Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Darwin Celebration, Nat Geo Style: Sneak Peek at Morphed Series

Somehow my self-indulgent writings managed to attract the attention of some very cool people - specifically, someone who works for the National Geographic Channel.

What this means for me is that I got to see their upcoming Darwin Specials in honor of his 200th b-day premiering next weekend. I have proof - the picture is of me with my preview DVDs! What this means for you is that you get to read my reviews of them, to get you all pumped up and ready to watch them for yourself next week. I got a total of 5 DVDs, but figure that would be a really long review post, so this first review is of the 3-program Morphed series.

The Morphed series starts Sun, Feb 8th 8:00 PM ET/PT and uses state of the art CGI, forensics, and fossil evidence to recreate the ancient creatures that eventually turned into bears, birds and whales.

Visuals: A
Science: B
Overall: B+

Ok, those of you who like good graphics and recreations are going to love the Morphed series. National Geographic does an excellent job of mixing CGI animation with real footage to bring the ancestors of whales, bears, and birds to life. I particularly like how they show the skeletons and turn them into full recreations - unbelievably nerdy. Just take a look at the pictures!

For the most part, the "science", and evolution, is pretty good. I was particularly excited by seeing velociraptor in its full feathered glory. As far as Darwin's legacy, the series did a great job of pointing out the evolutionary pressures that might have spurred evolutionary change. They put evolutionary adaptations into perspective with climate change, competitors, food sources, etc.
What unique circumstances made Pakicetus inachus climb into the water? What made Eoraptor lunensis survive a time when most other species went extinct? How did bears prove to be so much more flexible than other carnivores? By the end of this series, I'd learned a lot of interesting things about these creatures - and as a Marine Biologist, I thought I knew a lot about cetacean evolution.

However, I do take some issue with how they portrayed evolution. The kept saying one thing that just got under my skin - they phrased adaptations as "solving" evolutionary problems. Species needs to swim better? It must evolve a more muscular tail and streamlined body! As convenient as that would be, that's not how evolution works. It doesn't see a problem and tackle it head on. OK, so it might seem nit-picky, but hey, that's what I'm here for.

On a separate note, there was so much more I wanted to see explained. For example, as the ancestors of whales were evolving, they developed powerful, paddled hind limbs - then a dramatic shift to almost none. Why? For that matter, how did Ambulocetus natans, which they describe as clumsy in the water AND on land, even survive to give rise to the rest of the cetaceans? Of course, these aren't easy questions to answer - and I understand that the answers may not be even known. So I don't fault a hour-long program for not explaining everything - but damnit, I want to know!

Overall, the series was fun to watch, nerdy and truly informative. I mean, did you know that Polar Bears have started mating with Grizzlies? A new species might be forming right before our eyes - the Grolars! Or the Pizzlies... Somehow "Pizzlies" just doesn't seem tough enough, does it?

Anyhow, be sure to tune in at 8 PM on Sunday, Feb 8th to see the Morphed Series for yourself. And stay tuned - I'll be reviewing more of their feature programs this week!


Anonymous said...

I didn't know about the polar bears and grizzlies. I wonder if that cross might cope better with global warming. I don't think that the "evolution solving problems" criticism is nit-picking at all. It implies a much more orderly form to evolution than is the case. Evolution is a cross between chance and environmental pressures that lead to selection of more adaptable traits among available traits.

Kevin said...

I'd heard about grizzly bears and polar bears mating but I didn't know it was a habitual thing. (is it?) anyway, I'll definitely check this out this weekend.

Christie Lynn said...

It sounds like it's not "habitual" - they haven't bred for thousands of years, but it's started happening and becoming more and more common...

Annasbones said...

I had actually heard of these grizzly/polar matings about a year ago. I think I heard something about it being related to climate change, so polar bears would be moving south more often.
Whatever the case is... very cool.