Walking with Dinosaurs — The Live Experience
A Preview: In the Beginning…
Dinosaurs assailing downtown Los Angeles? Why, that’s the stuff any fan of 1950s fantasy B-filmmaking knows well. Well before computerized aliens obliterated LA’s newer landmark US Bank building in Independence Day, our city’s best known downtown architectural attraction, the monolithic art deco City Hall building, was repeatedly attacked and cinematically destroyed at the hands (and jaws and claws and teeth and swiping tails and evil government-triggered nuclear radiation-based diseases) of black-and-white claymation monsters of all sizes and shapes gone predictably amuck.
One such long-gone creature returned to “terrorize” our fair city once again this week, as a playful and quite uncharacteristically docile baby Tyrannosaurus Rex, the smallest member of the Walking with Dinosaurs—The Live Experience touring spectacular, ominously eyed the Staples Center’s monumental bronze statue of LA Kings’ Wayne Gretzky prior to breaking through its flimsy restraints and turning its wrath on those gathered, scaring the heck out of a bunch of lucky school kids—not to mention a few wary press folk who might have initially been sorry they left their Depends at home—before taking his surely hubcap-sized Prozac to help him patiently accept pets and pose for photos.
All this was a means to introduce Walking with Dinosaurs to Angelenos before its arrival here later this summer but, this time around, the creature of choice was neither black-and-white nor made of clay and, luckily for City Hall, which was spared for once, the more durable Staples Center proved to be Baby’s T-Rex’s more modern downtown LA target de jour.
Walking with Dinosaurs—The Live Experience, based on the award-winning BBC public television series of the same name, is now stomping and roaring its way through North America, the 15 massive-sized creatures inhabiting the show scheduled to make their SoCal debut at the Honda Center in Anaheim Aug. 20 to 24 and, after turning ol’ Orange County into a shambles, arriving back at the Staples Center for a surprisingly short run, unleashing their signature nonstop horror and meting out destruction here from Sept. 25 to 28.
Over a million Americans have already seen the production since Baby T and his adult friends started roaming the earth once again. The show originated in Australia, where after years of planning it came to life at Sydney’s Acer Arena early in 2007. It proved itself such a sensation that this tour was fast-tracked, beginning a short three months after completing its sold-out engagements Down Under. As Carmen Pavlovic, CEO of the Creature Production Company explains, “The BBC series was a brilliant blend of special effects, escapism, excitement and information. Our show brings together all of that plus something extra: it’s live. In this production, 15 roaring, snarling ‘live’ dinosaurs mesmerize the audience and are as awe-inspiring as when they first walked on earth.”
Our visiting ambassador Baby T is the smallest of the creatures, in fact, some of which reach three stories in height. Pavlovic continues: “The dinosaurs are life-size, making the show so immense it could only fit in arenas. It’s a $20 million spectacle of unprecedented size and quality captivating young and old alike. With Walking with Dinosaurs, we really believe we have created a new genre in entertainment and we hope to continue to bring new product to arenas for years to come.” The production has won the 2007 THEA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Touring Event, recognizing excellence in the creation of compelling educational, historical, and entertainment projects.
Ten species are represented from the entire 200 million-year reign of the dinosaurs, including an adult relative of Baby T, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, terror of the ancient terrain and 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, my personal favorite of the genre and producer of exciting nightmares for most of my childhood. There’s also the Plesiosaurus and Liliensternus from the Triassic period, the Stegosaurus and Allosaurus from the Jurassic period, and Torosaurus and Utahraptor from the Cretaceous era. The largest of them, the Brachiosaurus, is 36-ft. tall and 56-ft. from nose to tail. It took a team of 50 engineers, fabricators, skin makers, artists, painters, and animatronic experts a year to build the production and its awe-inspiring creatures, which features the dinosaurs’ evolution complete with the climatic and tectonic changes that led to the demise of many species.
With almost cinematic realism, scenes in Walking with Dinosaurs depict interactions between the creatures and the audience learns how carnivorous beasts evolved to walk on two legs, as well as how the herbivores fended off their more agile predators. The history of the world is played out here with the splitting of the earth’s continents and the transition from the arid desert of the Triassic period is given over to the lush green prairies and forces of the later Jurassic. Oceans form, volcanoes erupt and a forest catches fire, all leading to the impact of the massive comet that struck the earth and forced the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The remotely housed puppeteers of Walking with Dinosaurs use miniature versions of the show’s previously extinct stars to make many of them move with the same joints and range of movement as their life-sized counterparts. They manipulate these “voodoo rigs” as their actions are interpreted by computer and transmitted by radio wave to make the hydraulic cylinders in the actual dinosaur replicate the action.
Suited puppeteers are also lodged inside five of the smaller dinosaurs to them stomp around the arena, including our new friend Baby T-Rex—and if our press preview at the Staples Center is any indication, the gender of the creature will not be in question, unless upcoming suited puppeteers wear tighter dancebelts under their sweatpants during future personal appearances. Surely this part of learning about the dinosaurs was not meant as an intentional element of children’s’ edification with this show, but undoubtedly the particular puppeteer manipulating Baby T during his first visit to LA could have offered the kiddies an education of his own, were they not all at first screaming their little heads off and soon after lost in the fantasy of petting Baby T’s giant snorting head.
Whatever those impressionable babes might inadvertently learn, don’t miss treating your offspring to this unique experience. The ticket prices are geared to make the experience available to people of all social strata and a portion of the proceeds from Walking with Dinosaurs in its LA and Anaheim runs will benefit the Department of Neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC to support the Center for Psychosocial Excellence, which provides inimitable support services to persons with chronic neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Walking with Dinosaurs—The Live Experience trounces through the Honda Center in Anaheim from Aug. 20 to 24 and moves on to overtake the Staples Center in Los Angeles from Sept. 25 to 28; for tickets, call 213.480.3232 or online at www.ticketmaster.com/artist/1117759