Prehistoric Planet 2 review: full of feathery and ferocious new faces

Ever since The Blue Planet debuted more than two decades ago, we’ve been living in a particularly fruitful era of nature docs from the likes of the BBC and all of the various streamers. With all of that celebrity-voiced competition, it’s hard to do something new in the space, but Apple TV Plus managed it by looking at something old — really old.

The first season of Prehistoric Planet had all the trappings of a traditional wildlife documentary, right down to the reassuring voice of Sir David Attenborough, but used them to explore the lives of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. And it worked, offering such a fully realized vision of the past that it almost seemed real. So naturally, we have a sequel, which doesn’t do a lot new aside from offering even more (and often much stranger) creatures to watch. Then again, it doesn’t really have to change much. I mean, have you seen the feathered, fuzzy raptor babies?

Like the first season, Prehistoric Planet 2 is a weeklong event, with a new episode releasing daily starting on May 22nd. Each is built around a particular theme, like swamps, oceans, or badlands. Essentially, they’re very dramatized versions of animal behavior. You’ll see babies born, creatures hunting, and lots of mating rituals. The difference, of course, is that Prehistoric Planet 2 isn’t based on real footage of animals but CG recreations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

Part of what makes it work is the familiar formula. It’s structured just like the big nature docs, most notably Planet Earth, so it both looks and sounds like a wildlife show you’ve probably already seen. The visuals are particularly key. The creatures in this show are so effective that you don’t really have to suspend much disbelief because it looks like you’re actually watching real animals on camera (at least most of the time).

That was all true last year, and it remains true with Prehistoric Planet 2. But the new season does add a few wrinkles to the formula to keep it interesting. For starters, it really expands beyond the dinosaurs we’ve all seen plenty of times to make for some interesting stories. The second episode has a fascinating thread about a herd of Isisaurus, which raise their young in a crate surrounded by volcanic activity in order to keep them safe from predators. Some of the most interesting creatures aren’t even dinosaurs: the first episode includes an adorable vegetarian crocodile (Simosuchus) and a few mammals, including this big fella called Adalatherium:

There are flightless seabirds, 17-foot-long predatory fish, primitive ducks, and even swarms of millions and millions of flies. The ocean episode spends a good chunk of time dedicated to Ammonites. That’s not to say there aren’t “classic” dinos. You’ll still see plenty of T. rex and other huge predators hunting, along with an incredible variety of different types of raptors. But the second season does a great job at balancing the expected with detours into the stranger and lesser-known areas of prehistoric life.

It’s still largely a show more focused on entertainment than education, but Prehistoric Planet 2 does go a step further in explaining some of the science behind the show. In season 1, Attenborough would end each episode by directing viewers to a website where they could learn more. This time, the episodes end with various experts explaining how they know a certain thing, whether it’s the way gigantic flying reptiles hunted or how a whale-sized predator was able to move so fast. You even get some insight into the triceratops’ distinctive horn.

Really, what Prehistoric Planet 2 shows is that the first season wasn’t successful purely because of novelty. There are plenty more interesting stories to explore 66 million years ago — and the best ones are the strangest.

Prehistoric Planet 2 starts streaming on Apple TV Plus on May 22nd.

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