I have never read any of the Dinotopia books by artist/author James Gurney, but I have seen and admired some of his paintings. They are lovely works of fantasy depicting humans and dinosaurs in medieval or Renaissance-like settings. Whimsical. Accomplished enough that the Smithsonian is running an exhibit on his works through September 2 this year. And accomplished enough that Hallmark and ABC got together to put out a miniseries based on Gurney's works.
Sounds good, doesn't it?
The series has been touted as "one of the most ambitious and technically advanced projects in television history". To put icing on the cake, the series was also done by the same people who did the recent Arabian Nights television miniseries, which I did not see, but which I had described to me as being "actually good" (high praise indeed for a television miniseries) and in fact, "the best TV miniseries ever". These reviews were given to me by people I trust. I should have recalled that these were also the people who told me the movie "Free Enterprise" with William Shatner was a must-see.
So you see, I was looking forward to a fairly good time when I showed up an hour into the two-hour episode. Within thirty seconds of watching actual footage, however, I began to sense that something was horribly wrong. The trusted couple who had enjoyed Arabian Nights seemed uncomfortable, looking anywhere but at me or the television screen. After three minutes of head-bangingly bad dialogue and character development so shallow you couldn't float a bug in it, I ventured the question: "Er. So. How's it been so far?"
"Good visual effects." Mr. Reviewer looks secretly pleased with himself for having found something positive to say. A glance a few feet to the left reveals Mrs. Reviewer silently miming a bulimic after a buffet.
The main goal of the get-together had been to watch X-Files, so all was not lost. And since we had some time to kill, we attempted to stomach a bit more, telling each other reassuring things like, "I bet the under 7 crowd is just eating this up", "the effects really are good", and "don't worry, Malcolm in the Middle will be on in another 20 minutes". So we sat through a bit more, watching a scene where two brothers argue about whether to leave this strange place or stay and learn more, in a conversation that consisted of cliches strung together tenuously with little regard for logical trains of thought. We also got to see several minutes of a dinosaur playing ping pong with a character that I'm sure had a name, but who is more easily recognizable as "Token Teen With Chip On Shoulder". As the epic ping-pong scene dragged out with no discernible point, we all commented how glad we were that they stretched the series out over three nights, because it was so hard to get enough of watching a "librarian dinosaur" be baffled by this strange modern human custom. Despite having miraculously opposible thumbs. We also enjoyed marveling at the makeup artist, who must have hated the female lead (more easily recognizable as "Token Pretty Native Princess"). Why else, we wondered, would she take an actress whose face was 75 percent forehead to begin with and then style her hair pulled straight back so that she appeared to be 90 percent forehead? We watched just enough more of the movie to make us all reach the conclusion that whoever wrote the screenplay must have decided that the reason Disney's "Atlantis" bombed was that it just didn't have enough dinosaurs in it and then flipped channels with a great sense of relief until Malcolm
Not to say that I didn't have a good time watching the twenty minutes we were able to stomach, mind you. There is definitely a great deal of entertainment value in observing four adults trying to stab themselves to death with dinner forks in response to atrocious dialogue. Also, the look I earned when I asked sweetly if my hosts would be taping Monday night's installment as well was worth any discomfort that might have been caused by what passed for the plot thickening on screen. The clever speculations on Zippo the Library Dinosaur's connections to Star War's Jar-Jar Binks were also entertaining. The "mega-series" however, sadly, was not. General concensus of late comers and those who sat through almost an hour and a half of the first episode alike was that they had blown their entire budget on the special effects and had to hire the producer's 9 year old nephew to write the screenplay. So if you found your curiosity piqued by the pretty images of the previews, take a word of advice and drop back to the venue where Dinotopia seemed to have been done well: the original books by James Gurney.
Unless, of course, you enjoy watching people stab themselves with forks.
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