T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous
directed by Brett Leonard
(IMAX, 1998)

Time travel can be a little disorienting, especially when induced by vapors which leak from a fossilized dinosaur egg. Just ask Ally Hayden (Liz Stauber), a young paleontologist wannabe trying to justify her theories about the egg-laying and nurturing habits of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. An accident in her father's museum laboratory sends her back in time in a series of hops through the Cretaceous era as well as the 1910s and '20s, where she meets two of the men who helped give modern archeology a jump-start.

That's the basis for T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous, an IMAX 3-D film. For those unfamiliar with IMAX 3-D productions, the effect can be unsettling. The opening sequence, gliding over the rocky Canadian Badlands, is almost dizzying, and it's nearly impossible to resist flinching when rocks falling at an archeological dig site seem to hurtle toward the audience.

The Alberta dig is run by Dr. Donald Hayden (Peter Horton). A happy accident on-site leads to the discovery of what might be fossilized dinosaur eggs, one of which Hayden takes back with him to his lab at a fictional Museum of Natural History, where his daughter Ally works as a guide. Ally is eager and intelligent but a bit of a klutz, and when she knocks the stone egg from his worktable, a strange gas is released. Soon, a skeletal T-Rex is growing flesh a painting of two fighting dinosaurs comes leaping to life, and Ally finds herself in a prehistoric jungle.

The Cretaceous flora actually came from the forests of Olympia, Wash., but that doesn't make it seem less real. The effect is a visually stunning setting for the computer-generated dinosaurs which populate the region and interact (sometimes rather closely) with Ally. The dinosaurs are amazingly lifelike. If they don't seem quite as impressive as their Jurassic Park counterparts, that's because Jurassic Park took liberties with appearances and behaviors, making dinosaurs larger or more fierce-looking. The filmmakers for T-Rex worked with scientists to make their reptilian characters as accurate as possible. And they don't talk, so don't look for a connection with Disney's latest animated outing, Dinosaur.

T-Rex is no Jurassic Park -- there's no blood and no one gets eaten (except for one egg in an overflowing nest) -- and it spends perhaps a little too much time over-dramatizing the Haydens' father-daughter relationship. But it combines dinosaur history with nuggets of science, all wrapped up in an eye-popping package which should keep young viewers gaping through their oversized 3-D spectacles for the entire 46-minute production.

The pace drags a bit when Ally pauses in her Cretaceous explorations to chat with famed dino-artist Charles Knight (Tuck Milligan) and bone hunter Barnum Brown (Laurie Murdoch), both of whom helped to popularize the paleontology field. Still, this is an educational piece, and many kids will soak up a bit of new knowledge while waiting for dinosaurs to again fill the screen.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (the book) from Amazon.com.