Sunday, December 22, 2013

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D: A Personal Movie Review from a Non-Movie-Critic Paleontologist

So last night I saw “Walking with Dinosaurs 3D” in theaters.

One word: Phenomenal.

This was, by far, one of THE most gorgeous animated animal movies I have ever seen (especially in terms of dinosaurs). The animation was incredible. The amount of intricate detail that was put into creating each animal was unreal. And what’s even more amazing is the amount of variation they put into creating each individual of a species while still making it recognizable as that species, so they can tell one individual (or character) from another. Even the fluid movements of each animal were realistic and the combination of that with the visual appeal of beautiful real-life landscapes worked perfectly. Hands down.

I also thought they did a good job introducing most of the dinosaurs, with a little snippet on each taxon that showed up (a few being Pachyrhinosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Edmontosaurus, an ankylosaur of some sort, Troodon, and Alexornis—oh, and a pterosaur), although, I wish they would have spent more time talking about each one like they did with Gorgosaurus. He got a little more informative attention for some reason. (And did anyone notice they didn't introduce Parksosaurus at all?? Poor guy. I like Parksosaurus!) I will make a note to say, however, that it did feel slightly awkward because I could never tell if I was watching a movie or a documentary. It was sort of this weird purgatory between the two and it made me a little uncomfortable, but once you get past that feeling, it is REALLY an enjoyable movie.

Now, I’m not going to go too much into the details of the story, because it is pretty much more or less the same storyline you always see in a dinosaur movie (which, let’s be honest, what else do they really have to work with?). Cool looking plant-eating dinosaurs (in this case, the AWESOME Pachyrhinosaurus [perfect choice, by the way]) are migrating from one place to another from season to season. They, of course, keep running into carnivores along the way that the herbivores can’t actually communicate with for whatever untold reason. Also, the main character, Patchi the Pachyrhinosaurus, starts off a small, dinky runt and apparently turns out to beat out the bully and become the biggest badass dinosaur that ever walked the face of the earth.

That said, I mainly want to get into the discussion of the fact that there were voiceovers:

Sorry to most of my paleontologist colleagues out there, but I LIKED the voices.

Not to say it wasn’t annoying from time to time and some of the dialogue was pretty much the cheesiest thing ever. BUT, nevertheless, it was good that they put it in. Why? Because that is how movies work! If you’re going to have a movie that is an hour and a half long, dialogue helps keep the attention span. Not only for kids. For EVERYONE. If someone doesn’t pay attention for even a couple minutes to a certain interaction two dinosaurs have with each other that is important to the story line… that’s it. The rest of the story is gone. Dialogue helps that keep moving to keep you on track.

Let me put it this way. How many of us loved Land Before Time as a child? (And I’m talking about the original; not the crappy 50 other ones that were made.) I know I loved it as a kid. And guess what? That stuff was nowhere NEAR accurate, and yet it made me love dinosaurs that much more! And they talked. A LOT. It’s a kid’s movie. Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is pretty much just a prettier, more accurate version of Land Before Time (with a debatably less fun storyline). Name me one GOOD animal movie that was at least an hour and a half that didn’t have dialogue in it and we’ll talk. (Oh, and it can’t have any humans in it talking either. OR written dialogue, like in a silent movie, because guess what? THAT’S STILL DIALOGUE.)

Now, some people complain that their mouths weren’t moving and they were somehow telepathically talking. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s much better than them having lips and talking, like in Disney’s Dinosaur from years ago. Dinosaurs don’t have lips. We all know this. (SCIENCE!) So, again, just to make the movie run along better, dialogue helps it keep going. (Also, Homeward Bound was fantastic, and they were talking telepathically. So it's okay!) Now, maybe they could have had a narrator talking, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. I know I laughed quite a few times and the people around me laughed as well throughout. It was funny! (Again, in a cheesy way, but still… THAT’S OKAY!)

So, to sum up: GO SEE IT. Paleontologists and non-paleontologists alike. It’s a great and fun movie for all ages. And to a lot of my colleagues out there who don’t like the dialogue, it’s just for fun. It’s a movie. It has nothing to do with the fact that they underestimate how smart kids are in understanding a storyline with no dialogue. It is just a matter of attention span. It’s human nature to zone out from time to time. Words help keep you in check in most long stories. They didn’t just make this movie for us paleontologists to be pleased with. They made it for everyone. And pretty much everyone I talked to who is not a paleontologist and who IS a movie lover agrees with how it was done. So just embrace it and have fun with it! After all, this movie is going to influence so many more kids to get into the field and into science in general!

Because, let's face it…What better way is there to get kids interested in science at a really young age than exposing them to DINOSAURS?!

Peace out. I need to get back to writing my dissertation now. Hah!
~ Ali

Friday, December 20, 2013

Predentaries: A Poem

Sooooo, just a on a whim (and from a couple requests) I have written a little poem about the ornithischian predentary bone.

I am SO sorry about the next minute of your life that you are about to lose:

A poem by Ali Nabavizadeh

The predentary bone is one to ponder;
Unique, peculiar, and full of wonder.
It sat in front of many a dinosaur jaw;
In hopes that plants are what it saw.

They came triangular, round, or square;
And no other jawbone could compare.
For it was on its own, all lonesome and sad;
Thinking of the counterpart it never had.

I cannot stress enough, however;
That this tiny bone did much to sever;
The innocent plant life that grew around.
It would chop it up before making a sound.

Stegosaurus and those duck-billed creatures;
Are only a few who shared this feature.
Ankylosaurus was also among them
And that Triceratops, with three horns; a gem.

Heterodontosaurids—they started it out,
(Or at least that’s what phylogenies seem to talk about).
Who knows, though? It’s hard to tell these days;
Because us paleontologists cant agree on what trees go—and what stays.

The function of this peculiar bone;
Has long been thought to be nipping plants on its own.
I’m willing to bet my life, however;
That this bone did much more than just sever.

It sat in the middle, proud and bold;
With two dentary bones on either side that rolled;
Around their long axes as the animal chewed;
While rotating around each predentary joint—‘Yum, food’.

The predentary bone would stay just still;
As the other bones would show off their skill;
Chewing the plants on both sides of the jaw;
While Mr. Predentary grabbed more food to gnaw.

So you see, my friends, predentaries worked wonders;
Although researching their function gives me mental blunders.
It is safe to say that, though it does have some class;
The predentary bone is just a pain in my ass.

~ Ali