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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Walking with Dinosaurs Review

I promised a reveiw for Walking with Dinosaurs, and here it is!Walking with Dinosors was really well done. The script was good, and even funny in parts. The music added to the show without feeling contrived. The scenery was appropriate And the dinosaurs? Pretty damn cool.

I guess my kids are jaded, because after the show started, my 7 year old daughter said “this is better than I expected,” and my 5 year old son said “I actually like the show. Can we go again?” And this is after I talked it up.
We were sitting in the second row of the balcony, and could see just fine. It helps that the dinosaurs were huge. When I sat in similar seats for Tour of Gymnastics Superstars, I could barely see. Here, the ONLY human in the show is about six feet tall. But he looks like an ant compared the real attraction – the dinosaurs. And he’s projected onto two screens, so you can see him up close anyway.

The show takes you through three periods in history, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, learning about the continents, weather, flora and fauna, and the dinosaurs that went with it. I learned a lot without feeling like it was a paleontology class, and most importantly, my kids weren’t bored. I’ll have to quiz them later about what they actually learned (I’m sure it was something). But if nothing else, it was very cool to see the dinosaurs walking around, roaring and interacting.

About the dinosaurs. The smaller ones were so agile it was amazing. Spoiler alert: I finally realized that there’s a person inside there, using his/her legs to power the puppy. Aha – that’s how they move so well. Still, the smaller dinosaurs had so much personality and were very cute.

The larger dinosaurs were still incredible to watch, even though they dragged along a t-shaped bar below them as they walked, which helped prop them up and probably power them. They moved more slowly, but still had great use of their tails, necks and heads. The dinosaur skin, even from the balcony, looked leathery like elephant skin – with folds and texture. They looked quite believable, especially when they roared.

The show starts out in the Triassic period, where there is one continent, Pangea. There are no flowers and it’s a desert environment, 200 million years “BCG” – before computer games (see, I said it was sort of funny). Everything hatches from eggs. Two baby dinosaurs hatch on stage, and they were adorable. “It looks real!” my daughter exclaimed. First dino to enter – a plateosaurus – the first of the giant dinosaurs. It conserves water (there isn’t much) by not sweating or peeing. It weighs four tons. And it’s the beginning of the separation between herbivores and carnivores.

50 million years later, and Pangea has broken apart, splitting with narrow seaways between the land masses. Rain increased and vegetation “exploded.” And on the sidelines of the stage, giant green sprouts appear. “That’s awesome!” my daughter exclaims.

We’re now in the Jurassic period. We follow some giant footprints around the stage, as the paleontologist explains how he learns about the animals by trace fossils – living things (not dead things like bones). He would look for teeth marks which show how they ate or fought, dung (“oooooo” says the younger audience members) which of course shows what they ate. He’d look at the length of their strides and see if they lived in herds.

Out comes a stegosaurus, which draws blood into its plates when provoked, and the allosaurus, which has a giraffe-like neck. Later, in the late Jurassic period, the allosaurus is still here, but now there’s the brachiasaurus, which eats enough fern and pine to grow a ton a year, to its full size. The eggs they hatch from are the size of a football. Dinosaurs peaked at this time, at which point we went to intermission.

After the 20 minute break, dry ice smoke filled the stage, and we jumped aged 30 million years to the Cretaceous period. We watched an ornithocheirus fly over the Atlantic ocean for awhile, a precursor to our birds today (only much larger). The dinosaur landed on dry land, since the continents now have separated to the point where there is Europe and the Americas, only to get eaten by three Utah raptors. Bummer.

The mid-Cretaceous period came on with flowers for the first time, co-evolving with insects which had been around already. Pollination, nectar and colorful flowers became part of the cycle. And at this time, the torosaurus, which means “bull lizard,” was alive. This one was awesome looking dinosaur, with a giant crest on its head, to display its, you know, testosterone.

At the end of the Cretaceous period, came the ankylosaurus, with even heavier armor and a club tail. And then the dino everyone knows best – the T-Rex, which impressively roars around on stage for awhile before the crater hits, destroying 65% of life on the planet, including the dinosaur show.

No matter how much clapping there was at the end, there was no encore, though the baby T-Rex came out for a bow with the paleontologist. I kind of wished the engineers would come out too - it felt a little weird to only clap for the paleontologist and baby dino.

How long is Walking with Dinosaurs?

The show advertises itself as 90 minutes. And certainly you are in the arena for 90 minutes. However 20 of those minutes are for an intermission, which happens a half hour into the first show. It was a bit jarring to have an intermission so early, but I guess they had to sell some refreshments, stuffed dinosaurs, light sticks and also set the stage with “clouds” for the flying dinosaur to come. But to be honest, an hour show was about right for my kids. Not once did my son tell me he wanted to go home, or to ask for food. He was enthralled.
Walking with Dinosaurs tickets
When: December 27-30, 2008 (8 shows) at the HP Pavilion, San Jose
Time: Times range from 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets to Walking with Dinosaurs tickets are $35, $49 and $70.
Here's a $10 discount coupon for Walking with Dinosaurs (off the $49 and $70 tickets).

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