November 29th, 2002

Eye of the Dragon


Quel and I watched the debut of Dinotopia: The Series last night.

My expectations were pretty low -- like, Precambrian -- so it wasn't quite as bad as I expected. Will it survive? Doubtful. It had its good points, but, frankly, I don't know if it's quite up to snuff for the American ratings market.

For one thing, the editor or the director need to be horsewhipped -- he managed to make the break-points for the commercials all seem like down-notes and anticlimaxes, even when the dialogue and events should have raised the anticipation level just enough to make a commercial break 'feel' right. Whoever's running the show has no feel for the dramatic devices one uses to build tension. Even something as cheesy and simple as a musical "stinger" would have improved things, well, dramatically.

For another thing, it's obviously done on the cheap. They cranked out a lot of stock footage on those expensive miniseries sets, it seems. The dinosaurs seem lower-resolution and less smoothly integrated into the scenes. Zippo's first appearance seemed staticky, like a bad holographic projection -- I kept expecting him to say "Please State The Nature Of The Medical Emergency" or "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope." And they seem to be reusing dinosaur footage, as well, or at least the digital models.

On the plus side, one of the models they re-use a lot is Zippo's, so we have a lot of effete, annoyingly cheerful, pot-bellied Stenonychosaur/Troodon clones running around. Unfortunately, none of them get more than a few moments of screen time, including Zippo Prime. Since one of the things that kept me watching last spring's miniseries was the joy of watching Zippo's tummy jiggle across the screen, I don't know how long the new show can hold my interest.

They've recast everyone since the original miniseries, and rethought some of the personalities, as well. They also recast the voice of Zippo, contrary to what I'd heard earlier -- and I found that different voice more distracting than the different faces on the hairless primates. Overall, I think the humans came out ahead in the mix. Not hard, considering their less than stellar presences in the mini.

The dynamic between our protagonist brothers and their father had seeds of something interesting, under all the inept writing and lousy pacing. Alas, they resolved some of those conflicts too readily in this opener, thus neatly undercutting any number of possible plots. No fear, though; I suspect these writers are the type who'll have characters inexplicably revert to old type no matter what revelations or evolutions they might have experienced, if they need a quick plot.

Mayor Waldo, in particular, seems a much stronger, more dignified character than the tradition-bound, ineffectual figurehead of the miniseries. I wonder how much of that came from executives uncomfortable with the de facto matriarchy of the miniseries? Rosemary, the spiritual center of the island in the mini, barely seemed in evidence in this episode.

Waldo's change in personality was accompanied by a change in clothing. He discarded his flamboyant, multi-colored outfit in exchange for a much more subdued gray jacket and a fancy but tasteful chain of office. Much more sedate, much more dignified... and much less Dinotopian.

In fact, very few of the costumes we saw looked particularly Dinotopian. The Dinotopia setting ultimately has its roots in James Gurney's paintings. The miniseries moved away from the society that Gurney had described, probably in an attempt to find easy dramatic conflict ("Utopias are boring! EeeeEEEEEEEeeeeehhh!"), but still retained much of the ornate, lush visual style. The continuing series has lost even that.

Of course, it has leeeeeeezards, so we'll still watch it regularly.

Unless it conflicts with CSI.
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