The "lesser known" conceit was the first in some bizarre choices, pseudo-errors, and misleading narration/imagery to come from this special. Altogether, I can't say it was "better" than CotD, but to me it was heaps more interesting because of all these little quirks, and some very cool paleontologist segments, not to mention CGI sequences that lasted more than 3 seconds apiece.
First, to call Spinosaurus little-known is a bit of a reach, isn't it? The narrator started nearly every post-commercial break segment with a line like "The most terrifying dinosaur you've never heard of." Yeah, Jurassic Park III wasn't as popular as the first film, but isn't Spinosaurus at least among Brachiosaurus in the ranks of well-known second-tier dinosaur stars nowadays? Or is it only among us dino fanboys? But who else is watching this show?
The next thing that struck me was the design of the CGI Spinosaurus. It is pretty darn inaccurate by today's standards. But... it isn't based on today's standards. It's clearly a direct copy of an older, very awesome drawing by Todd Marshall, down to the dewlap, the spikes, and the almost certainly inaccurate croc-like scale detailing. Whether Marshall was a consultant for the show, or they just ripped his design off after it turned up on Google Image Search, I don't know. Anybody know the scoop? Because if he wasn't involve, this is definitely a case of blatant plagiarism.
Above right: Spinosaurus by Todd Marshall, blatantly plagiarized by me from Google Images. Left: Spinosaurus from Monsters Resurrected.
The main inaccuracy in their Spino model is the head. Now that we have decent skull material, we know Spino has a very narrow, thin snout with a distinct kink in the top and a huge rosette of teeth on the robust lower jaw (see accurate drawing, above). This is all thanks to dal Sasso and his team, who were featured extensively in the special (very cool to see) along with a life-sized model of an accurate skull. Does nobody notice the difference? Adding to the confusion, the special also featured segments with Lawrence Witmer in his famous anatomy lab (and Dr. Holtz's segments even super-imposed him into the lab via green screen, according to his comments on the DML!) . Witmer was shown using computer modeling to re-construct Spino based on the type specimens (destroyed in WWII) and with gaps filled in from the related Suchomimus. Unfortunately, the producers don't seem to have realized that the skull Witmer used was a stand-in, and anytime the skull of Spinosaurus was discussed (that is, every 2 minutes), the (very different) skull of Suchomimus was shown. Suchomimus skull also matches the one Marshall probably based his drawing on, so the accurate, dal Sasso restoration as briefly shown ends up looking very out of place.
Also bizarrely, the (almost universally accepted) idea that Spinosaurus was primarily a fisher is only addressed briefly at the very end, along with the hypothesis that the sail could be used as a fish-luring shade as in modern herons. The rest of the time, the talking heads like Holtz discuss ways Spino may have dispatched their prey, probably thinking of fish and small/juvenile dinosaurs and other vertebrates, while the animation shows it picking up and eating a small Rugops like corn on the cob! Never mind that the hand articulation would make corn eating impossible for theropod dinosaurs.
The commentary throughout the episode is actually very good, and mostly accurate, as it's coming from the pros, which are given more talk time than in some other specials. However, the animation and narrator talking about how bad-ass the Spinosaurus is are clearly meant to make it look like a bigger, meaner version of t. rex, rather than a giant heron. Don't get me wrong, giant herons would be damn scary, but I doubt they'd be running around eating abelisaur shish kebab and gutting giant mesoeucrocodylians like fish (very gory and kinda cool, don't see that in a lot of docs!). Also, there was a lot of speculation treated as fact. The bite and feeding style of Spinosaurus is based on modern crocodiles, by experts, but it's just speculation, not the basis of studies, and I've already seen people trying to add this to Wikipedia in the mistaken belief that it's been demonstrated scientifically. It's not even really a well-reasoned speculation, as the snout of Spinosaurus itself is more like a gharial than a crocodile. But maybe the expert quoted was thinking of the broader- snouted Suchomimus.
All in all, an interesting, schizophrenic doc, and I'm really looking forward to the Acrocanthosaurus installment, as that's known from much better remains, not to mention footprint evidence of hunting behavior. However, Discovery needs to get the experts to help write those commercial break trivia questions, and provide pronunciation guides--the poor guy kept calling it SPIN-o-saur-us, as in the Spin Doctors.
Oh, and this is two in a row that got the sauropod feet (nearly) right! The show featured Paralatitan, and you could clearly make the hands out as fingerless stumps. SV-POW must be having some effect!