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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: It Came From Beneath the Sea



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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

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  • 3,112 posts
  • Join Date: Dec 09 2001
  • Real Name:Rich Gallagher
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Posted January 08 2008 - 04:26 PM

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Studio: Sony/Columbia
Year: 1955
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 79 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Black & White and Colorized
Languages: English 5.1, English Mono, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese


The Program

The mind of man had thought of everything, except that which was beyond his comprehension.

With the launching of the first nuclear-powered submarine, it appeared that nothing could threaten America’s domination of the post-war world. However, during the sub’s shakedown cruise, that assumption is seriously challenged – not by the Soviet Union, not by Red China, but by an encounter with a giant octopus!

Thus begins It Came From Beneath the Sea, the first science fiction film from Columbia to utilize the special effects wizardry of Ray Harryhausen. The unnamed submarine – clearly based upon the U.S.S. Nautilus, which was launched in 1954 – is cruising underwater in the Pacific when its sonar operator picks up the signal of a large, amorphous shape closing in on the ship. Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey), the sub’s captain, orders evasive action but cannot get away from the mysterious pursuer. Within minutes the submarine has ground to a halt, unable to dive or surface. The sub manages to break loose, but when divers inspect it for damage they discover that a large, unidentifiable piece of marine life has attached itself to the ship.

After the submarine returns to Pearl Harbor for repairs, the Navy calls in biologists Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) to investigate. They eventually conclude that what they have examined is a piece of an enormous octopus, which left its usual habitat in the depths of the ocean to search for food. Dr. Joyce theorizes that nuclear testing near the Marshall Islands led to the spread of radiation which infected the octopus. The radiation caused the usual prey of the octopus to flee the area, and the octopus had to rise to the surface of the ocean to find sustenance.

The Navy and the State Department scoff at this theory, but they have to reconsider after survivors of a sunken freighter report that their ship was swallowed up by a giant creature. Then the chase is on, as Pete Mathews and the two scientists try to track down and destroy the octopus.

The most intriguing human character in the film is Professor Joyce, who is remarkably liberated for a mid-fifties woman. During a conversation with Dr. Carter, Pete professes his disdain for having a woman around and he is then smacked down:

Pete: Maybe you can help me convince her that she ought to beat it and let the Navy take over this job.

Carter: Beat it? What does she say?

Pete: What’s the difference what she says?

Carter: Look, Pete, you don’t see many women in the seagoing Navy.

Pete: Are you kidding?

Carter: Oh, shore side women, sure. But there’s a whole new breed who feel they’re just as smart and just as courageous as men. And they are. They don’t like to be overprotected, they don’t like to have their initiative taken away from them.

This DVD contains two versions of the film – the original black and white presentation which was released in 1955, and a new colorized edition. My comments on the colorized version can be found in the Video section of this review.

It Came From Beneath the Sea is a low-budget production (produced by B-movie specialist Sam Katzman) but has the look of a more expensive film. Much of the credit for that goes to Harryhausen, whose special effects are superb. No one who has seen this film can forget the beast’s encounter with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Most of the movie was filmed at Columbia’s studios, but some location filming was done at Long Beach and stock footage of Navy action is seamlessly integrated into the film.

This film is recommended without qualification for fans of the genre. It is fast-paced, clocking in at 79 minutes, and Harryhausen’s stop animation is a wonder to behold.

The Video

Film purists generally agree that colorization is an abomination. However, I have no real objection to colorized DVDs as long as the original black and white version of the film is included, and that is the case here.

Still, the colorized version looks pretty good. As we saw with last year’s DVD release of 20 Million Miles to Earth, colorization technology has made tremendous advances in recent years. Here it gives viewers a rare opportunity to see Kenneth Tobey’s head of red hair! The colors here are quite vivid and consistent, although the matte sunset in one scene looks overly purple to me.

That said, purists will be happy to learn that the black and white version looks quite good. The picture is consistently sharp, the contrasts are excellent, and the image is free of dirt, splices or other damage. Even the stock footage shows minimal signs of wear. This is a fairly grainy film, which is more evident in the black and white version. .

Both versions of the film are on disc one, and viewers can toggle between the black and white version and the colorized version via the angle button on your DVD’s remote control.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fine, although it has been re-channeled with minimal separation. The dialogue is crisp and understandable throughout. I suspect that most fans of the film will prefer the original mono soundtrack, which Sony has included as an option on this DVD. The sound is rendered without objectionable noise or distortion.

The Supplements

This DVD of It Came From Beneath the Sea has plenty of extras, although two of the featurettes are repeats from the DVD of 20 Million Miles to Earth. The repeats are an interview with Ray Harryhausen by Tim Burton and a tribute to Columbia music director Mischa Bakaleinikoff.

The new material includes an audio commentary featuring Ray Harryhausen, visual effects artists Randy Cook and John Bruno, and documentary producer Arnold Kunert. As one might expect, the commentary focuses primarily on the technical aspects of the film. Harryhausen unsurprisingly has forgotten some of the more obscure aspects of the film’s production.

Disc Two is completely dedicated to extras. A featurette entitled “Remembering It Came From Beneath the Sea” covers that the original concept of the film and how Harryhausen was brought on board. Another featurette, “A Present Day Look at Stop Motion,” follows a film student as he demonstrates how stop motion is filmed. There is a photo gallery with lobby cards, posters, still photos and Harryhausen’s sketches. In another featurette, Arnold Kunert talks about the original artwork and promotional materials which were used to advertise the film. There is also a “sneak peek” of a digital comic book called “It Came From Beneath the Sea…Again!”

Other Features

The main menu on Disc One allows the viewer to select either the black and white or colorized version of the film. The angle button on the DVD’s remote control allows viewers to toggle between the two versions. The audio commentary also can be turned on and off from the main menu. Disc Two starts up with a similarly-designed menu which provides access to all of the extras except the audio commentary.

Packaging

This two-disc set comes in a keepcase which has original promotional artwork on the cover. The two disc labels have color reproductions of original ad artwork.

The Final Analysis

Fans of fifties sci-fi in general and Ray Harryhausen in particular should have no hesitation about picking up this DVD. At a street price of under $20, it is a bargain.

However, Blu-ray owners may want to wait. Although a Blu-ray version has not yet been announced, Sony issued a Blu-ray version of 20 Million Miles to Earth six months after the standard DVD was released.

Equipment used for this review:

Toshiba HD-XA2 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: January 15, 2008
Rich Gallagher