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Review: Imax walk with dinosaurs both educational and harrowing

If you’ve been jonesing for a Jurassic Park fix, you can relax. You’ll find the next best thing at Imax Victoria on Friday, when Walking with Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D thunders onto its big screen on Belleville street.
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A wily Troodon approaches an unsuspecting Pachyrhinosaurus hatchling in Walking With Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D.

If you’ve been jonesing for a Jurassic Park fix, you can relax. You’ll find the next best thing at Imax Victoria on Friday, when Walking with Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D thunders onto its big screen on Belleville street.

Ostensibly inspired by the BBC documentary series Walking with Dinosaurs, this 40-minute blast from the past is both pure edutainment and a colourful creature-feature.

There’s lots to learn from its mammoth frames if you can distract yourself from its captivating action sequences and eye-popping visual effects, as some amazingly lifelike computer-generated beasts do what comes naturally on screen.

The film, effectively narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, immediately grabs us as a toothy red-feathered bird soars into one of the film’s real live-action landscapes, as if approaching from our theatre seats.

Indeed, Walking with Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D makes terrific use of the theatre’s Imax 4K laser 3D system, immersing us in the action and putting some toothy creatures in our faces when least expected.

Set 70 million years ago in Cretaceous Alaska, the film focuses chiefly on a herd of Pachyrhinosaurus — huge, plant-eating dinosaurs, who, as they roam the Earth, demonstrate that there’s safety in numbers when confronted by menacing predators.

We see youngsters being fed after hatching from a nest of giant eggs, before they face obstacles ranging from extreme weather to epic battles with predators during their constant battle for survival.

The film’s “star” is Patchi, the plucky young Pachyrhinosaur whose experiences on his family’s annual migration serve as the film’s narrative glue.

During their journey across backgrounds filmed in Alaska and New Zealand, we meet some fascinating dinosaur characters that were painstakingly animated with guidance from paleontologists. Highlights include the Hesperonychus, dubbed “killer chickens” because of their poultry-like appearance, and one that is sure to make Albertans smile — the Edmontonosaurus, a vegetation-munching dinosaur.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because this documentary is essentially an abbreviated and reworked version of Walking with Dinosaurs, a kid-friendly 2013 animated feature narrated by John Leguizamo.

As visually stunning as the Imax film’s action is, notably the impressive CGI effects that give it an air of at times astonishing authenticity, a cautionary note is in order.

Dinosaurs will be dinosaurs, and they’re wandering a harsh, unforgiving landscape, so some of what transpires will be too intense for younger children.

This include scenes when the dinosaurs are threatened by the deadly Troodon, or are literally walking on thin ice.

It’s during such harrowing moments that you’re reminded how fluidly integrated with real backgrounds the realistically rendered digital action can be. And, as in classic wildlife documentaries, reality can be unsettling.

These darker moments are offset by playful, viewer-friendly touches that make the material more palatable, as when dinosaurs are virtually freeze-framed when they first appear, their image accompanied by bold text identifying them and whether they’re carnivores or omnivores.

It recalls those moments in classic Looney Tunes cartoons where suddenly, during a chase sequence, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner would stop dead in their tracks, with their made-up Latin or scientific names appearing on screen long enough to identify them.

mreid@timescolonist.com


What: Walking with Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D

Where: Imax Victoria, Royal B.C. Museum

When: Opens Friday, daily 10 a.m., noon, 3 and 6 p.m.

Tickets, info: imaxvictoria.com,

250-480-4887

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of four)