Monday, October 12, 2015

The Beast (1996, Movie Review)

         The Ocean, it takes up three quarters of our planet, it’s a mysterious world full of colors, life and danger. Dating all the way back to the days of Christopher Columbus, sailors feared their ships would be taken down by sea monsters. In other words, the ocean is the perfect setting for stories that revolve around terrifying creatures that hid in the deep, and strike without warning. Author Peter Benchley has wrote several novels revolving around the terrors of the Ocean, his most famous book being none other than “Jaws”, which would later be adapted into a land mark motion picture film, but that’s not the story I’ll be talking about in this review. When I was a child, I grew up in Hawaii, and every time my parents took me out to the beach, I’d always spot sail boats out in the distance, and I’d always fear that they’d be taken down by Giant Squids. That was always my biggest child hood fear of the ocean, it wasn’t sharks or jellyfish ... it was always giant squids. So, for my October animals unleashed month, I couldn’t help but do a quick review of the 1996 TV movie based on Peter Benchley’s novel titled “The Beast”, a story about a monstrous giant squid.

     This is the only made for TV movie that I’ll be reviewing for this month’s marathon, because of all the film’s I’ve seen revolving around giant squids, I think this one’s as good as they get. Obviously, “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” are both much better movies, but they don’t count because they only feature giant squids, neither movies are actually about the squid. So, like I said back there in the intro, this movie is based on Peter Benchley’s novel “The Beast”, and Benchleys name was even included in the title of this movie. However, to be very straight forward, the film only loosely connects to the original book, and on its own, this isn’t a terrible movie, but I probably wouldn’t call it a great one either. Our story is set in a Pacific Northwest resort community called Grave’s Point. A couple on their yacht mysteriously disappear one night, and soon other locals, and visitors discover that the area is no longer safe due to a giant squid that’s come to their area do to a short supply of food. One local fisherman teams up with a marine biologist, and a female coast guard officer to come up with a plan to either capture the squid or drive it out to sea. However, a harbor master wants that squid dead, so he places a bounty on the creature, which draws the attention of several hunters that want the money. At first they seem successful in killing the squid, only to discover that it was an infant squid they killed. Now the mother is royally pissed off, and unleashes her vengeance on the whole area.  

        I’m not going to lie, if your hoping for a fast paced monster film with lots of awesome giant squid action, you’ll probably be disappointed with this film. That’s not to say it doesn’t have some cool squid attacks, but the majority of the film plays out in a similar tone and style to “Jaws”, where all the attention and focus goes to the people first. The creators behind this film clearly want this to come off as a more mature, and respectable movie rather than just a mindless creature feature, which is ambitious, but that doesn’t make the movie memorable or re-watchable either. Even though it is an admirable effort, it just doesn’t reach the same high quality of “Jaws”. The characters in this film are slightly better than your typical monster movie survivors, but not by much. I certainly give credit to the actors, there at least trying to make their performances come off as believable as possible, but they just can’t escape their stereo type trappings or admittedly clichéd scenes. Perhaps if the movie was shorter it wouldn’t have been much of a problem, unfortunately this movie drags on at a run time of 176 minutes, which is insane. With a run time like that, you need some larger than life characters, and some killer action scenes.

       While I don’t know for sure, I think the giant squid itself is only given maybe 7 minutes of screen time total, at least that’s what it feels like. I will say that the squid effects are actually very good, blending in just enough life like animatronics, and puppet work with the CG effects. Even though the movie’s long run time makes it challenging to sit though, it did still generate just enough excitement whenever the beast attacks. I can’t really say the film came off as scary, but it certainly captured just enough of my child hood tension of a giant squid that would terrorize sailors. The climax is the most fun the movie gets as the squid attacks a fishing boat, and our hero’s have one final showdown during a rain storm. While this battle is going on, the movie cuts back to our main hero’s little girl, who’s at home baking dinner, hoping that her father would return soon for supper. A scene like this probably could have worked in a more serious film, but it just doesn’t work when we cut back to her dad in an over the top situation like fighting a giant squid monster.   

           Now to be as fare as possible, this film aired as a miniseries split into two parts, so it really wasn’t meant to be watched in one sitting. Also, by the standards of a TV made movie, it’s actually quite impressive on some level, and at times it almost feels like something that could have been released in the theater. The problem once again is that it’s very long, and while I wouldn’t call the film a complete waste of time, I couldn’t imagine sitting though this film more than once. There’s just no re-watch value to it, and if you’re going to watch a movie that’s over 3 hours long, make sure it’s something with more substance than this. I do wish that there were more monster movies revolving around giant squids, especially considering how many shark movies there are. It seems that for the moment, this is the closet we’ll ever get to having a really good giant squid movie, and for what it is, Peter Benchley’s “The Beast” really isn’t terrible, it has some good acting, mildly good action and some awesome squid effects. It’s by no means a great film, not even on the grounds of B monster movies, it just falls somewhere in the middle of OK and serviceable.

                     I give the 1996 movie “The Beast” 2 ½ stars out of 5.

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