From the initial plunge into the inviting surf, the waves rushing from the screen to engulf the delighted audience, through the enchanting swims with six-foot squid, 200-pound octopuses and manta rays as big as pterodactyls, to the prolific coral spawn that turns the Gulf of Mexico into a galaxy of floating eggs-the event happens at the same time every year, precisely two hours and eight days after the full moon in August-from start to finish, that is to say, IMAX's latest large-screen product, Deep Sea 3D, is wondrous.

Three-dimensional technology, camera to lens to theatre design, has advanced to the point of virtual verisimilitude, the sea creatures captured in 70mm so close, and so real, the film inspires alliterative redundancy. The weak link in the 3D experience remains the glasses. While comfortable enough, even when worn over one's own prescription, viewers still find projected images out of register, so to speak, with a turn of the head. When all's in sync, however, there's nothing like's the nearest most of us will ever come to lunching with wolf eels (they prefer spiny sea urchins).

Director Howard Hall, who made IMAX's previous 3D feature, Into the Deep, and his modest team-it takes just six divers to set up aquatic shots-spent almost 2,000 hours underwater filming the movie. The 1,200-pound 3D camera requires two operators and generous prep time to capture minutes of footage, forcing the crew to stay submerged for up to four-and-a-half hours at a time. The adults in the audience, if not the kids, will sometimes wish they could watch the humans plying their craft rather than the crustaceans scuttling across the ocean floor, fascinating as that may be.

In truth, Deep Sea 3D doesn't add much to our knowledge of the sea and its creatures. It takes us there in a new way, and allows us to swim with the fishes as though we were diving ourselves. There's no resisting the vicarious thrill of floating amid thousands of luminescent jellyfish, or idling about with a school of personable sea turtles. The Humboldt squid is as scary as its name. Who can resist the feisty mantis shrimp, less than a foot long but stronger than a trash compactor, faster than a speeding bullet, its buggy eyes swaying in the current on improbable purple stalks?

Meanwhile, Hall presents enough science to reward a guilt-free class outing, emphasizing that old standby, symbiosis. He gently emphasizes the lesson that environments are fragile and some endangered. And every schoolchild who watches the movie will come away with an enlarged vocabulary...a great deal of the marine world is translucent, indeed.

Johnny Depp makes for a superb narrator, delivering the corny jokes with just the right amount of wryness. (Technology advances, the juvenile humor remains timeless.) Kate Winslet brings her British accent into play, a touch of eccentricity that accentuates the antics of the wackier animals, but she's sometimes hard to understand. Luckily, no matter who's talking, the audience's attention will be on the images wrapping themselves around them. As the B52s sang, "Motion in the ocean...underneath the waves...down down...let's rock!"

-Rex Roberts