***/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras C-
narrated by John Goodman
written by Georgann Kane
directed by Pierre de Lespinois
by Walter Chaw A co-production of the Discovery Channel that originally aired there, When Dinosaurs Roamed America is a computer-generated simulation of dinosaurs in their habitat, interacting like lions and elephants on an African savannah. It is narrated with homey warmth by John Goodman and interrupted now and again by paleontologists, who present the most recent information available on the beasts portrayed. A hi-tech bit of necromancy, When Dinosaurs Roamed America is consistently fascinating; the fact that all of the information and images presented are highly theoretical and possibly already outdated only distracts a little from the overall impact of the piece.
Beginning in the Triassic era and continuing through the Jurassic (director of animation Don Waller worked on Spielberg's Jurassic Park) before ending in the late Cretaceous, When Dinosaurs Roamed America features a great many familiar faces--triceratops, tyrannosaurus, pteranodon--while presenting a new, feathered visage for the murderous velociraptors immortalized in Spielberg's films. Although the interaction between CGI and a real Florida everglades environment is sometimes sketchy (with most of the problems arising in inconsistent water and wake effects; Waller also worked on Disney's similarly integrated Dinosaur, and to greater success), the film manages to present an amazingly detailed representation of several dinosaur species.
Overprotective parents should be forewarned that while this is a rare piece of educational entertainment as enthralling to children as their parents, When Dinosaurs Roamed America pulls no punches in its depiction of dino-on-dino violence. Despite exhibiting all due restraint, the production's laudable dedication to realism extends to the more carnal animal concerns of hunting, feeding, and mating.
Artisan's DVD release of this Discovery Channel production sports a gorgeous 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced widescreen video transfer (misidentified as 2.35:1 on the case art) that showcases the digital nature of its great lizards to sometimes-breathtaking effect. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack makes good use of ambient noise and rumbling that extends to the rear speakers, reaching its apex in numerous chase sequences and crunching conflicts.
Two behind-the-scenes documentaries reveal themselves to be three-minute promotional features obviously aired on the Discovery Channel as long commercials. A "music video" is the same, but rather than meaningless interviews and cursory looks at the technology employed in the film, it is a collection of images of animators goofing around set to music. A "dinosaur quiz" comprises ten multiple-choice questions that are answered on the same page, making it less of a quiz than a Q&A session, and a "dinosaur facts" feature is interesting if bordering on dry. The problem with both of the latter is that they are text-intensive, and for as interesting as it might be for an adult or older child, younger viewers will undoubtedly require active parental guidance to enjoy the features. That actually doesn't sound too bad, come to think of it.
A pair of interviews--one with animator Waller, the other with the paleontologists consulted for this production--are similarly text-intensive, though a very nifty "dinosaur images" feature showcases five of the animated beasties on black backgrounds, loping along to dramatic music. Commentary and an extended menagerie would've been nice, but the artistry of the creations is impressive in tableaux vivants. The disc is rounded out by crew biographies.
90 minutes; NR; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1; CC; DVD-9; Region One; Artisan