A heady combination of Werner Herzog and dinosaurs should be enough to draw people to David Krentz and Erik Nelson’s pseudo-documentary Dinotasia (2012), a dramatic retelling of a the age of the ‘terrible lizards’, leading up to the destruction of these prehistoric titans by a giant meteor crashing into the Earth. Sadly, this rambling retelling of the dinosaur’s epic story quickly succeeds in dashing any positive expectations.
Cheap-looking CGI vignettes cycle through the ages, jumping millions of years to show the small stories of various species. All of these ‘acts’ are given the kind of Disney treatment that would suggest that this is merely Ice Age for adults, with its brightly-coloured, doe-eyed dinos. Most disturbing of all is a worryingly poor scene, involving the skeletons of London’s Natural History Museum being regenerated to life and scaring the general public. Along the way, Herzog throws in sporadic quasi-philosophical commentary in an attempt to create a sense of drama for the on-screen action – but even this lacks any genuine gravitas.
Comparisons can be drawn to the scene in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011), of a predatory dinosaur showing mercy to its prey. A half-baked philosophical injection into the lives of these giant lizards was strained then, and is even more so in the 83 minutes of Dinotasia. Herzog’s commentary also carries a religious tone; space is referred to as ‘the heavens’, along with poetic lines that attempt to express the grandeur of life and death. Unfortunately the effect is incredibly jarring and unsuccessful, the tone falling somewhere between a low budget Discovery Channel documentary and an A-Level philosophy paper.
The individual stories also lack any real purpose, other than making the rather obvious comment that survival of the fittest is a hard way of life. Trying to instill life into this distant past is certainly an interesting idea, but there is little to actually be learnt from this documentary. New species discovered in the past 10 years have been used as some of the characters in Dinotasia’s multiple vignettes, but what they are actually called is glazed over, a disappointing omission.
Undoubtedly, the focus on dino-drama has been put in place to create a more human, relatable tale, yet lamentably the writing is too repetitive and poorly-judged to actually make these narratives engaging. Dinotasia has an interesting premise but is badly delivered, only partially saved from being utter dross by the soft Bavarian tones of Herzog – though even his heart doesn’t seem to be fully on board with this soap opera of the prehistoric age.
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