It’s no secret that I loved Prehistoric Planet. As someone who grew up on Walking With Dinosaurs, the 5-night spectacle on Apple TV+ had all of the magic, the grandeur and the spectacle that had enraptured me when I was a child.
With that in mind, Prehistoric Planet 2 has a lot to live up to. For one, the spectacle angle just doesn’t really work anymore- the memories of the first season are a lot fresher in our minds compared to the last Big Dinosaur Documentary was when the first season had come out. It’s not easy, but the documentary series would need some sort of hook to give you a reason to take an interest again.
This of course lead to a big fear with the second season. You see it in a lot of series that have great, well-contained first seasons that suddenly find themselves having extra ones. Suddenly shows about the little things explode in scale, suddenly anyone who had a speaking role gets a dramatic backstory, and every sequel hook is hung upon it a whole pig.
Just Chilling In The BC
In the greatest double-bluff I’ve seen in a series, Prehistoric Planet 2 does a good job of keeping this to a minimum. Prehistoric Planet 2 is very good at keeping to the ethos of its first season- it’s a chilled out documentary about the Cretaceous period, period. Every episode features another biome, highlighting its denizens and their quest for survival.
Admittedly, herein lies the big debate. As a dino nut, I’ve had more than enough Epic Battles of Prehistory that the idea of seeing dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals just chilling out sounds like an ideal documentary. Yes, I know T.Rex had a powerful bite, but what else does it do? It was a huge appeal point of the first season and I’m glad to see it continue here.
On the other hand, does that actually make for great viewing, though? I’ve legitimately wondered how many people in my life would actually go “Heck yeah, dinosaurs!” and watch stories about Azhdarchid dating.
That’s not to say nothing bad ever happens- if anything, enough bad things happen in the documentary that I’m convinced the team of scientists behind it took a sense of perverse joy in having Sir David Attenborough calmly narrate what can only be described as an over-eagerness to inflict harm on dinosaur babies. It’s not even trying to outdo season 1- instead Season 2 shows that the baby murder is just part of nature’s life cycle, since it’s much easier game than the adults.
Despite that, there’s a nice feeling of tranquility in the episodes. Yes, every animal is fighting for its survival. But they’re doing so in a rather grounded way- you’re never made to feel like this is that one dire circumstance, rather Sir David is here to remind you that no, this is their regular day-to-day life.
The Greatest Cast of Weirdos
Quite possibly my favorite feature of Prehistoric Planet 2 is its actual exhibit of animals. Admittedly, season 1 had played it pretty safe- animals featured like T.Rex and Velociraptor were all household names, and even other animals could be referred to as “The T.Rex of this region” and the like.
With season 2, though, we’re introduced to what can only be lovingly described as a bunch of weirdos. I genuinely love seeing so many strange species brought to the screen- from the dopy looking Majungasaurus to even non-dinosaur entities like mammals and toads. It’s not just weird ornaments- a lot of the featured animals have very characterful silhouettes, like long, curved snouts to make them stand out from each other.
It’s not just them looking weird, either. You can tell that the roster selection for this season was educational in and of itself- they’re meant to show you how diverse each family of dinosaurs can truly be. I especially like a particularly large dromaeosaur in one of the later episodes. Considering every relative of Velociraptor has been small and pack-oriented, having the equivalent of a large seagull fighting off others of its kind for the best fishing spot is radically different to anything you’d been shown thus far.
I do have my one complaint with the presentation of Prehistoric Planet 2, though, and that’s that they’d broken an unspoken rule of the first season. It’s no secret that the dinosaurs shown in Prehistoric Planet are actually long dead. In bringing them back to life via CGI, the first season had shown a lot of restraint in shooting it like it was still a wildlife documentary- cameras always feel like either drone shots or the work of scientists in tents with extremely long lenses.
Season 2 noticeably breaks this rule quite a lot. Not enough to be bad, but enough that a pretentious snob like myself would take note of it. On the whole, though, I get that it probably works for the less documentary-fanboy-types. There’s a reason cinematography exists after all, it’s an art about keeping viewers invested. I won’t lie and say I didn’t love a particular shot that seemed to pay homage to Dr Mark Witton’s art– so it’s definitely a case of rule of cool being worth suspending the disbelief.
You’re Gonna Learn
Probably my favorite feature of Season 2 is the companion series, Prehistoric Planet Uncovered. These are short featurettes at the end of every episode, going over the actual science behind key scenes. I like to imagine this had something to do with the radical “T.Rex was a swimmer” scene presented last season, so now you get to actually see the paleontologists defend their ideas.
Considering the main purpose of documentaries is to educate, this is such a great cap to every episode. A lot of it isn’t even necessarily radical- it’s just explaining that a lot of the “guesses” that go into portraying Prehistoric Planets’ diverse roster of animals are way more informed than you’d expect. The thrill here’s not the answer, it’s the working. To that end, Uncovered is an excellent showcase, comparing prehistory to our modern day for proof of some really cool ideas.
It works well with all of the new species too. After seeing so many unique animals, it’s hard to contain the urge to just go online and read more about them.Just like the first season, the show’s greatest triumph is lighting that spark inside you to want to learn more- as well as executing it in the most stunning way.
Prehistoric Planet 2 has a lot of the same pitfalls any follow up to a good series would- that is to say, it’s more of the same. That same is excellent, but it’s easy to wonder if there’s anything else that could have been done to kick up the magic of it all. I don’t think so, and I’m quite pleased with what I got.
I think it’s really great to have a dinosaur documentary that looks as good as Prehistoric Planet does and not be entirely driven by the desire to sex everything up for mass appeal. Hunting isn’t usually an epic battle between two titans, a lot of it is unattended babies being snatched away by giant predators, who have their own kids to feed.
That’s not even to say that there isn’t any action either- fans who wanted more T.Rex get it in season 2, in one of the documentary’s biggest highlights. But getting to see these fantastical creatures act like little more than overgrown pheasants is really interesting, and it’s still one of the most unique experiences you can get on Apple TV+.
If you’ve any kind of dinosaur fan in your life, I highly recommend watching Prehistoric Planet with them. It’s charming, it’s beautiful and it absolutely gets the kind of thrill a dinosaur fan would want to see. Admittedly, it can drag on a bit- one episode’s big climax is an Elasmosaurus eating mud. But if you’re a veteran of the first season, I doubt you’re a stranger to that kind of pacing.
Prehistoric Planet is available on Apple TV+ Starting May 22nd. Early access provided by Apple.
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Prehistoric Planet 2
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