Not so much of a feature film as a made-for-TV picture, this state-of-the-art fantasy was shown on UK terrestrial TV at Christmas 2003.
The original Dinotopia was a book written and illustrated by James Gurney. In it, a father and son were marooned in a lost continent where humans and dinosaurs coexisted peacefully. Since Gurney's first book, a whole series of Dinotopia adventures has been produced for children, while writers such as Alan Dean Foster have followed up the story with a somewhat older theme (maybe not exactly adult, but you know what I mean).
The 2002 romp was based on basically the same story, but brought forward to modern times. So we have a father and his two sons piloting a light aircraft, only to have it crash into the sea. The boys are washed up on the shores of a lost continent, the father presumed drowned, and find themselves in a strange world where dinosaurs not only survive to the present day but work alongside humans and in some cases even speak. Although welcomed into Dinotopia, they cannot be allowed to return to the world outside, a restriction that the more restless Karl Scott (Tyron Leitso) finds irksome, whereas his more meditative brother David (Wentworth Miller) finds the unusual society to his liking. They nevertheless go along with the training expected of all children and initiates into Dinotopia, but Karl finds an ally in his bid to escape in the unscrupulous Cyrus Crabb (David Thewlis). Both boys are befriended by the nervous dinosaur professor Zipeau (the voice of Lee Evans) and the pretty Marion (Katie Carr), daughter of the mayor of Waterfall City (Jim Carter) and his wife the matriarch Rosemary (Alice Krige, better known to many as the Borg queen from Star Trek). Needless to say, Marion is the main love interest in this film. As they struggle with the question of whether to stay or to escape, however, Dinotopia has to face up to the increasing failure of its main energy source and the corresponding rising predations of the carnivorous dinosaurs who live outside its society.
Although quite sentimental in some ways, there are a number of things that lift this film above being a mere sugarfest. Firstly the special effects by Framestore CFC (who supplied the CGI for the groundbreaking Walking With Dinosaurs) are for the most part superb. Thus we see brachiosauri carrying humans across plains, tyrannosaurids angrily stomping around demolished buildings and flying reptiles swooping along city streets. Secondly, by employing decent actors the makers of the film ensured that the performance would at least carry some conviction. In this respect David Thewlis (who played a memorable villain in Dragonheart), Alice Krige and Colin Salmon are excellent, but the young leads (Miller, Leitso and Carr) are also pretty reasonable. Thirdly, the budget has been spent wisely on creating what looks like a decent-sized set with buildings and people to represent a city, rather than just half a dozen extras stuck in an alley. The biggest problem with the storyline, of course, is how a lost world could remain hidden from a modern technological civilisation with satelites busily observing every square inch of the globe night and day, and there are a few other mild bloopers too, such as why Waterfall City's citizens seem to spend forever running around in darkness instead of simply going inside when attacked by pteranodons, or how the footprint alphabet with apparently only four permutations can correspond to so many letters in the human language. But then you weren't expecting Shakespeare or Tom Clancy, were you?
At the end of the day this is an affectionate family movie that appeals to the part in every one of us that wishes we could go to a mystical place and live with the long-vanished and wondrous creatures of another world. Enjoy it for what it is.
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