Effects get out of hand

`Dinotopia' lacks good acting, script

Television Preview

May 11, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

ABC and producer Robert Halmi, auteur of hack miniseries, say they spent $85 million on sets and special effects to make Dinotopia the most lavish miniseries in history. They should have held back a few bucks and hired some leading players who could act.

I'm not talking Andre Braugher or Dennis Franz acting, either. All I'm asking for is Harrison Ford acting - look good in a bush jacket and wear an expression on your face that more or less corresponds to the action around you.

A writer who could tell a story that works on both a literal and mythic level - that would have gone a long way, too, in making Dinotopia more than a big, fat, lumbering, three-nights-long, prime example of wretched network excess. This is television imitating the big screen, where the special effects just keep getting bigger and bigger and the acting and story get smaller and smaller until we start to think Angelina Jolie is a great talent.

The heroine here is Marion (Katie Carr), a brave, wise and kind teen-ager. The kingdom of Dinotopia, where dinosaurs and humans live in harmony, is ruled by The Matriarch. Marion is on the waiting list for the job, sort of like Prince Charles in England. Carr is almost good enough as an actress to be in a bad teen drama on the WB network. Almost.

The other leading roles are those of Karl and David, teen-age half-brothers from our world who survive a plane crash but somehow find themselves in the strange land of Dinotopia. Tyron Leitso and Wentworth Miller, as the brothers, are not almost good enough to be in a bad teen drama on the WB. A sitcom on UPN might even be a stretch for them.

In fairness, there is one splendid actor here - David Thewlis, a British performer who played one of the most vile TV villains ever in PBS' Prime Suspect series. But Thewlis gives so little to his performance that he often fails to even stay in character.

Marion is our guide into the Dinotopia culture; she actually teaches a class that inculcates children and newcomers with the values of society, here known as codes. First Code of Dinotopia: One raindrop raises the sea. Second Code: Survival of all or none. Third Code: Weapons are enemies even of their owners. Blah, blah, blah, through 10 drippy codes filled with ideological mumbo-jumbo and part of an 11th lost one.

At first, Karl and David want to return to the world from whence they came, but they are both quite taken with Marion. Then there's the kindness of Zippo, the librarian-dinosaur, who lets the brothers live with him in Waterfall City, the Dinotopian capital.

Zippo, a computer-generated dinosaur that speaks English as if he were Oxford-educated, is the one redeeming aspect of this series. This is Jar Jar Binks, of the last Star Wars film, on the small screen as a dinosaur. Is he enough to save it? Maybe for small kids.

But wouldn't it be better if our kids could fall in love with great stories that fire their imaginations instead of computer-generated images designed to amuse them? This is how we lose our ability as a culture to create narratives that inspire us to greatness.

`L.A. Law' reunion

Outside of Dynasty or Dallas, I can think of no series that would be sillier to remake as a reunion movie in 2002 than L.A. Law. But that's what we get tomorrow night at 9 from NBC.

From its opening credits with all those reflecting glass towers, to the big scenes that regularly occurred in the board room of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, L.A. Law celebrated corporate America far more than it did the law.

In the 1980s era of Ronald Reagan, that was a celebration many wanted to join. But, in the wake of Enron, it's not so easy to believe that the decent and caring Leland McKenzie - looking like E.F. Hutton himself in the "one investor at a time" ads - is the guy sitting at the head of the big table making the decisions.

As for the film, it is hard to say what is sorrier - the improbable script or the desperate performance of someone like Corbin Bernsen, whose over-acting in the opening sequence is painful to watch. Could Bernsen have really once been so loosey-goosey convincing as Arnie Becker, the sleazy family law attorney?

Please, NBC, enough already with the nostalgia.

Dinotopia

Where: WMAR (Channel 2)

When: Tomorrow at 7 p.m., Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m.

In brief: Long on special effects and dinosaur dazzle, short on acting and script

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