The Ballad of Big Al

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The Ballad of Big Al
Big al wwd.jpg
Created by Tim Haines, Jasper James
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh
Theme music composer Ben Bartlett
Country of origin United Kingdom
Producer(s) Tim Haines
Production company(s) BBC Natural History Unit
Impossible Pictures
Distributor BBC Worldwide
Original network BBC
Original release 2001
Related shows Other shows in the Walking with... series
External links

The Ballad of Big Al (distributed in the North American market as Allosaurus: a Walking with Dinosaurs Special) is a combination biography-sequel for Walking with Dinosaurs. It focuses on an Allosaurus (Allosaurus fragilis) named Big Al and his constant struggle to survive in a world filled with danger.


"Big Al" at Museum of the Rockies

The special begins at the University of Wyoming, showing the bones of a sauropod followed by an Allosaurus named Big Al. After the ghost of Big Al wanders the museum passing by his own skeleton and a nest of fossilized eggs, the film then travels back in time to 145 Mya showing a similar nest. Al and his siblings hatch and are helped out of the nest by their mother. She brings them to a river bank and the hatchlings start to hunt for insects. When the mother leaves the hatchlings temporarily, a year-old Allosaurus comes out of hiding and kills one of them (luckily, the victim was not Al).

Al is then shown at the age of two years. He tries to hunt a flock of Dryosaurus . He has not yet learned how to ambush so he fails to kill one of the swifter, smaller dinosaurs. Later, he snatches a lizard from a branch to keep him satisfied. Al comes across a dead Stegosaurus and an Allosaurus waiting for death in a pit of sticky mud. Meanwhile, a female Allosaurus, attracted to the Stegosaurus carcass, also gets stuck. She struggles to free herself, but fails. Al luckily avoids the same fate as he had learnt to avoid carrion and the large carnivores that it usually attracts. Unable to escape, the trapped Allosaurus pair die of exhaustion, their corpses left to Anurognathus.

Three years pass, and a herd of Diplodocus are migrating across the prehistoric salt lake. Al is joined by several other Allosaurus and they attempt to bring a weak member of the herd down. Once the herd leaves the sick Diplodocus, the Allosauruses gather. Al is struck down by the neck of the Diplodocus. The pack wait for a few hours until the Diplodocus is brought down by heat exhaustion and his illness. Though they feed, within the hour an adult female Allosaurus scavenges the kill. Al takes some remnants of the carcass for himself and leaves, trying to find a safer place to eat.

A year passes by, and Al is shown drinking at a pond. His presence however makes other dinosaurs around the pond nervous and the smell of blood he brings with him puts off a pair of Stegosaurus that were attempting to mate. Away from the pond, he discovers the scent of a nearby female Allosaurus and issues a mating call. She is not interested, but Al's inexperience shows, causing him to get too close for her comfort, and the female attacks him. Al is lucky enough to escape from the ensuing fight with his life, although he sustains injuries to his right arm as well as smashed ribs. Later the dry season comes, and Al is attempting to hunt a flock of Dryosaurus. Whilst ambushing them however, a log falls in his path which he trips over and ends up breaking something in his right foot. As the dry season turns to a drought, Al's limp from the fall gets worse and his right middle toe -which he broke in the fall- has become badly infected. Soon, unable to hunt, he dies in a dried-up riverbed, where two hatchling Allosaurus are hunting for bugs and come across his emaciated carcass. He is said not to have reached full size, dying as a mature adolescent and that the process of his fossilisation was so perfect it preserved even the injuries and diseases he sustained in his lifetime including -amongst others- lumps where his ribs healed after their break and the raging infection on his middle toe.

Animals featured are:


A "making of" documentary was made called "Big Al Uncovered". It focuses on the discovery and pathologies of the Allosaurus specimen nicknamed Big Al.

Critical Reaction

The Ballad Of Big Al won two 2001 Emmy Awards [1] including Adelphoi Music Ltd's Andrew Sherriff and Ashley Bates for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Non-Fiction Program.

American and Book Versions


The American version was renamed Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special, along with combining the evidence with Al's life. Also they took out the one of the trapped Allosaurus and the birds and reptiles behavior, and shots of Al living in the 21st Century.


A children's book was made, called Allosaurus! The Life and Death of Big Al, and it differs from both the American and UK versions in some aspects.

  • Al's sibling was killed by a male Allosaurus on the show, while it was killed by an Ornitholestes in the book.
  • The Stegosaurus was shown dead in the show, while it was alive and struggling (trying to fight off the Allosaurus pair) and soon died in the book.
  • In the show at the second and sixth years, Al is hunting Dryosaurus. In the book he is hunting Othnielia.
  • Al tripped on a log in the show, while he tripped on a mound of dirt in the book.

BBC Game

The BBC launched an online Role-Playing Game involving Big Al, now replaced by the Planet Dinosaur online game.

See also

The Ballad of Big Al is part of a series of BBC documentaries that also include:

The following are Walking With... series specials:

The following are similar programs, produced by the BBC:

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