Though it's not, alas, in its original 3-D, Dinosaurs Alive (2007) offers plenty of eye-popping high-resolution scenes thanks to its origins in IMAX's horizontal 65mm format. The show, just shy of 40 minutes, treads the well-worn path of Jurassic Park-like CGI dinosaur action and the scientific overview of Walking With Dinosaurs, the 1999 BBC series that was a hit in the early days of DVD. There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking here, but the scenery's nice and children with an interest in paleontology will be in dino-heaven.
The film opens with shots of reconstructed fossils on display at various museums, and the aggressive use of 3-D is obvious even in this 2-D release because of the camerawork. The plates of the Stegosaurus jut up at the lens, as do the long horns of the Triceratops, which threaten to poke viewers in the eyes; the camera even moves about inside the rib cage of yet another dinosaur.
After these introductory scenes, the rest of the film is divided into two major sections, following digs at dinosaur-rich locations on opposite sides of the globe: the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, known for its beautifully preserved finds from the Cretaceous period, including dinosaur eggs; and the Badlands of New Mexico, where some of the earliest dinosaurs and proto-dinosaurs have been discovered.
CGI dinosaurs are integrated with this footage fairly well, in recreations of what the creatures might have looked like, how they moved, and what they were perhaps doing at the moment of their deaths. The computer animation is hit-and-miss; the detail and texture of the dinosaurs is very good and their movements seem authentic, but their integration with the live action scenery is variable, and a CGI-generated flash flood looks especially phony.
Narrated by Michael Douglas, Dinosaurs Alive (the exclamation point is only in the ads, not onscreen) tries livening up the slow and laborious process of digging for dinosaurs with mixed success. There's some good black and white footage from the 1920s (which in the 3-D version must have floated over the much larger IMAX frame like a hovercraft) of naturalist and adventurer Roy Chapman Andrews, whom Douglas calls "a real-life Indiana Jones," which is sort of true, but the three-day car ride through the Gobi to the dig site is described as a journey straight out of "Mad Max." Well, not quite.
Video & Audio
Filmed in IMAX Solido, IMAX's dual-strip 3-D process, with some scenes shot in dual-strip Super 35, Dinosaurs Alive was originally presented in IMAX theaters at 1.44:1 but here is full-frame 1.78:1. One strongly suspects these things are made with multiple framing options in mind, and in any case there's no awkward framing resulting from the reformatting. Given the film's brief length, it's a shame they didn't include a 3-D version of the film as well.
As one might expect, the 1080p, region-free transfer (technically region-coded A, B, and C but not D) is excellent throughout, as is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, available in English, Spanish, and French.
The supplements, all in HD save for one trailer, Ride Around the World, include a 27-minute "Making Of" featurette, which also looks nice in HD but otherwise is the usual sort of thing, along with a quiz and "Meet the Creatures" educational section. High-definition trailers for Wild Ocean, Mummies - Secrets of the Pharaohs, and this are included.
As with all lot of these IMAX shows, the visual splendors offered by the format overcome the generally routine approach to the material. There are few surprises here, but for its high-resolution photography Dinosaurs Alive is worth a look. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, part of AnimEigo's forthcoming Tora-san DVD boxed set, is available for pre-order, while his latest book, Japanese Cinema, is in bookstores now.