While I was avoiding revising for my LPI exam this weekend, I chose to spend the time watching an old favourite TV mini-series of mine – Dinotopia. Like Merlin, this is a Robert Hamli, Sr and Jr production of epic proportions.
Featuring bleeding-edge long-form television visual effects from Framestore and animatronics by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Dinotopia is based around the YA books created by James Gurney that tells of a mysterious island populated by dinosaurs and humans who somehow manage to live together in harmony. Two outsiders, brothers Carl and David Scott, find themselves stranded after their plane crash lands into the seas surrounding the island. They meet Marion Waldo, the daughter of Waterfall City’s mayor Waldo and Dinotopia’s matriarch, Rosemary.
While Carl struggles to fit in with Dinotopia society – he wants to search for their lost father and to get off the island back to modern civilisation – David positively embraces it. However Carl falls in love with Marion only to find out later that so has David (and Marion seems to be stringing both brothers along quite nicely). All the while the Scott brothers stay with Zippo, an English-speaking dinosaur (a stenasaurus – voiced with nervous energy by Lee Evans).
The central story revolves around the sunstones, Dinotopia’s primary source of energy. It’s quite interesting and also paradoxical in that while Dinotopia appears to be environmentally friendly (living off the land and in which bigger dinosaurs help to move people and machinery about), yet even they are fully dependent on finite resource (which becomes quite apparent towards the end of the story). You might as well just substitute sunstone for coal, gas, or any other natural resource. Same thing except the sunstones are a bit more sparkly and magical.
Anyway, the sunstones are failing and the only place where more may be found is within the World Beneath. Yet Dinotopian legend dictates that this is sacred territory and is guarded by carnivores. It is strictly forbidden for any Dinotopian citizen to enter through the gateways to the World Beneath.
You can imagine what happens, of course.
Dinotopia is a very ambitious production and it largely succeeds thanks to it’s stellar cast (including Jim Carter, Alice Krige, Katie Carr, Lee Evans, Terry Jones, David Thewlis, etc). The script by Simon Moore (who would go on to create the hugely popular The 10th Kingdom) is competent and well paced. The FX still stand up quite well and Zippo in particular is beautifully animated and integrates very well with the live action – perfectly tracked and lit.
The mini-series eventually spawned a very short-lived series (the entire cast was replaced) which I recall was pretty good, but perhaps a little overly ambitious which may have been the reason that it got cancelled so quickly.
Despite being sick to the back teeth of the twenty billion CG dinosaur programs that launched during the early 2000s, Dinotopia was one of the better efforts.