Film Review - 'Flying Monsters 3D'

Posted on: 21 April 2011 by Alexander Hay

Pterosaurs fly into the third dimension

A Dimorphodon, yesterday.65 million years ago was not a pleasant time to be around. The wildlife was large, hungry and had an impressive range of teeth and claws at its disposal. Worse, even the skies offered no sanctuary, for above reigned a kind of flying reptilian creature, often reaching 50 feet in wingspan and which, in its most extreme cases, was as tall as a giraffe. They weren't vegetarians either.

Contrary to common belief, however, these weren't Dinosaurs, but a closely related clade (or group) called Pterosaurs.

(Incidentally, Dinosaurs lived between the late Triassic and late Cretaceous and were land-dwelling creatures. Anything else that might appear to the untrained eye to be a Dinosaur, isn't a Dinosaur.)

Despite being popular among children and adults who have a thing for extinct and often enormous, frequently violent reptiles, the Pterosaur hasn't had much media attention lavished on it. This should hopefully change with Sky TV's new co-production, Flying Monsters (now on at the Imax cinema, London), which gives those flappy beasts the CGI and 3D treatment they deserve.

In effect, it's a extended length Wildlife on One episode with added special effects. Fittingly, then, it's narrated by no less than David Attenborough, who brings his usual genteel enthusiasm to the Pterosaur story, from its often clumsy and primitive early days to its evolutionary zenith, where Pterosaurs like the mighty plane-sized Quetzalcoatlus northropi ruled the skies, and occasionally terrorised the ground and seas too, until a meteor struck and all those horrible little feathery and furry gits took over.

It's all beautifully rendered and the 3D works rather well, the Pterosaurs' wings even appearing translucent as the light shines through them and their soft furry pelts seem almost tactile.

Yes, there are some '3D for the sake of 3D' moments, and some naff scenes where Attenborough and occasionally a guest paleontologist will pretend they're interacting with something the special effects people will add in afterwards, but it's all entertaining and well-paced.

There are only two real complaints. Firstly, the earliest Pterosaur we meet is the lovably hapless-looking Dimorphodon, but no mention is given that even more primitive Pterosaurs existed before. Only a few species are showcased, but there have been dozens so far documented. Finally, the film's hypothesis, that the Pterosaurs were doomed, comet or no comet, because apparently birds had colonised all the evolutionary niches below 'enormous flying thing', is also flawed.

After all, we don't have a full fossil record to support this assumption, and bats haven't exactly been driven to extinction by their avian rivals despite having also lacking feathers. What did for the Pterosaurs was what did for every other large animal at that point - a massive conflagration that nearly destroyed their world and certainly destroyed them.

But if we look at those late Pterosaurs, they all seemed dynamic, versatile and able to survive as well on land as in the air. No bird or any other animal has come close to their size and dominance of the skies. And that's what Flying Monsters 3D does, for all its flaws - giving these magnificent creatures the audience and awe they surely deserve. Children of all ages will, naturally, love it.

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Alexander Hay

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