Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Giant Behemoth!

Let me begin by saying that despite its many flaws, The Giant Behemoth is a longtime favorite monster movie of mine. One of Eugene Lourie's trio of monster movies (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Gorgo being the other two), this one is the least effective of the three. But that doesn't mean it is totally lacking in charms.

The story begins in Cornwall where a fisherman dies after coming into contact with some mysterious radioactive source. American scientist Steve Carnes (Gene Evans, who usually played tough guys and not leads) gets involved along with Professor James Bickford (Andre Morrell, famous as Professor Quatermass) and they investigate. The early parts of this languid tale follow these two as they progress through the mystery a step at a time.

Eventually they discover that a giant aquatic reptile is the source of the deadly radiation and they further suspect the creature is a threat to London. Soon the "Behemoth" attacks and stomps through the city. This is thanks to stop-motion animation produced, at least in part by Willis O'Brien, the man behind King Kong and other stop-motion classics.

It's a pretty standard monster movie. Dour and serious scientists try to learn the secrets to stop the threat of a prehistoric threat. Given that it's a British film, I expect a certain amount of cool reserve in how the story is told, most British sci-fi I've seen places a big premium on discussion and slowly build to the climax as the secrets are revealed one by one. This movie is no different and is lucky to have some strong veteran actors around to keep the story rooted while the mystery unfolds.

On my most recent viewing of this movie, I "enhanced" it with a commentary track by special effects mavens Dennis Murren and Phil Tippett. Their contribution to the movie was a wanton disaster. These two apparently wandered into the recording having done almost no research on the movie and were there solely to "analyze" the special effects which don't really show up until the last reel. Meanwhile we are treated to the murmurings of two hooligans as they complain about how the movie is one time-wasting maneuver after another. They never talk about the acting, rarely discuss the direction, have no knowledge of the studio, and spend time taking about other special effects in other movies while key scenes wander beneath their noses with information they later complain about missing. I've listened to some bad commentaries in my time, but this one is the first which made me angry. It was disrespectful to the movie, its creators and showed only that these two experts were hardly that, and lazy to boot.

That aside, it was neat to see this spectacle again. I personally like the reserve of these movies which build slowly to their reveals. It adds to the drama, something the special effects hounds seem to dismiss as ancillary to the moments of cool stop motion. Sheesh, talk about missing the point. I wish the Behemoth would crush their car for a change.

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