What if you put Sir David Attenborough and a specialized team of wildlife filmmakers in a time machine and set the dial 66 million years, to the end of the Cretaceous period and the last days of the dinosaurs? An upcoming documentary series aims to provide visually stunning answers to that intriguing question.
“Prehistoric Planet” debuts on Apple TV+ on May 23, kicking off a five-night dinosaur extravaganza. There’s no time machine, but the series does its best by uniting BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, the team behind nature documentaries like “Planet Earth” (BBC, 2006), with the visual effects team of Moving Picture Company who has worked on Hollywood movies. as “The Lion King” (Walt Disney Pictures, 2019).
The result of this association is spectacular: scientifically precise dinosaurs brought to life through computer generated imagery (CGI) and shown behaving in ways never before seen on film or television.
“These are not monsters,” executive producer Mike Gunton said at a behind-the-scenes press tour. “These are extraordinary animals with complex behavior, complex lives, and our goal was to show them the unexpected.”
Related: Cretaceous dinosaurs come to life in stunning images from ‘Prehistoric Planet’
Each of the five episodes of “Prehistoric Planet” will explore a different habitat, including coastlines, deserts, freshwater lakes and rivers, frozen landscapes and lush forests. In the episode dedicated to the creatures that live in and around freshwater, you will see a ferocious tyrannosaurus rex gently caress a potential mate during a courtship moment.
The scene “kind of epitomizes the series as a whole for me because it shows the familiar, a dinosaur that everyone knows, but depicted slightly differently than what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing with the tyrannosaurus rex“showrunner Tim Walker said at the press tour. “And the second part of why it epitomizes the series is because it’s deeply rooted in science.”
A 2017 study published in the journal scientific reports found evidence that tyrannosaurs had sensitive snouts that would have helped them perform delicate behaviors, such as gently picking up their eggs or potentially snuggling up against the faces of other tyrannosaurs before mating.
However, if you’re hoping to see teeth and claws, you won’t be disappointed, as the series features plenty of dinosaurs behaving like powerful predators. One episode features a gripping chase between a small herd of tyrannosaurs and a herd of pachyrhinosaurus — relatives of triceratops. But even in that hunting scene there are details that can surprise even the most die-hard dinosaur fan. For example, tyrannosaurs are of the genus Nanuqsaurusmeaning “Polar Bear lizard”, and the hunt takes place during a snowstorm.
“We know that these polar dinosaurs, surprisingly enough, lived in cold, snowy environments. [that were] dark for most of the year,” Darren Naish, a paleontologist and the program’s chief scientific adviser, said at the press event.
“Prehistoric Planet” draws information from a variety of scientific disciplines, including climate modeling, paleontology, and contemporary biology. “We’re like Sherlock Holmes gathering evidence from a forensic incident,” Gunton said. “And as he puts these threads together, he begins to weave them together and a picture begins to emerge.”
Like a modern nature documentary, the creatures are presented as individual characters and the filmmakers give you reasons to root for them. In the episode of the deserts, you will see two men, long-necked sauropods in the genre Battleship battle for mating opportunities with females. A seasoned champion is challenged by a younger foe and herbivores clash like fierce titans in a dusty arena.
The on-screen action is accompanied by an original score by Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, whose iconic music can be heard in such films as “Gladiator” (Universal Pictures, 2000).
Filming took place in real-world locations, as if the extinct animals were actually there, to make the scenes feel more authentic. This determination of the filmmakers to make the show feel authentic is also reflected in how the animals were “shot”. That meant there were no through-leg camera angles that might show up in animated movies, but wouldn’t be possible to shoot in natural settings. with live wild animals.
“Prehistoric Planet” is a global snapshot of life towards the end of the Cretaceous period (about 145 million to 66 million years ago), featuring not only dinosaurs but also birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even mammals. In total, the show recreates 95 different CGI animals. Some species have familiar names but unknown appearances that reflect scientists’ better understanding of the fossil record, such as a velociraptor covered in feathers.
There are also many animals that viewers will likely see for the first time, including a long-snouted striped predator called Qianzhousaurusdiscovered in 2014, chasing a blue cassowary coritoraptorsdiscovered in 2017.
“There’s actually a pretty good list of new animals that have never been brought to the screen before,” Naish said.
“Prehistoric Planet” debuts on AppleTV+ from May 23 to 27. Apple TV+ is available on many devices through the Apple TV app.
Originally published on Live Science.