National Geographic // 2007 // 40 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // September 11th, 2009
82 million years in the making.
Produced by National Geographic in the IMAX 3D format, Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure blends educational information about major paleontological discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries, and impressive CG recreations of life in the Earth's vast oceans during the late Cretaceous period. The story begins with a re-enactment of the discovery of a Dolichorhynchops fossil in the once submerged plains of Kansas in the 1920s. From there, the movie traces the life of this flippered, dolphin-sized plesiosaur, nicknamed Dolly, as she migrates from the spawning grounds of her birth, through deeper waters teeming with life that is often massive and predatory, and back to shallow water to birth offspring herself. Along the way, the feature cuts back to live-action reproductions of other paleontological discoveries that serve as introductions to sea creatures such as the long and toothy Styxosaurus, snail-like Ammonites, prehistoric sharks called Cretoxyrhina, and the 50-foot long Tylosaurus. Voice-over narration by Liev Schrieber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) provides necessary context for the creatures we meet.
As a drama, Sea Monsters knits together surprisingly well. The story of Dolly and the other creatures with which she interacts is intellectually fascinating, emotionally engaging, and full of large-scale action (as when the Tylosaurus launches itself out of the sea and toward the camera in the act of eating a Cretoxyrhina). It's cool stuff. Adults with a general curiosity about paleontology will find the show fascinating. Children (especially young boys) with a thing for dinosaurs will go nuts over it. If there's a problem with the movie it's that, like most IMAX features, it's too short. The show's 40 minutes blaze by, leaving the viewer hungry for more.
The 3D version of Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure on this Blu-ray is a cute novelty, but not much more. The presentation is anaglyph instead of the superior polarization technique used in IMAX theaters. Having to wear glasses with red and cyan tinted lenses (four pairs are included inside the keepcase) mutes the movie's colors and produces loads of ghosting. Still, many of the 3D effects are pretty cool. Luckily, the disc also offers a 2D presentation of the movie. The transfers themselves are as excellent as one would expect of a high definition presentation of a feature shot on IMAX's 15/70 film format. Fine detail is superb, colors are accurate, and the grain structure is smooth and controlled. Designed to be viewed on three-story movie screens, the computer-generated sea monsters look spectacular on comparatively tiny large screen high definition displays. The creatures are rendered in fine detail that reveals skin texture and subtle grades of coloration. Their movements are smooth and organic. It really is top-notch effects work.
Audio is presented in a vanilla Dolby 5.1 mix that, though clean and flawless, isn't anywhere near as impressive as the visuals. Still, the track makes full use of the surround stage during the action-packed ocean sequences, and Peter Gabriel's atmospheric score sounds great.
The only supplement to this 40-minute feature is an interactive timeline that provides factoids about the various prehistoric animals and the periods during which they lived.
Like most anaglyph presentations, the 3D version of Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure is a bit of a bust. Since this disc also contains the 2D presentation of the documentary and is priced the same as the 2D-only Blu-ray released back in June of 2008, this is the preferred edition. The 3D version may be a little rickety, but it's still sort of neat -- even if the 2D version is more impressive overall.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: National Geographic
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 40 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interactive Timeline
* Official Site