Allosaurus: A Walking With Dinosaurs Special Review
The BBC were equally both applauded and critically mauled when they first broadcast the stunning 'documentary', Walking With Dinosaurs last year. It was a technical marvel - no doubt about that, but the facts upon which it was based were for the most part nothing more than assumptions and some academics felt the series tried to present theories and guesswork as reality.
Still, in terms of audience enjoyment the series was a huge success and the follow-up was inevitable. While the finishing touches were being added to the series, news broke that an almost complete fossilised skeleton of an Allosaurus had been uncovered in North America revealing far more about the species than most other discoveries. Of course, the makers of Walking With Dinosaurs saw the opportunity to use this as the basis for a one-off special: The Ballad of Big Al or, as it was known in the US, Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special!
One year in the making, Allosaurus took the techniques learnt from the original series and improved upon them to create a unique look at the possible lifetime of one Dinosaur. Big Al, as those that painstakingly uncovered and reconstructed the creature’s skeleton affectionately named him, was thought to have lived for around six years before finally perishing and being preserved for eternity.
As with the original series, the majority of what's on show here has been guessed at - although the skeleton does offer many little clues as to what actually happened to the Dinosaur during it's fairly short life.
In terms of presentation, Allosaurus is an outstanding feat. The special effects used to portray the creatures as they may have been are like nothing else made for the small screen. OK, so they may not quite match Jurassic Park or Dinosaur, but given the limitations and the budget the final result is nothing short of jaw dropping. The interaction of the CGI creatures and the live action backdrops is impressive - although at times it's maybe not quite as convincing as it could be.
Another bonus is the fact that this disc features an additional thirty-minute documentary, 'Big Al Uncovered' - something that's more than welcome given fairly short running time of the actual feature (also thirty minutes) and adds a lot of value to this release. Instead of telling you how the special was made, this documentary covers a lot of general background information on palaeontology and the Allosaurus as a species - it's certainly worth watching and in some ways is far more revealing than the main feature.
Kenneth Brannagh narrates both the main feature and Big Al Uncovered.
The DVD is fairly good. It comes in a cardboard slipcase - something I'm not too keen on and doesn't fit very well alongside DVDs in standard packaging. That said it does look quite attractive so I won't dock too many points!
The picture has been transferred at the original 1.77:1 aspect ratio. It's anamorphic too, so no complaints there. However, the conversion from NTSC to PAL has caused some degradation in the picture quality - it's certainly not as sharp as the PAL release of Walking with Dinosaurs. There also appears to be a little occasional noise, but nothing too distracting. It will be interesting to see how the UK Region 2 PAL release of Big Al fairs in comparison.
To be fair, other than the minor reservations above I still feel that the transfer is pretty good and there's little reason to complain with impressively vibrant colours more than making up for the slight softness.
The sound is pro-logic encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 - there's not a huge amount of surround action, but the low bass levels and general sharpness of the soundtrack do mean that this disc still gives the average home-theatre sound system a good workout. The front soundstage is fairly nice and the LFE channel does let out the occasional boom.
Other than the two main documentaries mentioned in the main review, we also get a nice story-board comparison that looks at some of the key scenes and overlays the original storyboard so we can see just how the effects were originally drafted and what they finally looked like.
The photo gallery is mainly just some annotated stills from both the original Walking With Dinosaurs series as well as the two documentaries on this disc. There are 57 stills in total, however for some reason they're not presented in their original ratio and are instead cropped to 4:3.
Finally we get a sampler of what's on the Walking With Dinosaurs CD-ROM that is available to buy separately. I haven't had a chance to check these features out, but you should find some screensavers, desktop wallpaper, sounds, some video files, icons and cursors.
All in all this is a nice little package. Even with two documentaries, the running time is a little short. My main reservations are with the picture quality - it's good, but I have a feeling that the UK disc will be better so it may be worth holding out a couple of months to see. It's a good documentary, and if you enjoyed the original Walking With Dinosaurs then I'm pretty certain you'll find more of what you liked here.