Dinosaur Apocalypse: The Last Day of the Dinosaurs

Sir David Attenborough looking at fossilized Triceratops skin through a magnifying glass in Dinosaur Apocalypse. © BBC Studios.

Taking new evidence at the Hell Creek Formation into account, Dinosaur Apocalypse revisits the last day of the dinosaurs. Okay, the last day of the non-avian dinosaurs as the avian dinosaurs would evolve into birds.

I found watching this two-part documentary is the perfect antidote to 65. It’s very fascinating and insightful in both what happened then and what we’re learning now. The other thing is that it wasn’t until watching the film in which I learned that the number changed from 65 million years ago to 66 million years ago and change, plus or minus a few thousand years. Rather than repeat what I wrote in my review of 65, you can just click on the link earlier in this paragraph.

The two-part documentary special–three years in the making–was a co-production of both PBS and the BBC Studios Science Unit. In the US, it aired as a part of the award-winning NOVA science series. The documentary draws on recent discoveries at the Tanis fossil site. During the Cretaceous, Tanis–located in present-day North Dakota–was along the border of the Western Interior Seaway, an ancient body of water that stretched the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico. This was back when North America was mostly large islands and the Rocky Mountains didn’t exist–it would come later.

Sir David Attenborough holding an ammonite in his left hand looking to camera with VisFx Pterosaur and t. Rex behind him, with asteroid streaking through the sky in artwork for Dinosaur Apocalypse.
Sir David Attenborough holding an ammonite in his left hand looking to camera with VisFx Pterosaur and t. Rex behind him, with asteroid streaking through the sky in artwork for Dinosaur Apocalypse. © BBC Studios.

While we know that the dinosaur-killing asteroid hit Earth over 66 million years ago, we now have a better idea of what happened on the last day. Robert DePalma, a paleontologist, has been rather busy at the Tanis site in the Hell Creek Formation. In recent years, DePalma and his team have made some staggering discoveries. It isn’t just the rocks that form the border of the K-Pg boundary following the K-Pg Extinction Event. This fossil site has now given us dinosaur fossils from the day that the asteroid hit, if not mere days or weeks before. Moreover, the fossils themselves have something to tell us about what the last day was like. It’s really astonishing and beyond belief. Because of the asteroid’s impact, it led to tektite spherules raining down. The spherules are all over the dig site and the scientific research reveals pieces of the asteroid!

What’s impressive is that they’ve found fossilized dinosaur skin. More often than not, scientists are just digging up bones. To see actual fossilized skin–I don’t know if I even have the words. The discoveries are just astonishing:

  • a pterosaur embryo still inside the egg
  • a fossilized burrow dug by a mammal
  • Triceratops skin
  • the leg of a Thescelosaurus, presumably killed by the asteroid

In both parts, Sir David Attenborough walks us through the dig finds and discusses them with experts. Slowly but surely, we get an idea of what it must have been like for all the dinosaurs, mammals, reptiles, and fish in the Tanis area when the Chicxulub asteroid hit the planet. It would be life as normal up until a few minutes after impact. From her on out, it was sheer chaos with dinosaurs having to fend for themselves. We’re talking a global catastrophe with fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, and a nuclear winter. Mammals and other reptiles found ways to survive and evolve. Non-avian dinosaurs would somehow evolve into our present-day birds.

The CGI is okay for a two-part TV doc with this sort of production budget. I’m not expecting it to be at the caliber of Jurassic Park. It does the job for what it is and that’s perfectly fine. I’m here for the science of it all and seeing what life was like on the final day of the dinosaurs. My only regret is not watching it sooner!

Dinosaur Apocalypse brings new evidence to light and offers viewers a stunning look at the K-Pg Extinction Event.

FEATURING: Sir David Attenborough, Robert DePalma, Steve Brusatte, Emily Bamforth, Sonia Tikoo, Sean Gulick, Riley Black, Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, David Unwin, Cathy Plesko, Phillip Manning, Cameron Muskelley, Vasily Titov, David Burnham, Lauren Gurche, Victoria Egerton, David Martill, Joanna Morgan

Dinosaur Apocalypse premiered May 11, 2022 at 9 PM ET/8 PM CT on PBS. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.