Review: T. rex ~ Back to the Cretaceous

This 1998 film was made for Imax, and the DVD version has been remastered from the original 70mm stock. It maintains the 4:3 Imax format and runs at 44 minutes. Directed by Brett Leonard.


The film is voiced by Ally Hayden, the dinosaur-loving teenage heroine, who works as a museum guide but really wants to be out in the field with her palaeontologist father, Dr Donald Hayden. In an early sequence, she is in the museum, she is talking to visitors while information screens play behind her (she refers to cladistics, and birds as dinosaurs to the visitors). This is intercut with scenes of her father at his dig, in which he and his assistant find some interesting fossils in a crevice exposed when his assistant has an accident and loosens some rock. They turn out to be dinosaur eggs.

When she is at home her father phones her – from the “Dinosaur County Store” complete with model T. rex with flashing eyes – to say he has been delayed but when she asks to join him, he refuses. We are then back in the museum in her father’s laboratory, and she wants him to look at her science project, about parental care in T. rex, but he rejects it, as he thinks it is based too much on speculation. He leaves her at his desk where one of the new dinosaur eggs is resting on the table; she accidentally breaks the egg and a brown gas escapes.



What happens next is unclear whether it’s a hallucination or time travel, but Ally wanders through the museum alon and the exhibits seem to come alive, including a roaring T. rex skeleton. She then finds a doorway into a forest where she meets a group of Parasaurolophus, complete with colourful crests. Back in the museum again, she is looking at some paintings and one – Knight’s ‘Leaping Laelaps’ – comes alive, taking her into the forest where she meets a figure sitting at an easel, painting.

It is Charles Knight himself. She points out that his T. rex was “a bit off”, he had given it three fingers when it had two and he replies that Barnum Brown had brought back an incomplete skeleton so they had made an educated guess. She does ask, however, why he had called Archaeopteryx a “little dinosaur” and how did he know? He talks about anatomy, understanding skeletons, watching animals – and imagination.

Back in the museum, her father is now looking for her and they can hear each other but he can’t find her. She is in the Ladies, runs the tap to wash her face and is again transported back in time.

This time she emerges in what seems like a tent and meets Barnum Brown. They are on the Red Deer River, on a barge, drifting down the river while on the shore, the dig goes on. He explains the principle of sediments and dating fossils, and when she asks him why the dinosaurs disappeared, he thinks it could have been volcanic eruption or earthquakes creating conditions on the planet that the dinosaurs could not have survived. The layer of ash they can see in the cliff marks the end of the Cretaceous.

She is back in the Ladies’ room but another door takes her into a misty primaeval forest. And there are T. rex footprints.

She is seen by a Pteranodon who hovers, then flies away. Following a mountain stream deeper into the forest, she hears a deep roar and tries to escape through the vegetation, catching her silver locket on a bush as she does so. This is intercut with her father and museum guard trying to find her in the museum.

Ally then finds a nest with eggs, recognises it as a T. rex nest but as she checks it, a Ornithomimus is trying to steal one of the eggs. She defends the nest but then the mother T. rex appears. There is much roaring and the Ornithomimus takes an egg, chased by the T. rex. In the struggle, the egg is thrown clear, and Ally catches it – and presents it back to the mother.

The mother recognises her help and Ally is able to stroke her nose. Just then, the sky is filled with falling meteors, then a huge flash, more roaring from the T. rex and a massive wall of ash is approaching… Ally is thrown clear and is back in the museum with the T. rex skeleton, and her father.

Her father now compliments her on her project and promises to read it properly, and they leave. He gives her back her locket… when she asks where he found it, he replies enigmatically “the late Cretaceous”. As they leave, the egg on the desk starts to shake and split open… and a T. rex chick hatches out.


In the film’s favour, the protagonist is a teenage girl who loves dinosaurs, and it isn’t the scare-fest of other dinosaur films; she sympathises with the mother T. rex, and the human figures she meets in the past are sympathetic – Charles Knight and Barnum Brown are able to give background information and interact with her, giving a sense of them having the best knowledge of their time.

It was filmed in the Dinosaur National Park in Canada, and credits the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and Phil Currie as Curator of Dinosaurs, and the NHM LACM, with Lawrence G Barnes as Curator of Palaeontology.

It’s a fun way to spend 45 minutes with the DVD, although it was clearly designed for a 3D Imax experience, with the dinosaurs appearing in the audience space. The story works, although the switching between the museum and the forest feels a bit choppy. Some of the CGI is a bit strained, but then, the film is over 20 years old.


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