Making the Grades
In 1992 Dinotopia was revealed to the world for the first time, under the hand of author James Gurney. His first book is a journal of the fictional explorer Arthur Denison, who describes in amazing visual and verbal detail a land where humans and dinosaurs share Nineteenth Century values in peaceful coexistence. Gurney's works have since blossomed into a prosperous franchise and Hallmark Home Entertainment has taken on the daunting task of bringing Dinotopia to life on film.
Originally broadcast on ABC, this 4-hour movie opens in the present with a father and two stepbrothers - David (Wentworth Miller) and Karl (Tyron Leitso) - embarking on an ill-fated voyage in a small plane. Crashing into the ocean, the two boys manage to survive, but their dad is trapped inside the sinking craft. Washed ashore, they set foot on the strange land of Dinotopia. The first newcomers in fifty years, they are welcomed by Marion (Katie Carr), the young daughter of the land's most notable politician, Mayor Waldo.
But not all is well in the once tranquil land. Dinotopia relies on mysterious "sun stones" to fuel its energy needs. Even more important, the stones act like huge citronella candles, repelling dangerous carnivorous dinosaurs from populated areas. But lately the stones have been failing, and the finite supply is exhausted. The only other rumored source of the glowing rocks lies within the "World Beneath," but the antiquated laws of the land prohibit anyone from going there, leaving Mayor Waldo with no choice but to accept possible human extinction. However Karl and David have different plans, and with the help of Marion and a freethinking dino named Zippo, determine to return Dinotopia to its peaceful state.
Besides offering surprisingly good computer generated dinosaurs and incredible sets (reported to be the largest built for a "made for television" production), Dinotopia provides an interesting mix of characters that stretch beyond the usual "family" movie. The writers paint their players with specific talents and flaws, providing much more than a good vs. evil story. Even the villain has moments of insight where you find yourself agreeing with his position, if not his methods.
A few mild profanities dot the four-hour runtime, along with one brief moment when a couple appears to be skinny-dipping together (no nudity is seen). Otherwise young children may be frightened during the many moments of peril when-among other things-large bird-like dinosaurs attack a city or people attempt to cross a moat filled with crocodiles. Fortunately conflicts are never gratuitous or bloody.
While no movie can offer the detail of a book, Dinotopia is a satisfying visual adaptation. With a weekly television series in the works, if the writing quality can be sustained this species should be able to avoid extinction.