June 30, 2009
The career of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop motion animation, has spanned eight decades. His memorable creations include Mighty Joe Young (1949), the cyclops form The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), the warrior skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the dinosaurs of The Valley of Gwangi (1969), and Bubo, the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans (1981). He is also responsible for two memorable movie cephalopds.
It Came From Beneath The Sea (Columbia Pictures, 1955)
This black and white film tells the story of a rampaging giant octopus, “blasted loose from the depths of the Pacific” by a hydrogen bomb. It terrorizes Pacific shipping lanes before turning it baleful gaze on San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. It takes the United States Navy, an atomic torpedo, and a whole bunch of flame throwers, but the monster is eventually destroyed. (Ooops…Spoiler Alert!)
This may very well be the largest cephalopod in movie history (with one possible exception?), but it is hard to gauge exactly how big this octopus is supposed to be. Judging by its size relative to the Golden Gate Bridge, a single arm could be almost 500 ft long, which would make it something like 30 times the size of the largest reported living octopus.
Mysterious Island (Columbia Pictures, 1961)
This adaptation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea features a number of Harryhausen classics: a giant crab, a Phorusrhacos (a type of prehistoric flightless bird), giant bees, and, the reason we’re here, the giant ammonite. I haven’t seen this movie in ages, but if I recall, the ammonite encounter occurs near the end of the film during an underwater salvage operation. With the island literally falling down around them, the American castaways (with the help of Captain Nemo’s men) attempt to use their hot air balloon to raise a sunken ship to the surface.
Ammonites are an extinct variety of cephalopod known for their distinctive coiled shells. They lived throughout the Mesozoic Era (251 to 65.5 million years ago) and were wiped out in the same event that ended the dinosaurs. Most are believed to have lived in the open ocean, and the largest known species (Parapuzosia seppenradensis of Late Cretaceous Germany) had a shell 6.5 feet in diameter. The movie ammonite is obviously a tad unrealistic, but that’s the whole point isn’t it?
June 29, 2009
I didn’t originally anticipate needing to spend two posts discussing Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it turns out I have more to say! In fact, without the two things covered here, Indie Squid Kid probably wouldn’t exist!
Walt Disney Presents the Story of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Disneyland Records, 1963)
I wouldn’t say that this record is single-handedly responsible for my life-long squid obsession, but it definitely made quite an impression on my young mind. Here we see the giant squid, hate radiating from its enormous (and oddly human) red eye, as it is about to try to crush the oncoming Nautilus in it’s mighty tentacles. The fact that things didn’t happen quite this way in the movie is completely besides the point—this cover is AWESOME.
The record is an abridged version of the movie, and it uses a different (and uncredited) voice cast. Ned Land is the narrator (instead of Arronax), and his signature sea shanty, “Whale of a Tale,” has at least one different verse than the original film. Wikipedia tells me that this record was produced in 1963 to coincide with the first theatrical re-release of the movie. Herein lies a bit of a mystery. My copy of the record is also dated 1963, but I know I got it sometime in the early 80s. Were these LPs kept in print with the original copyright date, or did my parents pick it up second-hand? (It’s in pretty good shape for a 46 year old record.)
Story records like this were the DVDs of their day. I probably only saw 20,000 Leagues a few times on TV over the years (I doubt I ever saw it in the movie theater, and my family didn’t own a VCR until the late 80s), but I knew the story backwards and forwards because of this record.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage
I also wanted to mention the long gone (and sorely missed) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride from Disney World Magic Kingdom. The ride was open from 1971 to 1994 as part of Fantasyland. It was a near-exact copy of Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage ride, except the passenger vehicles were modeled to look like the Nautilus. The ride narration was rerecorded with a Captain Nemo sound-alike, and the script was tweaked to reference events from the film. Both rides culminate with a simulated giant squid attack.
I grew up in California, and visited Disneyland a few times in the late 70s and early 80s. It should be no surprise that the Submarine Voyage was my favorite ride (the Jungle Cruise was a close second). Sadly, I never got a chance to ride the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues ride.
Incidentally, the original Submarine Voyage ride (which was open from 1959-1998), was reborn in 2007 as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. There is no longer a squid attack sequence, and that is a damn shame.
Welcome to Movie Week! Every day this week, I will profile various cephalopods that have appeared in film—both famous and obscure.
I can’t think of a better place to start than with the greatest movie cephalopod of all time—the giant squid from Disney’s landmark 1954 adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The squid appears during a climactic sequence about three-quarters of the way through the movie (1:35:42–about 95 minutes in). The Nautilus has just been ambushed by an American warship, and the damaged submarine has sunk to a depth of 5,000 feet, which, according to Captain Nemo (played by James Mason), is “deeper now than Man has ever been before.” Naturally, this seems to royally piss off a passing Architeuthis. Nemo tries to repel the squid using the Nautilus’s electrified hull (a technique which he had just successfully used to defend the sub from a tribe of vicious cannibals), but to no avail. Bringing his vessel to the surface, Nemo leads his crew into armed combat with the squid that now has the Nautilus firmly in its embrace, warning them that the giant squid is “the most tenacious of all sea beasts.” Nemo soon finds himself in the grip of a massive tentacle, his doom assured. Fortunately, Ned Land (played by Kirk Douglas) breaks out of the brig just in time to save Nemo with an expertly thrown harpoon—hitting the squid directly between the eyes (which Nemo mentioned earlier was the beast’s “only vital spot”).
The special effects in this sequence hold up surprisingly well after 55 years. The model used in the underwater scenes is quite realistic (the strange edits in the above video notwithstanding), even if some of the details are off. It even releases a cloud of ink when Nemo tries to electrocute it, which is a nice touch. Sure, the battle with the squid on the surface ratchets up the cheese factor a bit, with big, rubbery arms flailing all over the place, but in this blogger’s humble opinion, the Disney Architeuthis is more convincing overall than some recent attempts I could mention.
Disney’s version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remains the definitive interpretation of the Jules Verne classic. While steampunk traces its modern literary genesis back to the late 1980s/early 1990s, I think it could be easily argued that the popular sub-genre owes much of it’s visual aesthetic to the riveted opulence of Harper Goff’s Nautilus.
Let’s face it, this IS what the Nautilus looks like. Period.
June 27, 2009
Today the family took a trip to Chapel Hill Comics–our favorite local comic book shop–to get a signed copy of Ursula Vernon’s newest illustrated children’s book. Dragonbreath (published by Dial Books) is the story of Danny Dragonbreath, a young dragon who attends the Herpatix-Phibbias School for Reptiles and Amphibians. Life is tough for Danny–he cannot breath fire, he gets harassed by bullies, and he has just failed his science paper on “The Ocean.” In order to pass, he must base his rewrite on actual research. This is where the cephalopods come in, of course, and not just the giant squid depicted on the cover. Danny also meets an octopus and a Vampyroteuthis, as well as a plethora of other sea creatures.
I’m not going to give away anymore of the story because you must go buy Dragonbreath now! The Management here at Indie Squid Kid strongly encourages you to support your local comic book shop or independent bookseller, but you can always buy Dragonbreath at Amazon.com…if you really have to. Maybe because you have no feet.
Ursula’s painting “The Squid Tree” was featured here during last year’s Art Week. You can find out more about Ursula’s work at www.ursulavernon.com (comics and kid’s books) and www.redwombatstudio.com (art, often for grownups).
June 25, 2009
Sighted on BoingBoing.
If you happen to be one of the three people on the planet not familiar with boingboing.net, it is your one-stop-shop for all that is wonderful on the web–things both relevant and irrelevant. Squids obviously fall into that category. I’ve previously posted a news story from BoingBoing here, and below is a mere smattering of other squid-related posts.
June 23, 2009
I was a Bio major, and I approve this message.
Visit www.xkcd.com for more fun with science…as well as math, the Internet, romance, and general geeky sarcasm. All starring the most emotive stick figures you’ve ever seen!
June 22, 2009
This is a fact: When it comes to high-quality toy animals, Safari Ltd. blows any competition out of the water. Their replicas include not only a wide array of sea life, but also birds, insects, jungle mammals, farm animals, and the most scientifically accurate line of plastic dinosaurs ever produced. Safari figurines are widely available online, in retail stores (arts & crafts store Michaels, for example, usually has a good selection) and in museum gift shops the world over.
The Wild Safari Sealife® Octopus doesn’t provide a specific taxonomic identification, and, like most toy octopi, it’s not entirely obvious–after all, there are hundreds of known species of octopus, and their body color and texture is famously variable. If I had to make a guess, I’d say it’s most likely the Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris)–the well-studied species known from the waters of southern England to norther Africa and the Mediterranean.
The figure itself is 5″ L x 1.5″ H and retails for $3.99.
June 21, 2009
Today is my first Father’s Day as Indie Squid Dad, and it seems like the perfect occasion to introduce you to my Very Good Excuse for taking so long to resume this blog.
Meet Kid Indie Kid Squid (a.k.a. Commander Awesome)! He’s hanging out with a portion of my plush cephalopod collection. They’ll all be his one day, so it seemed best to begin the acclimation process early! Each of these stuffed toys will eventually make an individual appearance here in the blog, and I’m sure I have another box of them somewhere…
Kid Indie Squid Kid is wearing an Ahou Octu bodysuit (don’t call it a “Onesie,” Gerber has that trademarked!) by Finny’s Greens.
June 19, 2009
This is the Luft Squid*Brush by Sëmk Products Ltd.–the most adorable kitchen implement you will ever meet. The front of the package tells us that the delightfully cock-eyed cephalopod is not just “a good brushing helper,” but also “perfect for brushing.” Which I guess is just about everything you could hope for in a brush.
The cuteness continues, unabated, on the back of the package…
I picked this up at Urban Outfitters about a year ago, but i don’t know if it is still available. One day I may find the rest of the Sëmk line of cephalopod kitchenware: Squid*Mixer (giving you a nice cake), Octo*juicer (feed the fruit, please), and Octo*timer (it times your work).
June 18, 2009
A study by a Tiwanese scientist that has found that squids and octopi can hear, a question that has been debated for nearly a century. Sensory phyiologist Hong Young Yan of the Taiwan National Academy of Science in Taipei found through his experiments with the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) and the Bigfin reef squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana) that cephalopods use an organ called the statocyst is used to register sound.
A school of Bigfin reef squid.
BBC Earth News reports;
Yan’s team had to overcome particular technical challenges to investigate the cephalopods’ hearing ability. The usual way to prove that an organism can hear is to measure how its nervous system electrically responds to sound. But that can involve directly attaching electrodes to exposed nerves, an invasive procedure that could harm delicate cephalopods.
So Yan invented a non-invasive method, which involves placing electrodes on an animal’s body to measure the electrical activity in its brain. In this way, he could measure within just a couple of hours whether the brain of an octopus or squid responds to sound.
So, between a squid and an octopus, which has the best hearing? The scientists found that squid can register a wider range of sound, but that both species hear best at a frequency of 600Hz.