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Back to where it all began

Author: BRIAN COURTIS and ANDREW RYAN
Date: 17/10/1999
Words: 1168
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Television
Page: 5
Critic's choice

Walking With Dinosaurs: New Blood

Sunday, ABC, 7.30pm ****

If you like your wildlife big, then this one's for you. They really don't come much bigger than in Walking With Dinosaurs, an eye-opening six-part prehistoric natural-history series from the BBC that ultimately makes Jurassic Park look like a show-and-tell at the kiddy's play-pen.

Unless you have a smartypants 10-year-old dino-freak in the house, some of the dinosaurs may be unfamiliar at first, but be assured that all the regulars - tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus and diplodocus - will be around. Brought to life by advanced computer animation, sophisticated animatronics, and the learned advice of a team of scientists who had undoubtedly hoped to travel to the locations used for the show's backdrops: Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, the Bahamas and California.

The first episode is set in New Caledonia, though, as true-believer and narrator Kenneth Branagh tells us, it is really Arizona in the year 220,000,000 BC. The late Triassic period. The first of the dinosaurs we see are coelphyses, thin, agile and long-legged supermodels that gang up against creatures like the placeria, herbivores about the size of a concrete mixer. Cynodonts, small, part mammal-part reptile, spend most of their time in burrows hiding from this action. They're the "cute" ones of New Blood.

There are more spectacular players. Hollywood is sure to sign up the terrifying land crocodile postosochus, and you will be amazed to see how a four-tonne plateosaurus lifts its leg to mark its territory.

How do palaeontologists know all this? Much of it is an educated guess, of course, but dino-experts have always been good at that. In Jurassic Park, for instance, a tyrannosaurus eats a lawyer. The Walking With Dinosaurs team has already worked out that it would take 238 average-sized lawyers a year to keep that dinosaur satisfied. And heaven knows how much Alka-Seltzer . . .

DRAMA

If These Walls Could Talk

Sunday, Channel 10, 8.30pm *

You look at the stars, Demi Moore, Sissy Spacek and Cher, and expect something special. You look at the subject, the emotionally charged issue of abortion, and you expect something powerful. Then you remember that this is an American telemovie and, though you know there will be a lot of angst and a lot of posturing, realise it will be as balanced as concrete scales. If These Walls Could Talk, an HBO film produced by Moore, Spacek and Cher, is neither clearly pro-choice nor pro-life. It focuses on one home and, in three separate stories, looks at how three women who lived there dealt with unplanned pregnancies in the early '50s, early '70s and mid-'90s. Changing times, unchanging anxieties. Moore plays a young war widow who becomes pregnant to her brother-in-law and is forced to find a backyard abortionist. Spacek's harassed middle-aged mother lives in more liberating times and, though the pressures are on her to have an abortion, she is uncertain. Cher, who also woefully directed the third, probably more pro-choice segment, plays a doctor ?working in a besieged abortion clinic. But this is a meanderng drama in which all the attention is on the detail. As an historical road map on how far society has evolved in its struggle to deal with abortion, it has little to offer. Just a lot of one-way streets.

Eureka Street

Sunday, ABC, 8.30pm ***

It may have something to do with El Ni?o, or the melting of the northern ice-cap, or a run on the daylight saving bank, but every program filmed north of London these days seems to be made in the dark. Eureka Street, a promising new four-part BBC drama set in contemporary Belfast, is no exception, its few daylight scenes also looking as if they've been shot through a grit-spattered lens on a rainy day. And yet Eureka Street, directed quirkily by Adrian Shergold (of the blackly humorous, recently screened Births, Marriages And Deaths), does show us a Belfast more akin to Roddy Doyle's Dublin than to the tragic Troubles-sated city to which we've become accustomed. Based on a novel by local writer Robert McLiam Wilson, it follows the mixed adventures of hard-man Jake Jackson (Vincent Regan), a debt collector with a conscience, and his "fat git" pal, Chuckie Lurgan (Mark Benton), a loser on whom the fates suddenly start to smile. Jackson the "repo man", who shows his softer side through the narration, is not so lucky, losing his girlfriend and finding himself with a policeman in hot pursuit. And then the political firebrand Aoirghe Jenkins (Dervla Kirwan) comes into his life. Their bittersweet future looks bright, even if the camerawork leaves us in the gloom.

Neighbours

Weekdays, Channel 10, 6.30pm **

Soaps, we are told, have become society's "virtual communities", providing us all with the shared experiences we once enjoyed from our street, town or workplace. Well, there will be some sad faces around the box this week as the Martin family - Phil (Ian Rawlings), Ruth (Ailsa Piper) and Hannah (Rebecca Ritters) - say goodbye to Ramsay Street. And no, they're not being sent to Brisbane. The budget is better these days. The Martins are heading off to a new life in Darwin.

Kavanagh QC: Briefs Trooping Gaily

Wednesday, Channel 7, 9.30pm ***

You heap coals on your own head, you'll find them hot! That's what Kavanagh's father used to say and, though I'm not sure what it means, I suspect that's what John Thaw's QC is doing in this week's drama. Kavanagh's client, a young woman accused of killing her husband, insists on changing her plea in court against his advice. Not only that, Kavanagh finds himself agreeing to defend the vain Jeremy Aldermarten on a professional misconduct charge. Jeremy peeked at another's briefs . . . highlights

Goodnight Mister Tom

Friday, Channel 7, 8.30pm ****

No cops, no villains, no law books? What can one say about John Thaw without his usual props? Only that he's well worth catching in Goodnight Mister Tom, a telemovie based on the prizewinning English novel set in World War II. Thaw plays the cranky, widowed Tom Oakley, a village loner who, in 1940, finds himself caring for a troubled nine-year-old London evacuee, Willie Beech (Nick Robinson). As Tom gets to know this other loner, he realises the boy has a dark past. Slowly their relationship develops. It's a touching film about simple human emotions, the rehabilitation of two people who have suffered in different ways. One for all the family.

COMMEDY

dinnerladies

Sunday, ABC, 8pm ***

Perhaps I was a little unfair about Victoria Wood's new series dinnerladies. Last month's "sneak preview", based around a royal visit to the troupe's canteen, left me decidedly undernourished and seeing it as little more than a variation of such cretinous Britcom forgettables as It Ain't Half Hot Mum. This episode, however, is a fast-cooking bobby-snorter, packed with silly giggles, guffaws and double entendres from the Wood arsenal. Victoria is, of course, a treat as Bren, but, while the dinner ladies worry about weddings, the lack of "granary torpedo" rolls, and the Scottish country-dancing newcomer in human resources, the show-stealer is Julie Walters as her potty mother. dinnerladies clearly has a lot more going for it than I thought. Manager Stan (Duncan Preston) best captures the atmosphere. "Out of a work force of five," he says, "at any given moment one will have premenstrual tension, one's panicking because she's not, someone's having a hot flush and someone else is having a nervous breakdown because her HRT patch has fallen in the minestrone."

DOCUMENTARIES

Two Years In Galapagos

Wednesday, ABC, 8.30pm ****

At last, a film that tells you what it's really like in the world of David Attenboroughs. Film makers David Parer and Liz Parer-Cook take us behind the camera to show how they produced those award-winning natural history documentaries over their two years in the Galapagos. Suddenly, we pull back from the close-ups of iguanas, giant tortoises and blue-foot boobies to see the human activity in all its nesting and migratory detail. Along with the Parers was a support team and their three-year-old daughter Zoe, a charmer we see befriending sealion pups and learning about her environment. Parer shares his techniques, his insect-plagued discomforts and his triumphs. It is exhilarating television: camera cases are swept into the sea, red-hot lava flows close to where they've camped, nature teases them with the feeding-frenzy shots they must have. There are backbreaking hauls up a volcano with the iguanas and magnificent dives with the hammerhead and whale sharks. "There's a lot of luck, a lot of serendipity," says Parer. And, as this superb how-its-done film illustrates, an astonishing amount of hard work.

TALK/REALITY TV

The World's Greatest Commercials: Cannes 1999

Sunday, Channel 7, 7.30pm **

Forget that dancing baby. Advertising's superstars now offer a troupe of diving babies performing spectacular Busby Berkeley aquatic routines. And babies being tattooed. They're also into humor in a big way. Andrew Daddo delivers the latest batch of entertaining and award-winning international commercials. Keep an eye out for Jeep Cherokee's smart zebras, a superb series promoting tolerance, and Budweiser's hostage-taking lobster.

Huey's Cooking Adventures

Weekdays, Channel 7, 5pm **

Superchef Iain Hewitson switches networks for a new daily series in which he will encourage viewers to cook along with the show. Recipes and ingredients will be given the day before he prepares the dish. So go to it practical foodies!

2 Shot: Richard Glover & Garry McDonald

Monday, ABC, 10.30pm ***

Another very special 2 Shot interview. A surprisingly open Garry McDonald looks back on the anxieties, triumphs and real pleasures of his life with a gently analytical Richard Glover. The generally introspective actor talks about his longtime rift with writer Trevor Farrant and of his hopes for a 25th anniversary show with Norman Gunston.

2 Shot: Richard Glover & Garry McDonald

Tuesday, Channel 9, 8.30pm **

Ray Martin attempts to satisfy our apparent hunger for best-of lists with a new series in which viewers and celebrity "experts" debate and decide exactly what has been the best of everything.

SPECIALS

Bananas In Pyjamas

Monday, ABC, 4pm **

B1 and B2 return to air in time to celebrate their birthday. Almost everyone in Cuddles Avenue, Bananas and Teddies alike, is thinking of the surprise party. Except Rat-in-a-Hat. And me. I'm feeling sick.

Pavarotti And Friends

Friday, Channel 7, 10.45pm **

Pav's pals? This time they include Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, B.B.King, Boyzone, Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie. Don't expect Wagner.

SPORT

1999 Honda Gold Coast Indy

Today, Channel 10, 11am

Another day for petrol-heads begins with coverage of all the races at the 1999 Indy 300 - six in all. The Gold Coast Indy is the 19th and second last race for the Indy season and, despite the split in Indy car racing organisations in the United States, still boasts some legendary names among the drivers including Fittipaldi, Andretti and Unser. And there is plenty of interest in the championship table as only 13 points separates first, Juan Montoya, and second, Dario Franchitti.

Mercantile Mutual Cricket

Today, Channel 9, 11am

South Australia takes on Tasmania in what should be a game between two evenly matched teams.

1999 Malaysian Grand Prix

Today, Channel 9, 3.50pm

A chance to see a formula one grand prix without having to wait up until the wee hours of the morning. There have probably been more different formula one winners this season than for many a year, which should be enough to give this race enormous interest.

The Union Game

Monday, ABC, 11pm

This is the final episode in what has been a marvellous series but even if you have missed all the others, this episode is important enough to stand on its own. It places the game in the context of 1999, exploring as it does the change to professionalism after 100 years as a sport that held proudly to its amateur tradition. With the World Cup on at present, it provides a chance for those just learning about the game to understand it a bit better.

World Cup Rugby - Quarter-finals

Thursday (Wednesday night), Channel 7, 12.15am

Three quarter-final matches in a row take this telecast into the early hours of the morning, although there is an hour-long highlights package on at a more respectable 7.30am. This is the same stage of the tournament that produced that unbelievable match against Ireland in 1991 - which no doubt contributed to converting to the game many who saw it. The last quarter final is on Saturday night at 11.35.

1999 Cox Plate

Saturday, Channel 9, 12pm

This is the meeting that has the best horserace in Australia - the W.S. Cox Plate. It may not have the glitz, glamor, party atmosphere and crowds of the Melbourne Cup, but it is the race that is traditionally won by champions and is the Sport of Kings at its absolute best.

-- Sport by Andrew Ryan

 
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