The Outbreak: I like dragons

Monday, March 21, 2005

I like dragons

As the type of person who, after the catastrophic failure of director Rob Bowman's Elektra, thought to himself, "Dammit! Now Reign of Fire will never get the respect it deserves!", I couldn't have been happier with Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real, which aired earlier tonight on Animal Planet. It's the latest "what if?" documentary Animal Planet has produced, this time breaking down how dragons "really" would have looked and acted had they actually existed. The special was remarkably well thought out, using the unusually uniform appearance of dragons in the mythologies of disparate cultures to create an unnervingly and delightfully plausible natural history for the creatures. It was all done in a mockumentary-style tone that, aside from one straightforward disclaimer at the beginning of the show and several implicit ones later on (after each commercial break), dropped the "what if?" tone and treated it like straight science. Apparently this was too much for some critics to process--read this, oh, I guess let's call it a review, why not? from Linda Stasi at the NY Post; you can practically smell the wood burning as Stasi tries to plow through her own confusion, and hopefully the odor will distract you from how embarrassing it is that she expects you to be just as uncomprehending--but for the rest of us it was a fascinating way to while away 90 minutes on a Sunday evening. (Less than 90 minutes with the magic of TiVo at your command, of course.) The damn thing was even narrated by Patrick Stewart. About the only false note came in the appearance of some of the later dragon species, who had forelegs, hind legs, and wings, rather than the far more feasible hind legs/wings combo; it just kind of jumped out at me all of a sudden that this evolutionary quirk, which has no analogue that I can think of in all of non-insect biology (indeed, the show's website resorts to fruit flies for justification), had gone completely unexplained and unremarked upon by the special, in a clear sacrifice of plausibility for artistic license. But other than that, all the questions you'd want answered (how does it fly? how does it breathe fire? how long did they last?) are answered in spectacular fashion, as are some you didn't think to ask (they manage to account for variations in the descriptions of dragons between different cultures, and even link the creatures to sea serpent myths). If you are a nerd, and I'm assuming you are, this is great TV.


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