We went to see Walking With Dinosaurs at the 02 a couple of nights ago and I was thrilled by the animation. Absolutely superb! But I was so disappointed by the weak script. The dinosaurs were fantastic, truly enthralling, brilliantly constructed, and we loved them as much as any kids there. But the paleontologist’s explanatory storyline left much to be desired. The actor did his best, but it was a tough gig. It had that infotainment BBC quality that reminded me of articles in Look and Learn and Eagle. That awful educational quality that teachers and A-stream kids revel in, but bores the pants off the rest of us. Especially the kind of teachers who hate comics and want to bring back Eagle. They’re still out there, you know, with a subscription-only magazine called Aquila which specifically trashed comics in their advert in The Lady. (The Lady?! Well, they wouldn’t want readers whose parents read The Sun, would they?) Their nice middle-class readers, of course, would know it was the Latin for Eagle.
So the WWD script wasted precious time by including great chunks of Wikipedia-style exposition about the break up of the continents and the origins of flowers. Does anyone really trek out to the O2 to Look and Learn about cross-pollination?! We want more predators! More fights! More kills! And we want to see all the earthy, dirty, bloody, disgusting things dinosaurs do, because that’s what makes them real, not lectures on the Triassic. The time and elaborate SFX spent on enormous, unconvincing plastic flowers inflating around the stage could have been more usefully spent on building another dinosaur or creating a scene where they do actually bash each other up, not circle around endlessly and impotently growling. The script reminded me of the last time I was at the O2 – when it was still the millennium dome – and I was bored senseless by hard core edutainment, so dreary I have erased the details from my mind. All I can recall was Blair was responsible. The public gave that a resounding thumbs down, but the kind of people who hate popular culture will always ignore the masses. They know so much better. So here they are again on dinosaurs – who happily deliver at the box office, no matter what – peddling a recycled educational message which felt like it was from the 1950s Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia.
I watched the kids around us who were truly mesmerized as each monster thundered onto the stage, then I saw them zone out and concentrate on their popcorn as the Blue Peter script rambled on about tectonic plates, before their attention was quickened once more by an impressive pile of dinosaur shit. At last, I thought, we’re going to have something a little grittier. But, no, even the shit was given an antiseptic treatment with meaningless facts about dung beetles that led the storyline nowhere. Where were the remains of plants, or other animals, that not only tell a story about the dinosaur, but also provide glorious opportunities for grossing-out the punters? Alas, the show had no nasty facts. No gory facts. No gore. Not even circus-style hi-jinks, like a raptor or two jumping off the stage to attack the audience. Far too frivolous and irresponsible and possibly against health and safety. Its nannying restraint reminded me of when I ran Flesh in 2000AD and I wrote a scene where styracosaurs are picked up and slaughtered by the fleshdozers. The board of directors were genuinely concerned about featuring cruelty to dinosaurs, and – I assume – the bad example we were giving kids. FFS!
WWD also had no cutting edge research on dinosaurs, and no humility, no questioning to pique our sense of wonder, no “we don’t have all the answers”, “this is just a theory”, or “we have no idea why”, despite there being so many unanswered questions about them and the constant revisions of dino facts every few decades. And although the T Rex blew me away, it reminded me of the nagging doubts I’ve had ever since the current version debuted in Jurassic Park. I felt it in the Natural History museum version, too, but here in “reality”, it really bothered me. There’s something about the interpretation that doesn’t look quite right. I know palaeontologists or students of orthodoxy will protest it is definitive (as it usually is, until it’s revised) but I don’t care; it has to be said. When I look at contemporary predators, large and small, they have a certain killer quality that is implicit in their physique and in their eyes. It’s there in the Raptors, which is why they’re so popular; and of course it’s there in the Rex, but only through sheer scale and teeth: something is still missing in the latest reconstruction and it’s more than just the dreary colours it’s presented in. No stripes, like a tiger, or feathers or fur, for instance; that would be far too funky. An artist friend of mine said he felt there was something wrong, too. He thinks Rex has a “North London” look now. Cruel, but fair.
And the ending! Everyone knows the dinosaurs into birds theory. If we adults know it, you can be sure your average eight year old dinosaur lover has known it since they were five! But it’s presented here as a wow! twist ending. Concluding with a screen view of modern birds that was totally unspectacular and of subterranean budget, which is particularly shameful given the high price of admission to the show. My wife, who is an avid bird lover, was left decidedly unwowed by the poor bird graphics. I mean, if you will insist on birds as a twist ending, then you’ve got to really work at it. Find a way to enliven the cliché. It’s called script-writing. Don’t just dump it on us at the end with a patronizing “and guess what, kids?” reveal. But that’s what happens when you’re Walking with Teachers. Even Arthur Mee could have done better.
So if you feel, like me, that you’re missing out on some scary dino shit, and if you want to see them and other preds in popular culture where they truly belong, in the finest tradition of King Kong, Gwangi et al, then I recommend you check out the latest special monster issue of Comic Heroes. I’ve written an article about some of the finest monster moments in the classic series Flesh, Shako and Hook Jaw. So it gives you a chance to: Walk with Gorehead – the star of the new Flesh series, returning in 2013. Walk with Satanus, the star of Dredd’s Cursed Earth. Walk with a savage polar bear who, memorably, was once mistaken for a fluffy white bath towel. And, of course, Swim with Hook Jaw. Any educational content is not intended and is entirely coincidental.