"Without fossils, no one would have ever dreamed that there were successive epochs in the formation of the earth..."
Those words were written by Georges Cuvier, a Frenchman who's widely known as the father of paleontology. He's also the main character in the IMAX production, 'Sea Rex: Journey to a Prehistoric World,' which traces the evolution of life on Earth from its earliest origins up through the tumultuous Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods of the Mesozoic Age when reptiles ruled the planet and a number of mammoth sea creatures roamed the oceans. Like many IMAX films that play museums and specialty theaters nationwide, this one focuses on education, and employs a rather cheesy story as a framework on which to hang a multitude of interesting facts and creative depictions.
The "story" begins with the arrival of the world's most important fossil at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris in 1795, a massive specimen that resembled a giant crocodile. This was 40 years before the discovery of the first dinosaur, so the scientific community, which included a young Cuvier, struggled to classify it. Fast forward a couple of centuries to the present day, where a young woman named Julie (Chloe Hollings) dreams of giant reptiles as she gazes at various species in an aquarium. Her reverie is interrupted by the ghost of a middle-aged Cuvier (Richard Rider), who spends the next half hour educating her on the various epochs when dinosaurs and marine reptiles were the dominant species on the planet.
As Cuvier enlightens Julie, we're privy to a brief history of the past 245 million years, with plenty of diagrams, CGI dinosaurs, breathtaking landscape shots, and perspective from real present-day scientists illustrating the information. We learn about the ages of Ichthyosaurs, Plesiosaurs, and Mosasurs, all fascinating creatures with distinctive characteristics that are meticulously recreated through the magic of CGI to look incredibly lifelike and fluid.
'Sea Rex' nicely integrates its computer generated images, immersing viewers in the prehistoric world and exposing us to little known organisms. The information is imparted in an often entertaining and innovative manner, despite stilted dialogue, and the 3D effects work well, never detracting from the business at hand. Even when viewed in 2D, the film is impressive and loses none of its impact.
At a mere 41 minutes, 'Sea Rex' presents a solid overview of a subject that's too often overshadowed by the more "glamorous" land-roving dinosaurs of the same period. If you're not already a science junkie, you'll learn a lot from this IMAX film, which is only enhanced by its visual dimensionality.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sea Rex' comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case that lies inside a protective sleeve. The 50GB dual-layer disc can be played in any Blu-ray player and viewed in either 2D or 3D (though a 3D-capable player is required to watch the film in 3D). Video codec is 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 and the default English audio is DTS-HD HR 5.1. After the disc is inserted, the main animated menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos are included.
'Sea Rex' makes a nice transition from IMAX to the smaller screen, thanks to a high quality 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 transfer that features crisp details and fine 3D imaging. No specks or marks mar the smooth presentation, which is largely devoid of grain. Colors are vibrant, though the prevalent underwater blues look a little dull over time, and black levels remain solid and deep throughout. Aerial landscape shots show off craggy mountain peaks and dense forests well, and interiors exhibit good contrast and clarity.
The CGI creature renderings appear surprisingly lifelike, and there are a few jaw-dropping 3D effects, such as protruding pteradactyl wings, fish swimming in schools, floating mollusks, and diagrams of various species. Showcase shots aside, the film exudes a relaxed 3D feel, with various subtleties adding depth and enhancing the picture's foreground area.
Viewing 'Sea Rex' in 2D is equally pleasant, and the image is sharp enough to give a slight dimensional illusion. No banding, aliasing, or edge enhancement could be detected, and even the sometimes murky ocean waters never exhibit any digital noise. Though this home version may pale when compared to the vast expanse of IMAX, it's still a nice, immersive 3D experience.
A DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 track accompanies the feature and provides full-bodied, well-mixed sound. Plenty of subtle surround action enhances the images, from the bland museum scenes to more expansive shots of ocean waters, and distinct stereo separation adds texture and impact to the movie's score. The music benefits from superior dynamic range and solid fidelity, with pure highs and weighty lows lending the various themes a wonderful warmth. Bass frequencies across the board are palpable but never overpowering - another example of how tight and well integrated this mix is.
Dialogue and narration are nicely prioritized and always easy to understand, and no surface noise, hiss, or imperfections disrupt the track. IMAX movies typicaly boast superior audio, and 'Sea Rex' is no exception. This isn't exactly demo quality sound, but the clarity, detail, and nuances add a great deal to the film.
Just a couple of brief supplements enhance the disc. There's nothing here that's essential, but those who enjoy 'Sea Rex' might find them interesting.
'Sea Rex: Journey to a Prehistoric World' is a fairly standard IMAX presentation that takes us back in time and provides some stunning CGI images of giant reptiles. The 3D effects work well, and video and audio quality is first rate. Supplements are negligible, and the short running time may keep some from springing for a purchase, but science and history junkies, as well as young dinosaur fans, should enjoy this informative feature. Worth a look.