I Don't Believe It

By Delingpole, James | The Spectator, March 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

I Don't Believe It


Delingpole, James, The Spectator


The problem with Walking With Dinosaurs and Walking With Beasts was that anyone with even a fraction of a brain knew that they were a load of madeup rubbish designed mainly for people who believed Jurassic Park was a plausible scenario. So this time, the BBC is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by recruiting Robert Winston to present its latest effort, Walking With Cavemen (BBCl, Thursday).

We like Robert Winston. He has delightful twinkly eyes, a warm bedside manner and a lovable comedy moustache; he displays an engaging shamelessness in front of the camera (getting two-bottles drunk to illustrate the effects of alcohol; climbing a tree in Africa and pretending the actor in a chimp costume next to him is in fact a three-and-a-half-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis called Lucy; etc.); and, above all, he is an actual, genuine medical professor with a proper job in the field of fertility. So, if he's in charge of the programme, it must be kosher, mustn't it?

Well, possibly, I thought for about as long as it took for him to open his mouth and point to a tree and say: `This is your distant relative from 300,000 generations ago.' And I went: `No it's not, it's an actor dressed as a monkey. And, anyway, it wasn't that tree, that tree wasn't even there three million years ago, and even if it had been, I'll bet it was the wrong tree. In fact, you're probably not even filming this in the right country - it's supposed to be Afar in Ethiopia, but I'll bet it's just some other African country standing in for Ethiopia because you couldn't afford too many locations, so there.'

Yes, yes, of course I'm being absurdly literalist here and I realise how incredibly wearing the script would have been if it had hedged everything with 'coulds' and 'perhapses'. But I do think making statements such as `This is the very tree where your ancestor hung out' is asking for trouble. Unless the viewer is prepared to submit with childlike wonderment, he's almost bound to go the other way and disbelieve everything.

Like the scene where, one by one, the family of ape-people bobs up poetically from beneath the long grass: is that verifiable early-man behaviour or are the ape actors just doing it because the director thought it would look pretty? And the almost-female-human wail of distress Lucy utters when her baby is nearly clobbered by warring males: is that how early hominids really sounded?

Still, kids are going to love it, it's beautifully shot and dramatically scored, the prosthetics and action sequences are fab, and I'm sure between the bouts of silliness we might even learn something. …

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