''Sharks 3D" does have sharks, and they are three-dimensional. But it also has, in nearly equal numbers, three-dimensional sea lions, manta rays, turtles, jellyfish, seaweed, and sardines. Of course, ''Sardines 3D" wouldn't draw the crowds, so ''Sharks 3D" it is.
To be fair, the sharks are the focus of this Imax film's underlying message: that these marine predators, despite their position at the top of their food chain, are increasingly endangered by humans. No doubt it's the importance of that message that led Jean-Michel Cousteau to lend his famous name to the production, and no doubt it's a message worth spreading. Unfortunately, though, ''Sharks 3D" obscures its point with an awkward and disjointed script that, inexplicably, has Geoffrey Bateman narrating as a sea turtle.
Along the way, we do learn some interesting facts -- or, if we are 7-year-old shark fanatics like my companion for this outing, we are given the chance to recite those facts in unison with a turtle. Sharks are more than 400 million years old. Whale sharks are beautiful, harmless to humans, and critically endangered. Pregnant sand tiger sharks grow moss on their teeth because they don't eat for a month. The Pacific manta ray is related to sharks.
Well, that at least explains the rays' presence here. And the sea lions have a clear role, too, as potential shark snacks. The music swells ominously around them as a shark looms (for that matter, the music swells ominously about every 45 seconds, in Christophe Jacquelin's overbearing score), but nothing comes of the encounter. Although that's a relief to parents who had been cringing at the prospect of shielding their toddlers from a fuzzy, bloody death match, as storytelling it's simply inept.
The narration doesn't help: It has the crisply British Bateman using words like ''dude" and ''cool." Perhaps that's a nod to the surfer-turtle of ''Finding Nemo," but it leaves us (and possibly him) wondering just who this turtle is supposed to be and why he's even swimming with the sharks, anyway.
Ah, well. Gavin McKinney's cinematography is often dazzling. The sharks gleam and shimmer in the magic blue light of their undersea world; the jellyfish, non sequiturs though they are, waft balletically toward us until every kid in the audience is reaching out to touch their delicate, translucent forms, and McKinney's skillful framing proves that even the lowly sardine, artfully shot in glittering schools, can look pretty darn swell.
Perhaps the answer, as with so many Imax products, is to adopt the mind of a 7-year-old -- who, after all, is probably the target audience. Swim in the images, soak up the facts, and if questions about storytelling, consistency, or tone keep nagging, just tell them to float away.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.