The first confirmed dinosaur fossils were discovered in England in the 1820s. Since then, the prehistoric beasts have intrigued imaginations, and it’s easy to understand why.
They were the earth’s dominant land animals for 135 million years – modern humans have been around for only about 250,000.
The largest among the dinosaurs, the Dreadnoughtus, was 85 feet long, 30 feet tall and weighed in at 65 tons (its fossil was discovered just last year). And one of the deadliest was the notorious T.rex, made famous in films for its long teeth and short arms. Their size alone makes dinosaurs remarkable, especially when considering that an 18-foot giraffe is one of the tallest beasts the living animal world has to offer.
“Walking With Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular” is at Sleep Train Arena today through Sunday for seven shows in which the “terrible lizards,” as their name means, romp, stomp, race and rear their mighty way through a multimedia show that’s equal parts education and entertainment.
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The show covers dino history from the Triassic period 230 million years ago up through the Cretaceous period, when they died out. Many of the 20 dinosaurs featured are giant robots, each requiring a three-person team to operate. The largest – the long-necked brachiosaurus – is 36 feet tall and 56 feet long.
The less-imposing dinosaurs are one-man puppets, each about 7 feet high and 12 feet long, brought to life by individual puppeteers, whom director Scott Faris describes as “super human” for their ability to wield the 80-pound suits for hours at a stretch. During the narrated performance, the animals roam the arena floor pursuing prey, tending their young and running for their lives, giving the audience an up-close experience with a world that no longer exists.
“It’s a giant, immersive theatrical adventure,” says Faris of the production, which is on its second world tour. “People are dumbfounded by the scale of the creatures. … There’s no blood, there’s no gore, but the dinosaurs are big and loud when they roar and chase each other around.”
“Walking With Dinosaurs” is loosely based on the popular BBC series of the same name, which played on the Discovery Channel in the U.S. in 2000. The stage show began in Australia in 2007 and has traveled to more than 206 cities. This year’s show is an update of the original, based on discoveries that have changed what scientists know about the creatures.
“Paleontology is quite a young science, and discoveries are made all the time,” says Faris, pointing out that the close link between dinosaurs and birds is now more widely accepted than when the show was first written. “In an effort to keep more current we adapted … so we have feathered our dinosaurs.”
Feathers aren’t the only realistic detail on the robots. The models were carefully crafted by “creature designer” Sonny Tilders, who also holds credits for being one of the key animatronic engineers on Jim Henson’s “Farscape” series, as well as working on “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“They work in this incredible detail, so if you saw these in the light of day they look real,” says Faris. “They build for detail because most of their creatures end up on film with a close-up.”
All that realism leads to a lot of fun when the lights go down, and the audience goes back in time. Faris says the 80-minute show (with an intermission) works for kids as young as 2, but will keep older kids enthralled as well.
“Nobody gets bored,” he says. “The happy thing is that when people come to see it, they come out smarter and more educated about the periods of the dinosaurs. … The kids have a great time and learned something to boot.”
Walking with Dinosaurs
What: A multimedia show featuring robotic, life-size lizards that’s equal parts education and entertainment.
When: Today through Sunday
Where: Sleep Train Arena (One Sports Parkway, Sacramento)
Cost: $27.50-$67.50 (with additional taxes and fees)
Info: (916) 928-6900; www.sleeptrainarena.com