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It Came from Beneath the Sea
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by Jay Seaver

"Even the greats have to start somewhere."
3 stars

"It Came from Beneath the Sea" is the first collaboration between producer Charles Schneer and special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen, and, well, they get better. The promise of the team is apparent, but things get pretty rough between giant octopus attacks.

And, heck, during the first one, really, as the thing is off-camera as it attacks one of America's first atomic submarines, commanded by Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey). It's brought to dry dock to be examined, where Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) figure out that the problem is a giant radioactive octopus. Joyce & Carter are about to go back to their usual positions when it turns out that the beastie isn't just slinking back to its home in the Mindanao Deep, requiring them to scour the Pacific.

The main problem with the movie becomes readily apparent during the opening gambit: Things really should be a lot more exciting than they are. Director Robert Gordon and his cast actually establish the submarine as an interesting environment pretty quickly, both in terms of shooting the cramped environment well and establishing the feel of the crew, but when the strange signal starts appearing on their sonar, the tension doesn't kick up to the next level the way one might hope. Subs are a great place to set thrillers, and this should be a nail-biting little mini-movie, but the danger isn't really communicated. It doesn't help that the movie is holding the monster in reserve, and there's not even much of a tease here.

And while the audience is waiting for that next octopus attack, it's stuck with Pete, Lesley, and John. That's not a terrible thing, really; B-movie stalwart Kenneth Tobey is well-cast as a stalwart Nay man, and Donald Curtis is amiable not-really-competition as Carter. Faith Domergue isn't bad as Lesley, but she's stuck in a mid-1950s movie where her being an independent woman more interested in her own accomplishments than finding a man is a Big Deal, which means the character often comes off as cranky and played as a symbol rather than particularly individual. Domergue and Tobey have fair chemistry, but they're not exactly Hepburn and Tracy as they play out old-fashioned man/independent woman (complete with asexual male friend!) routines.

Things do perk up a bit toward the end, once it's time for the octopus to make itself seen so that the trio can take the fight to it. Though the model only has six arms to keep the complexity to a minimum (complexity translates to time and expense, resources this sort of movie doesn't particularly have), it seldom feels like Harryhausen is holding anything back. The attack on the Golden Gate Bridge is justly famous, and the submarine versus octopus rematch is certainly more exciting that the first time around.

It's still not quite as much as one might hope for, though, and the getting to it is often something of a drag. Schneer and Harryhausen have great fantasies in them, but they didn't have the resources and freedom to make them right away, although "It Came from Beneath the Sea" isn't a bad start.

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originally posted: 07/12/13 01:06:30
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User Comments

4/09/07 fools♫gold Plays around w/ what newfound WWII weaponry could be able to do. 3/5 or 4/5. 3 stars
2/24/07 action movie fan ray harryhausen,s f/x is the only good thing about this rather dull movie 3 stars
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  02-Jul-1955 (NR)
  DVD: 13-Dec-2005

  N/A (PG)

  N/A (PG)

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