Dinosaurs Alive

2007, Movie, NR, 40 mins

Review

DINOSAURS ALIVE
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This large-format documentary narrated by Michael Douglas simultaneously follows three fossil-collecting expeditions and showcases scientifically-vetted CGI recreations of dinosaurs and dinosaur-like creatures. The two traditional expeditions take paleontologists and graduate students to Mongolia's Gobi Desert — where pioneering dinosaur hunter and all-around scientific adventurer Roy Chapman Andrews (thought to have been the inspiration for Indiana Jones) discovered a mother lode of fossil remains in the 1920s — and to New Mexico's Ghost Ranch area, whose striated cliffs contain fossils that dramatically illustrate the evolution of ancient life from the Triassic to the Cretaceous periods. The third takes place within the vast archival holdings of New York City's American Museum of Natural History, where a treasure trove of materials collected over several decades remains unstudied and occasionally yields startling new insights. Codirectors David Clark and Bayley Silleck focus on scientists Julia Clark — who specializes in the evolution of birds, the direct descendents of dinosaurs — Mike Novacek and Mark Norell, and graduate student Sterling Nesbitt, who discovered what he thought was an early, bird-like dinosaur in the Museum's storerooms and then realized it was actually an unidentified relative of ancient crocodiles in a cache of fossils packed away since the 1940s. The filmmakers also make extensive use of vintage footage of Andrews' Mongolian expedition; Chapman had the foresight to bring along a professional cameraman as part of his crew, and the resulting film is worthy of a stand-alone movie.

The American Museum of Natural History, which coproduced the film, is featured prominently. But the project's larger purpose is clearly to stimulate academic interest in youngsters brought up on JURASSIC PARK-style thrills, and unlike many such polemical films makes it refreshingly clear that scientific theorizing is an ongoing process of revision to accommodate new data. Case in point: the Oviraptor ("egg eater"), whose remains were found atop a clutch of fossilized eggs. The best minds of the day pegged it as a sneaky predator killed while raiding another beast's nest, but subsequent research proved them dead wrong. The much-maligned Oviraptor was exonerated 70 million years after its demise — it was actually brooding its own eggs and died in a flash flood. Justice delayed isn't always justice denied. The American Museum of Natural History, which helped co-produce the film, is featured prominently. But the project's larger purpose is clearly to stimulate academic interest in youngsters brought up on JURASSIC PARK- style thrills, and unlike many such polemical films makes it refreshingly clear that scientific theorizing is an ongoing process of revision to accommodate new data. Case in point: The Oviraptor ("egg eater"), whose remains were found atop a clutch of fossilized eggs. The best minds of the day pegged it as a sneaky predator killed while raiding another beast's nest, but subsequent research proved them dead wrong. The much-maligned Oviraptor was exonerated 70 million years after its demise – it was actually brooding its own eggs and died in a flash flood. Justice delayed isn't always justice denied. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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