*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring David Thewlis, Katie Carr, Jim Carter, Alice Krige
screenplay by Simon Moore, based on the Dinotopia books by James Gurney
directed by Marco Brambilla
by Walter Chaw Dinotopia is not so much a remake of Sid and Marty Krofft's schlock-classic television show "Land of the Lost" as it is "Land of the Lost" with computer graphics imaging. The miniseries, which originally aired on ABC last spring, comes complete with mystical power stones, lost cities, an unforeseen disaster leading to the outsider discovery of the primeval setting, mysterious old technologies, talking beasties, and, of course, dinosaurs. It's not fair to say that Dinotopia is unwatchable, because four hours later, I'm shuddering proof that it is, technically, watchable--better to say it's improbable that anyone over the mental age of five will finish this miserable marathon unless it's their sad occupation to do so.
Karl (Tyron Leitso) and David (Wentworth Miller) are brothers whose father (Stuart Wilson) goes down with their single-engine plane, marooning them on (trumpet refrain) Dinotopia, where man and dino live in perfect harmony as part of some tree-hugging nightmare where PETA has sanctioned the right of carnivores to eat people with impunity. ("They're just hungry"--yeah, no kidding.) Met first by villain Crabb (if the name isn't the dead giveaway, that David Thewlis plays him is), then by love triangle hypotenuse Marion (Katie Carr), the relationship structure of Dinotopia is a lazy rip-off of Star Wars substituting the men as siblings and replacing homosexual talking robot C-3PO with homosexual talking dinosaur Zippo (a CGI creation voiced by Lee Evans). (The benighted flick even ends with an aerial battle and a medal ceremony.) Soon the Luke Skywalker-ish David goes off to learn to ride Pterodactyls (leading to the weirdest iteration of Urban Cowboy there ever has been) and the Han Solo-ish roustabout Karl discovers his softer side whilst acting the wet nurse for a terrible Henson Creature Shop baby dino called "26."
David needs to learn to assert himself, you see, and Karl needs to learn to overcome his species-ism against dinosaurs that, after all, only eat people when they're hungry. The dialogue wouldn't sound good in the mouths of decent actors--left to the tragically limited thesping abilities of Leitso, Miller, and Carr, Dinotopia becomes a cautionary example of telling your kids to do something they're good at before they embarrass themselves publicly. The worst performance of the piece, and the battle for that honour was neck-and-neck, belongs to Alice Krige, who, as insufferable Marion's insufferable mother, takes the proselytizing hippie earth mother archetype to new depths.
Based on James Gurney's inexplicably popular picture books, Dinotopia suffers mortally from being too faithful an adaptation of, well, picture books. There's no plot to speak of and there are no emotions to boast (mourning for Dad lasts all of ten seconds), just an endless cycle of walking, pointing, and gawping; the mini-series compounds its problems by being overscored and existing in computer landscapes that look like the "Myst" computer game--nice rendering exercises that one would never for a moment confuse with reality. The lone highlight of this mess comes well into hour four as Thewlis, loading harpoons onto a submarine, sings "Ladies of Spain" in clever Jaws homage. Judging by the intelligence of the rest of the script, I'm gonna hazard that this bit (which is only really clever in comparison, after all) is the actor's own.
Shudder at the implications of this broadcast's popularity and upcoming weekly television series. Dinotopia is what a big-budget blockbuster looks like when it's made for television. If you can keep a straight face during the vapid reveal of a "surprise" third castaway ("What'd you do for food?" "Er...all in good time, I'll tell you everything"), you're a better man than I. The small-screen event is guilty of every cinematic crime of which its big-screen-brethren are guilty--stupidity, vapidity, and bombast are ladled on so thick as to obfuscate that it's all shell and no egg.
Distributed through Artisan, Hallmark DVD's two-disc set presents Dinotopia in an extremely bright and crisp fullscreen (1.33:1) transfer. Colours are vibrant and impressively delineated and black levels are marvellous (particularly during an otherwise unconvincing Pteranadon attack). The Dolby 2.0 stereo mix is remarkably agile, with some of the larger talking dinosaurs producing a basso profundo rumble that shakes the hell out of the subwoofer. Though there is understandably little rear-channel workout, the sound is more than passable--it's downright impressive.
An eighteen-minute back-patting featurette called "Evolution: The Making of Dinotopia" begins the DVD's special features. If you feel you can't live without more of Zippo or dim-bulb Miller offering the opinion that Dinotopia is "biblical," this mini-doc is indispensable. A seven-minute interview with composer Trevor Jones offers neither excuse nor explanation (nor insight nor interest), and a ninety-second T-Rex attack is shown split-screened with storyboards to which it doesn't adhere very closely. A neat Dinotopia Encyclopaedia features a good deal of information (including a child-friendly "hear me" option) on nine species of animated saurian, an extra similar to one found on the Discovery Channel's When Dinosaurs Roamed America DVD.
Not so neat is a "Saurian Alphabet" decoder and a "Travel Through Dinotopia" map that allows one to explore the lost world. Speaking of which, a brief clip of a dino-battle from 1925's The Lost World is embedded as an Easter egg accessible by highlighting the "Dinotopia" header above the map feature; probably meant as a whimsical reminder of how far special effects have come in the last eighty years or son, that Willis O'Brien's stop-motion wizardry is possibly the neatest ten seconds in all five hours of footage on these two DVDs speaks volumes of the irony of the term "evolution" in the title of a making-of featurette.
Continuing: a ninety-second animated photo gallery is the very definition of superfluous (considering we've just endured 14,400 seconds of an animated photo gallery), two brief deleted scenes offer a moralizing character-edifying moment and some silliness involving a gift blanket, a Dinotopia Gameboy game preview offers tips & tricks and screen animations that remind a great deal of that old PC classic "Under the Root," and "26's Maze Game" is exactly what it sounds like, though if you should play it, more scenes are unlocked. Joy. The sadistically complete package is rounded out by: trailers for Hallmark productions Dinotopia, Jack & the Beanstalk: The Real Story, Snow White, Stranded, and Snow Queen, and The Hallmark Channel; cast & crew biographies; and a DVD-ROM package that includes another game ("Skybax Pilot Game"), storyboards, sound files, and an interactive trivia game. Originally published: September 2, 2002.