tek's rating: ¾

Dinotopia, on ABC
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Caution: spoilers.

This is based on a series of books that I've never read. It first aired on The Wonderful World of Disney in 2002, and I remember wanting to see it at the time... in fact, before watching it on DVD in 2014, I thought I had seen it, but now I'm not so sure. I remember the basic premise about dinosaurs and humans living in harmony on a large island called Dinotopia, which is cut off from the rest of world. And one of the main characters, Marion, definitely looked familiar to me. But otherwise, the whole plot and all the characters seemed completely unfamiliar. I am quite capable of watching something like this and then forgetting all the details, but it's also possible there was some reason I didn't watch it, back then. Or that I only watched part of it. Anyway, it's not important, because I've seen it now. I should also mention that there was a TV series spun off from it, later in 2002, but I definitely never watched that. (Aside from the miniseries and the TV series, Sonar's website mentions seven other Dinotopia productions, which I assume were direct-to-video or something.) Well, now that I've seen the miniseries... I didn't like it quite as much as I expected to. The visual effects were alright, and I guess the story was basically okay. But a lot of the actual writing and acting weren't so good. It was definitely worth watching, though.

Oh, and I should mention some of the actors are a bit familiar to me from other things, whether I saw them before or after this first aired. David is played by Wentworth Miller, whom I vaguely know from Prison Break. Cyrus is played by David Thewlis, whom I feel like I must have seen in something (or maybe I've just heard his name before). Rosemary is played by Alice Krige, whom I know from Star Trek: First Contact. Oonu is played by Colin Salmon, whom I've seen in a number of things in the years since this came out, though the one I immediately recognized him from is Arrow.

Part One
So, there are these two half-brothers, David and Karl Scott, who have nothing in common and don't seem to like each other much. (I'm not sure how old they're supposed to be. Presumably their late teens- they're supposed to be the same age- but the actors were like 30 and 26, when this was filmed.) They're going on an island-hopping trip with their father, Frank, who is flying a small plane. Frank lets Karl take over flying, and goes to sleep, and soon Karl flies the plane into a storm. They crash in the ocean, and Karl and David manage to get free of the plane, but Frank doesn't. The brothers swim to a mysterious island, where they meet an archaeologist named Cyrus Crabb, who advises them to go to Waterfall City, and to look him up when they get there. He leads them to a town where they can catch a bus, which turns out to be a Brachiosaur. The guys meet a woman named Marion, who is in training to become a leader of the island, which is called Dinotopia. Apparently people from all over the world have been getting shipwrecked on Dinotopia for centuries, but no one ever manages to get away from the island, which is why no one in the outside world has ever heard of it. Anyway, Karl and David travel with Marion to Waterfall City, but along the way they find that an outpost had been attacked by T-Rexes. (It's unusual that they were hunting in a pack, and also that the outpost's sunstone, a gem that provides power, has stopped working.)

Well, they eventually make it to Waterfall City, where Marion's father, Waldo, is the mayor. And the brothers are assigned to stay at the home of a Troodon named Zippo Stenosaurus, who is a librarian (and apparently also a professor and maybe a lawyer). Yeah... the dinosaurs are intelligent (though Zippo's the only one we ever hear speak English), and live in harmony with the human residents of Dinotopia (as I mentioned earlier). The humans there are vegetarians, and totally opposed to violence. Anyway, the boys get enrolled in a school that Marion is teaching, to learn about living in Dinotopia. David, who didn't originally want to go on the trip in the first place, now grows interested in Dinotopia and its whole society, but Karl just wants to find a way home. So he ditches class, and begins to associate with Crabb, who clearly doesn't like dinosaurs, and thinks anyone who does like them has been brainwashed. And he promises to get Karl off the island.

Um... it's kind of odd that Karl often has a bad attitude, and doesn't like David's attitude at all, in fact at one point he even threatens to kill David... but other times, he seems to genuinely love David. He's unwilling to leave the island without him (even though David doesn't want to leave). And... near the end of the first episode, they get in a fight and fall over a waterfall (as you might imagine, Waterfall City is lousy with waterfalls) and are swept down a river to some ancient lost temple which is guarded by crocodile-looking dinosaurs (Mosasaurs). Marion and Zippo manage to find them, but the episode ends with them all in some danger.

Part Two
So... at the end of part one, David had fallen quite ill after the fall into the river. Now Marion, Karl, and Zippo are trying to find their way home, while helping David along, as he can barely walk. They find their way to a farming community (it sounded like it was called Vidaba), where Marion's mother, Rosemary, is the matriarch. (She and Marion's father seem to be estranged.) David sleeps for a week, while recuperating. When he wakes up, he learns that Karl and Marion have become close friends, and it soon turns out to be more than that. Which is hard for me to understand, because Karl is still basically a jerk. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that he knows lots of stories that are well-known in our world, but new to Marion, so he can spin them however he likes to impress her.) Meanwhile, Zippo returns to Waterfall City to tell the mayor and the senate about his discovery of the temple, which is an entrance to "the World Beneath," where apparently the ancestors of the dinotopians had lived for a long time, before coming to the surface a long time ago. And now it is forbidden for them to return to the World Beneath. (The whole story had been told in part one.) Now, Zippo gets frustrated by the order not to mount the expedition he asked for.

Back in Vidaba, David and Karl continue their training in the ways of Dinotopia. Of course David remains an eager student, and Karl continues to disdain everything. But in the end, all the students are assigned jobs in different places. David is sent to Canyon City, where he is to study to become a Skybax Rider. (Skybaxes are a kind of pterosaur. Their riders are like sentries or something; they had saved the main characters from some T-rexes in part one.) Marion's mother sends her along with David, to look into increasingly aggressive behavior among Pteranodons (which are related to Skybaxes, though the two species branched off long ago). Karl is assigned to stay in Vidaba, to train in the dinosaur hatchery. Of course he is not happy about being separated from Marion.

When they get to Canyon City, David and Marion meet a woman named Romana Denison. I guess she's just a cadet, like David, though when we first saw her I got the impression she was an instructor. (Obviously, she knows a great deal about Skybax Riders, because her father had been one of them.) Actually, the instructor is a man named Oonu, who was the captain of the squadron that drove off the T-rexes in part one. Anyway, David really doesn't want to be a Skybax Rider, because he as a fear of heights. Meanwhile, back at the farm, Karl goes to the hatchery, where a girl named Samantha (Marion's younger sister) shows him the saurian egg that will be his life partner, when it hatches. (This is something we'd heard a bit about in part one, though I had no idea the saurians would be so much younger than their human partners.) And Karl has no intention of becoming life partners with a dinosaur. But after the baby Chasmosaur hatches, Samantha insists he name it, so he calls it 26 (which had been the number printed on the egg). By the end of part two, however, it's clear that Karl has come to really care about 26.

In Waterfall City, Cyrus Crabb petitions the senate for access to the Great Library, to prepare for an expedition to the World Beneath, in order to look for more sunstones, to replace the ones that are failing throughout Dinotopia. Of course, he is refused. So he seeks help from Zippo. But... that ends badly. Later, Cyrus finds Karl in Vidaba, and continues to make plans with him to escape the island. (I don't want to go into detail, but there are a number of times throughout the miniseries that Cyrus tricks Karl into doing bad things.)

Um... and... Marion sort of befriends an albino Pteranodon, who'd been rejected by the other Pteranodons. And later she gets attacked by the others, after which Oonu forbids her to continue her studies. So she basically spends her time as moral support for David, who has been having trouble with his own training. And he eventually meets the albino, which he names Freefall. Oh yeah also he tells Marion he's falling in love with her, but her feelings remain unclear (though she did seem jealous of his friendship with Romana). And later on, after failing to bond with any Skybaxes, David rides Freefall.

Part Three
In the final part of the miniseries, the crisis in Dinotopia grows steadily worse, as many villages are being destroyed by rampaging T-rexes and Pteranodons, and refugees begin pouring into Waterfall City. The sunstones also continue to fail, and I guess in addition to providing electrical power to Dinotopia, they also provided some kind of protection from agressive dinosaurs. So this is a really bad time for them to be failing. And Mayor Waldo and the Senate are still unwilling to take any meaningful action to fix the problem. That is, they still refuse to let anyone enter the World Beneath, to look for more sunstones. Of course, the Scott boys and Marion try to do so anyway, after receiving some "help" from Cyrus. (By now, even Karl doesn't trust him anymore.) They end up failing, and in fact it seems they make things even worse than they were before. And the boys get put under house arrest. Later, they all receive even more help from Cyrus, who wants them to find the journal of an explorer named Arthur Denison (who I guess was Romana's grandfather). Arthur had explored the World Beneath, along with Cyrus's own father, Lee Crabb. Cyrus helps them escape, and later takes them to the World Beneath using Denison's old submersible.

And I guess I don't want to reveal any more of the plot, but it does all have a happy ending.

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