The first two things everyone wants to know about Walking with Dinosaurs: The Live Experience, the $26 million stage version of the popular BBC television series, are: How realistic do the dinosaurs look? And how big are they, really?
Well, I’m here to tell you that the dinosaurs are really, really big, and they look remarkably real. In fact, some of them are huge. Ginormous, even. Thank god these beasts are extinct, because if they weren’t we’d have to rethink the whole beauty of nature thing, not to mention the camping policies in our national parks. The tallest one, an adult Brachiosaurus, takes up half the floor and its head almost touches the lighting grid. The Stegosaurus is the size of a garbage truck, and the Torosauruses make your average rhinoceros look like a beanie baby.
Back in 1999, when the television series began, it was hailed as the most realistic depiction of dinosaur life ever created, with computer-generated dinosaurs hunting and eating each other in graphically glorious detail. The stage version is basically a 3D TV show, complete with a paleontologist narrator who acts as the audience’s guide through three distinct periods in dinosaur history. It’s created by the BBC, so there’s an educational component, but the thing isn’t so loaded down with knowledge that kids won’t have fun. Think of it more as a circus with footnotes.
Of course, what kids love best about the TV series is that it shows dinosaurs killing each other and ripping each other’s guts out. There is a smidgen of obligatory intestine in the stage show, and a band of raptors do a little carcass munching, but that’s about it for the gore. Mostly what we see is two or more dinosaurs lumbering around, threatening to fight each other, and occasionally roaring at the crowd.
But that’s enough, because . . . have I mentioned how big and realistic-looking these dinosaurs are? The skin texture and movement are particularly impressive. Indeed, what Walking with Dinosaurs really represents is an entirely new form of arena-based entertainment. No longer are arenas like Xcel limited to concerts, hockey, basketball, and the occasional ice capade. With a little multimedia, some professional stagecraft, and a few million dollars, it’s now possible to bring extinct creatures back to life, almost, and charge people from thirty to seventy-five bucks a head to see it. That’s pretty incredible, considering that the coolest thing in dinosaurs when I was a kid was my plastic T-Rex, which, at the time, represented eighteen inches of pure evolutionary fury.
But as impressive an achievement as Walking with Dinosaurs is, one sometimes wonders if we adults might be going overboard in our ever more miraculous attempts to amaze the kiddies—to the point where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to amaze them at all. At Walking with Dinosaurs, during the climax of the show, when the mighty T-Rex is saving its baby from the evil encroachments of a pair of angry Torosaurases, I heard the kid behind me ask his mom, “Hey, when we get home, can I watch TV?”