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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Dinotopia (2002)

"I think the rules here are different, and we better start learning them."
- David (Wentworth Miller)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 19, 2002

Stars: Tyron Leitso, Wentworth Miller, Katie Carr, David Thewlis, Jim Carter
Other Stars: Alice Krige, Colin Salmon, Hannah Yelland, Lee Evans, Stuart Wilson, Terry Jones
Director: Marco Brambilla

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild dinosaur-related violence)
Run Time: 04h:08m:23s
Release Date: July 30, 2002
UPC: 707729128397
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B+C+ B

DVD Review

Author James Gurney released a number of enchanting books in his Dinotopia series, chronicling the adventures of wayward 1860s traveller Arthur Denison and his arrival in a mysterious land where dinosaurs co-exist peacefully with people, in some sort of pseudo-medieval/renaissance faire splendor. The over-sized books were made even more impressive by the richly detailed illustrations, which revealed the wonders of Dinotopia in great detail.

With the implied intent of an eventual weekly series lurking just beneath the surface, ABC and Hallmark unveiled their CG-filled version of Dinotopia as a mini-series in May of 2002, spread over three nights. This two-disc set from Artisan includes the entire Marco (Demolition Man) Brambilla-directed, four hour saga, in addition to a healthy serving of appropriate kiddie extras.

Simon Moore (The 10th Kingdom, Gulliver's Travels) adapted an original screenplay, setting the story for this incarnation (the beginning portion, at the very least) in modern day, as opposed to the 1860s of Gurney's first book. The premise is not too dissimilar, with teenaged brothers Karl (Tyron Leitso) and David (Wentworth Miller) washing up on a strange island, after their small plane crashes in a storm, sinking to the bottom of the sea, along with their drowned father Frank (Stuart Wilson).

The boys eventually come across a shifty character named Cyrus Crabb (David Thewlis), who leads them to the idyllic Waterfall City which, as the name implies, is encircled by an elaborate array of thundering waterfalls. A minor sore spot for me was that Karl and David don't really relay the stunned wonder one might expect when they see their first dinosaur, and their almost glib, wisecrack-filled acceptance of the entire scope of the Dinotopian environment reflects some of the more juvenile elements of Moore's often windy screenplay.

It is in Waterfall City that the boys also meet the lovely Marion (Katie Carr), who just happens to be the daughter of the slightly buffoonish Mayor Waldo (Jim Carter). As the boys alternatingly compete for her favors (including a surprising—for a family film that is—late night skinny dip with Karl), she diligently displays an almost Stepford Wife personna, true to the peaceful Dinotopian way.

A good chunk of the first two hours simply centers on Karl and David exploring their surroundings, learning the ways of their new home, before the second half kicks in with the search for a legendary underground world (aka The World Beneath, also a part of Gurney's original stories) which just might save Dinotopia from an impending Pteranodon attack (hey, they look just like Pterodactyls, if you ask me).

Dinotopia is a visually ambitious project, especially for television, and the caliber of the CG effects are often pretty impressive. The interaction of the dinosaurs with the human actors is done very smoothly; even the constant presence of the Jar Jar Binks-ish dinosaur Zippo (voiced by Lee Evans) is remarkably seamless. The quality slips a little on just a few of the secondary dinosaurs in only a couple of scenes, but for the most part the production shows off it's CG wizardry amazingly well. The Brachiosaur caravan looks almost as good as their Jurassic Park counterparts, and the triceratops and stegosaurs seem equally as lifelike. Some comic relief, in the form of a colorful, grumbling messenger bird (voiced by Terry Jones) is equally well-animated, and provides some much needed slapstick levity.

Generally in big CG projects like this, the acting takes a backseat. Dinotopia unfortunately is no exception, and it's the leads, no less. As Karl and David, Leitso and Miller sometimes seem to be stiffly reading their lines for what appears to be the first time, and they coughed up a few bits of dialogue that had my daughter Sammy and me cracking up in our popcorn bowl. Thewlis, on the other hand, as the peg-legged Crabb, saves things by doing a fine job limping about, snarling his dislike for the dinosaurs, whom he refers to as "scalies." His character's unpredictability was a hoot to watch, and his performance gives this production some substance, which was lacking in most of the other characterizations.

The trouble with a television mini-series is that there is generally too much padding in the writing, and that bloated feeling is in evidence in Dinotopia, as the middle section seems to drag on for what seems like forever. The excess is at least bolstered by some wonderful visual effects, but Moore's screenplay is missing some of the narrative punch found in his work on the more literate The 10th Kingdom and Gulliver's Travels.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame, Dinotopia actually looks quite good on this two-disc set. Colors are bright and well-saturated (check out the colors in the Mayor's clownish getup), and reproduced nicely, with an emphasis on deep golds and yellows. Black levels are decent, as well. All in all, a very solid transfer from Artisan.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Dinotopia is presented in a less than spectacular 2.0 Dolby stereo mix, and as such doesn't offer much in the way of flashy surround effects. That's too bad, because a film like this could have really been enhanced by a more aggressively mixed audio track. That's not to say the 2.0 mix is awful, but it does lack any serious separation. Dialogue occasionally sounded buried a little too deep, causing some passages to be not completely intelligible. Some of the dinosaur sequences had decent bottom end rumble, but too often (as during the Brachiosaur stomp during the Sunstone ritual) sounded flat. The audio on disc 2 completely cut out for about five seconds during the World Beneath climax.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 48 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Jack & The Beanstalk, Snow White, Stranded, Snow Queen, and The Hallmark Channel
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 26's Maze Game
  2. Dinotopia Data
  3. Saurian Alphabet
  4. Travel Through Dinotopia
  5. Animated Photo Gallery
Extras Review: This two-disc set from Artisan splits the film rather unevenly, putting 02h:58m:37s (32 chapters) on disc one, with the remaining 01h:10:58s (16 chapters) onto disc two, along with the extras. It looks like a generous lot of bonus material at first glance, but most of it (other than a couple of nicely done behind-the-scenes featurettes) seems adequately designed for the under seven set.

Evolution: The Making of Dinotopia (17m:59s)
This is the lengthiest of the behind-the-scenes content, and it features comments from most of the production principals, including Dinotopia author Jim Gurney. The piece is divided into sections, covering characters, story, production and animation. The best parts, in my opinion, are the effects segments, covering the creation of the puppet of baby dinosaur 26, as well as a number of various, fairly sophisticated CG effects shots. The only unfortunate part of this is the bad CG of Zippo, who acts as sort of a host for Evolution. The caliber of animation is rungs below the quality of the film itself, and I suspect that's how Zippo will look when Dinotopia becomes a regular series.

Interview With Music Composer Trevor Jones (07m:17s)
This short consists primarily of a low key Jones discussing how the score was written, over shots of the orchestra performing and recording at Abbey Road Studio. The content here isn't incredibly deep by any means, but on a personal level I actually find it fascinating to see the musicians doing their thing.

Storyboards: The T-Rex Attack (01m:32s)
Pretty self-explanatory, I think. Here we have ninety seconds of storyboard comparison for the T-Rex scene early in Dinotopia, with the finished product playing in the lower right corner.

Deleted Scenes
Two brief, excised scenes are presented, neither of which are particularly substantial. Happy B-Day, Pops (01m:22s) takes place just prior to the scene that opens the film, and mostly consists of Karl trying to get a bottle of booze through customs. The second is Dinotopia Nightlife (02m:12s), which provides a little insight into why Karl was putting a puzzle together during a later scene at the hatchery.

26's Maze Game
Not so much a game as a time-waster, the object is to navigate the dinosaur called 26 through a maze to find the hidden sunstone. There are three levels, zero replay value, but you do get rewarded with a very cool, albeit brief, piece of "hidden" dinosaur footage.

Dinosaur Data
Pseudo-educational stuff, offering factoids on nine different dinosaurs, read by a female voice. There is a "Hear Me" option also, which allows you to hear a simulation of how the beasts would sound "in the wild."

Saurian Alphabet
Do the kiddies need a secret code to send private messages? Here's a one-screen deciphering of the footprint-based saurian alphabet used in the mini-series.

Travel Through Dinotopia
A map of Dinotopia allows you to select either the Earth Farm, Waterfall City, World Beneath or Canyon City, and get a brief overview of the local flavor.

Animated Photo Gallery (07m:37s)
This animated set of images has a stylish appearance, with the pictures zooming in and out like a video game.

Also included are a number of Hallmark product trailers (Dinotopia, Jack & The Beanstalk, Snow White, Stranded, Snow Queen, and and ad for The Hallmark Channel itself), tips and a preview of the Dinotopia Gameboy product and bios/filmographies. There are no subtitles. DVD-ROM extras include more non-challenging games like Skybax Pilot and pointless Dinotopia trivia.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The long runtime (a tad over four hours) requires a little dedication to get through to the end of disc two, but if you do you'll be rewarded with an entertaining family-friendly outing, in addition to acting as a lead-in to the television series. Fans of Gurney's original works might be a little peeved at the thinly-veiled references to the characters from the Dinotopia books; it seemed to me, though, that by setting the story years after the events of the books was a wise idea, and certainly one more adaptable to the confines of a weekly series.

The bulk of the CG effects are quite good, and certainly more elaborate than most television fare. I don't know what the replay value on something like this de to its length, but it's recommended as a family rental, at the very least.


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