Saturday, January 15, 2011

Port filmnaker focuses on dino-star wars

So, the toe bone's connected to the foot bone  and the foot bone's connected to the ankle bone, right? But the dinosaur bone? Well, the dinosaur bone’s connected ... to an ugly, fascinating and, ultimately, from a purely psychological point of view, sadly illuminating scientific-commercial  battle royal between paleontologists — and you know what they can be like when you ruffle their feath .... er, bones. We’re talking about the “bone wars,” a Civil War-era knock-down, drag-out cage match between paleontological superstars  Edward Cope and Charles Marsh — a battle royal that eventually destroyed them both. Port filmmaker Mark Davis will “shake dem skeleton bones” in a new documentary for PBS’s "American Experience."

Davis, 60, who won a 2009 Emmy for Outstanding Science, Technology and Nature Programming for his "Five Years on Mars," his film about Opportunity and Spirit, the Mars rovers that defied everyone’s expectations by surviving five-plus years — delivers a mountain of data. He actually learned about the little gold man while he was enjoying the view from the Wyoming butte,  while researching the “bone war” piece.

The film focuses on Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh, pioneers of paleontology in the decades after the Civil War, who unearthed thousands of fossils, including hundreds of dinosaur bones, from the prehistoric bone yards of the American West. It was an ugly mess, with both men bitch-slapping each other in the scientific journals of the day, and  using any means necessary — including bribery, theft, vandalism — to take the other down. They pretty much destroyed each other in the process, but the bitter feuds actually had huge positive results, including the discovery of over 100 new species of dinosaurs.

“Dinosaur Wars,” which was produced by Davis and Anna Saraceno for MDTV Productions,  premieres on American Experience at 9 p.m. Jan. 17 on Public Broadcasting. For more info, or for local showtimes, log onto the American Experience website. Now, where were we? Oh, yeah: Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Now shake dem skeleton bones!

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