Creature from the Black Lagoon
Creature from the Black Lagoon was the last of Universal Pictures' franchise monsters. Drawn out of a treatment called "The Sea Monster," it started life as a rip-off of King Kong and evolved into a well-constructed story in its own right, yielding two sequels and attracting generations of fans. The movie had the distinction, along with its sequel Revenge of the Creature, of being shot in 3-D. Alas, Universal hasn't given us Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3-D, so it isn't quite as startling a viewing experience as it was intended, despite the high quality of the transfer. In fairness, this is the best 2-D transfer of the movie ever seen, and since one of the reasons for the movie holding its reputation for decades is that it was a great 2-D movie as well as a superb 3-D movie, it does work in this presentation. One would have to see it in a theater to appreciate the 3-D scenes of the creature floating underwater, seemingly in mid-air. The DVD's big bonus feature is Tom Weaver's narration on one alternate audio track. Weaver takes viewers through the movie almost shot-by-shot, even frame-by-frame in some spots, and seems to know the date and location of every shot (as many as a half-dozen in a single scene in some of the exterior sequences). He knows an astonishing amount about the behind-the-scenes personnel involved in the movie, and the backstory on just about every performer, as well as the involvement of everyone who came to work on it. His narration is extraordinary -- he rattles through personnel links between Creature, The Wizard of Oz, and The Monster of Piedras Blancas, and others between Creature and the 1940 Thief of Baghdad. He's able to tell about the ins and outs of playing the creature for the two actors who did that job (Ricou Browning underwater, Ben Chapman on land). In contrast to other commentators, who might focus on director Jack Arnold, Weaver gives credit to producer William Alland for much of the shape and content of the movie. Weaver talks very fast and over virtually every shot, a daunting task for him and for the listener; it takes about 25 minutes to get accustomed to his pacing, but he finally slows down ever so gradually, giving himself and the listener some necessary breathing room. One gets a sense that this narration was done live and on the fly, because he gets wrong Whit Bissell's major television credit of the 1960s -- The Time Tunnel -- referring instead to Land of the Giants; he also neglects to mention screenwriter Harry Essex's final exploitation of Creature's script (with which he actually had very little to do), in the guise of the cheesy 1971 rip-off Octaman (distinguished only by Rick Baker's monster design). The other major bonus feature, in addition to a brace of trailers and production stills, is a dazzling 40-minute documentary that covers a lot of the same territory embraced by the narration, but in a more leisurely and carefully delineated fashion. The surviving cast members turn up, including Ricou Browning, Ben Chapman, the lovely Julia Adams and, in the biggest surprise here, even Lori Nelson from the first sequel. Various historians go into recollections and some analysis, of which the latter is surprisingly profound and sophisticated. Anyone who thinks this is just a monster movie will realize quickly that this movie had a lot more to say about a lot of very serious subjects; serious analysis, however, is juxtaposed with memories such as Ricou Browning getting a chunk of the heel of his costume's foot getting bitten off by a turtle at Marineland during the shooting of Revenge of the Creature. The documentary is also something of a tribute to director Jack Arnold, and makes up for the slights against him in the narration. If this had been a laserdisc release, it would have been considered a bargain at 80 dollars. The 29.95 list price on the DVD makes it practically a gift, and it's recommended to anyone who has even a casual interest in this movie, in horror films in general, or in 1950s popular culture.