These Deadsites posts are always tricky. For every entry that seems to resonate with you guys, there’s another that maybe three people on the whole planet are interested in. Admittedly, today’s entry runs the risk of falling into the dreaded latter category.
I can’t afford to care, because GIANT SQUID!!!
From 1996, get a load of NBC’s official site for The Beast, a rather infamous television movie based on Peter Benchley’s nearly same-named novel. It’s about an enormous squid that terrorizes a small town, with little regard for its natural habitat. (Benchley also wrote Jaws, and it would be perfectly accurate to call both his novel and this adaptation “Jaws with a squid.”)
Ever since childhood museum trips told me about giant squids’ deep sea battles with sperm whales, I’ve been a huge mark for them. I was all about this mini-series in 1996, even if it ended up being kind of dopey and way too long. (My favorite bit had the impossibly huge mother squid — the movie’s “big bad” — surfacing to inspect its murdered offspring… literally reaching its tentacles over land and into a pool to check her baby’s pulse. It pained me to skip Married With Children, but vengeful mommy squids didn’t land on TV often.)
Reviews of the film are frustratingly disparate. Genre fans give its cheesier elements a pass, because we know that movies like this are always kinda cheesy. The problem was that The Beast was a prime time network special, more commonly reviewed by “pros” whose normal duties did not involve looking for the bright side in protracted movies about bloodthirsty squid.
…of course, I don’t think NBC had any illusions about critical acclaim. Look no further than the film’s trailer, which plays like something you’d see on Syfy today. (Notice the ripoff Jaws theme?)
Funnily enough, that trailer was misleading, portraying The Beast almost as an intentionally bad movie. The truth was that its over-the-top moments were much more measured, and the film’s biggest crime was spending too little time on them. (The Beast was already long, but NBC split it over two nights for a total of four hours of programming. Expectedly, much of that time went to exposition and side plots.)
Flaws aside, I am contractually obligated to love any movie about giant squid. In 1996 — at least in my world — The Beast was a huuuuge event. Uncovering its original website was a lucky break, and even if I’m the only person who cares, I can’t miss the chance to make an equally huuuuge deal about it.
From the start, we notice a few kinks in the armor. For one thing, the trailer calls the film Peter Benchley’s Beast, while the official title is actually just The Beast. It’s semantics to you and me, but it could indicate NBC’s internal confusion over how to handle such irregular programming.
Also, The Beast kicked off NBC’s “Monster May” — that being a full month of original movies with purportedly all-star casts. Unfortunately, The Beast premiered in late April.
As low-tech as it seems today, the website was perfectly acceptable in 1996. Perhaps even progressive. Compare this to The Craft’s site from the same year, and it sure seems more polished.
One of my driving inspirations for the Deadsites series is the reminder of how the web used to be. I’ve mentioned this in prior entries, but I’m still so fond of these old “standalone” promo sites, where the focus was on plain information rather than social media buzz. Back then, such sites were no more than souped-up press kits, and there’s a certain charm to that.
(And yes, that’s Larry Drake on the upper right. Larry Drake as in Darkman and Dr. Giggles. If The Beast didn’t feature giant squid, he’d be the best part of it.)
Judging by this fact sheet on “real” giant squid, we’ve certainly learned a lot in the last twenty years! In 1996, scientists only had the remains of giant squid to ascertain their lifestyle, and the site even notes that the animals had never been observed in their natural habitat. By 2004, they most definitely had been!
Giant squid are powerful and capable creatures for sure, deserving of a healthy respect. But the truth is that all animals seem “scarier” when we don’t know much about them. “Firsthand” accounts from centuries ago paint pictures of animals that assuredly never existed, which seemed more like the monsters from Inhumanoids. The giant squid could tear any of us apart, but gone are the days of imagining one dragging a cruiseship to the depths of the ocean.
Much fuss was made over The Beast’s special effects, and by 1996 TV movie standards, they definitely overachieved. While the site focused on the practical effects, I do seem to recall some obvious CGI. (Even then, it was still on par with what you’d expect from a television movie. Besides, this wasn’t Jaws. You could build a reasonable facsimile of a great white shark, but good luck making a life-sized full-body model of a giant squid!)
Answer: It Came from Beneath the Sea. I knew that before clicking, but clicked anyway, because I’m never not gonna click a fish that says “ANSWER” on it.
My favorite part of the site is its photo gallery, with a smattering of production and promo stills. Mainly because of this one:
Having worked in Manhattan on-and-off for so many years, I’ve seen my share of mega-gigantic promo displays. I’m always compelled to photograph them. They’re just so big, beautiful and expensive, and I hate knowing that within a few weeks, they’ll become unrecognizable piles of trash in some faraway dump. What a waste.
So, naturally, I love that uncovering this website also let me uncover what’s probably the last remaining photo of The Beast’s largest promotional tool. For the record, if I was in possession of a nine story building, I’d absolutely be down with having that thing on it. So what if it’s advertising a TV movie from 1996? Just look at that gorgeous tentacle!
To those who don’t care about old squid movies, and by extension, care even less about the websites that once promoted them: Thanks for indulging me.
To those who do care: The Beast somehow scored a Blu-ray release, and while it’s been several hundred years since my last viewing, I remember enough to give it a
tentacle tentative recommendation. (Of course, it won’t be the same without the constant NBC bumpers practically begging you to “come back tomorrow” for the second half!)