Walking with Monsters (also distributed as Before the Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters or Walking with Monsters: Life before Dinosaurs) is a three-part British documentary film series about life in the Paleozoic, bringing to life extinct arthropods, fish, amphibians, synapsids, and reptiles. It is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and by Avery Brooks in the American version. Using state-of-the-art visual effects, this prequel to Walking with Dinosaurs shows for example how a two-ton predatory fish came on land to hunt. The series draws on the knowledge of over 600 scientists and shows nearly 300 million years of Paleozoic history, from the Cambrian Period (530 million years ago) to the Early Triassic Period (248 million years ago). It was written and directed by Tim Haines.
As with some of the other BBC specials, it was renamed in North America, where its title was Before the Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters. It has also aired as a two-hour special on the Canadian and American Discovery Channel.
At the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2006 it won the Emmy Award in the category Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More).
The first episode begins with an illustration of the giant impact hypothesis: approximately 4.4 billion years ago when the Earth was formed, it is conjectured that a planet-like object referred to as Theia collided into the early Earth, dynamically reshaping the Earth and forming the moon. The episode then jumps ahead to the Cambrian Explosion, showing the first diversification of life in the sea. Strange predators called Anomalocaris feed on Trilobites, fight with each other, whereupon the wounded loser is attacked by a school of Haikouichthys, described as the first vertebrate.
The segment moves on to the Silurian period, where Haikouichthys has evolved into the jawless-fish Cephalaspis. The marine scorpion Brontoscorpio pursues a Cephalaspis but falls victim to the giant eurypterid Pterygotus. Later a shoal of Cephalspis migrate into the shallows to spawn, navigating via memory thanks to their advanced (for the time) vertebrate brains. As they cross a shallow embankment, they are ambushed by several Brontoscorpio which are depicted as the first animals capable of walking on land. Several fish are killed but the majority slip past the scorpions and arrive at spawning site.
A short sequence depicts Cephalaspis evolving into Hynerpeton (erroneously bypassing the lobe-finned fish stage), amphibian-like tetrapods. Though capable of terrestrial movement, Hynerpeton have to remain near water to keep moist and reproduce. A lone male Hynerpeton hunting underwater is threatened by predatory fish, at first by a Stethacanthus which is itself eaten by a two-ton Hyneria that chases the amphibian out of the water. After seeing off a rival during the night, the male finds a receptive female at dawn and the two mate at the waters edge. They are ambushed by the Hyneria, which drags itself ashore to grab the fleeing male. Despite his untimely death, the 'Hynerpeton' eggs were successfully fertilized and sink into the water to develop. A sequence depicts them acquiring hard shells as the first reptiles evolve.
The episode then moves on to the early Permian, where the swamp-loving trees of the Carboniferous have been replaced with more advanced conifers that are better adapted to survive in a changing climate. Petrolacosaurus has evolved into Edaphosaurus, a pelycosaur (this is impossible, as Petrolacosaurus was a diapsid reptile, related to modern lizards, snakes, crocodiles, and birds, whereas Edaphosaurus was a synapsid reptile, related to modern mammals). They live in herds and have outgrown their arthropod contemporaries in size so they are no longer a threat to them. A female Dimetrodon, another pelycosaur, hunts down a baby Edaphosaurus after dispersing a herd of them. She is getting ready to lay eggs. She abandons her kill when the scent of blood attracts male Dimetrodon. She forms a nest on a hill and while she lays her eggs, she is watched by a Seymouria. Some time after laying her eggs, another female Dimetrodon tries to take over her nest. They fight for an entire day, and the original female manages to win. But she is weakened and has her right eye bitten out. The Seymouria takes the chance to steal some eggs in the mother's weakened state. Luckily, a male Dimetrodon eats the Seymouria and the eggs are unharmed. But when the eggs hatch, the mother-young bond is severed. This episode ends with the female Dimetrodon joining other adult Dimetrodon to cannibalize some of the young Dimetrodon while they race to the trees and hide in dung to escape. At the end the narrator says that the reptiles evolve to tighten their grip on land, evolving into "new reptiles."
The third episode is set in the Late Permian, on the supercontinent Pangaea, which was covered by a vast and inhospitable desert. In this arid climate, early therapsids, which are described as more "mammal-like" than reptile, are shown fighting to survive. The programme starts with an old Scutosaurus, an ancestor of turtles, being killed by a female Gorgonops. She then joins other members of her kind at a small waterhole but scares them off at first. Other inhabitants include Diictodon, a small burrowing dicynodont (a type of mammal like "reptile"). In the pool itself is a large amphibian Rhinesuchus, which ambushes the female Gorgonops in desperation. She latches onto the large animal's jaw but gives up. A herd of Scutosaurus arrive and eventually drink the waterhole dry. The female Gorgonops tries to dig out some Diictodon but is unsuccessful. She returns to the waterhole and un-earth the Rhinesuchus wrapped in a "cocoon" which it utilized to live through the drought. Because it is in a torpid state, it is helpless and is eaten by the Gorgonops. The Gorgonops is eventually killed by a sandstorm which is a foreshadowing of the oncoming Permian-Triassic extinction event.
The scene ends with the Diictodon evolving into Lystrosaurus. The Lystrosaurus population is growing. The Lystrosaurus need to migrate to areas plenty of food to survive. When they cross a ravine, a Lystrosaurus gets eaten by a pack of Euchambersia. They come to a river and are attacked by a group of Chasmatosaurus. Many escape, and continue to migrate. The mini-episode ends when the Euparkeria is confronted by a Chasmatosaurus. The Euparkeria evolves into an Allosaurus, frightening the Chasmatosaurus away. The Allosaurus approaches a pair of Stegosaurus. the scene flicks to a herd of three Diplodocus and a Brachiosaurus, fortelling the reign of the dinosaurs
In the "Trilogy of Life" documentary, included on the Walking With Monsters DVD, the producers of the "Walking With" trilogy state that their intention was not to write a scientific thesis but to bring prehistoric animals to life. The documentary also states that science is littered with mistakes (some scientists might even say that science only progresses by making mistakes) and that while scientists can make guesses as to how these prehistoric creatures might have looked or behaved while they were alive, there is no guarantee that these guesses are correct and in this case, we have no way of knowing for sure.
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