"Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure 3D" is a very brief 40 minute program originally designed for IMAX theaters (many of which are located in museums). A large part of the program relies on the 3D gimmick and while it works without a hitch in an IMAX theater (due to the great advances in the technology at the theater level), that experience translates horribly on the home screen and in doing so, exposes the serious flaws of this well-intentioned program.
Like many IMAX programs designed for museums, "Sea Monsters" raises more questions than it answers. It rockets through facts at lightening pace and assumes the viewer will be more wowed by the CGI recreations of the ancient beasts, than actually learning about them. There is a loose connection to modern society through some hastily interspersed live-action recreations of fossil discoveries, which bring up some fascinating points (for instance, the ocean area the program focuses on was located in the middle of what is now the United States), but feel mostly like time fillers.
The narrator, Liev Schreiber, does a more than adequate job at guiding the viewer through the program, despite the very limited narration. He's a great example of a big celebrity name being used effectively without stealing the spotlight. However, his limited narration is the biggest detriment to the entire production. The facts he provides to viewers are few and far in between, you'll hear a handful of descriptors regarding juveniles of one species, before the program spends a minute or two showing off the 3D effects and settling on a new species to vaguely introduce. In all, a small number of sea creatures are featured and honestly, I can't say I learned much about any of them. In a museum this would be fine, but when the credits roll in my living room, I have no expansive exhibit to fill in details waiting in the next room.
Finally, the production values must be addressed, as frankly they are far from IMAX quality. The CGI creatures are hokey looking to put it nicely, even for a film made two years ago. The movement of the creatures feels stilted and the texturing of the skin gives the whole affair away. I'm not expecting ILM or WETA quality graphics here, but when I can get more lifelike quality from an Xbox game, than I can from a National Geographic funded IMAX film, something is wrong.
Lastly, the 3D presentation earns a mark of shame. The disc comes with four pairs of standard red/blue cardboard 3D glasses, which are nothing like the clear polarized glasses found in IMAX 3D theaters or RealD 3D theaters. Firstly, you have to increase the brightness quite a bit for the effect to even marginally work. I could only tolerate five minutes of the 3D presentation: it was overly bright, far from seamless (I could still see partial double images), and horribly colored.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer unfortunately doesn't reflect the visual quality one would expect from an IMAX production. The level of detail is moderate, but the image is unfortunately plagued with some noticeable edge enhancement, most apparent during the live-action sequences.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio track is a bit lightweight in terms of a rich aural experience. The program is narrative heavy, with creature effects and music warming up the surrounds from time to time. English and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also included.
An interactive timeline is the sole bonus feature; it adds a more grounded context to the program content, but offers no additional depth.
"Sea Monsters" is going to leave any viewer, even young audiences, who are likely the biggest target group, unsatisfied. It's an average production marred by below average depth. The jump from the big museum screen to the television screen is a jump that should have never been made in the first place. If you want to learn about ancient sea creatures, my advice is to seek out a meatier documentary program or pick up a book. Skip It.