Dinosaurs dressed in full battle gear armed with lasers and missiles. It doesn't get any better than that. OK, so half the show's dinosaurs appeared in the Jurassic period and the other half in the Cretaceous period (and there's the Dimetrodon, which appeared in the Permian period, quite a few million years before the Triassic), the whole thing was a marketing ploy to sell the toys, and the lasers never did anything but annoy the dinosaurs and never hit any of the Valorians or Rulons...ever, but who cares? They're dinosaurs with guns that blow stuff up! It's unfortunate that nobody really remembers it anymore. Everybody's heard of it, and swears they've watched it, and everybody probably has half of all the toys ever produced, but nobody really remembers what the show's about anymore. After all, it ran for only one season, and according to TV Tome, 14 episodes, though I could swear there were at least two or three more.
The short of it is that there were these people being chased by these other people, and both got sent back in time into the era of the dinosaurs. While the good guys wanted to stay and rebuild their civilization, the bad guys wanted to go back to their original time--except that going back required a crystal the good guys had. So, they fight. Here's where things get interesting. Instead of duking it out by themselves, both sides notice the abundance of dinosaurs that are around them, and use them to fight instead. Bristling with weapons, the good- and bad-guy dinosaurs clash upon the battlefield.
All right, my little synopsis doesn't actually do the show any justice. It's a lot less boring to watch. And, in addition to the explosions and fighting, like all good 80's cartoons, there's always a lesson to learn at the end. What it is isn't explicitly stated, and the lesson ranges from obvious to downright philosophical.
The character designs, including the dinosaurs' armaments, are absolutely amazing. Forget that everyone's either obviously the good guy or obviously the bad guy and concentrate on the dinosaurs themselves. The triceratops have a pair of double-cannons mounted on their side that rotates to point up or forward and doubles as armor. The torosaurus are enclosed in a shell that opens up like a peacock to reveal a pair of cannons tucked away inside. Then, there are the flying reptiles, with their weapons mounted on the wings, the dimetrodons whose fin is used to hide an operator who sits in a chair that pops up above the fin to surprise the enemy, and the ankylosaurs, with only a giant crossbow mounted on its back, as its armor gives sufficient protection against laser fire.
Going back to the designs of the real characters, the bad guys (Rulons) are all animals that have a humanoid upright body. Krulos is a frog, Rasp a snake, Hammerhead a fish, and Antor a bug. The good guys are human, all beautiful people, all sporting their own special powers or abilities. Serena is a healer. Mindzye is a telepath. Gunnar's the artillery specialist. Turret does the weapon designs. Lhad is the boy. Pretty much standard fare for the 80's. Even the voices are all big names, especially in the 80's. Lots of GI Joe and Transformers voice actors also did the voices for majors characters in Dino Riders. Some of them are easily recognizable, like Chris Latta who's Rasp, Starscream, and Cobra Commander.
The artwork in the three VHS episodes are absolutely amazing. Lush, vibrant colors, amazing detail everywhere, and there's even one shot that looks like it could have been an oil painting. It isn't so good for the other episodes, where the colors seem faded and everything seems cruder, but there aren't any glaring problems either. Besides, it's the other episodes that introduce all the cool characters (like the commandoes) and dinosaurs.
Regardless, even if the artwork was a bunch of doodling and the voice acting was done by college graduates from another country, the premise remains absolutely amazing. Forget tanks and planes that explode without adequate protection and have to be refueled every so often. Just pop the weapons on a dinosaur and achieve the same functionality without any of the hassle.
I wish I could tell every curious person to watch it for themselves, but except for the occasional ebay item, there isn't a trace of Dino Riders left anywhere. While it's been a long time since they last came out, there are still GI Joe toys, still Transformers, and Masters of the Universe is being revived. Yet, there hasn't even been a legitimate DVD of the shows out. Needless to say, because the show and everything connected to it has been wiped out of existence, there's probably no purpose to writing this review except to glorify what was and what could have become something better than all the other shows of its time.
All in all, its sudden disappearance was never really explained well. Almost overnight, everything disappeared. Toys, tapes, the TV show, lunch boxes--everything. It'd be easy to say that people lost interest and ratings fell, so Tyco cancelled the toys and NBC the show, but I think that unlikely when there isn't a single person I know of from that era who does not at least know the name, if not have several of the toys. The only thing I can think of that would even begin to explain its sudden demise is certain religious influences. But I won't even begin to go there.