Logic dictates something real is suitably more frightening than something which isn’t. Take the giant squid, a threat of endless stories and historical significance, yet quizzical to most scientists. Though not a giant squid, the title’s “It” is an octopus from the tentacled family, a radioactive bridge eater with a penchant for shipping lanes. It Came From Beneath the Sea is genuine giant monster thrills, even under the weight of its hokey dialogue exposition.
Any decent science fiction fan knows Ray Harryhausen’s work. Beneath the Sea was his first co-production with swift producer Charles H. Schneer, a man who would join Harryhausen on countless classics for the rest of the stop motion star’s career. Harryhausen’s creation here remains spectacular to this day and the rest of the effects work is still believable.
Harryhausen’s daunting work is enough to catapult the film to success, an otherwise disjointed and boxy film, shot remarkably cheap. Dialogue sequences are hysterically stiff and clumsy, the work of (supposed) single takes as the production was run through awaiting effects inserts. Dodgy stock footage places characters at sea, and set work is chintzy in the extreme. A night of fine dining crumbles under the weight of a printed backdrop that is anything but a luxurious beach.
Kenneth Tobey and genre staple Faith Domergue fumble through their dialogue for 40-minutes while the creatures rumbles around, attacking the unfortunate workers at sea. Scientific exchanges are enough to settle in to explain away the creation of a six-tentacled monster, hardly the bubbling personality of professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kallaway) from Beast from 20,000 Fathoms two years prior. The monster picture was already settling into rushed exploitation mode.
But, who cares? If you’ve come to see a squid knock-out the California coast, the film will provide. Stunning flamethrower offense lights up the dazzling split frame magic, and the crumbling Golden Gate Bridge (against the wishes of the local government; plate shots were shot rogue) is pure spectacle.
Out of three ‘50s monster movies currently available on Blu-ray from Harryhausen’s portfolio, Beneath the Sea is undoubtedly the best looking. Most of the grain has been retained, although the encode from Sony chokes during thicker sequences. Artifacts can sprout up and appear clumpy, certainly thicker than norm, even for a film shot on the fly.
Stock footage appears for what it is, chopped up, dirty, and scratch infested. While the main footage suffers a few bumps, the overall feel is clean, restoration work keeping up with the aging source. That makes the lifted film stocks stand out. Opticals also reveal their source, plates softer than the main footage, although nicely layered as to appear generally seamless within the expectations of the days.
The film comes in both colorized and black & white variations. The color job is excellent, and aside from some pasty faces, looks spectacular under the supervision of Harryhausen. However, that process batters the definition. Posterization is visible everywhere, a result of the colorizing process, which needs to isolate parts of the image. The result is direct gradients across both versions, and little natural gray scale. Contrast is peppy, and creates depth. What’s here is wonderful, although taking out the colorized process, Beneath the Sea has tricks left. Hopefully we can see them someday.
Remixed unnecessarily into 5.1 via TrueHD, the somewhat weakened positional effects are used sparingly. An uncredited Mischa Bakaleinkoff score whips around to fill the sound stage, while the action sits mostly in the center. During the final San Francisco attack, stray effects slip into the stereos for effect, keeping the monster in place even when off screen.
The rest is unavoidable, from the dialogue lifted straight from the set with no clean-up attempted. Not only is it crumbling in terms of fidelity (free of hissing or pops though), the submarine set is filled with an echo that sounds as cheap as they come. Open rooms do the same, readily apparent as Domergue takes charge to explain what the creature is. None of it sounds natural, only low budget.
Many of these extras are carried over from the DVD/Blu-ray release of 20 Million Miles to Earth. A commentary with Harryhausen and various visual effects artists (modern and classic) is somewhat dry, but still informative and fun.
A 20-minute retrospective is titled Remembering it Came from Beneath the Sea. Some information is redundant as it also is stated within the commentary track on the feature. Six photo galleries follow. A Modern Look at Stop Motion features a student discussing the process as it stands today. The rest of these extras are pulled from the 20 Million disc.
Tim Burton Sits with Ray Harryhausen is an extended face-to-face meeting between the two men. Their chat is informative and fun, and even includes some showcasing of props from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It runs quite long at 27 minutes. Film Music’s Unsung Hero is a retrospective hosted by David Schechter. This is another long one, looking at the stock or only slightly altered stock tracks crafted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff. His familiar themes would be used in countless films.
An 18-minute featurette looks at advertising from the era, from lobby cards to detailed press kits. A digital comic is presented as a sequel to the film and wraps up the extras. It is filled with solid art, though it’s a shame the physical version wasn’t included in the case. Finally, BD-Live connectivity is on the disc, but it’s only a link to download trailers.