After years drifting across the United States, Magnus Dens (Leigh McCloskey) has returned to Bermuda where he was brought up until tragedy interrupted his life at a tender age. As he lies sleeping on the beach, a young woman calling herself Jennie Haniver (Connie Sellecca) who has been swimming through the sea wanders onto the shore and approaches him, stroking his head as he snoozes obliviously. In his dreams he recalls his upbringing when he knew Jennie as a little girl and they watched a turtle's egg hatch, then the creature made its way back to the water, but one day Jennie clmbed on the now-grown turtle's back and disappeared beneath the waves. It was soon after that a mysterious storm struck his home and killed his father...
But then there was a lot mysterious about The Bermuda Depths, including probably uppermost in the mind of anyone who saw it, what the hell was that all about? Broadcast on American television in the late seventies but a cinema release in other countries, it joined the ranks of half-recalled memories from childhood which would be made concrete by discovering someone else remembered it, that someone usually being a stranger on the internet, thus were people brought together by sharing their recollections. But some productions which make for strong if hard to grasp memories don't stand up to the scrutiny of actually revisiting, so would it be better to leave it in the past?
One of those Rankin/Bass efforts, the animators better known for their holiday specials and maybe Mad Monster Party? from the decade previous to The Bermuda Depths, this appeared to have been dreamt up by Arthur Rankin Jr after a double bill of Jaws and Moby Dick followed by a big plate of strong cheese before bedtime. In some scenes it comes across like a basic seafaring adventure as Magnus returns to his old pal Eric (Carl Weathers) who is now assisting in a ocean survey to track down huge creatures from the deep led by scientist Dr Paulis (Burl Ives), and they have a harpoon to ensure they drag these beasts in for further examination, which doesn't sound especially environmentally friendly, but does tie up with the whole Captain Ahab vibe.
Take note of that lack of conservation awareness, however, because there was a certain punishment doled out by Mother Nature by the final act, encapsulated by the introduction of the giant turtle which we have to assume is the grown up version of the one hatched from the egg at the beginning which we also have to assume was the one which Jennie swam away on the back of. Bearing in mind whatever deeper meaning Rankin had in mind was buried very deep indeed, the thought of all these people tuning in for yet another TV movie of the week to be greeted with something this baffling has an appeal, pondering over whether Jennie (named, as Ives points out, after one of those constructed figures supposedly representing a genuine mermaid) is of supernatural origin.
This was a co-production between Rankin/Bass and a Japanese company, so the special effects, all done with miniatures and camera tricks, had a definite flavour of a particular giant turtle of the sixties who had starred in his own franchise, except the creature in this case had no superpowers other than its accompanying size and strength. But is Jennie somehow connected to the turtle spiritually? Magnus pines for her and it is implied after the giant monster as well, but the mood is not one of grand spectacle and the resulting tension and awe that might bring about, it's more a slow, dreamlike trudge towards a conclusion that explains very little, but does deliver on the memorable imagery front. When something that could have been so banal aims for the mystical, it may reach that banality anyway, yet while The Bermuda Depths was as dramatically flat as it was visually ambitious there was an undoubted quality which made you think, yeah, I can see why this stayed with so many people, even if it was, as you may suspect, best left as an echo in the mind. Music by Maury Laws.
Among the many reviews I have read by seasoned Japanese genre buffs not one of them could figure out what the heck was going on. So we're in good company. Judging by numerous inconsistencies with the plot it is likely the filmmakers didn't know either.
This was among a dozen co-productions between Rankin-Bass and various Japanese studios, in this instance Tsuburaya Productions, the company founded by legendary special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya of Godzilla and Ultraman fame. Their first collaboration was King Kong Escapes (1967) which was meant to be an elaboration upon the Rankin-Bass cartoon series King Kong but went down its own path. Japanese animators also handled most of the stop-motion action on Rankin-Bass' famous Holiday Specials
Arthur Rankin was especially beloved by the Japanese filmmakers he worked with and continued collaborating with them well into the Eighties on things like Thundercats (Ho!)
The other Rankin-Bass-Tsuburaya movies, all directed by Tsugunobu Kotani, were The Last Dinosaur (1977) with Richard Boone and Joan Van Ark, The Ivory Ape (1980) starring Jack Palance and a musical version of the story of Marco Polo with Desi Arnaz Jr. that was supposed to be so bad it was barely released. By far their most ambitious outing was The Bloody Bushido Blade (1981), a samurai epic with an all-star cast including Toshiro Mifune, Sonny Chiba, Richard Boone, James Earl Jones and Tetsuro Tanba. Interestingly notorious Italian sleaze merchant Joe D'Amato added soft-core sex scenes with Laura Gemser. Which begs the question, did she get it on with Toshiro or Sonny?
27 Mar 2014
Thanks for the info. It's a strangely sleepy experience, just right for late night viewing - or a mess, depending on how you look at it.