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A Wild and Woolly Look Into the Future

Cover story

Using the data of scientific experts, a new series imagines the creatures that will inhabit Earth when man is gone.

July 06, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

After watching Animal Planet's series "The Future Is Wild," you'll never look at the family pet quite the same way. Not only will Earth be a vastly different place millions of years from now -- mankind may well have long since left the planet because of its harsh climate -- the world's animal inhabitants, including domesticated dogs, cats, birds and rodents, of the 21st century will likely be virtually unrecognizable.

French poodles will not be sauntering down the Champs d'Elysee in Paris with their owners 5 million years in the future because, according to "Wild," the city will be an arctic tundra populated by a saber-toothed cat-like creature, called a snowstalker, and monster rodents the size of sheep.

"The Future Is Wild," which features cutting-edge computer animated creatures and environments, premiered on the cable network on New Year's Day as a two-hour special and scored a 2.24 rating (an average viewership of 1.8 million households), the highest numbers ever for an Animal Planet show. And now it is back in three new two-hour documentaries that air Tuesdays through July 22.

"We had a lot more material than we used in the two-hour special," says Michael Cascio, senior vice president and general manager of Animal Planet. "We knew in the two hours we were just kind of skimming the surface, so this is some of what you saw, but there is a lot more explanation and detail about what the Earth and its creatures might look like millions of years from now."

The premise of the series is that Earth's previous inhabitants, who had left to populate the rest of the solar system, have sent a space probe back to discover what's become of the planet. The first installment looks at the world 5 million years in the future. The second episode projects 100 million years into the future, and the final show explores 200 million years from now.

Some of the creatures of the future are downright scary, such as armor-coated rats, giant bats, vicious sea spiders and a hungry wasp with gigantic jaws. But there are also beautiful giant bluebirds living in the mountains of Australia, boasting two sets of wings. Striking silver spiders live in huge colonies.

The series is the brainchild of executive producer John Adams, who had previously published books and produced programs about animals of today and dinosaurs.

"I am a very independent-minded person, and my interests are animals, children and family," says the British filmmaker.

"If you are an independent producer, you either go do the same documentaries as everybody else and you do it cheaper or you come up with something that is completely different. It has got to be a new idea, and it has to be something that not everybody can copy. Suddenly, I had this blinding flash in my head and wrote it all down."

Though the state of the Earth and the animals is conjecture, Adams says he made sure it was all based on scientific fact. "If you look at the creatures, you cannot say with any degree of accuracy that this is going to happen, but what you can say is, given certain conditions, creatures like this could develop."

So Adams first contacted geologists for their ideas on how the continents could shift. "As the continents move, everything starts to change," he says. "For example, in one episode, in 100 million years we have birds who are descendants of the birds who live in Antarctica today, but they have to adapt to a rain forest environment because Antarctica has moved up to the equator."

Weather experts and botanists were also consulted for the series. The creatures were designed by some of the best-known animal experts in the scientific and academic communities, and biomechanics engineers gave these creatures movement.

"It is not the case of coming up with a fantasy creature; the creature has to be one that would be credible," says Adams. "We want people to look at the creatures and think about them. What we didn't want is just to dismiss it as another science-fiction fantasy."

"The Future Is Wild" airs Tuesdays at 6 and 9 p.m. through July 22 on Animal Planet. The network has rated it TV G (suitable for all ages)

Cover image courtesy of Animal Planet.

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