Jurassic Parka! – A Review of March of the Dinosaurs

Yes, we know that this two hour animation was set in the Late Cretaceous but we could not help ourselves going for the “Jurassic Parka” pun.  Narrated by Stephen Fry and directed by Matthew Thompson, this CGI documentary (March of the Dinosaurs), tells the story of Scar, a young Edmontosaurus (duck-billed dinosaur) and his herd’s migration away from the high north of the Americas down the western shores of the huge inland sea that effectively cut North America in two for much of the Cretaceous.

Herds of herbivores would gorge themselves on the abundant vegetation in northern latitudes which would have had almost perpetual sunlight to permit plants to grow through the summer months.  However, as the year passed, so the sun would dip lower and lower each day until it would no longer emerge above the horizon and the long night of winter would prevail.  The summer migrants would be heading south to avoid the worst of the winter, whilst the resident dinosaurs such as a troodontid known as Patch would stay put.

March of the Dinosaurs

The trek made by Scar and his herd, plus the perils of winter survival for Patch, form the basis of this CGI documentary which runs for 87 minutes in total.  The storyline is loosely based on our knowledge of the Dinosauria and other creatures from fossil remains found at locations that would have been near the High Arctic during the Cretaceous.  The behaviour of the dinosaurs and many of the dramatic twists and turns in the plot are based on conjecture and assumptions.  For example, there is no proof that Gorgosaurus (a tyrannosaurid) was a specialist nocturnal hunter.

The story starts at the end of the summer and the first signs of a change in season for the herd of duck-billed dinosaurs. Soon the darkening skies begin to limit the amount of available plant food and the great herds of plant-eaters are forced to head south to avoid the worst of the winter and to find enough food to feed their massive bulk.

Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs

Along the way, Scar and the other dinosaurs face predation, natural disasters and death from starvation.  It was interesting to see the Azhdarchidae pterosaurs such as Quetzalcoatlus depicted as scavengers circling high above the sparse plains waiting to feed on the dying and the dead.  Although fossils of some Azhdarchidae pterosaurs such as Quetzalcoatlus are associated with inland areas and not marine environments, whether or not these huge flying reptiles really filled the same ecological niche as vultures do today is a moot point.

For Patch and the rest of the residents of the Arctic forest they have to survive as best they can in the perpetual darkness.  The armoured dinosaur referred to as an ankylosaur which shared the frozen forest with the troodontids, had no tail club.  This fact would not have gone unnoticed by young dinosaur fans watching.  The animal depicted was actually a member of the Nodosauridae, a family of the Ankylosauria that lacked a bony club on the end of their tails.  Whether or not such an animal once flipped on its back could right itself again is open to speculation once more.

A Diverting and Entertaining Tale

All in all, a diverting and entertaining tale, loosely based on scientific knowledge.  Certainly, lots of dinosaurs migrated and lived in herds, these herds in turn, would have been pursued by predators such as packs of Albertosaurus (fossils of these tyrannosaurs have been found in close proximity to each other suggesting a pack behaviour).  The CGI although impressive in parts reminded us of the sort of computer graphics seen in computer games, the landscape and details of the undergrowth could have been much better.

As for the mosasaurs lurking in rivers and frozen lakes, as far as we know there is not a lot of fossil evidence to support this and troodontids laying eggs on compacted snow in the depths of winter, we thought this most unlikely.  Our team members suspect that most if not all animals would lay eggs during the period when the sunlight had returned and the temperature had begun to rise.  After all, most modern birds do this (excluding some species of penguin). So a little bit of a mixed bag or keeping our Dinosaurian/Avian thinking caps on should we refer to this documentary as a bit like the curate’s egg.

For models and replicas of many of the prehistoric animals featured in the programme: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models.