Sunday, March 12, 2006


Today’s Topic: Tentacular Glee!


It seems our publicity-bound "special operative" has been sighted in the vicinity of America’s Dairyland. It certainly took them a while to notice, but the scheduling problems are nothing in comparison to the good news that she was released back into the water unharmed after inserting herself into a likely-looking net on her "maiden" recruiting operation. It should be very exciting to see whether (codename) Chompy, the White Muskellunge, will have the same wavemaking impact as the white Deer and Buffalo that have been born the past few years.
And YES, there will be a pool. Contact your local chapter reps to put money on: the number and sex of new operatives recruited by Chompy; the number of news items claiming Chompy heralds the dawn of a new Ice Age; the number of news items comparing Chompy to "Meg," the albino Megalodon in Steve Alten’s novels; the number of Yorkshire Terriers Chompy consumes in order to make a name for herself; the number of Indian legends discovered, foretelling the sighting of white Muskies as a sign of some sort.

News items and Indian legends written by operatives DO NOT COUNT. We keep careful track of those. Don’t get any ideas. Winners will be announced September 30th.

The time has finally come for me to review Deep Rising, one of the silliest adventure movies to come out in a couple of decades, but one that is VERY EDUCATIONAL AND STRANGELY THOUGHT-PROVOKING for you and me. This film came out in 1998, and stars Treat Williams and Famke Janssen. It’s hard to decide which actors to list because hardly anyone stood out as "the star," in the usual sense. I just went with the male and female characters who seemed to have the most lines.

PLOT SUMMARY: A motley charter-boat crew of wisecracking lowlifes is hired by an even motlier crew of slick professional killer types. Everyone is travelling in a small boat through heavy seas towards THEY KNOW NOT WHAT. The boat’s crew eventually learns that they have been hired to help rob a cruise ship, a kind of floating casino that is (ho hum) impervious to sinking and has a stupendous anti-pirate system. This is the cruise ship’s maiden voyage. DO YOU SEE IT COMING YET?

Under protest by the charter-boat hands, they all board the strangely dark and silent ship…To find nobody there. Oh, except some SEA MONSTERS who have eaten the entire ship’s complement – yes, even the guys juggling the flaming torches and the poor little canape girls. WILL THE THIEVES SURVIVE?


This is the first real advance in heist movies since time out of mind. YES, EVEN THE MIND OF DAGON, and that reaches back PRETTY FAR. I cannot imagine why nobody has thought before to add sea monsters to this tired and flagging subgenre. I have never liked this kind of storyline but I can tell you, this one is a gas.

The pace of this movie is good – not too ‘breakneck’ for the old folks, but the story never drags so the young’uns are happy too.

Good old Rob Bottin, "the Jack Nicholson of rubber," designed the sea monsters. He came through for us perfectly, creating some super-oogly tentacle-waving critters that spend most of their time concealed inside pipes and under catwalks. The rare glimpses we get during most of the movie are as effective as I dared to dream. The final all-out confrontation with the critter is really boss.

We are not actually considering a sea monster like this down at the R&D labs. NOTHING needs thast many mouths. And it would be too hard to hide, now that remote-controle submersible cameras are in vogue.

I’m sorry to say there are quite a few irritating elements in this picture. The ship’s engineer, for instance, does double duty as Odious Comic Relief Lad. I was ready to rip the guy to pieces by the middle of the story. What makes it worse is the way this guy gets off a really good, well-timed joke in one scene, then spends the next three or four scenes spewing unamusing non sequiturs. He could have been used much better.

Another character plays Exposition Lad, offering entirely useless information on the sea monster’s likely species and a theory to the effect that the deeper the water, the bigger the members of this species get. And the boat is adrift over the Marianas Trench, where the water is really, really deep. Popular culture would have you think that the Trench is crowded with immense sharks and water-breathing dinosaurs and such. Hey, why not this critter too? If the scriptwriters had really been thinking, they would have had the other characters shout this guy down immediately: 'IF YOU CAN’T TELL US HOW TO KILL IT, SHADDUP.'

The pirates are just so derivative, you know? Just once I’d like to see a bunch of professional thieves who are not directly modeled on the ones in Die Hard. You know the types – each one is from a different country, they all wear fabulous outfits and are armed to the teeth with state-of-the-art grenade launchers, laser-scope guns and gas grenades. We have to hear about their mercenary credentials. Ho hum.

>> What I want you to notice here is the way the sea monster cuts effortlessly through all this muscle and firepower, the way a hot knife runs through butter. She manages by staying out of sight for the most part, THE WAY WE DO IN REAL LIFE, emerging only to eat recruit the occasional straggler.

Even here we have an irritating element! Can you imagine a sea monster that would waste good recruiting material – in this case, the skeletons of the passengers and crew – by depositing them inside the ship? That offal would have fed I-don’t-know-how-many crabs and worms and you-name-it on the sea floor. A REAL sea monster recycles.

I couldn’t help noticing that this creature, presented to us as entirely aquatic, has somehow thought to hunt above water, swum miles away from home to accomplish the deed, and has even commandeered a boat. It makes me wonder whether there have been any new leaks in Hollywood lately. It’s just a little too close to the way we operate ourselves, you know?
On the other hand, I probably shouldn’t worry. They never made any attempt to explain how this was possible. That makes clear to me that THEY HAVE NO IDEA.

I was sort of curious about the nature of Treat Williams’ character. He plays the down-at-heel, happy-go-lucky Irish criminal usual to this sort of picture. What strikes me is that the other characters keep calling him "Finny." I thought that was his name until someone made the effort to call him by his full name, "Finnegan." How now? Are we an operative or what?

And then look at that showdown with the sea monster at the climax. She had any amount of opportunity to crush "Finny" like a bug, but she somehow didn’t get around to it until he had the opportunity to blast her one with some kind of super-powered rifle dingus. And THAT didn’t seem to do more than cheese her off. AND she didn’t proceed straight to offing her assailant. I tend to think he aimed deliberately for a non-lethal area, maybe even missing her entirely, and she played it to the hilt as a delaying tactic so nobody would notice that she was letting him escape. You can feel free to read this scene any way you want – this is still America, until we get through with it – but that’s what I see going on.

I found the choice of survivors at the end of the picture to be terribly unfair. But maybe they were trying to be realistic for a minute.


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