The latest attempt to cash in on the unending fascination children have for anything dinosaur is Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, a large-format film seen best in 3D. Set primarily during the Cretaceous period 80 million years ago, when much of the planet was underwater, Sea Monsters depicts a world in which dinosaurs assumed unusual forms, captured here by state-of-the-art image technology. Based in part on a 2005 National Geographic Magazine cover story, the film is destined to be a staple of the large-format repertoire.

Writer Mose Richards offers two storylines, both easy enough for young children to follow. The first concerns 20th-century investigative work by paleontologists uncovering dinosaur fossils in locations around the globe. Efficient but not terribly interesting, this material offers a thin veneer of science to justify the animation that is at the core of the film. For the dinosaur scenes, Richards, aided by a team of consultants, invents a world of "good" and "bad" reptiles. A mother Dolichorhynchops and her daughter and son stand in for the former. Vaguely similar to dolphins and porpoises, the young "dollies" gambol in the water much like characters in Finding Nemo.

The "bad" monsters come in the form of predators who chase, attack, tear, chew and swallow their prey whole. In the film's most effective shot, repeated a number of times, a dinosaur shoots out of the water straight for the lens, a writhing victim clutched in its giant jaws. Waiting for the next attack becomes the real focus of Sea Monsters, not the educated guesswork about dinosaur playtime or the largely featureless underwater world.

Parents with misgivings about the instructional value of Sea Monsters may still find it hard to avoid the commercial juggernaut behind the film. National Geographic has announced several Sea Monsters "companion" books, as well as videogames, plush toys, puzzles and apparel. Let's hope a portion of the income generated by the dollies and their companions winds up funding actual paleontology research.