Sunday, September 14, 2008

Walking with the Dinosaurs

Kat and I went last night to see "Walking with Dinosaurs" at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix. It was a visually impressive show--they did a great job on the dinosaurs, which were quite realistic in appearance and movement, with only minor distractions. The smaller dinosaurs were operated by a person inside, whose legs were partially visible since a human's legs don't fit into the shape of the dinosaur's legs. The larger dinosaurs were each mounted on some kind of flat long vehicle that was colored to match the floor, but was still visible.

The music was loud and somewhat bombastic, the kind of stirring movie soundtrack music that can be sometimes irritating--but not as much so as the typical Phoenix Suns intro that regularly happens at the same location. The dinosaurs movements involved very limited interactions with each other--only occasionally so much as touching each other--which made the "battles" more of a suggestion than a depiction. No doubt this was to avoid damaging some expensive dinosaurs.

The production was narrated by an actor playing "Huxley" the paleontologist, who walked around on the floor with the dinosaurs, describing the historical context with the help of video projected onto several screens. The arena itself was encircled by inflatable plant life that "grew" and "died" at the appropriate times. Some lighting and smoke effects also contributed to the atmosphere, for fires, volcanos, and the comet theory of the K-T mass extinction. Some other props included some giant rocks which were also used to represent the continents, and a big ball of dinosaur poop (one of several kid-pleasing elements that I also appreciated).

It was definitely a bit more on the entertainment side of "edutainment" than the education side. Although the script tried to convey the timescales involved, it didn't try very hard--some visual analogies on the video screen might have helped. It explained the difference between fossils of dead animals and trace fossils that show evidence of how they lived, but made no attempt to talk about the geological strata or how we know the enormous ages involved. It didn't, to my mind, do much of anything to try to proactively counter young-earth creationist nonsense about the dinosaurs.

And that was a pity, because as we left the arena, we were confronted by young-earth creationists from the Arizona Origin Science Association handing out copies of Ken Ham's booklet, "What REALLY Happened to the Dinosaurs?" I heard one gentleman come back and ask for another copy, saying "my brother[-in-law?] is an evolutionary biologist, and I want to give him one." I hope that man's relative takes the time to rebut it.

There are some photos and video of "Walking with Dinosaurs" at Brian Switek's Laelaps blog, along with his description of the show.


Anonymous said...

Creationists. They're just the kind of lying scoundrels to completely ruin a great dinosaur show like this.

I'm glad you had fun at the show, Jim. I think that show's awesome.

Here. I have a video on my blog that shows clips from the show that would be very interesting to your regular readers like me who never saw the show, yet or plan on not seeing the show because of it being too expensive for them to go see in person.

It's right here. Hope you'll enjoy it.

Walking with Dinosaurs the Live Action Show

Gridman said...

Jim, I'd almost think you'd not seen the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs, on which this was based.

With the groundbreaking digital effects (at the time) of the original series, it was quite amazing. My kids never get tried of watching it. (And the other two pieces, Walking with Monsters (pre-dinosauria) and Walking with Beasts (post-dinosauria))

But one thing that the TV series still doesn't accomplish is that sense of scale, and seeing them, life-sized, in an arena was amazing.

One thing that I thought was absolutely correct in Walking with Dinosaurs was that the did not address creationist bullshit. Why should they any more than they should discuss flat-Earth theory?

They simply laid out the facts and didn't confuse the issues by bringing up baseless nonsense.

(Although, one criticism, rightly, leveled at Walking with Dinosaurs was that it presented some things that really are the subject of debate as fact, such as things about behavior patterns and social structures.)

It was difficult to get pictures in the low-light, but I also got a few which can be seen on my flickr set.

Jim Lippard said...

Gridman: You're right, I've never seen the BBC series.

I'll have to check out your pictures.

Jim Lippard said...

Your link is bad... an anchor tag with no target.

Gridman said...

Oops, well, that's strange about the link. In my defense, I got a nice does of salmonella and that might be an excuse,,,

Let's try this again: Flickr set

qraal said...

Hi Jim

Having seen "Walking With Dinosaurs" here in Australia over a year ago, with my son, I have to agree about how impressive it was. And, weirdly, we ran into a lonely-looking Hovind fanatic handing out DVDs to people on their way home. "Dr.Dino" sounded so enticing to my son... I had to explain he was a liar and a convicted criminal.

Jim Lippard said...

qraal: That's ironic. You're in Australia, but were handed material by a creationist from the U.S. (Kent Hovind), while we in the U.S. were handed material by a creationist from Australia (Ken Ham).