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Walking With Dinosaurs

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Friday Dec 20, 2013
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A scene from ’Walking with Dinosaurs’
A scene from ’Walking with Dinosaurs’  (Source:20th Century Fox)

Sure to be nominated as one of the most excruciating films of 2013, "Walking with Dinosaurs 3D" is by far a masterpiece of the annoying. Based on the BBC series of the same name (sans the 3D), this new fictional docudrama has amazing CGI dinosaurs and great footage of Alaska and New Zealand, but the decision to make the dinosaurs talk via voice-over is an abomination. Rumor has it the original UK version was essentially a "silent" film about a young Pachyrhinosaurus growing up and becoming a hero to his herd. While the US version is exactly the same story visually, the studio has decided to add voices to the dinosaur characters, just in case the audience didn’t understand what it was seeing. Seriously. What’s worse is that the dinosaurs don’t move their mouths, so it’s just voices layered on top of imagery.

The fact is, everything that happens on screen is then relayed to us by anachronistic and sophomoric dialogue and jokes. Even intense scenes of dinosaurs at war with each other (one including a heart wrenching death of a parent) include sitcom style remarks and observations that betray the intensity and emotion on screen.

Written by John Collee ("Master and Commander"), the story is engaging enough: A baby Pachyrhinosaurus tries to find his place alongside his overbearing brother Scowler and a female Pachyrhinosaurus named Juniper that hails from another herd. The three go on a startling and exciting adventure that could have been a thrilling and heartwarming odyssey of survival. Instead, the grating voice work by Justin Long as "Patchi," John Leguizamo as the narrating bird Alex, Skyler Stone as Scowler, and Tiya Sircar as Juniper, undermines the beautiful CGI work and cinematography, not to mention a particularly compelling story. Instead they dumb it down so pre-schoolers will understand it. Had the studio trusted its audience to be able to watch a wordless film that did not need to be spelled out to them, it might have had a hit movie on its hands.

There’s nothing more annoying than watching our dinosaur hero running from a Gorgosaurus only to have him say, "We gotta get away from that scary Gorgosaurus!!!!" (Or something equally as obvious.) Everything the cast says is silly, pedestrian, and redundant -- not to mention modern. ("You’ve been served!" says Juniper after she stops an enemy from attacking her herd.) And for some reason, they don’t ever stop talking. The director can’t let ten seconds go by without some character making an obvious point or cracking a lame joke. Not to mention there is a modern day opening starring Karl Urban as an uncle taking his niece and nephew (Angourie Rice and Charlie Rowe) to a dig site to hunt for dinosaur fossils (which they find laughably easily.) Not only is this unnecessary, but the dialogue is so terrible that if we didn’t already know Karl Urban could act, he would never be given a job again.

There is a good film in here, but what they have in store for American audiences isn’t it. One hopes that upon the DVD/Blu-ray release they will offer a version without the voice-over and narration. If so, you would be able to revel in the beauty that directors Neil Nightingale and Barry Cook put on screen, enjoy the score by Paul Leonard-Morgan, and marvel at the gorgeous imagery brought to you by cinematographer John Brooks.

If not, you should just cue up the score for Disney’s "Dinosaur" and watch with headphones on and the sound to the film turned off. Because that is truly the only way to enjoy the film. Will kids like it? Sure. Little kids who think that poop jokes are the height of hilarity will probably love it. For anyone else, you can avoid "Walking with Dinosaurs." In fact, you should run away from them... and not because they are scary.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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