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YELLOWSTONE - THE MOVIE - WINNING RAVES

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Is it Yellowstone or is it IMAX?

The people at Saturday's grand opening of the new IMAX theater on the doorsteps of the nation's first park got a larger-than-life view of Yellowstone National Park's wonders."Yellowstone is a place and an idea. It is a curious connecting place of nature, man and creature," the narrator booms.

The Yellowstone movie is projected onto a 6-story-high screen and will be shown 12 times a day, 365 days a year. Operators expect to attract visitors from around the globe.

Tickets to the 32-minute movie cost $6 for adults and $3 for children. That means a family of four could pay more to see a movie about Yellowstone than to actually visit Yellowstone, the 2.2 million-acre national park.

"I hear people saying that on a scale of one to 10, it's a 10," said Leif Johnson, manager for the West Yellowstone IMAX Theatre.

Johnson said he doesn't plan to compete with the park but to complement it.

"This is an expanded experience. A way to encounter Yellowstone that one doesn't always perceive as an everyday spectator," said the movie's director, Kieth Merrill.

The film shows more than wildlife and hot water. It depicts the historic use of the region by American Indians and tells how early explorers decided it should be set aside as a preserve.

Computer-generated graphics illustrate Yellowstone's geology.

Invited guests on Saturday were treated to a lunging 40-foot-tall grizzly bear with a deafening, stereo growl. They saw the bowels of Old Faithful, as recorded by a remote camera dropped into the world's best-known geyser. They witnessed the first white man to enter the region.

More than 3 million people are expected to visit the park this year, and Johnson said he hopes many will extend the trip by buying a ticket to the movie.

Rebecca Preciado, 15, of West Yellowstone said the movie might help fill in the gaps for those who tour the park only by automobile.

The $8 million, 348-seat movie theater is part of West Yellowstone's Grizzly Discovery Center development on the edge of the park. So far, it includes the theater, a park with four live grizzly bears and a gift shop. Plans call for a museum and convention center.

The center has been criticized by some who fear the impact of more development in the area.