Part 6: Death of a Dynasty

Time: 149 million years BCE

Place: "Montana" at the close of the Cretaceous, when the contemporary continents start to take their current form

Actual Locations: Chile, New Zealand

A very cute and furry mammal weaves its way through the interstices of the inevitably tragic final episode. Didelphodon, a black-and-white marsupial, looks like the offspring of a badger and a Tasmanian Devil (the real kind, not the Warner Brothers whirlwind).

At the opening of part 6, a Didelphodon picks at the mound covering a nest of Tyrannosaurus eggs. He is surprised and chased off by the mother T. Rex, who whips around and roars at the camera, and in another witty bit of filming, her hot breath condenses on the lens and streaks down it. Then we catch the silhouette of a T. Rex bellowing twice across a broad valley as the title appears.

Another sharp camera move a little later shows a group of dinosaurs drinking at a lake shore in the middle distance, then the lens shifts to put them a little out of focus before a meat-eater’s head pokes in at the lower left in sharp focus—as if the entire sequence had indeed been filmed "live." Too often, animated films keep a deep depth of field, where almost everything but distant mountains stays on the same focal plane.

A mini-drama involves a T. Rex pair. Females are said to be more aggressive than males, and a male offers a kill to the female "to stop her attacking him on sight." (We see puffs of steamy breath from nostrils, and saliva dripping from jaws.) There’s a subtle mating scene, with the male discreetly hidden behind the female. A few days later she drives him off. "The male knows better than to stay."

Three T. Rex chicks survive from a clutch of 12. They are cute in a crusty, horned way; they "awk" like geese. A runt gets driven away from the food by the other two, and whimpers piteously. Branagh drily observes that after 2 months of protection, the mother will abandon them, or even eat them, and the outcast won’t last even that long. (Opportunistic Didelphodons are seen lurking in the background.)

Ankylosaurus is another old friend who joins T. Rex in this show. The one we would recognize as Triceratops is identified as Torosaurus; during a fight, one loses a horn, whose bloody stump we glimpse on the ground. The rest of the supporting cast consists of Anatotitan, a semi-duckbilled inhabitant of lowland swamps; Dromaeosaur, a small, swift raptor; a one-ton, rust orange-colored crocodile called Deinosuchus; and Quetzalcoatlus, a pterosaur shown plucking a fish from the lake with a small splash (animatronic?). A snake shows up: we see its reptilian eye in extreme closeup as he watches the T. Rex kids at play, then we get a great solarized snake’s-eye view of the "children" in bright yellow and orange against a cold blue background.

"Walking With Dinosaurs" is coy, not definitive, about what may have killed off the dinosaurs. Various contributing factors are suggested, but not weighed. A male T. Rex descends into a volcano where geothermal springs give off carbon monoxide which collects on the ground and suffocates smaller creatures. As the terrible carnivore feeds, he gets dizzy too, but makes it out all right, this time. It is intimated that pollution may have lowered egg production and fertility.

Then the giant comet strikes. (Poetically, the mother T. Rex dies with the dynasty, getting felled by a nasty blow to her thigh and internal organs by an Ankylosaur tail club.) The sequence starts off tastefully subtle: rather than the titanic explosion/earthquake/tidal wave you get in "Deep Impact," the sky merely lights up steadily for 3-5 seconds … the face of the T. Rex chicks wash out as if in kliegs … the light from the impact fades in silence … and then the shock waves arrive with a small rumble.

Next comes the blast front. That’s huge and scary: the chicks shoot off the screen like bullets, their mother’s carcass lifts and flies. "Finally, a rain of molten rock starts to fall out of the darkening sky. This is the end of the age of the dinosaurs." Over low strings comes the single piercing, weeping melody line of a violin crossed with a theremin. Drums come up, the music crescendoes.

The show gives us quick landscape shifts and climatic changes in the opposite direction from the ones we saw at the beginning of the series, to end on a herd of elephants. "In their place have emerged other powerful and beautiful creatures": a lioness settles in the foreground; there’s a herd of water buffalo.

"And we now know that one small group of dinosaurs did survive the extinction, and they are all around us today—the birds." Cue a closeup of black, orange-billed birds perched on the backs of the buffalo, of a pair picking at the huge mammal’s nostrils.