Walking with Dinosaurs: the Arena Spectacular

When I was a little kid, I always thought of meeting a dinosaur. I watched movies like “Jurassic Park” and “We’re Back” and thought about what it would be like to meet a real dinosaur. I am 21 years old, and I finally lived my dream. “Walking With Dinosaurs,” the BBC mini-series from the year 2000, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive documentary per minute ever made. And now the wonder and splendor of real dinosaurs, life-size dinosaurs, walking around the Staples Center has been brought to life.
The live show, unlike the mini-series, is focused more for children but still interesting enough for adults to enjoy. The show starts out in the early Triassic Period, about 251 million years ago. Dinosaurs were new to the planet, and just beginning to take form. No larger than their predecessors, they were still small in comparison to the dinosaurs yet to come.
The story follows a paleontologist, Huxley, who narrates the show and takes the audience on a journey of walking with dinosaurs.
As the geologic story opens, we see Liliensternus, a small carnivore, making a raid on a Plateosaurus clutch of eggs. As these puppeteer driven, life-size dinosaurs make their way around the arena floor, we see what life was like back in the Triassic: a harsh, barren landscape only fertile enough to support one of the two dinosaurs now fighting each other for their lives.
As the Triassic age draws
to a close roughly 200 million years ago, we enter the
Jurassic period. Plant life has bloomed across the planet, allowing for a wider variety of species of dinosaur to roam. Here is when we see Allosaurus, a smaller relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, but just as ferocious. As Allosaurus makes its attack on a lone Stegosaurus, a baby Brachiosaurus wanders away from his herd and into danger. The Stegosaurus holds its own against the predator, but a baby Brachiosaur is no match for a full-grown, hungry Allosaurus. That’s when mommy shows up. A full size, 40-foot tall, realistic looking Brachiosaur female wanders onto the stage.
Aside from the soundtrack, the room was silent. Nobody seated said a word. The splendor of a full-grown Brachiosaur walking around was indescribable.
But even more thrills were to come.
The Jurassic age gave way 145 million years ago to the Cretaceous period, and so act two opened with a flying reptile, a Ornithocheirus pterosaur. With its impressive wingspan, it descended from the sky and, through the magic of projection, we went on a ride with him soaring over cliffs, and continents, and open seas, onto new land.
The Ornithocheirus flew off, and we came upon an old Triceratops. He is the leader of the herd, and has been for decades. When a young challenger comes to try and show his dominance, the battle that rages is one of young brute strength versus older experience but frail. The challenger is victorious, and the usurped leader staggers off into the herd.
And then, the real fun starts. The predators. An Iguanodon carcass lays center stage. This attracts a group of Utahraptors. These cousins to the famous Velociraptor hunted in packs, and when they found the abandoned body of the Iguanodon, the feeding frenzy was voracious. This attracts that most famous dinosaur, the coolest creature to have ever lived on the planet: the Tyrannosaurus rex.
The baby T. Rex is first onto the stage, and poses little threat to the Triceratops. But when mommy comes out, it is a different story. This seven ton, 13-foot tall at the hip, 42-foot long monster comes out onto the stage, and roars at the Triceratops – and the audience. At 21 years old, having studied and been interested in dinosaurs for all my life, seeing a “real,” life-size T. Rex come up in front of me and roar in my face was a life-changing experience. I hope that the children and adults in the audience who have seen this show during its three year tour will remember this experience as I do: quite possibly the greatest arena show ever made.
The puppets, which sometimes were more like costumes, were 100% realistic. The suspension of disbelief was complete. Even having seen the making of, and interviewed some of the people involved, I still believed that those were real dinosaurs walking in the arena. Their life-like representation allowed anyone willing to submit to the idea to believe the same. This is what Barney should have been all along.
The show ended after a three-year North American tour. The “making of” special is available on BBC and the “Walking With Dinosaurs” series, which is just as impacting, is available on VHS and DVD, and on BBC from time to time. For anyone who has any interest in dinosaurs, however small it may be, “Walking with Dinosaurs” was a definite hit.