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Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index

DINOTOPIA

Directed by Marco Brambilla (2002, American Broadcasting Corporation)
Starring Tyron Leitso, Wentworth Miller, Katie Carr, David Thewlis, and Alice Krige

After landing on an uncharted island, two boys learn to live with dinosaurs and humans, and search for new protective sunstones.

 

 

2+ stars+

May 12th to 19th, 2002  
   

The three parts of this mini-series were all very different in terms of not only the adventure, but of the quality of the presentation. There were good moments, and cheesy moments. Overall, this felt more like an after-school special.

Part one was the worst, by far. In a mini-series, this is unfortunate, because that means it is less likely for people to tune in for the next installments. The first part had the most preachiness, the most artificial conflict, the worst lines, and pretty bad acting by all the leads except perhaps Marion. The second part was the best of the three, with actual goals for the characters to strive for, and a potential romance for both the boys. The third part couldn't live up to its predecessor, but fortunately, it allowed the characters to grow a little more, but with a fairly uninteresting and predictable plot.

The two boys were really poor actors, even at the best of times. The dialog was also stilted, which didn't help matters any. The characters asked stupid questions, instead of intelligent things. If Dinotopians judge the world now by what these boys represent, they must think society has gone over the brink. Karl is the worst character, but I think he's supposed to be annoying. Unfortunately, he is also the better actor. Karl is arrogant, always sticking his foot in his mouth, always playing the superior person, and thinking that people should all be like him. His denial about being stranded on Dinotopia is realistic, but overplayed, and he never seems to follow through on it except to lash out. If he was a smart kid, he would have joined in the society until he knows more about it, what is possible and so on. He could probably build a plane given enough time.

David is a better character, who wants to fit in, goes along with all the Dinotopian ideas, but it is all really an act, on to show the Dinotopian people, and Marion in particular, that he is better than his brother. But he is way too smug, and goes to the other extreme from Karl. Plus, the actor is so bad that even a good character like David seems so horrible to behold.

The movie wastes no time getting these two boys stranded on Dinotopia, with their father sinking to the bottom of the ocean with the airplane. Pretty gruesome for a G-rated film. They make the trip to Waterfall City on busses made from tame brachiosaurs. The episode preaches that humans and dinosaurs get along in perfect harmony, but Karl is right: the dinosaurs do all the hard work, and act as mounts. What do they get out of the arrangement; what do humans provide for them? They seem more like workhorses than anything else. I don't see the symbiosis. Almost immediately, the see that the world is not in as much harmony as the Dinotopians believe. Tyrannosaurs have attacked a village, and the bus service is suspended after they arrive at Waterfall City. I don't understand why the group walked away from their busses to investigate the attack. Seemed pretty stupid to me. I fully expected the brachiosaurs to be dead when they went back! When the T-Rex's reappear, I could only think of Sam Neil's character from Jurassic Park telling us that T-Rex can only hunt by sensing movement. Have theories been revised, or did the producers just forget that lesson?

The dinosaurs, however, were amazing.  They weren't held in awe, because they were part of everyday life.  And they worked much better for that.  The the effects actually make me think I was watching real dinosaurs!  They somehow didn't look like special effects at all -they were spectacularly done.

Waterfall City is a spectacular visualization -it is truly a city full of waterfalls, and is quite beautiful. Actually, all of the scenery is pretty nice. Obviously, a lot of time and energy and love went into all of it, especially the city. Unfortunately, the sight was offset by some particularly bad acting. The globe scene was also perplexing. David, the studious brother, says the globe appears to be several millennia out of date. Marion explains about the super-continent Gaia, and Karl remarks that he is surprised his half-brother didn't know that. But isn't that what David implied, saying the globe was millennia out of date? He didn't say it was completely wrong, just out of date!

The city welcomes the two boys with festivities, and brings them before their Congress, where they are asked about themselves and the world outside. It turns out that Dinotopia was populated originally by dinosaurs, but then humans began getting shipwrecked here, and now a healthy population thrives. But they haven't had a newcomer since World War II, and are anxious for news. I realize that the two boys are American, but the rest of the island is British. Why did the producers include only American events in David's summary? I hope he updated the library with what he knew afterwards, because he didn't particularly furnish many details. However, I suppose he did an adequate job for being put on the spot like that. Karl, on the other hand, was petty, up at the podium.

The two boys don't fit in, and although David seems to try, he doesn't fit in any better than his trouble-making brother. David is always bad-mouthing Karl, and eventually they get into a fight and careen down the waterfalls into the river far away. They discover a lost Temple, that they believe is an access point to the World Beneath, an ancient and sacred place for the dinosaurs. They are rescued by Marion and Zippo, the dinosaur librarian, and barely escape from the "carnivores".

Didn't anybody tell the people making this movie that humans are carnivores, too? Marion looks stricken when Karl asks for a steak. So that means we shouldn't eat meat. I suppose the episode is telling us that these humans are enlightened. Is it only enlightened dinosaurs that can learn to talk -only the vegisaurs, as Alexa from Jurassic Park called them? Marion seemed to be able to communicate with the vegisaurs, even the ones who couldn't speak English, but she only made one failed attempt at communication with the carnivores. What kind of message is this?

This is only one of the areas where the episode is so preachy. They also practice no violence, even to protect themselves. That theory is blown to shreds by the end of the series, however, when human and dinosaur alike try to repel the pteradons from attacking Waterfall City. Their commandments are very preachy, but essentially tell us to stay focused, get along, and don't rush. Aw, shucks. Unfortunately, humans don't work that way. Cyrus was the only example of a "bad person" in this movie, but in reality, there would have been many more.

Cyrus, however, was only a product of his environment. We don't find out much about him until part three, but it turns out that he and his father were persecuted for blasphemy. His father found a way into the World Beneath, but was jailed upon his arrival back in Dinotopia. Cyrus has been bitter ever since. However, although he appeals to Karl's nature in trying to get off the island, he never gives the boy any reasons for the things he does. For example, he knows that Karl is conflicted, so plays to that side of the boy's personality. But it's too bad that Karl never thinks to ask him to explain his motivation. Give him good reason to steal the book from the library, and figure out what is on that shipwreck before agreeing to it.

The bright side to the first part of the show was Zippo. He was so cute and funny! He is a stereotypical British librarian, shy and reserved, and so uncertain of himself outside the library, where he spends most of the show. He gets his toe bitten off by the carnivores at the temple, and is so far out of his league that it is real comedy to watch him. But when he enters the temple and sees ancient lettering, he is mesmerized, even though danger is all around him. He was the best character of the show.

Marion was caring and confident. But the part she had to play was "beautiful", so that she could be a romantic interest for both boys.  She was certainly pretty. Competition played out between both Karl and David, both trying to impress her, an neither quite managing it. The question forefront in my mind was which boy Marion would fall for. Would it be the quiet and polite David, who takes an interest in everything she does? More likely, it would be the roguish Karl, who breaks all the rules and gets away with it. Why do women seem to go to the ones who will get them in trouble? Probably because they are independent and likely to be more interesting. But it is such a cliché, that I had no doubt about who she would choose. I was surprised in the end, however, by the open-endedness of the relationships.

In the second part of the movie, Marion seems to get to choose both boys. She sneaks out in the night with Karl, swims beneath a waterfall, and shares a passionate kiss. Given that they must have been swimming naked (I'm sure they didn't have time to find bathing suits, if they even exist on Dinotopia), I have trouble believing that is all they shared that night. But I am sure the producers want to pretend that the kiss was the beginning and the end. Given what happens next, I have to wonder, but she never kisses David, and Karl behaves like a jealous jerk when he finds out she spent the night with his brother, and that is enough "proof" for me. I expected her to share a passionate kiss with David, when they spent the night in the pteradon nest, and was surprised when she didn't declare her love to him as well. He did, after all, embarrass himself by declaring his love for her.

David has a better love interest, however. But I think Romana was in the show only to arouse Marion's jealousy. It is too bad that Romana was blond, because that sets a beauty stereotype. But I think she was the better woman. She was stunningly beautiful, passionate, and very interesting. She also never gave up on David when he was learning to fly, teaching him and helping him. And whenever he failed, she was truly sad for him, but helped him get up and try again. Marion didn't' do any of that.  It looks like David and Romana became close friends, though. And seeing as this movie is being turned into a continuing TV series, there could be a romantic subplot involving her after all.

The boys are split up in the second part, with Karl learning how to take care of a baby dinosaur that he doesn't want, and David learning to fly a pteradon, which he also doesn't want to do. Marion is sent with David, and he makes the most of it to his brother. Strangely, Marion doesn't say anything about this competitiveness over her. She is sent to make contact with the carnivores, and is attacked by the pteradons later on. Her mission, interestingly enough, is a failure. David learns to fly a pteradon, but only after a lot of trials and failures, as well. He makes some very interesting real conflict, when his instructor forces him to continue training against his will. It was the most interesting part. By the end, when the pteradons won't allow him to ride them, he is incensed, and desperately wants to fly. That is an interesting turnaround, but it is also motivated by the fact that his brother managed to raise a baby dinosaur as his soul mate. Finally, he gets to fly off on a rebel pteradon that he and Marion had attempted to communicate with while in the nest.

Karl is in for a rough time, but after he is hypnotized by a brachiosaur, he becomes less violent and actually tries to fit in. That wears off, though. He is assigned an egg to take care of, and baby Twenty-Six is born soon after. It is hilarious how he turns into a maternal figure, fretting away after the baby. By the time he leaves for the Temple in part three, he is issuing instructions for her care to Zippo, who must know a thing or two about raising a dinosaur!

Karl meets up again with Cyrus, who convinces him to steal a sunstone, the magical lights that provide electricity, heat and protection to the citizens of Dinotopia. He gives the sunstone back, but pretends to trade it to Cyrus for a map of the razor reef, which has destroyed all boats trying to leave Dinotopia in the past. Karl's boat begins to sink because Cyrus sabotaged it, but that wasn't necessary, because, in a very tender moment, Twenty-Six tries to follow him, and sinks to the bottom of the shelf. Karl jumps from his boat and rescues her.

There is not much more to say about part two, since it flowed so nicely together. The acting seemed to improve a little, as did the writing, the conflict was less fabricated, and both characters seemed to settle into life in Dinotopia a little more. I was especially impressed with the special effects, with the exception of one of the pteradons that attacks Marion: it looked like a man in a rubber suit.

The third part pretty much ignores everything that happened earlier, aside from a few consistent threads. The focus here is the fading of the sunstones. It is never explained why they are fading, when Karl was able to bring back stones that were brighter than the sun. They take a trek to the lost Temple, and awaken a nest of thousands of evil pteradons. It seems convenient that the pteradons would attack Waterfall City, but that it took them days to get there, when David and Karl were arrested in a cart and brought back in a matter of hours. I suppose they stopped off for snacks along the way. Why didn't they just settle back into their nests when the disturbance left? And why haven't they been seen before? Surely they haven't been sitting with their wings unstretched for thousands of years... It didn't make sense, and that detracted from the pretty cool attack on the City near the very end of the show.

I hated the courtroom scenes, because nobody brought up any logical defenses for the boys. This can't be the first time people didn't fit in. Were they sentenced to go live with the carnivores? I was hoping Karl would have some nice speech to condemn these people and their tyrannical rule of peace (if that makes sense), but alas, he came up sounding rather stupid at the end. No wonder the Mayor wasn't convinced. But then I thought Marion would have something wonderful to say to her parents that would sway them. No luck there, as she cows down at the first sign of authority, even though it is her father. It would have been nice to see a good debate full of logical arguments. I bet Romana would have -she was a lot more passionate than Marion.

But the one thing that I enjoyed about the courtroom was the way the council didn't accept the defenses that Zippo put forward -because the heroic behavior that the boys displayed would not have been necessary if they had obeyed the rules in the first place. That always bothers me when people get hero's welcomes by fixing situations they put into motion in the first place, like when Tarzan rescues his tribe after leading the humans to them and disobeying the rules. He is a hero, while it was his fault their leader was killed in the first place. This court fortunately saw that, and I applaud it for their wisdom in this case, even if it was a blind sort of wisdom.

Cyrus comes to their rescue, in a funny scene where Zippo thinks he's come to shove the little dinosaur into the river again. Wasn't he kicked out of the city for that? Why does he walk freely around, then? The boys steal the journal of Cyrus' father's colleague from the library, and are nearly caught. Mayor Waldo is quite upset when he finds his daughter in the thick of things. They escape the city in a little boat that travels the sewer system in a true roller-coaster ride that leads down the waterfalls and into the jungle... to a wrecked steam ship -a real beauty. Cyrus has discovered his father's submersible. They fix it up (when did Karl become a technical genius?) and plunge into the deep, discovering the plane the boys crashed in on the bottom of the river. Why didn't they see the ship when they made it to shore in the first part?  When they discovered that the plane was empty, I began dreading the return of their father. And I was right.

Karl, David and Cyrus search the caves and discover the sunstones, which it turns out is part of the asteroid that destroyed the rest of the dinosaurs millions of years ago. Cool concept, illustrated by the writing on the walls. The dinosaurs waited out the asteroid impact down here, in the World Beneath!

Cyrus plans to leave them behind after gathering many sunstones, but is stopped from killing the boys by their father. Fortunately, Karl had the foresight to remove the power-source from the sub before leaving, and Cyrus sinks, unable to get away from the giant dinosaur that devours his ship. I had thought Cyrus' father had the submersible on his big ship. But apparently, because it was powered by a "perfect" sunstone (how did they define "perfect" anyway?), he must have built it. Great engineer!

I wonder why David and Karl were so surprised to find the second entrance to the World Beneath. They knew that there was more than one entrance -Zippo even said that the Temple must have been another entrance. Taking a sunstone with him, David convinces everybody to jump into the water pool in the center of the room. I can't figure out how gravity reversed itself in this room. They jumped down into the pool, and emerged from the floor upwards into the temple. Even if they were surprised about this, which didn't appear to be the case, why did it seem logical to them? I thought they would have to jump upwards...

David gets to save the day, as the pteradons attack Waterfall City, and the sunstones there fail, leaving them unprotected. His steed is waiting for him at the Temple (a true soul mate always knows when he will be needed, and where to be). I only wish we could have seen his father's face when he saw his son mount the pteradon and ride away. He must have been so proud, especially since in the beginning, David didn't even want to board a plane.

The climax of the mini-series was quite impressive, but I am amazed at the violence for a G-rated film! A little boy is even picked up by a pteradon and whisked away! David navigates the mazes of Waterfall City and almost manages to restore the prime sunstone, but it is knocked from his hands by an evil pteradon. Marion is there, however, and races to the top of the tower. I don't know why she had to be knocked out, so that it was actually Zippo who replaces the sunstone, turning the pteradons back. It was pretty exciting, actually!

David is awarded a medal, as the search for his brother and father continues for days. But the reason they couldn't be found is because they reentered the temple and retrieved hundreds of sunstones. I wonder how they managed to do that? Karl also seemed completely healed of his gunshot wound (from Cyrus), and gets a big hug from Marion.

I was really surprised that Marion didn't pick on of the boys to fall in love with. But I suppose the TV series is the reason behind that. They need to keep the romantic interest alive. Karl seems to have found his place in Dinotopia, however, and that sort of decreases the potential tension for later on. But it does form a nice conclusion to the mini-series.

The series was certainly not bad, even the first part, of which I was not enamored. The second part raises the quality quite a bit, though the conclusion doesn't do much to enhance the series. The acting was still pretty poor, and quite cheesy, and the dialog could have also used a lot of work. However, they still managed to pull it off. Visually, the dinosaurs and settings were beautiful to watch. Zippo and Twenty-Six were so cute! Of the human actors, Marion was certainly the best, by a long shot (Romana and the flight instructor Oonu didn't get all that much screen time). I also liked Cyrus a lot of the time, because he wasn't restricted by the Dinotopian beliefs -he had a different personality, and it is our differences that make us interesting. But somehow, they did manage to pull it off, even though it managed to be just a little more than a special-effects laden after-school special.

 
   

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