Joseph Conrad wrote of the ocean’s awesome power, “the sea has never beenfriendly to man.” Less eloquent is this quote from Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: “You can’t believe how bleeding scary the sea is! There’s, like, whales and storms and s–t!”
Not to mention killer whales, giant waves and even H-bomb mutated giant octopuses!
The ocean and its power have been challenging cinematic sailors for decades.
From the early screen adaptations of Moby Dick to the crazy sea monsters of 1950s b-movies to this weekend’s The Life of Pi, based on the megahit novel by Yann Martel, the ocean has provided a wet and wild backdrop for Hollywood.
Pi’s story of a boy set adrift on the ocean in a lifeboat with only a tiger for a companion is a coming-of-age story that uses the sea as a metaphor. Most films are more literal.
The giant wave that capsizes the ship in The Poseidon Adventure was no metaphor, it was a terrifying display of the ocean’s power, even if it was filmed using a 21 foot 6 inch long miniature ship in a 300 x 350 foot water tank on a Hollywood stage.
Filmmakers have often looked to sea creatures for inspiration. Everything from LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring to Sharktopus features fantasy monsters unleashed by the deep. One of the best-known b-movies of the 1950s is It Came From Beneath the Sea, the story of a giant octopus awakened by the radiation from H-Bomb tests.
The film was so low budget special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen cut corners by building his octopus model with six rather than the usual eight tentacles. To cover his cheat he posed the creature so viewers couldn’t count the arms.
Finally, Orca, the best known of the killer whale movies, however, shows a much more real threat. Or does it? The joke is that killer whales aren’t all that dangerous—to humans anyway. “There has never been a substantiated case of an orca killing a man,” wrote Outside magazine’s Tim Cahill, “despite the 1977 movie Orca, in which a killer whale seeks revenge on Richard Harris by eating all his costars. The movie was so silly, unscientific and unbelievable that one critic suggested Harris fight a duel to the death with his agent for getting him the role.”