Just a few seconds into Raising the Dinosaur Giant, David Attenborough’s voice fills the room and begins to set the scene for a spellbinding documentary. Attenborough, known for narrating The Blue Planet, speaks with a passion that is infectious and inspiring. In Raising the Dinosaur Giant, his astute observations and probing questions gently guide the viewer through the discovery of the largest land animal to ever walk the Earth–perhaps too gently at times. Although easily understood and visually resplendent, the PBS documentary can seem superficial at times.
The discovery began in Argentina, when a local farmer found an eight-foot-long femur, the largest ever discovered. Subsequent digs unearthed the complete skeleton of this massive creature, dubbed “titanosaurus.” In an effort to effectively communicate the gargantuan stature of this prehistoric beast, Attenborough makes helpful comparisons to everyday objects. The titanosaurus would have measured 121 feet, approximately three times the length of a school bus. Its huge heart, six feet in circumference, would have pumped 90 L of blood with each beat and weighed more than three grown men.
The documentary’s visuals are equally astonishing. Real-life footage from paleontological digs is combined with computer-generated images of a titanosaur, painting a detailed picture of what the animal must have looked like. These computer generated images also aided paleontologists in their discussions about the bones, helping them determine how the skeleton fit together. Their efforts culminated in the creation of a physical model of the titanosaurus. One particularly mesmerizing shot in the documentary involves Attenborough walking through the vast warehouse that contained this model, gazing upwards in awe.
While the documentary was engaging, it could have been improved by extended interviews with paleontology experts. Members of the research team gave short statements, but overall, the program lacked sufficient scientific explanations, especially regarding how the computer model was generated. In addition, if filmmakers had fleshed out the historical perspective of paleontology and the previous dinosaur discoveries, they could have intensified the perceived impact of this finding. Minor quibbles aside, Raising the Dinosaur Giant was a captivating episode that served as an exciting reminder that, even as society races into the future, much of the past remains unearthed.