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?