Dinosapien: Series 1 Review
Near the Canadian Badlands, which is already a bad sign, four teenagers and a group of younger children gather at a Dinosaur Camp run by Dr Hillary Slayton (Suzanna Hamilton). Her daughter, Lauren (Brittney Wilson), is one of the four teen camp counselors and is joined by Courtney (MacKenzie Porter), Kit (Bronson Pelletier) and Chris (Jeffrey Watson). It promises to be a great summer with long days spent in the forest, on the river and occasional hours on dinosaur digs. But there's a shadow hanging over the camp. Lauren is still mourning the loss of her paleontologist father one year earlier while on a dig in the Badlands and can't see this year's camp helping her loss. With a distant earthquake shaking some rocks loose, three dinosaurs appear in the Badlands, two very dangerous - the Diggers - but one friendly. On a day out in the forest, Lauren bumps into this dinosaur and appears to get on well with it. Things are going to change, not least when Eno, as she calls the dinosaur, appears to know of her father...
It's not often that one sees the BBC releasing one of their drama serials for teenagers, which is odd considering they were often without peers in producing quality drama for a younger audience. Anyone who grew up in the early-eighties will have fond memories of The Phoenix And The Carpet, The Enchanted Castle and The Box Of Delights. A trawl through TV Cream will reveal those and many more besides, shows that were often broadcast on a Wednesday afternoon when the schedules weren't otherwise occupied with Grange Hill and Blue Peter. Each one lasted six episodes or thereabouts and in spite of a tendency towards being set in either cosy Georgian townhouses or country estates, the one or two dramas set in grim northern farmlands were scheduled to appeal to those of us who didn't have a live-in maid. Or even a bedroom of our own.
Dinosapien is very much longer than those drama series of old. Over fifteen episodes, it begins in the Badlands, spends most of its time in the forests and ghost towns around Dinosaur Camp and demands the attention of its young audience by asking that they keep with the dinosapien theory, one that dinosaurs might have evolved an intelligence than they not been wiped out by a giant meteor. You, I and various paleontologists may laugh but Dinosapien handles this idea with good humour and with respect towards its audience, with Eno and the Diggers carrying out simple tasks, making basic tools and figuring out that Dinosaur Camp might be a good place to source hot dogs. For older viewers, there's the story of Lauren adjusting to the loss of her father but there is also a little romance with Courtney describing Kit as her summer project while she tries to set Lauren up with Chris. For younger viewers, there's geek-kids Nelson and Danni snooping about after Lauren, a comedy skunk and an afternoon without camp counselors, which will draw a, "I wish I could do that!" reaction as they watch the face-painting, gorging on ice-cream and ketchup fight that only ends when Courtney arrives back. And a show like this wouldn't be compete without a villain to boo and, as well as the Diggers and a couple of comedy rednecks, Dinosapien has Dr Clive Aikens (James Coombes), a sneaky Pete who roots through Lauren's father's research, claims it as his own and eventually takes a gun to Eno.
Most of Dinosapien is concerned with the friendship between Lauren and Eno and while there are few surprises in this - that Lauren is a nice kid is evident from the beginning - they take a few episodes and a jar of hot dogs to trust in each other. In as much as it is possible for a dinosaur and a sixteen-year-old girl to become friends, Lauren and Eno do and eventually show they need one another to survive, Lauren to rescue Eno when he falls sick and Eno to rescue Lauren both from the Diggers and, while on a field trip with Kit, a passing grizzly. Their bond is based on their being without one or two of their parents. Eno is millions of years away from his mother and father while Lauren finds it hard to get by without her father, which isn't helped when Aikens appears to want to take his place. However, Dinosapien, in its final moments, has a twist in this story and goes some way towards setting up a second series.
While reviewing Mammoth, the recently-released DVD about a giant mammoth running wild in an American town, I disparaged the special effects - in spite of their being nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects - by saying that, "...come the freeing of the mammoth from its block of ice, the VIC-20s, Magna Doodles and Etch-A-Sketches stockpiled by the producers for their movie are put to good use." Dinosapien, in spite of a lower budget, a cast of children and comedy rednecks and, in this country, a slot on CBBC, has visual effects that are at least on a par with Mammoth, often exceeding them. Certainly, it was one of the highlights of the CBBC schedules earlier this year with the BBC bringing a touch of quality to the production. Eno and the Diggers might bear as much similarity to the actualité as a banana with lollipop sticks for legs but with a decent cast of teenagers, Dinosapien is a fine little series for those who want a little more drama from their CBBC but who, with a liking for dinosaurs, are not quite ready for the drama of Tracey Beaker.
Splitting the fifteen episodes over two discs, Dinosapien gets a reasonable transfer from the BBC. Filmed in HD, there's plenty of detail with a good reproduction of the rich colours but this has the result of making the CG dinosaurs very obvious. However, this does make it very easy to watch Dinosapien even on a large television with the quality of this DVD being a clear improvement over what was broadcast on CBBC and BBC1 during the early part of the summer. Thanks to a direct-from-digital source, there are no faults with the quality of the print, making this a very decent-looking set that's up to the standard set by the BBC's children's unit.
Given much of the publicity around the CG animation and audio effects employed on Dinosapien, I had expected a DD5.1 audio track but the DD2.0 Surround track is perfectly adequate with the dialogue (human and dinosaur) sounding clear in and around the ambient effects and roaring of the Diggers. There is the occasional moment when a line is lost but I would explain this away by a cast who are largely inexperienced who let a line or two slip away from them rather than a fault of the DVD. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
There are no extras on this DVD.