What would happen if you put Sir David Attenborough and a specialist team of wildlife filmmakers in a time machine and set the dial to 66 million years ago – to the end of the Cretaceous and the last days of the dinosaurs? An upcoming documentary series aims to provide visually stunning answers to that intriguing question.
“Prehistoric Planet” debuts on Apple TV+ on May 23, launching a five-night dinosaur extravaganza. There’s no time machine, but the series does the next best thing by pairing BBC Studios Natural History Unit — the team behind wildlife documentaries like “Planet Earth” (BBC, 2006) — with the Moving Picture Company’s visual effects team that Hollywood movies have worked such as “The Lion King” (Walt Disney Pictures, 2019).
The result of this collaboration is spectacular: scientifically accurate dinosaurs brought to life through computer-generated imagery (CGI), and shown behave in ways never before seen in movies or television.
“These aren’t monsters,” executive producer Mike Gunton said during a behind-the-scenes press tour. “These are extraordinary animals with complex behavior, complex lives, and our goal was to show you the unexpected.”
Related: Cretaceous dinosaurs come to life in stunning images from ‘Prehistoric Planet’
Each of the five episodes of “Prehistoric Planet” will explore a different habitat, including coasts, deserts, freshwater lakes and rivers, icy landscapes and lush forests. In the episode dedicated to creatures that live in and around freshwater, you’ll see a ferocious-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex gently hug a potential partner during a courtship moment.
The scene “to me embodies the series as a whole, because it shows the familiar – a dinosaur that everyone knows – but portrayed something different than what we’re used to seeing with the T. rex‘ said showrunner Tim Walker during the press tour. “And the second part of why it embodies the series is because it’s deeply rooted in science.”
A 2017 study published in the journal Scientific Reports found evidence that tyrannosaurs had sensitive snouts that would have helped them perform delicate behaviors such as gently picking up their eggs or possibly snuggling against the faces of other tyrannosaurs before mating.
However, if you want to see teeth and claws, you won’t be disappointed as the series features plenty of dinosaurs acting like mighty predators. One episode shows a harrowing chase between a small pack of tyrannosaurs and a herd pachyrhinosaurus — relatives of triceratops† But even in that hunting scene, there are details that might surprise even the most seasoned dinosaur fan. For example, the tyrannosaurs are of the genus nanuqsauruswhich means “polar bear lizard,” and the hunt takes place during a snow storm.
“We know that these dinosaurs near the Poles, surprising as it may seem, lived in cold, snowy environments. [that were] dark for most of the year,” Darren Naish, a paleontologist and the show’s chief scientific advisor, said at the press event.
“Prehistoric Planet” draws information from a variety of scientific disciplines, including climate modeling, paleontology, and contemporary biology. “We’re a bit like Sherlock Holmes collecting evidence from a forensic incident,” Gunton said. “And as you pull these threads together, you start weaving them together and an image is formed.”
Like a modern wildlife documentary, the creatures are presented as individual characters and the filmmakers give you reasons to root for them. In the desert episode you see two males, long neck sauropods in the genus dreadnoughtus battle for mating opportunities with females. A seasoned champion is challenged by a younger foe, and the herbivores collide like vicious titans in a dusty arena.
The on-screen action is accompanied by original music by Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, whose iconic music can be heard in films such as “Gladiator” (Universal Pictures, 2000).
It was filmed in real world locations, as if the extinct animals were really there, to make the scenes feel more authentic. This determination of filmmakers to make the show feel authentic is also reflected in how the animals were ‘filmed’. with live wild animals.
“Prehistoric Planet” is a global snapshot of life towards the end of the Cretaceous Period (about 145 million to 66 million years ago), with not only dinosaurs, but also birds, reptiles, amphibians and even mammals. In total, the show recreates 95 different CGI animals. Some species have familiar names but unknown appearances that reflect scientists’ improved understanding of the fossil record, such as a Velociraptor covered with feathers.
There are also many animals that viewers are likely to see for the first time, including a long-snouted striped predator called Qianzhousaurusdiscovered in 2014, on the hunt for blue cassowary-like Corythoraptorsdiscovered in 2017.
“There’s actually a pretty good list of brand new animals that have never been put on screen before,” Naish said.
“Prehistoric Planet” debuts on Apple TV+ from May 23 to May 27. Apple TV+ is available on several devices with the Apple TV app.
Originally published on Live Science.