HTF REVIEW: "Dinotopia" (Highly Recommended) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Jul 31, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein


    Studio: Artisan
    Year: 2002
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 240 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame

    Breathe Deep. Fly High!
    After Dinotopia premiered on ABC television
    last May, a co-worker of mine was a bit disgruntled
    that the miniseries had talking dinosaurs in
    it, but he said his kids enjoyed it anyway. Thus,
    when I received my screener copy for review, I was
    a little skeptical about what I was about to watch,
    never mind the fact that Dinotopia lasts for
    four hours.
    This was another one of those moments when I went
    into a movie with low expectations and came out of
    it on a sugar high. Dinotopia is pretty darn
    From Robert Halmi who gave us such grand-scale
    productions as The 10th Kingdom, Gulliver’s Travels,
    The Odyssey
    and Merlin brings us the
    grandest mini-series production of them all.
    Dinotopia was made on a budget of $85 million,
    with the effects costing $20 million alone.
    Frank Scott (Stuart Wilson) and his two teenage
    sons, Karl (Tyron Leitso) and David (Wentworth Miller)
    are flying high above the Caribbean sea when the
    plane goes down in the water. Karl and David
    survive only to find themselves castaways on a
    strange remote island.
    The first person they encounter on this island
    is Cyrus Crabb (David Thewlis), an archeologist
    who takes them into town where humans and dinosaurs
    peacefully co-exist. Karl and David are constantly
    at odds as David becomes peacefully in tune with
    his surroundings and Karl only wants to find a means
    to go home.
    The most wonderful person they meet in their
    travels is Marion (Katie Carr), who seems to be
    in touch with the dinosaurs around her. She
    takes the two boys to the spectacular capital,
    Waterfall City. It is there that they meet her
    father, Mayor Waldo (Jim Carter). The two boys
    enroll in the capital's academy so they can learn
    to be Dinotopians. David enrolls in the sky patrol
    as Karl works in the hatchery caring for his
    newborn dino.
    Within the city they meet Zippo, a talkative
    Stenonychosaurus who quickly takes a liking to the
    boys. But all is not well in the world of Dinotopia.
    The sun stones, which provide the life force of
    Dinotopia are starting to fail. The city may soon
    plunged into darkness and chaos and open for
    attack from unfriendly dinosaurs.
    In order to save the Dinotopia, the boys must
    embark on a dangerous journey that leads them to
    the underworld. Along the way they must decide
    who can be trusted and who can not.
    How is the transfer?
    It's a shame that such a beautiful film with
    its gorgeous landscapes and set designs is thrown
    away in a full-frame presentation. One must
    remember however, that Dinotopia was made
    for television and the public would probably not
    have readily accepted 4 hours of black bars. Go
    What we have is a gorgeous full-frame transfer
    that virtually has no flaws. Picture is bright,
    crisp and detailed. Colors are wildly vivid from
    the lush greens of the island to the sets and
    costumes that make up the eye-stunning Waterfall
    City. Flesh tones are accurate -- including those
    on the "scaly" creatures.
    Another unfortunate circumstance of a TV miniseries
    is the fact that we only get Dolby 2.0 surround.
    Don't despair, however, as this is a very active mix
    that makes up for its shortcomings. For starters,
    the rears do a nice job of supporting Trevor Jones'
    elaborate score. Then there's the effects that never
    seem to go silent with an abundant amount of sounds
    that feature dinosaur grunts, flyovers and the howling
    winds of Canyon City. The LFE channel even seems to
    get its share of the action by providing the low bass
    rumblings of dinosaur footsteps. Though the sound
    is not as directionally distinct as I would have
    wanted from a 5.1 track, I think many will be
    satisfied with how well this 2.0 track performs.
    Special Features
    Dinotopia arrives in a deluxe 2-disc
    set. The 240 minute film is split amongst the
    two DVDs with the first half of the film ending
    quite abruptly at about 2 hours on Disc One.
    Artisan has packed Disc Two with a large
    amount of added material that is sure to please
    adults and kids alike. Let's look at it....
    Evolution: The Making of Dinotopia is hosted
    by everyone's favorite "scaly", Zippo. Divided into
    several chapters that covers everything from story to
    cast to production, we begin with Executive Producer
    Robert Halmi who talks of the challenge of bringing
    a film that interacts humans and dinosaurs to the
    screen. Actors Tyron Leitso, Wenworth Miller and
    Katie Carr talk about the premise of the miniseries
    as well as their individual characters. We go to
    the Jim Henson Creature Shop where Technical Director
    Verner Gresty holds up the highly sophisticated
    animatronic #26 dinosaur. As we take a look at how
    this creature was created from mold, we can't help
    but marvel at the radio controls that operate this
    puppet, making it seem so realistically alive. We
    are soon brought to the tremendously huge set of
    Waterfall City as Production Designer Walter
    Martishius talks about his challenges of shooting
    this film sometimes 60 feet high in the air just
    to cover a shot of a dinosaur. We watch as an army
    of painters and carpenters put together this immense
    set. Visual Effects Supervisor Michael McGee takes
    us through the advanced methods of combining a
    computer on the set with camera movements to
    accurately combine the animated dinosaur elements
    with its real-life surroundings. How do you get
    to play ping-pong with a dinosaur? "Zippo" Animator
    Quentin Miles takes us from the dinosaur's virtual
    models to mike sessions where his voice was added.
    This is a rather complete and informative featurette
    that comes off as enjoyable.
    (length: approx. 18 minutes)
    We go to the famous Abbey Road Studios for An
    interview with Music Composer Trevor Jones. Here
    we learn why the composer prefers a big symphony in
    scoring film as opposed to synthesizer music. The
    priority in creating music for a large-scale movie
    about dinosaurs is by somehow being able to draw the
    audience into believing the created world. You can
    watch how this is done as a camera moves through a
    symphony of musicians who are performing a beautiful
    passage from the film. We learn that Trevor also
    created the scores for Gulliver's Travels and
    Merlin. Trevor sums up this piece by talking
    about how difficult it can be for composing for an
    effects film like this where there are never completed
    images to reference and most of what he is creating
    is done out of reading the script and relying on his
    Want to know how the initial T-Rex attack on Karl
    and David was conceived? Watch the storyboards
    in a window that plays above the final footage of
    the film.
    This is really cool! When you click on Dinosaur
    Encyclopedia, a friendly female voice prompts
    you to select from a group of 9 Dinosaurs. When
    you select your creature, you are brought to its
    own individual screen where you get vital statistics
    on the dinosaur. Select HEAR ME to hear how that
    animal sounds. Kids are going to have a great time
    with this feature.
    Don't be surprised when your child starts writing
    you secret messages in footprint code. You may have
    to reference the Saurian Alphabet to decipher
    the complete letter and numeric alphabet of Dinotopia.
    Travel Through Dinotopia with the aid of
    your female guide and a 3D computerized map that
    lets you select any area of the island. When you
    make your selection, narrated video footage gives
    you all the vital stats on that selected area. This
    is another cool feature that kids will enjoy browsing
    A very short animated photo gallery cleverly
    takes you through stills of some of the most
    memorable moments of the film.
    (length: under 2 minutes)
    Two Deleted Scenes are presented here. The
    first deleted sequence was probably the film's
    original opening as we see David and Karl trying
    to get through airport security with the bottle
    of Jack Daniels they bought for their father's
    birthday. This scene establishes how wealthy the
    boys father is, as they are picked up outside the
    airport in a limo. The second deleted scene has
    a very bored Karl inquiring about night life on
    Dinotopia only to be offered a jigsaw puzzle in
    exchange. Both scenes are fairly short and don't
    add anything to the film.
    (length: approx. 5 minutes)
    In addition to the mini-series trailer, there
    are also trailers included for Jack & the
    Beanstalk, Snow White, Stranded
    and Snow
    . There is also a promotion for the
    Hallmark Channel.
    A Cast Biography gives us background on
    the film's three young stars while a Filmmaker
    Biography not only gives us information on
    the primary filmmakers, but Framestore and the Jim
    Henson Shop as well.
    An included preview of Game Boy's Dinotopia:
    The Timestone Pirates also includes a few tips and
    tricks for players.
    Here's another nice game for the kiddies....In
    26's Maze Game you must help the dinosaur
    locate the 3 sun stones hidden inside a maze. As
    you find each stone, you go to the next level of
    the maze. Find all 3 sun stones and you get
    treated to some classic film footage.
    Finally, the DVD-ROM features a few
    goodies such as a Dinotopia Trivia Game, a
    Skybox Pilot game, a sound gallery and even
    access to the film's production storyboard.
    Final Thoughts
    I had so much fun with Dinotopia. It's
    an exciting adventure that has all the elements
    of Jurassic Park, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and
    The Wizard Of Oz all rolled into one film.
    Forget about the talking dinosaurs -- it's a
    small price to pay for a beautiful and highly
    adventurous miniseries that I never expected to
    see on television. With beautiful set designs
    and top-notch special effects (the dinosaurs look
    extremely convincing), Dinotopia can easily
    be your DVD utopia.
    At an online price of under $15, this is a must
    buy DVD -- especially for the fact that Artisan
    has really put together extra material that will
    keep the dinosaur-hungry kids playing with their
    remotes for hours.
    Release Date: Now
  2. Chris M

    Chris M Second Unit

    Apr 15, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Great review... I too was a little upset that they didn't shoot this for widescreen as it would have added a great deal to the film.
    I was going to get the DVD yesterday, but unfortunately it's been delayed by 2 weeks here in Canada [​IMG]
    Can't wait though. I loved this series. I can't wait for the full TV series this fall!
  3. michael deakin

    michael deakin Stunt Coordinator

    Jul 20, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Real Name:
    Michael Charles Deakin
    Thanks for the review Ron.
    This is one title that i had no idea about. But seeing has "The 10th kingdom" is one of my favorite mini Series ,I think i will give this a try.
    Thanks again. mike [​IMG]
  4. Eric F

    Eric F Screenwriter

    Sep 5, 1999
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    As I said in the other thread, ABC had a PR for Dinotopia that stated it would be aired in HD. So it's there's a big miscommunication here or it was indeed filmed for widescreen.
  5. Roberto Carlo

    Roberto Carlo Second Unit

    Apr 14, 2002
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    Thank you for the review, Ron. My only question concerns the transfer. Mine seems quite soft, almost out of focus at times. I recall the series looking the same way. I'd hoped that the DVD would be better, but it's nowhere near as good as other DVDs of television shows that I own. You're right, the show is very entertaining.
  6. Brian E

    Brian E Screenwriter

    Aug 12, 2000
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    I've been looking forward to the TV series ever since I saw the mini series. For $11.99 at CC or $12.99 at BB this is a steal!
  7. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

    Apr 15, 1999
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    I remember being very dissapointed that this was not broadcast in HD, since in my area only the ABC affilliate is up and running with HD. I never got around to watching all of it off my tape. As an experiment I zoomed the Dinotopia dvd with the player to fill my widescreen set.

    The vast majority of it looks like it was framed for 16/9, only a very few chopped off heads.

    The picture is a bit soft, even when not zoomed, but still acceptable for a tv miniseries.

    I'm only halfway through now, but am really enjoying it. Hope the upcoming series is as good, and broadcast in HD.
  8. Kenneth Cummings

    Kenneth Cummings Supporting Actor

    Aug 7, 2001
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    Very nice reveiw Ron, probably pick this up after a while when I get some other titles off my list.
  9. Sean Oneil

    Sean Oneil Supporting Actor

    Mar 19, 2001
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  10. Chris M

    Chris M Second Unit

    Apr 15, 2000
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    I don't think Dune mini-series was released by Hallmark first. This is a Hallmark release, not an Artisan release, so that's unlikely [​IMG]
    Though, Damn! That would be something [​IMG]
  11. Eric F

    Eric F Screenwriter

    Sep 5, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Ah, but the Dune mini ran in letterbox on Sci-Fi, unlike Dinotopia which aired in full-frame.
    I really think there's some serious miscommunication between ABC's PR and production depts. I was looking forward to seeing this one in HD. It even listed on ABC's own movie schedule it was HD.
    Remmber, this is Disney we're talking about here, and their attitude towards HD is just as confused as it is towards DVD. It is possible that somone just forgot to throw the switch and then decided not to bother on the subsequent nights. Infrequently movies are shown on ABC in HD which were never even promoted that way. Who knows?
    I do have to say that a few weeks ago ABC aired Babe[​IMG]ig in the City was the best looking and sounding HD broadcast I've seen yet.
  12. derek

    derek Second Unit

    Dec 20, 1998
    Likes Received:
    For family entertainment don't miss this DVD. My daughter and I have watched it over the past four nights and enjoyed every minute. Finally a classy dino movie for the younger ones to enjoy too. It does have its share of thrills, tense and scary scenes but nothing graphic. Excellent adventure for everyone! Transfer is quite good. Dolby Surround audio is dominated by the front soundstage but a few low end kicks and some surround action. Plus the xtras are good too. The 'travel guide' tour of Dinotopia is very fun along with the CGI models of the dinos. If you play '26's maze game' the short movie clip that follows you winning will THRILL the older sci/fi monster movie fan! (I won't spoil it!) *GRINS* I just can't believe how packed this release is and for the cannot find a better addition to your family collection.
    btw - there is a digital audio dropout in Chapter 15 for about 5 seconds (see ) A shame its the only thing that mars this disc.
  13. Brian Kidd

    Brian Kidd Screenwriter

    Nov 14, 2000
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    I get so sick and tired of having everybody here bash the 4:3 ratio. Widescreen doesn't necessarily mean better in every case. Remember that widescreen has only been around in general use since the 1950's. If a film is well-composed and photographed, it doesn't matter if it's square or rectangular. It's what you do with the space you have. Look at METROPOLIS. I dare anyone to say that it is not one of the most visually stunning films in the history of cinema. Ratio? 1.37:1 or thereabouts. On the other end of the spectrum we have films like DOGMA. As wide as they get nowadays and dull, dull, DULL to look at. From what has been said about this series, it looks pretty darn good. Who cares if it's square? Nitpicky, I know.

    I'm not bashing anyone personally, I just can't stand it when people complain about things not being widescreen when they just weren't filmed that way.
  14. Chris M

    Chris M Second Unit

    Apr 15, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Brian, we're not bashing that it's not recomposed for widescreen, we accept that it was shot in 4:3 and that's the way it's supposed to be. What we are complaining about is that it could visually be a better show if it WAS shot for 16:9. Not only that, but it would look 100x better on my 16:9 TV [​IMG]
    The dinosaurs and CGI are stunning.. but imagine what they'd look like if you had more on the sides?!
  15. JohnWK

    JohnWK Auditioning

    Mar 19, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Anyone else notice the sound dropout on disk 2 Chapter 46(Free-fall chapter) at the 1 hour and 5 minute position.
    The sound drops out for about 5 or 6 seconds in the tower scene. The TV viewing had sound at this location.
    I should add that this was noticed on two disks (I took the first one back) and 2 different players.
    Thanks JohnWK
  16. Eric F

    Eric F Screenwriter

    Sep 5, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Maybe there was a fear that the CGI would stand out way too much if it was filmed in HD? I really wonder if it was filmed that way or not. Alot of the Hallmark films are shot in widescreen, or at least matted, as far back as Ted Danson's "Gulliver's Travels".

    I might have to pick this one up anyways, even at the low price.
  17. Sean Oneil

    Sean Oneil Supporting Actor

    Mar 19, 2001
    Likes Received:
  18. Brian E

    Brian E Screenwriter

    Aug 12, 2000
    Likes Received:
    I had the sound drop out described when I was watching this on my laptop. Haven't been able to try it at home yet.
  19. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

    Apr 15, 1999
    Likes Received:
    I had the same sound dropout on my copy.
    Lasts about 5 seconds, while it's a minor annoyance it's not enough to make me return the disc or bother hassling with a replacement if/when the problem is fixed.
  20. CaptDS9E

    CaptDS9E Cinematographer

    Apr 18, 1999
    Likes Received:
    For some reason on Toshiba 2108 the 2nd disc
    dosnt load for dinotopia. IT works on all my other players except that one. Dont know why


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