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Movie Review

Prehistoric creatures come alive in 3-D

There are two environments best observed in 3-D: water and sky. "Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure" manages to breathtakingly combine both. Whether flying on the batlike wings of a pterodactyl or nearly getting slimed by a giant jellyfish, this National Geographic IMAX film brings about in stunning detail and awe-inspiring visual depth the marriage of Earth's two most abundant elements.

Through a combination of sweeping live-action landscape shots, actor dramatizations, and brilliantly crafted computer-generated images, "Sea Monsters" tells the true story (more or less) of a family of dolichorhynchops, dolphin-size air-breathing undersea dinos who leave the safety of the shallow waters in pursuit of food - and, of course, a little drama. Predators both fantastic (the nearly-20-foot-long ancient fish xiphactinus) and familiar (early sharks that resemble present-day great whites) threaten not only the dollies, but also audience members who are averse to things like realistic snapping jaws seemingly lunging right for them.

Stiff human actors are less lifelike and animated than their computer-generated costars, but the intermittent scenes about paleontologists and fossil excavations manage to lend subtle reminders of historical context: What happened to these dinosaurs, why did they die out, and will we meet the same fate? Although it's never said outright, only those with forethought as shallow as the dollies' low-tide birthplace could resist drawing an obvious conclusion to the last question. Even the music by the notoriously global-minded Peter Gabriel seems to hint at the film's silent message.

Kids, however, will likely be more impressed by the unblinking giants swimming gracefully before them than any greater ecological or evolutionary message. And who could blame them? The stars of this show are so marvelously conjured in animation that it's difficult to believe them extinct. It's also difficult to avoid anthropomorphizing them, but, of course, no nature program is complete without a little heartstring-tugging. Mercifully brief (any longer and audiences may have to bring Dramamine) and featuring a perfectly digestible amount of scientific mumbo jumbo, "Sea Monsters" will undoubtedly bring open-mouthed awe and joy to brainy kids from ages 8 to 108.

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Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure

Directed by: Sean MacLeod Phillips

Narrated by: Liev Schreiber

At: New England Aquarium

Running time: 40 min.