Sunday, July 23, 2006

Clock Up A Point For Creationism

What terrible thing did those poor dinosaurs do to their agents to deserve ITV's new series, Prehistoric Park?

Nigel Marven, as far as I can tell, usually spends his time with real animals. (One of the 'If I poke it with a stick, maybe it'll get angry' school, presumably.) Now he's 'presenting' a 'time-travel' 'documentary'.

Note the sarcastic quotes there.

The premise is this: Nige is catching dinosaurs from the past and transporting them to a private enclosure to become a public attraction. Jurassic Park, then, without the cloning.

Problem number one - how are ITV getting away with this title and premise? Shouldn't Michael Crichton be suing already? Christ, they even showed Jurassic Park directly before the first episode! Which implies some kind of approval that surely isn't there.

Problem number two - if ITV told people they were planning a series where animals from around the world were being hunted down and captured, wouldn't there be uproar? Why is it morally acceptable when the beasts are CGI?

Problem number three - given that the beasts ARE computer generated, playing the whole thing as 'genuine' just makes everyone look a bit silly. Nige shows us maps of his park, they build big pens (out of, erm, wooden poles), and we watch thinking "Hmm, they'll slip right through the bars, won't they? What with being TWO DIMENSIONAL!"

Problem number four - acting. Presenters have trouble doing it. Nigel couldn't pretend he was under attack from a T-rex if his khakis depended on it. I'm all for verisimilitude (it worked amazingly well in the BBC mock-doc Ghostwatch, more or less) but maybe an ACTOR might have been an idea...?

Problem number five - time travel. Hi, welcome to the science fiction genre. A genre that's been alive and well for a few centuries now. One which, apparently, has passed the makers by.

Let's ignore the really geeky stuff - say, the fact that you can't just go back in time and change the past without seriously jeopardising the whole of history, or that fact that moving in time doesn't suddenly enable you to move location as well (Nige should pop-up in the middle of space, the point where his park hung 65 million years ago. And don't I just wish that had happened) - and concentrate on two factors.

Firstly, if a documentary really did use time-travel, the audience might be more interested in learning how that worked, rather than seeing some bloke building fences. Secondly, that, with the whole of time available, maybe this whole 'last minute dash to beat the apocalypse' was unnecessary. Why go back to a day before the end of the era, the day before the comet crashed down? Go back another fortnight and save yourself some tension.

Problem number six - speaking of verisimilitude, who's filming this series? For every segment showing tents for camera crews and the like (why stay overnight? They have a time machine! Go home to your beds and come back in the morning!), there's a segment clearly filmed by the world's most suicidal cameraman - strapped to the back of a Triceratops, on the ground between fighting dinos. You're either a documentary or a drama - make up your mind!

Problem number seven - education. Provide some. The best this series can muster is anecdotal discussion of Rex tipping over if it leans forward. Other than that, it's all 'height this' and 'weight that'. I can get that from Wikipedia before the first commercial break!

Ripping off the BBC seems to be ITV's new big plan. Spend less on drama, sod all on comedy, and plough it into big shows that nick the best notions from other channels.

Get the Walking With Dinosaurs DVD. It's a lot better, the improvements of CGI aside. At least, it's actively less offensive.

Word has it that ITV have plans for an action/SF series based on time portals. In this show, dinosaurs will be popping up and it's the job of our heroes to stop them. Or something. My fond hope is that this series was intended as a series of FX and photography tests for that show.

Because they're the only areas in which Prehistoric Park is anything other than abysmal.


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