Prehistoric Planet review: New dinosaur documentary leads with its best fin

Our planet’s oceans may or may not be the actual “final frontier,” but they were once home to the best dinosaurs Earth had to offer. Anyone who has seen a Jurassic Park movie or Mesozoic “documentaries” like Walking with Dinosaurs knows this; put simply, underwater dinosaurs absolutely rip.

Perhaps this is why Apple TV Plus’ new Prehistoric Planet show starts with the GOATs in “Coasts,” its first episode. The latest docuseries to merge state-of-the-art CGI (pulling in talents who worked on projects like 2019’s The Lion King and The Book of Boba Fett) with scenic habitats is here to create a photorealistic exploration of life on and under the water 66 million years ago, give or take.

In this Cretaceous period, life was simple and ruled by dinosaurs. And who better to represent the majesty of the species than the oceanic dinosaurs, as narrated by the great Sir David Attenborough himself? The star of such episodes (and the epic Jurassic World Sea World jump) is mosasaurus, among the largest marine animals of all time. But there’s all kinds of fun here, including Tuarangisauruswhich evokes a nightmarish Loch Ness monster with its goony, sharp-toothed grin.

Image: Universal Pictures

The beauty of such undersea creatures is the fact that they kick ass in almost every respect. They are massive, fluid, and near unmanageable. Anytime Sir Attenborough mentions that the area we’re watching is “home to oceanic predators,” you know you’re in for a good time, though you never quite know how. With the physics and scale being so different for these creatures, the rules as we know them for moments like these feel inadequate.

Giant lizards open their mouths for a baby fish only for Prehistoric Planet to set up a lesson we’d never see coming (real Hoffman’s Mosasaur fans know what’s up). It means seeing a ferocious reptile rest at the surface and make derp face before it immediately starts to brawl with a younger male. This is peak entertainment, folks!

Prehistoric Planet isn’t immune to some of the problems that plague documentaries of this first. While the series — produced by Jon Favreau and the producers of planet earth — promises the “latest paleontology learnings,” it’s just as quick to indulge the dramatic cliches of the genre. in the world of Prehistoric Planet, each vignette is a dramatic epic. You can tell how the tides will change based on how the swelling orchestra responds. As Attenborough’s raspy, soothing narration often reminds us, “few get as far” as the few baby dinos we see flop, scurry, and tumble their way through climactic showdowns, narrowly living on to dino another day.

a T. rex swimming with its babies

Image: Apple TV Plus

Two Tuarangisaurus swimming together through a hazy seascape

Image: Apple TV Plus

But with those trite moments come the grand cinematic ones as well: a dinosaur emerging from a cloud of dust after a scuffle or ammonites converging in a shoal to mate and bioluminesce. As we watch mature dinosaurs make quick work of baby turtles, it seems an absolute miracle that turtles ever made it to the water of the shore they were born on, let alone to our time.

“Coasts” doesn’t focus exclusively on the water dinosaurs; as the title suggests, we spend a lot of time on the place where the land meets the sea, and the choice is a smart one. Not only does it better show the animated prowess of Prehistoric Planet — the CGI is a mixed bag, with water dinos proving some of the most challenging to render due to the ocean’s waves and the fact that they are too badass to capture perfectly — it nods to the scope of the series.

Prehistoric Planet reminds us the land and sea ecosystems are all interlinked, as we watch bird-like dinosaurs soar over oceans before taking refuge in trees. With so much ground to cover, the series breaks them up into biomes making up the five total episodes, and it breaks those chapters up further into brief glimpses of an instructive mini narrative about the dangers in a dino-eat-dino world.

After all, while Tyrannosaurus rex may be the top predator on land, when it takes a swim with its young, it’s just as susceptible to mosasaurus as we are. “Coasts” is a good entry point to the rest of the series, from the more peaceful, twinkling lights of a bioluminescence syncing up so two creatures can mate to the fact that the largest predators on the planet were often found as fossils with teeth of their rivals embedded in their skulls. As Attenborough puts it, the oceans are one of the richest habitats on earth. “Coasts” is just the beginning of exploring them.

Prehistoric Planet premieres on Apple TV Plus with “Coasts” on May 23. A new episode drops every night for the rest of the week.

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