Review of “Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster” – potentially the most delightfully uplifting production ever created.
The show “Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster” focuses on the theme of happiness. While it may seem like a program about the process of finding, removing, and studying the well-preserved skull of a pliosaur from a cliff on the Jurassic coast, it ultimately delves into the concept of joy.
Joy is present all around us. In his introduction, Attenborough marvels, “Is there anything more exquisite?” as he expertly splits a rock in half, reminiscent of his days as a young fossil enthusiast (“Nowadays, you’re supposed to wear glasses”) to uncover an ammonite.
The video captured the mix of joy and disbelief as the pliosaur skull was uncovered on Kimmeridge Bay beach. Fossil expert Steve Etches’ expression revealed his realization that the rest of the skull may be located in the towering cliff above.
This demonstrates that all he and his team need to do is release it. How can they accomplish that? They must act fast before the seasonal storms arrive and the treasure is forever lost. They will rappel down the cliff and carefully chip away at the large specimen, protecting any exposed areas with tinfoil and superglue. “I foolishly thought it wouldn’t be as difficult as it is,” says Etches as they use a combination of strength and impressive skill to maneuver around the heavy, valuable jewel. However, he is also describing a deeper sense of satisfaction.
During this time, Attenborough engages in enthusiastic conversations with experts about the knowledge they have gathered from the snout. This includes the sensory pits that can sense changes in water pressure caused by approaching prey, the different tooth shapes that provide maximum grip, and the evidence of new teeth growing in when old ones break, giving the creature both longevity and impressive hunting abilities.
After more than three weeks of digging straight down, the skull is finally free from the stone surrounding it. Their only task left is to bring it up to solid ground. Thankfully, farmer and self-taught engineer Rob has spent the time inventing a device that will make this possible. It is a wooden crate with metal skis that can pivot, ensuring that it stays level regardless of the angle needed to bring it up or down the cliff. If you can’t imagine how this works, that’s why people like Rob are so remarkable and should be revered. And if you don’t feel elated as the device works perfectly and the skull is safely placed in Etches’ workshop for restoration, then who has wronged you? Two members of Etches’ team even give him a hug in celebration. “Now, now,” he says. “No need for that.”
Etches begins the task of removing millions of years from the fossilized bone, with the fragility of the specimen becoming more apparent as he nears the creature. Dr. Judyth Sassoon, a paleontologist, visits and concludes that it is probably a new type of pliosaur, adding to the existing eight species. Attenborough’s expression reflects his enthusiasm. “This is truly thrilling.” Despite the passing of time, his inner schoolboy remains unchanged, not fossilized but still present.
The young student and the 97-year-old scientist meet with Dr. Andre Rowe, a paleobiologist, to talk about convergent evolution. They also visit Professor Emily Rayfield, a paleontologist who specializes in skeletal mechanics, to discuss the potential strength, size, and habits of a new pliosaur. Lastly, they go to Dr. Luke Muscutt’s hydrodynamic laboratory to observe and study how the unique marine reptile used its four flippers instead of two and determine its speed.
The situation for ichthyosaurs is unfortunate, but it benefits us as viewers. There is nothing quite like witnessing knowledgeable and passionate individuals share their expertise and excitement, which can break down our guarded skepticism and rediscover our vulnerable emotions. We are capable of great things and can learn so much. We can also experience and revive things through the use of imagination and strategic computer-generated imagery. One hour is not nearly sufficient to cover all the mentioned aspects. I could easily watch a full hour or series on each topic.
At the end, Attenborough encourages us to persist. He expresses, “There is still an abundance of knowledge to be acquired about these remarkable creatures. Personally, I will always be eager to uncover more.”
The program “Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster” can be watched on BBC One or iPlayer.