Future is Wild

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To be added to this:

  • review of DVD release and comparison with TV Release
  • Babookaris: how and why they screwed up picking an ancestor species, and what they should have picked instead.
  • Possibly individual thoughts on other species as well.

Contents

Future is Wild, Discovery Channel TV Release

I just watched the TV special Future is Wild on Animal Planet. The idea of the show is to extrapolate evolution on Earth into the future. Humans, in this speculative show, have left the Earth and send back periodic probes to observe how the Earth evolves while we pursue our own goals in other parts of the galaxy. Glimpses of several habitats around the world are provided at each 5-, 100-, and 200-million years in the future.

I would guess that it was made by the some of the same people as made Walking with Dinosaurs. If not, it was certainly modeled after it. It similarly takes a feel of a nature documentary; showing the lives of the creatures of the created environments. It also leaves it to be understood that all this is speculation; for perfectly valid reasons of presentation, it doesn't break in every moment with disclaimers. Though this makes the knowledgeable sometimes a little concerned, as to whether the general audience is aware what is well-grounded speculation, what is reasonable speculation, and what is merely plausible fantasy. But, oh well, there's no good way around that.

It's not quite the high-budget item that Walking with Dinosaurs was. It's good computer graphics, but not quite at the level of Walking with Dinosaurs, and some CG shots are recycled a few times.

Presentation

Like the graphics, the presentation is both good and flawed. The most immediately striking flaw is the silliness of the names of the invented future animals: "Deathgleaners", "Snowstalkers", "Reef Gliders", for example. A little more interesting, but still silly were "Babookaris", descendants of uakaris that have evolved parallels to baboons; and "Carakillers", caracaras become large terrestrial predators. Though, on the other hand, in inventing weird future animals, I'm not sure how they could have come up with names weren't silly.

The next flaw was the dramatization, which came in three flavors. The first was just the standard dramatization of a nature show, which seeks out the most interesting things to show to their audience, and so creates a feel of a much more dramatic, fast paced existence then is usually very inaccurate.

The second was overdoing. There's no reason that storms should greater than has ever been experienced on Earth, or that mountains should be taller than has ever existed before, or to have the largest land animal ever. While one shouldn't be constrained by what is around today, there's no need to get bigger and better than ever, it's just gratuitous.

The third was a little more subtle. And, in fact, part of the problem is that a lot of people will probably mistake it for the second flavor. Because the show also overdramatized its presentation of some aspects that were reasonably well thought out, but sounded too far-fetched because of the way they were presented. Or they'd describe something in dramatic detail, that wasn't really much different than today, such as parts of the spider-web stuff, or the description of the sharks, the "Sharkopaths". The Sharkopaths are not only the probable winners for the most absurd name in the show, but were also nothing special, really. Almost all of the aspects of the critters are traits some sharks already have, despite the fact that the show presents them as new and improved super-sharks. The one exception is the presence of bioluminescent signaling patches. But that isn't really special either; many marine animals have them.

Content

The content was quite good, all things considered. Given that predicting evolution is an impossible task, and even decent speculation has some major pitfalls, the show does a very good job. With the exceptions of where content overlaps with the overdoing-type flaw in the presentation.

The show does a very good job of breaking out of preconceptions. For example it has some large predatory bats living in a desert (the Deathgleaners mentioned above). Since these bats soar on thermals, they are only active during the day, a reversal of the basic expectation that bats are nocturnal

On the other hand, they sometimes get a little carried away with breaking preconceptions. In the 5-million year future, there are speculated quail-descendants that live underground prairie dog/mole-rat style. That's a fascinating idea, but since they give no reason that mammals couldn't be filling that niche, creating fully fossorial birds is a bit of a stretch.

So over all, I'm praising with faint damns, the show's much, much better than such a difficult project could have been. I haven't been able to hunt down a schedule for the show, but I recommend it to those who are interested. If nothing else, I'm sure it will be available for rental in little while. There also seem to be some indications that they're may be another episode or a few.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the Silverswimmers. In the 200-million year future, there's been a mass exintiction (possibly even Class 1 from the brief description) and most fish have gone extinct. In most of their places is a new class of animals, the Silverswimmers, which are evolved from crustacean larvae that never reach adult form. An exceeding clever idea. Heterochrony is one of the best ways evolution creates really new animals. That's how we chordates got started: in the beginning the first "fish" were just sea squirt larvae that never grew up and settled down (more or less).

One Last Thing

They stole my ideas, dammit! Again!! My Dryopoda are one of my prize creations, and now two other, popular venues are presenting similar ideas. First there was the Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus Campaign. But that's not very serious, nor yet very well designed, from an evolutionary stand point. A Marine West Coast climate is really not where a tree-octopus would be likely to evolve, and especially not among conifers.

I stand by my idea of semi-terrestrial octopods coming out of a mangrove swamp, as by far and away the most likely. Mangrove swamps are filled with all manner of odd critters, including many that are significantly more terrestrial than most of their relatives. Such as the mudskipper, a fish that spends a great deal of time out of water, and can in fact climb trees.

And indeed, there are semi-terrestrial octopods shown in "Future is Wild", coming out of a mangrove swamp. That's in the 100-million year future.

In the 200-million year future, tree-swinging squid become the first post-human intelligence to develop on Earth. Though why the switch to squid, I'm not sure. Not only have they already speculated an early stage in the terrestrial adaptations of an octopus lineage, but my opinion is that, for a number of reasons, octopods are rather better suited for such a role. In addition, another land-dwelling squid species is shown in possession of a vocal sac, an idea I had come up with as the most logical way of giving voicing capability to my dryads.

On the one hand it's a fun validation of my ideas.

On the other hand, I thought of it first! And since I don't have the audience that these others have, my ideas are no longer going to be as original to those who have met these others first, which is a little annoying.

Oh, well. I'll just console myself that I've still done the evolutionary path better and in more detail than anyone else. And since evolution never plans, every adaptation must be beneficial by itself, before later adaptations are added; that's really the hard part, finding the route that leads logically, step by step, to an intelligent, social, iteroparous, terrestrial cephalopod.

Addendum, a few thoughts on "Walking with Cavemen"

2003.06.18

So I watched "Walking with Cavemen" a couple days age. Not terribly impressive. It must have some connection to Walking with Dinosaurs, but its a totally different team, lower budget, etc. And the narration by Alec Baldwin was awful. You can't get Genuine Class out of this Alec. The BBC version had a different presenter, as always. Hopefully it was better. Though it was still plenty interesting enough for me to spend the two hours on it.

And I'm glad I did, because they nailed the non-linearity as well as I could have wished. Much better than any popular presentation I'd ever seen. Perfectly describes the relation between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, as the two branches of H. ergaster pulled apart by the two very different extreme climates that developed in Africa and Europe, repectively. It also presents H. erectus as an Asian sidebranch, which I'm inclined to agree with.

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