Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Movie Index

T-REX: BACK TO THE CRETACEOUS

Directed by Brett Leonard (1998, IMAX Corporation)
Starring Peter Horton, Liz Stauber and Kari Coleman

A young woman finds herself visiting the time of the dinosaurs as she wishes she was with her father on a dig.

 

 

2 stars

December 23rd, 2000 on the OmniMAX dome

 
    This was not the best use of an IMAX screen.  The effects were inferior to those of the Jurassic Park films (almost a decade old now), and the situations were contrived.  The actors were pretty good, although Ali needed some getting used to.

I've found that IMAX films that contain an actual plot, rather than being purely documentaries, tend to be less enjoyable.  This movie didn't really know whether it wanted to be a documentary or a drama.  It had shades of both.  It actually started out as a documentary, with characters as demonstrators of the techniques of dinosaur hunting.  Then it moved into the realm of fantasy as Ali, the main character, experiences hallucinations.  She travels through the museum, and at each exhibit she sees different dinosaurs, the Alberta plains as they existed back in the Cretaceous, and some turn-of-the-century dinosaur hunters. 

As the film opened, we see the plains of Dinosaur canyon in Alberta, and I thought the film was going to be spectacular.  Based on the few moments in the opening credits, I was extremely impressed.  That died quickly, however, as we were introduced to the characters.  Ali gives a presentation in the museum to a bunch of kids, and sighs wistfully as one asks her if she's ever been on a dig before.  She has asked her father about joining him on a dig before, but he always says it's too dangerous. 

But she wants to be a paleontologist, so she perseveres.  She writes a science project based on the T-Rex as a nesting dinosaur.  But her father discounts it out of hand, saying there is no evidence.  As she travels in her dreams to meet other paleontologists, she discovers that they took giant leaps of faith and intuition, were sometimes wrong, but became famous when they were right.  This gives her confidence in her theory.

When Ali's father is at the dig site, his clumsy associate (with whom there seems to be some romantic association that is never explored) dislodges some rocks and discovers an exposed fossil in the canyon walls.  This is something that nobody has ever seen before, and it is explained as being protected by the overhang above.  I disagree.  The overhand would protect it from rockslides, but not from wind or rain.  Sloppy research, I think.  The rocks that were dislodged reveal a cave with what are discovered to be dinosaur eggs in it.  Perfectly preserved, just a few centimeters from the exposed surface.  The credibility level drops...

When Ali's father is called away to an important meeting, the disappointed and frustrated girl accidentally knocks the egg off the desk (it was just casually sitting there, as he carried it from one site to the next!) and it cracks.  She inhales some prehistoric air, and feels dizzy.  This is when she is transported back to the cretaceous.  And it takes this long to get there, too.  For a movie about the T-Rex, it is an awful long time before we get to see one. 

She goes through the mandatory strangeness as she experiences the transport through a dream mechanism, and sees two dinosaurs fighting, then sees an egg-stealer go to a nest.  At the same time, she is being hunted by an unseen predator.  It turns out that the nest, the egg and the predator are the T-Rex, which makes Ali believe that her theory is correct. 

Ali is also transported to other sites, where she meets the famous paleontologists, and learns things that she already knew, like the layer of dark material (iridium) that exists in the sedimentary layers at all of the extinction "times". 

The worst part of the movie takes place then Ali gives the T-Rex back her egg, and the T-Rex doesn't eat her!  Seriously, though, she watches  as a meteor streaks by and a shock wave sends a layer of dust and extinction their way.  It is never explained that the meteor hit Earth in South America, in the Atlantic Ocean, or that the crater has actually been discovered. 

Fortunately, the theories that are presented are sound.  The one that is shown again and again (hit us over the head with it) is that the dinosaurs evolved into birds.  It is never explained whether or not there is hard evidence that the T-Rex made a nest for its eggs, though.

The actors were alright, but nothing special.  The girl playing Ali did a good job most of the time, but I winced for her when she was trying to act confused and frightened.  As for the effects, many of them were good, but most looked like they were made for a TV movie.  The dinosaurs were decent from afar, but once we got close up, which is easy on an IMAX screen, they were shown to be nothing spectacular.  Computer imaging is so common these days that to get a shocking or impressive sequence requires more imagination than was shown here. 

To sum up, I was intrigued, and the actual dig site shown was impressive (but I don't know how much of it was a set).  When it turned into a story, I was much less interested, and some of the science or scientific method was ill-researched, I think.  The effects were pretty standard, or even sub-par, and the acting was alright.  It seems that the creators did not know how to use the IMAX experience to maximum effect.  Recommendable for some of the effects, but not really worth the IMAX fare.

 
   

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