for the rhythm, but the first thing it made me think was, ah, these must be Iguanodon (because of the thumb spike).
- New dinosaurs were introduced by a brief freeze and text labelling as to what they were. Perfectly fine in a documentary, weird in a film. Given it probably did have to be there, I think I would rather have had more information.
- The 3D is nice but not compelling most of the time; they succumb to gimmickry at one particular point that was effective enough to make me jump, but it’s not part of the main body of the movie. I feel as though I should be a bit offended by that, but ho-hum. Other stuff offended me more – see above!