Science fiction has gotten the reputation--largely deserved--that it's full of Really Bad Stuff. A lot of people who might otherwise enjoy the genre are turned off by this preconceived notion.
The purpose of "Remedial SF 101" is to help those who are new to the genre sort out what material would make a negative impression, as well as to make recommendations about what material is actually worth looking at.
It's a sad commentary that a bad movie review is easy to write, but a good one takes some thought.
I was all set to tear into "It Came From Beneath the Sea," which was the first film to team stop-motion effects wizard Ray Harryhausen with producer Charles Schneer. I'd been told that the film was so low budget that to say it was "made on a shoestring" would have been an insult to shoestrings. So I was sharpening my pencil as the credits churned by. Literally. They ran the credits over a miniature of a storm-tossed sea.
The opening narration about nuclear submarines causing problems "unimagined by man" did not bode well--ah, another film decrying technology as evil and against Nature or the will of God or some other drivel, thought I. But I was wrong.
The production values are surprisingly high. The sets are great, mainly because they're not actually sets--the shots inside the submarine were filmed inside an honest-to-God submarine, and realistically show how cramped it is in there. Some of the opening dialog humorously praises the new nuclear submarine as being "as spacious as a ballroom"--while the two characters are practically sharing an armpit.
The footage of the submarine at sea was also filmed on a real submarine, and somehow avoids looking like stock footage. The laboratory and Naval offices look like the real things, too. There are some obvious soundstage-and-rear-projection shots, naturally, but as a student of filmmaking I was pretty impressed with the quality of the scenery and sets. Okay, so the images of the monster first appearing on the sub's radar looked really fake, but then it's likely that the radar system was still classified at the time. Instead of the now-familiar blip of light on a screen with a sweeping line going round, they had what looked like a large hairball on a backlighted grid.
The acting was naturalistic, easy, and believable, considering this was a science-fiction/monster movie. The actors spoke their lines as though they genuinely felt them, and what's more, the writers did not try to fill their mouths with outlandish nonsense. They didn't shout, they spoke in ordinary conversational tones. And the supporting actors looked like real people, which they probably were--real sailors on the sub and in the Naval base, real operators at the San Francisco city telephone switchboard, perhaps even real people milling about in the streets. These background people seemed more genuine because they weren't trying hard to be natural.
I found myself really getting interested in this film. The less I talk while I'm watching a film, the more I like it, and there were long stretches of time when I was wholly absorbed in the action.
There were two weak points to this movie: the giant octopus itself, and the awkward love triangle between the sub commander, the female marine biologist, and her affable male colleague. The movie would have been a lot better if they'd left that entire sub-plot out--but I guess the producers decided they needed to throw in some romance to keep the girls in the audience amused. After all, this *was* made in 1955.
And that was part of what felt so awkward. Dr.Lesley Joyce, the girl--er, sorry, the woman--is an intelligent, strong-willed scientist with a voice like melted butter and a face like a quiescent tigress. She seems to have some kind of relationship with her colleague, Dr. John Carter, who is a genial guy who not only doesn't seem the least bit perturbed by the brash attentions being paid to Dr.Joyce by Captain Pete Mathews, but is actually sort of encouraging it. He's either really confident, gay, or Dr.Joyce's brother. It's also possible that he's just a good friend of hers, but there certainly seems to be some kind of relationship going on between them--they just seem very "close" in as touchy-feely-huggy-mutual-admiration-society sort of way. If he *is* interested in her, he has a weird way of showing it--practically encouraging Pete to try to ask Lesley out.
Captain Mathews, whose submarine was attacked by the mysterious sea beast that the two biologists are contracted by the Navy to identify, loses no