Walking With Dinosaurs E3 – Cruel Sea (1999)

Director Tim Haines, Jasper James
Writers Tim Haines
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Genre Documentary
Tagline None Listed


"The most fearsome predator of the Jurassic is watching his prey. Peering through the water, the carnivore fixes on his unwary victim, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.“ - Kenneth Branagh

It's 149 million years BC and we are in the Jurassic. The massive landmass of Pangaea has split into two continents, and huge shallow oceans dominate the landscape. The place is Oxfordshire, where the future continent of Europe lies hidden beneath azure waters. Well okay, the episode is filmed in the Bahamas and New Caledonia in the modern world, but if you would just suspend belief for a few minutes this review would go far easier.

We find that in the fatal Jurassic waters, dinosaurs do not dominate and are as likely to become prey to the aquatic reptiles as the abundant fish populations. Buckle in as we are going to meet the largest ever predator to evolve on the planet, give it up for Lipleurodon.

I simply have to say, best ever opening for a documentary; where's the Academy, this one needed an Oscar. After the opening credits we note a Eustreptospondylus, a medium sized Allosaur, intently staring into the ocean. Kenneth can dramatically inform us that "the carnivore fixes on his unwary victim". The camera pulls back to show us the dinosaur is poised on a narrow headland, starring intently at the calm waters of a bay. Suddenly, in a wham bam moment to put David Bowie to shame, a massive head explodes out of the water behind the dinosaur, the dino is swept up by seemingly impossibly sized teeth, and the whole shooting box disappears into the waves caused by a flipper almost as long as the land carnivore. To add the chocolate topping to this Sunday treat, the episode title materialises with a dissonant musical chord. Director Tim Haines has pulled off the documentary equivalent of Leatherface's appearance in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The audience are left trying to get their breath back as the episode heads into calmer waters with Ophthalmosaurus, another aquatic reptile, that has arrived en masse to give birth. Great opening, and I was certainly bright eyed and bushy tailed for the rest of the episode.

Cruel Sea's heavy is unexpectedly an 80-foot, 150-ton monster with teeth twice as long as a Tyrannosauras' called Lipleurodon. The massive creature, "the largest and most powerful carnivore ever to live on the planet" ¯according to Kenneth, is an aquatic reptile only dimly related to the dinosaurs we would have expected to wear the black hats during the episode. Lipleurodon is presented as a slow graceful swimmer, an expert at ambush attacks, and the apex predator of the watery environment.

Even worse for dino fans, the pinup creature of the episode is another aquatic reptile called Ophthalmosaurus, an early adaptor of the ocean environments. The animal, which resembles a sort of dolphin/tuna hybrid with extra large eyes, is a swift 16-foot hunter of fish and, apparently, squid at night. The Ophthalmosaurus are giving birth to live young, and we spend quite some time with the little ones as they risk life and fin against prehistoric sharks in the coral environs.

As if this documentary series isn't complex enough we head out into the marine environment

A marine version of the gentle herbivorous giants on land is presented in the form of the plesiosaur Cryptoclidus. Branagh explains that the ancestors of all the sea reptiles lived on land, but went back to the water 75 million years previously.

Just in case we might be getting the warm and fuzzies toward our aquatic sea kittens, Tim Haines focuses on one mother Opthalmosaurus who is exhausted by her ordeal of giving live birth. The sharks are closing in but are beaten to the punch by Lipleurodon, who rips the Opthalmosaurus to pieces. For no apparent reason we then focus on a tail piece falling slowly to the ocean floor, bleeding enough to attract sharks as it settles on the ocean floor. I might be completely off the reservation here, but I couldn't help thinking that Haines was referencing the old tennis shoe leg scene from Spielberg's Jaws (1976).

We do get a couple of dinosaurs in the episode; the aforementioned Allosaur, and a red-headed pterosaur called Ramphorhyncus. If you have ever wanted to see an Allosaur dog-paddling between islands then Cruel Sea has you covered. The episode is, however, about the marine reptiles and the dinos only really have walk-on roles.

In additional to our reptiles we get jellyfish, shoals of fish, Perisphinctes (ammonites) including an amusing scene of a young Ophthalmosaurus trying to take a bite out of one, and a virtual army of horseshoe crabs clambering onto a beach during the night to lay and fertilise eggs.

During episode two we had a forest fire that spelt doom for many land dinosaurs, in Cruel Sea we have a tropical storm that tears up shallow sea beds, smashes coral, and kills thousands of marine animals. I wonder if natural disasters will feature in each subsequent episode? One of the victims of the storm is a giant killer Lipleurodon who has become stranded on a beach due to losing direction. The massive sea reptile expires due to suffocation under his own body weight, and the once proud denizen of the deep becomes Eustreptospondylus food.

Fundo Word on the street

"65% of life, they say, was killed when a comet struck the earth, but this assumes that the fossil record is a tape recording of events spanning millions of years, and not the burial sequence of billions of organisms in the global Flood described in the Bible. How in the world did they come up with that figure?"¯

Personally I thought the percentage was much higher, but guess 65% could be correct considering most smaller creatures managed to survive. Where the flock "events spanning millions of years" comes from is neither here nor there; by association we are talking a "dinosaur killer" event. Where is the proof for the "flood" described in the Bible? Where are the dinosaurs today, considering Noah was running a survival service apparently? And they came up with that figure based on available scientific evidence and not the ramblings of various people in a book.

Well I was certainly glued to my screen after the pre-title sequence "aquatic reptile as serial killer" nice and Tim Haines didn't let me down during the rest of the episode. Superb television and an excellent documentary piece. Thus far out of the three episodes I have watched, naturally going chronologically here, Cruel Sea is the best episode yet. Considering I'm only half way through Walking With Dinosaurs I could be in for something amazing in the coming episodes. By the by, not seeing a lot of raptors, just a thought.

I probably haven't mentioned that you don't need to see the episodes of Walking With Dinosaurs in any particular order. Each episode is a standalone piece with its own creatures and storyline that doesn't reference other episodes. And if you don't have the six hours to sit through the television release then there's an abridged movie length synopsis waiting at your DVD store to help you out.

Full recommendation on Cruel Sea, one of the best documentaries I have seen in 2009. Yes, we are slightly late with this episode guide, blame a certain arsewipe from Vietnam. The episode has pathos, tension, and quite a number of weird critters to be getting down and dirty with. Actually, thinking about it they should make a movie featuring a Lipleurodon that somehow ends up in a Maine Lake, I'd pay good money to catch that one. Hollywood may be out of ideas but we here at ScaryMinds are full of them, or not ¯depending on viewpoint. Cruel Sea makes a splash, well worth checking out the fatal waters.

ScaryMinds Rates this episode as ...

An episode full of drama, pathos, and interest.