Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie

For F*** Magazine


Director: Neil Nightingale, Barry Cook
Cast:         John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar, Skyler Stone, Charlie Rowe, Angourie Rice, Michael Leone, Karl Urban
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Run Time: 88 mins
Opens: 19 December 2013
Rating: PG

In 1999, Tim Haines created the six-part miniseries Walking with Dinosaurs for the BBC. It was a revolutionary production, approaching a dinosaur-oriented TV show from the angle of a natural history documentary. This meant omitting the “talking heads” and treating creatures like the Coelophysis, Diplodocus, Liopleurodon and Tyrannosaurus as if they were naturally-occurring lions, rhinoceros or meerkats. It has since spawned many spin-offs and unrelated shows following in its colossal footsteps. Now, the beasts walk onto the big screen in this feature-length 3D outing.

Set around 70 million years ago during the late Cretacbeous Period, an Alexornis bird named Alex (Leguizamo) tells the story of his friend, Patchi the Pachyrhinosaurus (Long). Patchi is the runt of the litter, spending most of his childhood getting shoved about by his older siblings. He has a run-in with a pack of toothy Troodons, resulting in him gaining a distinctive hole in his crest that never fully heals. Patchi has an intense rivalry with his rather unpleasant older brother Scowler (Stone) and develops a crush on Juniper (Sircar), though he can’t work up the courage to tell the female how he feels about her. The Pachyrhinosaurus herd embarks on a migratory odyssey, the obstacles in the way including forest fires, iced-over lakes and the frightening predatory Gorgosaurs.

Many of us had a “dinosaur phase” as kids and while the film is clearly aimed at the pre-teen-and-younger set, the opening framing device in which an uninterested teenager (Rowe) reluctantly tags along with his uncle (Urban) and sister (Rice) to go on a dinosaur dig appeals to the older members of the audience to open up to the wonderment. Said framing device proves largely unnecessary, but the rest of the film is well-constructed and makes for an effectively sweeping adventure. The trailer caused some concern among fans of the original series that it had become “Talking with Dinosaurs”. Technically, the dinosaurs aren’t talking per se, with the voice actors providing voiceovers and expressing what the animals would have said if they could talk.

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D was filmed on location in the wilds of Alaska and New Zealand, with all of the animals created using computer-generated imagery. There’s a bit of a pedigree behind the scenes, the 3D technology furnished by James Cameron’s Cameron Pace Group and the character animation done by Animal Logic, the studio behind the likes of Happy Feet and The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole. It is a good-looking movie, the movements and interactions of the creatures sufficiently convincing if not 100% photo-realistic. The iridescent blue scales of the Gorgosaurs and the red and yellow feathers of the Troodon are particularly striking touches of colour. Stereoscopy is put to good use, the environments fairly immersive and particulate matter like ash, smoke and snow floating off the screen. We also get novel moments like a pterosaur’s slender beak poking out of the screen and these never get intrusive.

Surprisingly enough, the screenplay by John Collee with additional dialogue by Gerry Swallow is witty and lively, the film establishing a non-threatening light-hearted mood yet handling the detours into moments of drama and peril with a sure hand. Alex is a one-bird Greek chorus, a comic relief sidekick, narrator and provider of colour commentary all in one. He even breaks the fourth wall on occasion, rewinding the film to revisit a funny moment. The character has the full potential to be fingernails-on-the-blackboard unbearable, but John Leguizamo gives the “early bird” so much personality with his vocal performance that it works. Also, look out for the trio of pterosaurs who provide some inspired physical comedy.

Patchi is a protagonist we’ve seen many times before, his underdog status, the Cain-and-Abel struggle with Scowler and the romantic comedy-esque “meet cute” with his sweetheart Juniper all well-worn tropes. However, the combination of the high-quality animation and Justin Long’s voice work make it very easy to root for Patchi and to get invested in his journey. Yes, there are moments of silliness and scatological humour but we certainly didn’t expect to be able to go along with the movie as easily as we did. Also, Karl Urban as a palaeontologist makes him a literal Dr. Bones. Heh.

Jerry Seinfeld once said “there’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”, but perhaps Walking with Dinosaurs 3D comes pretty close. It’s never boring and it isn’t cringe-inducingly juvenile. Yes, it does have shades of The Land Before Time and Disney’s Dinosaur, but it fuses just enough educational content with exciting, eye-catching imagery. At one moment, the action pauses so Alex can present an infographic in which he describes the vital statistics of the Gorgosaurus to the audience, but he can’t take it seriously because he fixates on the otherwise-fearsome dinosaur’s comically miniature arms. For a serving of light thrills, 3D novelty, a good number of laughs, a tug or two at the old heartstrings and a side of paleontological knowledge, take the tykes on this walk.

SUMMARY: Eschewing the documentary format for an adventure-driven narrative, Walking with Dinosaurs 3D isn’t an earth-shatteringly original spectacle but it is a harmless, enjoyable 87 minutes at the movies.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


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