Prehistoric Planet review: Get your dinosaur documentary fix on Apple TV+

Gorgeous Prehistoric Planet will give you your dinosaur fix [Apple TV+ review]

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Prehistoric Planet review: Get to know Tyrannosaurus rex all over again in the new Apple TV+ dinosaur docuseries.★★★★☆
Get to know Tyrannosaurus rex all over again in the new Apple TV+ docuseries.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s newest docuseries is Prehistoric Planet, which delves into the lives and habits of a host of dinosaurs. Arriving next week — just in time to get kids of all ages excited about Jurassic World Dominionthe five-part series offers all the usual pleasures of presenter David Attenborough’s nature documentaries.

Viewers can learn — and be awed by the state-of-the-art CGI creature design and gorgeous location photography — all at once.

Prehistoric Planet review

In this dino documentary series, with a new episode airing every night from May 23 to 27, you’ll learn about ecosystems and species from before recorded time. See the parenting skills of the Tyrannosaurus rex, the first flight of winged predators, the dental upkeep of the mosasaurus and so much more in this sleekly produced and beautifully photographed study of animal life.

The show relies on gorgeous CGI renderings of dinosaurs, but also on location and animal photography to accurately place them in their environs. It’s uncanny stuff — and exactly the kind of lightly challenging edutainment that’s been a staple of TV programming for decades, with good reason. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs?

Cretaceous minds

You know the drill here. As far back as 1999’s Walking With Dinosaurs, a landmark bit of speculative historical reporting based on what was best understood about the behavior of extinct super-species, production houses have seen the value of presenting factual renderings of dinosaur behavior to match the endless fictional media about them.

So, just as Jurassic Park yielded ripoff films like Carnosaur and Dinosaur IslandWalking With Dinosaurs also inspired a legion of imitators. Dinosaurs are just too cool to not always be somewhere in the back of a producer’s mind. You almost can’t lose money if you do it right.

With the third entry in the excruciatingly retrograde Jurassic World series on its way, a couple of those producers had the bright idea to give the people their own bit of counterprogramming. The producers in this case are Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and Mike Gunton (Planet Earth), and the BBC Studios Natural History Unit.

Prehistoric Planet directors Adam Valdez and Andrew R. Jones are veteran special effects artists, having worked with Favreau before on The Jungle Book, and racking up credits on the enormous likes of Avatar, World War Z, The Lord of the Rings movies and, wouldn’t you know it, Jurassic Park. Jones also directed the groundbreaking CGI short film Final Flight of the Osiris, the Matrix-adjacent film that played before The Matrix Reloaded.

Both directors do a great job fusing real-world nature photography (by a host of nonfiction veterans like David Baillie, Mark Macewen and Paul D. Stewart) with the impossible sight of ancient jellyfish and raptors and the like.

David Attenborough: The voice of documentaries

David Attenborough presents "Prehistoric Planet," the dinosaur documentary series on Apple TV+.
English documentary legend David Attenborough presents Prehistoric Planet.
Photo: Apple TV+

Narrator David Attenborough is, of course, no stranger to this kind of program. He’s been a naturalist at heart since he saw a lecture from controversial conservationist Grey Owl (real name Archibald Belaney), who claimed Native American heritage because he thought it might lend credence to his fight to save the habitat of the North American beaver.

Attenborough’s brother Richard would make a handsome but tepid biopic about Grey Owl in 1999 starring Pierce Brosnan. (That came after Richard Attenborough starred in the first two Jurassic Park movies.) David Attenborough joined the BBC in 1952. And he’s been producing shows ever since.

He actually just presented another show about dinosaurs, called Dinosaurs: The Final Day With David Attenborough. That BBC series lacked Prehistoric Planet’s impressive production values, but had much to recommend it.

It also kicked up one of the dumbest controversies in recent times when U.K. newspaper The Sun accused Attenborough of trying to make the Tyrannosaur, a dinosaur with a brain the size of a tennis ball, “woke.” Just what they thought they were achieving is beyond me, but it was fun to see that the 95-year-old knighted biologist could still raise a public fuss after all these years.

Dinosaur fascination

There’s also something undeniably stirring about the idea that we still have a collective fascination with animal life that predates humans by millions of years. Scientists have learned so much about these animals through fossil records, and by comparing and contrasting their behavior to that of animals currently walking the earth, that we have about as clear a picture of them as ever.

Indeed, some people are qualified to describe the life cycle of an animal that hasn’t been alive for 60 million years with nearly the accuracy with which you could describe the life of a dog or a cat. If that isn’t a triumph of scientific imagination and determination, I don’t know what is.

Prehistoric Planet may be exactly what you expect it is. But to me, this kind of thing never ever gets old.

★★★★☆

Watch Prehistoric Planet on Apple TV+

The first episode of Prehistoric Planet premieres May 23 on Apple TV+. The other four episodes follow on consecutive weeknights.

Rated: TV-PG

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.