Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Dragon's World: A Review
By Dr. Paleo Ph.D.
The docu-drama Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real was shown on The Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet. Having been only somewhat interested in a Walking With Dinosaurs-esque rendering of mythical dragons, I recently remembered it, and got the chance to rent it, and then watch it this past Friday, and, in honor of St. George’s* Day, I will write this review of the movie. (Okay, so I posted after midnight! Who cares?)
Early into the show, I became more and more fascinated with the story as the film progressed. Anyone who has seen Walking With Dinosaurs (or the similar shows such as Allosaurus, Walking With Beasts, and When Dinosaurs Roamed America) will be familiar with the style of this film: CGI creatures are created and designed, and then placed in real-world scenarios. They are often depicted doing real-life acts, such as eating, fighting, migrating, raising young, etc. Basically, this new style of documentary is just like any other nature documentary, only with invented scenes, which are usually based on scientific theories and ideas (unfortunately, these films are from an Evolutionary/Uniformitarian viewpoint, and depict the ancient world accordingly).
Happily, the dragons in this show are just as visually convincing as those in Walking With Dinosaurs. (I was impressed to learn that famed dinosaur artist John Sibbick, who has done a lot of artwork for National Geographic Magazine, was chosen to draw the concept art for this film.) What was different from shows like Walking, was the addition of a human aspect. You see, instead of the film being all-nature-documentary, scenes of actors playing scientists are threaded in between the scenes of dragons. These sequences formed what for me was one of the highlights of the film.
Centering around the story of a fictional young paleontologist named Dr. Tanner who becomes famous overnight after discovering a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, replete with skull, the film follows his investigations to verify a rather…strange idea of his. His skull shows strange wounds, which he identifies as talon wounds, and also carbonized “burn” marks, which are “precise, aimed” as he says. His initial fame goes kaput, and his theory of actual dragons goes down the drain. Until….
(Fast forward five years.)
Inside a glacial cave in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, something is discovered. Shocked and somewhat alerted by this find, the Romanian government contacts Tanner’s museum (which is based in London), hoping they will send a team out to get to the bottom of the mystery. Having seen photos of a strange, frozen beast, Tanner immediately volunteers to go, and next thing the viewer knows, we’re off to Romania, and Tanner is leading a three-person team. They hope that it’s not all a big hoax.…
Upon arrival, the team immediately sets about trying to identify the true identity of this very strange animal. Test after test reveals astonishing results, and Tanner gets more and more excited as his theory of real dragons begins to look very compelling.
Now, as these and the actual “dragon” scenes are intermixed, we as viewers are shown scenes of the team testing and probing the dragon body, and scenes of “live” dragons. Eventually, the viewer gets to see four different dragon species: a “dinosaur age” dragon, a marine, serpentine dragon with small wings for “fins,” a snake-like Chinese dragon, and, finally, a dragon that lives in the mountains of what would become Romania in the Middle Ages.
The overall science of the dragons was rather inventive in my opinion, but I did have a few objections here and there (we will see more about these in a moment). As the team from London discovers via scientific testing, the wings of their dead dragon are simply not large enough to get the animal off of the ground and into the air. More tests reveal the existence of a strange pair of sacs, or bladders inside the dragon’s body. Upon extracting them surgically, Tanner finds that they are filled with hydrogen gas and. These light, bouyancy gases were apparently routed to the bladders after being produced during the animal’s digestion process. As the film says, these bladders, coupled with wingpower, provide enough lift to get the dragons off the ground.
But what about fire-breathing? Apparently, the bladders have a dual function. Hydrogen and methane are both combustible gases, but what about the ignition? How were the gases lit to produce flame? A few sequences in the documentary depict the dragons ingesting certain kinds of rock, which are said to be rich in the metal platinum. Now, when the team opens the mouth of their dragon, Tanner finds something strange: molars in the back of it’s jaw. Now what would a flesh-eating carnivore want with molars?** Well, the movie tries to pass it off that the dragons used their molars on the rocks that they ate, and the platinum that remained in their teeth acted as a catalyst, igniting the gas from the bladders. Now, I found this to be rather unconvincing. According to Moh’s Hardness Scale, every element has a certain hardness. The harder the element, the tougher it is. For example, a diamond can stand up to a knife. A knife can’t scratch a diamond, but a diamond can scratch a knife. Platinum is certainly harder than the materials that make up animal teeth, so the idea of an animal getting even any rock or metal grains in it’s teeth and at the same time having them last seems very far-fetched to me.
However, the idea of gases produced during digestion being used to fuel flame is much more palatable, in my opinion. In fact, this idea was proposed for the fire-breathing Leviathan of the Bible by Creationist Dr. Donald B. Deyoung in his book Dinosaurs and Creation. (On a side note, I once had the opportunity to meet this man.) (To digress for a moment, I found the system in the film Reign of Fire--where two glands opposite each other in the dragons’ mouths squirted their liquids, and, when the streams hit, flames were produced--to be less convincing, although at least somewhat plausible, than the theory put forward in this.)
A few other concepts that I found to be rather shaky include the mountain dragons’ ability to cool flame with their breath (the science of this was never explained), and another, although less objectionable segment where the Chinese dragon cooked it’s food with flames before eating it, apparently because cooked food is easier to digest than raw. One other scene depicts a dragon sparring with a Tyrannosaurus rex, and one of the defensive mechanisms it uses is a high-pitched, piercing screech, which apparently caused great pain in the T. rex‘s ears. A trait like this may not be seen anywhere in nature today, but this didn’t seem as weak to me as the other issues. After all, many proponents of Sasquatch contend (and some encounter reports support) that these apes have the ability to use infrasound, something we can feel rather than hear. Another issue with the Chinese dragon was that it was able to vocally mimic the sounds of its prey (i.e., pigs), but I actually found this to be fairly believable.
Another “problem” to surmount in the eyes of the filmmakers was from an Evolutionary standpoint. How did dragons survive the “comet” impact that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? (It is interesting to note that many Uniformitarian scientists have raised serious doubts about the comet theory, but this is a side issue.) Since this “problem” only exists in Evolutionary science, I hope the reader will not mind me speaking from their viewpoint for a moment.
As the film claims, dragons survived the mass extinction event, called the K/T*** event. But how? Apparently the sea-going branch of the dragon family (Yes, the documentary uses the word “family“ for the group of dragons--does that mean that the group name would be Dragonidae?) was able to survive the catastrophic event because they lived in the seas. Tanner’s team discusses the fact that many marine animals survived the K/T event, and this prompts him to think of this (coupled with the discovery of a crocodile-like throat flap inside the dragon's own throat) for the dragons. But my objection is this: plesiosaurs (and the sub-group of pliosaurs, or short-necked plesiosaurs), ichthyosaurs, and mosasaurs all went extinct around the time of the K/T event according to the Evolutionists. So what gave dragons the ability to survive? As claimed, the dragons’ edge was their ability to wield fire. I don’t see what that could do for a marine dragon.
Alright. So we’ve seen what the film portrays dragons as. Dragons in every sense of the word. (Partly why I enjoyed this film so much is that it treated the dragon legend issue with more respect than I’ve ever seem it treated by the Evolutionary community on such large basis, although dragon studies are popular among Creationists.) But what were these strange creatures of the legends, in reality and not in the world of make-believe? Did they really breath fire? Did they really fly?
The answer to both questions is “yes”. Job 41:18-21 says this about the gigantic, scaly sea monster: “By his sneesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.” (KJV)
So at least some animals can (or could) definitely breath fire. Flight? That’s not so hard to believe, even for reptiles. Take a look at pterosaurs. They have wings, and most likely, at least in some species, possessed the skills of powered flight as well. Interestingly, I once came across this verse in the Bible, and have intently mused over it ever since then: “for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Isaiah 14:29b (KJV). A fiery flying serpent?
Okay, so I’m no scholar, and it would take a serious study of the original Hebrew to really get to the bottom of the real meaning, if it isn’t as it appears. Could it be a snake? But do snakes fly? Then, are dragons pterosaurs, at least in concept? Maybe…but there are a few problems.**** Besides the fact that most pterosaurs were quite small and many dragon legends seem more dinosaur-like, let’s take a look at a problem I’ve long pondered over: wing structure.
Take a look at pterosaurs, and compare them to bats. Their wing structure is different from bats in the way that only one elongated finger supported the wing itself (the other digits poking out in the front, to form a “hand” of sorts). (See an illustration here: http://www.transitionrig.com/prepics/ptero1.gif). Not so in bats, for the wing is almost webbed in structure as each digit has a part of the wing stretched between it and the next digit (Again, see here: http://olls.impressur.com/images/batwing.gif). So, we would naturally assume that dragons had what I’ll call the “one finger” style, right? Wrong.
In every piece of period art I’ve ever seen, the dragon(s) have what I’ll call the “webbed wing” structure, not the one finger style. So why would dragons, which are reptiles, have a mammalian wing structure as opposed to a reptilian one? The best answer I’ve been able to come up with over the years is that dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and perhaps leviathan were all mixed together in folklore, and the end result was a dinosaur-like, fire-breathing, winged beast. The wing problem may be answered by the idea that perhaps the webbed wing structure was more familiar to the people of the time than the one finger pterosaur style (since pterosaurs were probably on the wane or maybe even totally extinct in that part of Europe at the time), perhaps it just got corrupted and mixed up. Perhaps that may not seem very scientific, but some things like this are strangely simple almost.
But isn’t this treating the “legends” with a degree of…tentativeness? Maybe, but perhaps that’s not so bad anyways. After all, werewolves, vampires, and flying witches also have their place in folklore. On top of all this, is the fact that many dragons are shown with four legs, and two wings: six limbs altogether. This has never before been seen in all of nature. Is this just another corruption? Maybe….
But, wait. Today, while pondering what I would write in this review, something hit me. It suddenly hit me that there’s more to this than I’ve ever before realized.
Look at this picture here:
What do you see? Four legs, and two wings. Six “limbs”, except the wings are actually extensions of the ribs, with webs of skin in between. And wait…did I just say that? Webbed?
You got it. Lizards like this modern Draco (and the similar, extinct Icarosaurus, Coelurosauravus, and Longisquama) fit the concept of dragons fairly well. One only needs to mix in a little of the dinosaur and leviathan concepts to get a real dragon, replete with wings and the ability to breath fire, just like the ones seen in medieval art.
Back to our film review, all in all, I found this to be a fascinating movie. Very, very well made, mostly believable, and I found it to be much more intelligent than the mere fantasy show I expected it to be. The addition of the Chinese dragon was especially pleasing to me. I’ve often wondered if there is some sort of serpentine creature that we have not discovered yet, that is not known to science. Thousands of sea and lake monster sightings of undulating serpents and such, coupled with the Asian dragons, beg the existence of some…thing that is quite snakelike. Also, I was very interested to see that one of the dragons had eye spots on the underside of it’s wings, which, as I noticed yesterday, is startlingly and coincidentally similar to the ones seen on the St. George dragon, seen here in a painting by Paolo Uccello, 1456: http://www.wga.hu/art/u/uccello/6various/5dragon1.jpg
I did have one more objection, however. Near the end of the film, the mountain dragon of Romania is nesting and raising a young dragon. To feed her baby, she raids a peasant village (although it is not shown) many times for sheep. The villagers soon decide that something must be done, but after an ill-fated attempt, they hire mercenaries. Something of a fight scene is shown here, although it seems rather tame to me. (I did think that a dragon-vs.-dragon battle sequence would have been a great addition, too.) But what irked me so much is that the narrator was saying things like how the dragon was just trying to survive, that one of the peasants “insulted” the dragon by painting his face with the blood of her baby (like he knew that?), and that dragons were real and the only “myth” was of brave knights slaying terrible beasts. I’m sorry, but what would you do if you were someone living in medieval times? You know little about the creature you are fighting, but know it is big, lethal, and can spew flames. It kills your cattle, and sometimes perhaps even your people. Are you going to pity the dragon? No, you’re going to do anything and everything within power to slay the monstrous beast and protect your homeland. Men like St. George and Beowulf were brave heroes. We don’t have too many men like that nowadays, and it angered me when they said this.
But, all objections aside, if you’ve always pondered dragons and tried to scientifically find a theory for their existence as I have, then this film is for you.
Dr. Paleo Ph.D.
P.S. On yet another side note, the behind-the-scenes extra found on the DVD had interviews, where the filmmakers discussed, among other things, how practically every culture on the planet has a dragon legend. There must be something there…at least something, if the entire world has stories of it. I have often said this myself, and was happy to see someone else use the idea as well as “proof” for the existence of some sort of dragon-like creature. But, what I find so interesting, is that most of the world has tales of large, hairy ape-like creatures. North America, China, Vietnam, Russia, Australia, the Himalayas, Malaysia, and other places. Bigfoot/Sasquatch, Yeti/Abominable Snowman, Ye ren, Orang Pendek, Yowie, Alma. These things have to be real, if just because of all this evidence. (Although, as loyal blog readers will readily attest, there is much, much more evidence, enough to substantially prove the existence of these creatures according to normal scientific procedures.) But that's another story....
* Good students of English history and Creation science will know that St. George is famous for having slayed a dragon in medieval days.
** Some modern-day mammalian carnivores possess molars for crushing bones, such as wolves and other caniforms, but the cusps are more sharpened than the ones inside the mouth of the dragons.
*** “K/T” comes from the Evolutionary period boundaries. Supposedly the comet struck at the end of the Cretaceous Period (from the Greek kreta, which is where the “K” comes from) and near the beginning of the Tertiary Period. Thus, we have the “K/T event,”, or, as recognized geologically, the “K/T Boundary.”
**** Interestingly, one fairly common European pterosaur genus, Rhamphorynchus, had a "spaded" tail (see here: http://www005.upp.so-net.ne.jp/JurassicGallery/Rhamphorhynchus.jpg), or rather a rudder at the distal end of the tail. Perhaps this is where the legend of spade-tailed dragons originated?