For fans of 3-D films looking for a warm-up before Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) makes its way to town in three dimensions in a few weeks, the 3-D Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure is it. Since the movie was produced by National Geographic, it’s being promoted as educational fare, but the real draw is the 3-D. And while the 3-D effects aren’t anything particularly innovative or new, director Sean McLeod Phillips has a better grasp on how to effectively use 3-D than Stephen J. Anderson did in this year’s other big 3-D film, Meet the Robinsons.
The 3-D visuals in Sea Monsters mainly consist of fish, big and small, swimming towards or away from the screen and little else. There are occasional bright spots, like the demolition of a mountainside, complete with tiny pebbles flying from the screen, but for the most part it’s the basic “things flying at your face” 3-D experience you usually get. But what sets this film apart from Meet the Robinsons—at least in the 3-D department—is the realization that in order to get the most out of these effects, the audience needs a chance for them to soak in. Gone is the frenetic pace of much of Meet the Robinsons’ sequences, in exchange for a much more measured approach, allowing the viewer time to take in the effects. Oddly enough, however, Sea Monsters’ best visual sequence—involving time-lapse footage of the Earth over roughly 60 million years of landscape change—is completely independent of any 3-D effects.
The film’s plot centers around an Arctic Tale-style story (minus the environmental overtones) involving two sibling Dolichorhynchops (think of a mix between a really big porpoise and a really big penguin) as they grow up. Throughout the narrative, they encounter foreign sea creatures various and sundry, with bits and pieces about modern day archaeologists and their attempts at uncovering the past thrown in for good measure. The CGI sea life is passable, though far from cutting edge, while the live-action sequences are amateurish. On the plus side, the film features strong narration by Liev Schreiber and a surprisingly good score by Peter Gabriel.
And while this all adds up to an enjoyable 40 minutes (yes, the film’s that short) of ancient sea-creature action, I can’t say I actually learned anything other than there were a whole lot of weird animals 62 million years ago swimming around what is now Kansas. This, combined with the film’s slight running time, leaves the movie feeling wholly insignificant. But for the younger set, those who can’t get enough Discovery Channel-style entertainment or anyone who’s a fan of 3-D movies, you could definitely do a lot worse. Rated PG