Cretaceous Sea Monsters Captured on Film!
National Geographic in association with Kansas University aided and abetted by a number of US palaeontological institutions have premiered – “Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure”.
The film shot using a mixture of footage of digs and computer generated imagery, has been designed for screening at IMAX theatres and shows life in the sea at the end of the Cretaceous in glorious 3-D.
The action is set approximately 82 million years ago (Campanian stage), in the Western Interior Seaway, a shallow sea that covered much of what was to become North America, specifically the locations are in Kansas. This is due to the rich marine fossil record of this state, coupled with the fact that as modern Kansas is a flat and dry landscape the shots of a prehistoric sea contrast nicely.
The film centres around a school of Dolichorhynchops or “Dollies” as palaeontologists have affectionately named them. These were Polycotylid plesiosaurs, spending their time feeding on fish, molluscs and squid. Reaching lengths of approximately 4 metres they would have been dwarfed by their Mosasaur contemporaries, many of whom were the dominant predators in these waters. Indeed, the school encounters a Tylosaurus an 8-10 metres long relative of snakes who if it caught one would make short work of a Dolichorhynchops.
This informative documentary style film features a wide range of Cretaceous inhabitants including Hesperornis (a 2-metre long flightless bird) and the fearsome Xiphactinus a 6-metre long, predatory fish that makes piranhas look like wimps.
The film makers consulted a number of palaeontologists to help make the scenes and the animals as realistic as possible, turning to Industrial Light and Magic (the company behind the special effects in the Star Wars movies), to bring these amazing creatures to life.
“Sea Monsters” unites parts of the story with real palaeontology, for example, in the movie’s narrative if a Xiphactinus eats a Dolichorynchops, it cuts to a palaeontologist examining bones and fossils showing evidence of just such an encounter. This is a really good way to get science over without people realising it. However, the film crew do resort to exploiting the 3-D effects to give a few more thrills and spills.
I bet you will jump back from the screen when you see a 20 foot killer fish charging straight for you!
Sadly, there are no Ichthyosaurs, these wonderful animals were well on the way to becoming extinct by the Campanian. No one knows for sure why they died out, perhaps they were not able to compete with the long necked Plesiosaurs such as Styxosaurus, which also features in the film. You are treated to a shot of one of these magnificent long-necked fish hunters swimming gracefully overhead.
Tyrannosaurus rex does have a cameo appearance, I suppose the Director – Sean MacLeod Phillips felt compelled to put him in, although technically this feature is set too early for a T. rex, but that does not detract much from this 40 minute spectacle.
Good to see the marine reptiles, getting their share of the limelight, after all, much of the land that we now know as the familiar modern landscape spent the Cretaceous as seas and oceans, the home of some pretty amazing animals.
There are a few marine animals available as models, although, sadly many have been withdrawn and are out of production.
To find books about sea monsters: Dinosaur Books for Kids