Part 3: A Cruel Sea

Time: 149 million years BCE

Place: "Oxfordshire," where the future continent of Europe lies mostly beneath azure waters

Actual Locations: The Bahamas, New Caledonia

This episode opens with the biggest joke of the series. "The most fearsome predator of the Jurassic is watching his prey," Branagh intones, as Eustreptospondylus, a medium-size allosaur first seen in shimmery reflection, peers into the water at ocean’s edge. We get a closeup of his slowly blinking eye, then pan down to shiny white teeth with flecks of bloody red tissue in them as the narration continues: "Peering through the water, the carnivore fixes on his unwary victim, waiting for the perfect moment to strike." The camera pulls back to show the dinosaur poised on a narrow spit of land, looking down into the relatively calm waters of a bay.

Suddenly a MASSIVE head as big as the dinosaur’s entire 16-foot body EXPLODES out of the ocean behind him, sweeps him up in its teeth, and disappears beneath the waves with the flash of a flipper almost as long as the land animal. The episode title materializes with a dismayed, dissonant musical chord.

Quite droll, as the Brits would say.

We have gotten a glimpse of this episode’s "heavy," the 80-foot, 150-ton behemoth with teeth twice as long as a Tyrannosaur’s and four flippers each measuring 10 feet, called Lipleurodon. He is the "largest and most powerful carnivore ever to live on the planet." A slow and stately swimmer, the shots of him remind one of nothing so much as the giant space ships of "Star Wars."

The known world now consists of two large continents separated by the Tethys Ocean, and a string of islands in vast shallow seas. Land animals of this era get some screen time—Eustreptospondylus, the garishly red-headed pterosaur Ramphorhynchus, even an amusing sequence of a land dinosaur "dog paddling" from one island to another (including a closeup of head and jaws in profile, pushing through the surface water)—but most of the episode is devoted to sea creatures.

The cuddly protagonist is Ophthalmosaurus, a swift and supple 16-footer that looks a lot like a dolphin but has—you guessed it—extra large eyes (for hunting at night or at great depths). There are cute sequences of baby Ophthals hiding in coral from sharks, and making a mad dash to the surface for air.

Not all references to these creatures offer warm fuzzies, however. Exhausted after performing a tail-first live birth underwater, a mother Opthalmosaurus is snapped in pieces by Lipleurodon, and we get a fairly long look at a ripped piece of her tail falling lazily toward the sea floor and "smoking" a little with residual blood before it strikes the bottom tight in the frame, with sharks moving in on the dark bits of floating flesh. You realize with a start that the filmmakers are quoting the leg-in-the-tennis-shoe bit from "Jaws."

The marine version of the gentle herbivorous giants on land is the pleisosaur Cryptoclidus. Branagh explains that the ancestors of all the sea reptiles lived on land, but took back to the water 75 million years previous. In addition to the dinosaurs, this episode features intoxicatingly beautiful underwater shots of jellyfish, blizzards of tiny fishes flashing balletically around a Cryptoclidus, and Perisphinctes (ammonites) floating slowly on the ocean currents like hot-air balloons. Hordes of horseshoe crabs clamber onto a beach at high tide to mate and lay eggs—as many as 18,000 at a time.

A time lapse shot of a sunrise through trees in an estuary shows wind patterns streaking across the surface of the water. A closeup of tiny, opaque silver-white horseshoe crab babies is also gorgeous. Another brief sequence of senseless beauty depicts a ribbon of squid fragment drift-fluttering toward the bottom for a good 10 seconds after being torn by an Opthalmosaurus jaw.

Similar to the forest fire in part 2, this episode includes a violent tropical storm that tears up shallow sea beds, smashes coral, and kills thousands of marine animals, but is not milked to obnoxiousness.

There is a bit of pathos at the close for the giant killer Lipleurodon, one of whom gets stranded on the beach by the storm, suffocates under the weight of his own body, and begins to get torn apart by a herd of scavenging Eustreptospondylus.