It pays to super-size

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Whoever coined the phrase "bigger is better" was a friend of mine. Without his helpful reminder that the finest things in life -- hamburgers, hairdos, firearms -- are best judged on the basis of sheer size, I might be forced to spend my time weighing aesthetic merits and ferreting out subtle nuances. And that sounds like an awful lot like work.

So of course I couldn't wait to strap on my viewing headset when "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous" opened this past weekend at Pointe Orlando's Muvico IMAX 3D Theater. The kingpins of wide-screen cinema had turned their attentions to dinosaur lore, a tall-in-the-saddle subject that was even further up their alley of enormity than their previous dalliances with the peaks of Mount Everest and Mick Jagger's lips.

An educational poster outside the theater promised hefty entertainment indeed. It trumpeted the 70mm IMAX as "the largest, highest quality film format in the world -- more than 10 times the size of a conventional film frame." As we learned from an appropriately over-the-top technical run-through that preceded the feature, the sound system was equally huge, consisting of 44 speakers mounted throughout the room. That's even more than Master P has in his car.

I was immediately sold, but it was going to take some pretty grand overtures to impress the blasé young couple seated in front of me, who were visiting Orlando on a weekend trip from Jacksonville. I asked what had made them select an IMAX experience for their Saturday fun.

"There's nothin' else to do," the male half of the duo muttered in disdain. Bring on the dinos!

Goodness, Cretaceous

From the first colossal frames of "T-Rex," a commitment to the visceral was writ large. Stories-tall vistas enveloped the front rows, putting us at the center of an archaeological dig that was a panorama of dust and craggy mountains all around us. The 3-D effect was the extravagant icing on the cake of the already expansive IMAX cinematography.

I particularly appreciated that the film didn't wait for the first appearance of its scaly stars to go hog wild with gimmickry, instead indulging in the time-tested 3-D practice of making the most mundane objects the target of intense scrutiny. No one on the screen could pick up a piece of scientific equipment without thrusting it in our faces in a manner that raised fond memories of the cheesy chillers Count Floyd used to host on SCTV. (Remember "Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Pancakes?")

Even Peter Horton (who played a paleontologist) got into the act, swinging on a rock-climbing rope that brought him millimeters from our heads as we reflexively jerked backward. Though the shot was stunning, having a blown-up version of Horton's calculatedly shaggy puss rubbed up against mine is an experience I'd prefer not to repeat in this lifetime.

With so much largesse on display, it was easy not to mind that T-Rex's plot, script and acting were unrelentingly atrocious. Horton's Dr. Donald Hayden spent the first third of the movie blithely dismissing the historical theories of his amateur-researcher daughter, Ally (Liz Stauber), an unforgivably whiny teen with a penchant for dinosaur data. A freak accident involving a cracked egg and a mysterious, hallucinatory gas took Ally back in time, allowing her to witness the habits and behaviors of the animals in monstrous close-up.

Massive attack

When the reptilian thespians did arrive, they were every bit the towering, roaring beasties I had expected. Their teeth were as colossal as the Chrysler Building, and their fearsome frames were even imposing when they blew apart in a bombastic instant-extinction scene. My only regret was that they weren't bloodthirsty enough: After enduring Ally's smarty-pants pout for 30 minutes, I had hoped the first T-Rex on the scene would stomp her into jelly. Instead, she remained as unmolested as Donny Osmond returning from the prom.

That unfulfilled yearning wasn't enough to make me regret the afternoon I had spent in the titanic company of T-Rex. Nor was I bothered that I had spent a whopping $9.50 for only 45 minutes of movie: With IMAX, you're paying by the inch, not the minute. In fact, I walked out convinced that every picture should be an IMAX picture, from summer blockbusters to the humblest indie offerings. No more would ticket-buying fuddy-duddies avoid foreign films like the plague: Imagine how eager they'd be to read subtitles if they were written 15 FEET HIGH!

Maybe I wasn't thinking straight. Slight eye strain and the pressure of the heavy strap-on glasses had left me a little woozy. That's not a complaint; if you walk the path of excess, you have to pay the consequences. But it didn't seem right to leave with only a mild throbbing in the temples. A king-sized headache would have been more fitting.

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