Part 4: Giant of the Skies ("Beneath a Giant’s Wings" in the book version)

Time: 127 million years BCE

Place: "Brazil," the Atlantic, and "Cantabria" (Spain)

Actual Locations: New Zealand, Tasmania

Part 4 has the tightest "narrative" of the six: It follows the single long flight of a mammoth pterosaur called Ornithocheirus from the southern tip of the Americas and across the 300 kilometer Atlantic to the breeding grounds in modern-day Spain.

This flying reptile has a 5-foot head, and an 11-foot body, but an amazing 40-foot wingspan. (From below, he looks a little like a Stealth bomber, but with a long, dull yellow-brown beak with a sort of sighting crest toward its tip.) On the soundtrack, he gets a chattering woodwind theme that alternates with a mournful solo violin at appropriate moments.

His voyage provides ample excuse for panoramic views of seacoasts and the creatures who dwell on them. It also makes literary sense that, now the series is over its midway "hump," it approaches the tale in an elegiac manner: "This is the story of the last journey this giant ever made."

Guest appearances include the admittedly "bizarre-looking" Tapejara, smaller pterosaurs with yellow beaks, blue faces, and an impossibly tall red-orange head crest; a herd of Iguanodon lumbering good-naturedly along the beach at the southern tip of North America (to the strains of a plaintive viola); armored Polecanthus, obviously a forerunner of the more famous Ankylosaurus, moving with the Iguanodon; closeups of a wasp at work (flowering plants have just made their appearance on the planet) and biting parasites at work on the wing membranes of the pterosaurs; and Utahraptors, very alert-looking 21-foot runners with vicious sickle claws on each foot. (They are hailed by bongo drums.)

Another newcomer is announced with a slight, ominous joke. After arriving in Spain and avoiding some raptors, "[Ornithocheirus] finds what appears to be an ideal spot to rest, before this final push to the mating ground. However, from the dense forest he is being watched by relatives of the raptors." We don’t see anything but dense, moss-covered tree trunks for a moment, then get another shot of the vulnerable pterosaur on the shore, drinking some water.

The "threat" turns out to be a bird the size of a goldfinch—bright blue with a red and black markings on wings and tail—called Iberomesornis.

For action shots, Utahraptors make an unsuccessful attempt on a Polecanthus, then bring down an Iguanodon. There are some effective animatronic sequences of a raptor bending down to the camera, looking out of the cave of a carcass, then picking up bloody entrails and gulping them down in side view.

When our hero reaches the breeding grounds, however, he is an outcast. More than 40 years old, he has exhausted his energy from heat stress and lack of food. Spurned by the females, he lies on the beach to die. A violin playing high on the fingerboard, timpani and brass rise behind Branagh’s elegy—"His life has run full circle; in his time he traveled the globe; but death finds him here…."—for the full lump-in-the-throat effect, even though this protagonist is the least cuddly-looking in the series’ lineup. Eventually, a much younger pterosaur is shown feeding on his dead body.