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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/15/99

Creature from the Black Lagoon
Classic Monster Collection - 1954 (2000) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Creature from the Black Lagoon Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A/B+

Specs and Features

79 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), B&W, single-sided, dual-layered (movie on one layer, extras on the other), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track with film historian Tom Weaver, documentary Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle (written, directed and produced by David J. Skal), poster and stills gallery, cast and crew bios, theatrical trailers, web-links, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), language: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English and French

"I can tell you something about this place. The boys around here call it the Black Lagoon. Only they say nobody has ever come back alive to prove it."

It's not easy being green. Dig, if you will, this picture: some glory hungry scientists, with no regard for your home, come ripping through looking for your rare dead relatives' remains. Once they find you, they decide, "Hey, look - a living thingy that we can kill and study. Whoopee!" What are you going to do? Like The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a bit different from the other Universal monsters in that the creature really isn't that bad of a guy. Sure, he attacks humans with no remorse (he may even enjoy it), but he's just doing what anyone else would do if they found people in their backyard with shovels - he's going to disembowel them. Sounds fair to me. This makes for one of the greatest monster films of all time, and definitely one of the best designed (well... at least next to Alien). And considering it's close to 50 years old, that's saying a lot.

David Reed (Richard Carlson) and his girlfriend Kay (Julia Adams) are ichi- echi-... uhm... FISH scientists... hunting down a rare lung fish, when they get called upon to help find the fossilized remains of a fish/man, newly discovered by Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) in the Amazon. Uniting with David's boss, Mark Williams (Richard Denning), the group heads down the river to the unexplored Black Lagoon, with hopes of finding more remains at the bottom of the river bed. But menacing behind them (or rather under them) is a creature that represents a living and breathing version of the fossil discovered by Maia... and he's not so keen on them tramping around his neck of the jungle. That is, until he gets an eyeful of beautiful Kay in a nice white one-piece suit. Now the Gill Man has a taste of love (or lust, either way it's sick) and he wants Kay all to himself. But he'll have to go through David to get her, and he's not just going to give her up (especially to be ravaged by a fish).

The film comes to a climax when the boat crew gets trapped in the lagoon, and Mark (the glory hungry scientist mentioned above) really starts foaming at the mouth to get the Creature as his very own specimen. Imagine the press he'll get for coming home with a living link between upright man and his previous incarnation as a fish. He'll do anything for that, and that means putting the lives of his employees in jeopardy. Slowly but surely, each person is stalked and eliminated by the Creature until it's just David, Kay and a creature that will do anything for love.

As this DVD points out, most people are quite fond of this film, as it was the most accessible monster film for the baby boomer generation. It was also a novelty film. Originally shown in 3D, Creature from the Black Lagoon was a hit for kids during the 1950s. Everyone seemed to love this film, and it's gone down as one of the most loved creature features to come out of that era. It was a throw back to the halcyon days of Dracula and Frankenstein, and it stands tall among them, having been made close to 20 years after they themselves lit the silver screen.

Creature works because it's fun. The film is simple, it's got great characters and the monster is fun to look at. Sure, it's not the most perfect monster suit, but the design is almost timeless. Hell, if a remake came out any time soon, I'd almost say update it a LITTLE bit, but generally keep the suit. Don't fix what ain't broke. I really like The Creature from the Black Lagoon for what it is - it's the perfect monster film. And this disc gets high marks from me for just being out.

It helps that it's alphabetically the first disc out from the next wave of Universal Classic Monsters discs. I'm a big supporter of this series, overseen by monster movie historian David J. Skal, and this is the shining gem in this new batch of films. The same love and care went into documenting this film that went into the films in the first wave. As usual, included here are trailers, production notes, a photo gallery, a commentary track by B-movie expert Tom Weaver and a documentary on the making of the film. But let's take a look at the film itself.

Presented full frame (at a 1.33:1 aspect ratio) the film looks pretty damn good, even if it's not (thankfully) presented in 3D. It may upset a few people that a 3D version isn't also included on the disc, but keep in mind that 3D on video rarely looks good, and is a far cry from 3D in a movie theater (see New Line's Freddy's Dead for proof of this). The picture is crisp and heavily detailed in its black and white state. There are no artifacts to been seen anywhere on the film. This is, however, not the best source print I've ever seen used for a DVD. It's a theatrical print (complete with "cigarette burns") and shows heavy dirt, white density and a noticeable residual artifact caused by combining the separate 3D filmed elements to make a standard, 2D film image (during the "Creature on fire" scene). In many ways, there isn't a whole lot that could be done with this, and it's no fault of the DVD. But a film like this should have been cleaned up a little more before it was digitized. It gets more and more distressing every time I see an old film that just looks its age. There's no reason for it. Aside from these source print issues, this a nice digital picture. I did notice something strange. For some it will be a huge issue, while others won't notice a thing. All the way through the film on the left hand side of the picture, there's a strange blue vertical line. It's apparent when watching on a DVD-ROM, and you'll probably see it when watching on a video projector. But with most conventional TVs, you won't see it because it falls well within the overscan area. It's not there on any of the other Monster movies in this series or the last one, so God only knows what it could be. A residual bit of the soundtrack stripe intruding into the picture area, maybe? Whatever it is, it's not distracting under normal viewing conditions, so we aren't going to mark it off in terms of the video image. But I felt it warranted mentioning because some of you will notice it and a small number will find it slightly distracting.

The disc's sound is a cleaned up 2-channel mono, and every annoying crescendo heralding the Creature's screen time comes through loud and clear. It's interesting to note, since we're talking about sound, how much this track influenced Jaws. I never realized it before. Sure, everyone knows Spielberg lifted the worms eye shot of the girl swimming, but did you know he had Williams lift elements of the score as well? Take a listen to the familiar bass line isolated in the special features section of the disc. It's unmistakably all throughout the film. Gotta love it.

Not only do we get a great flick here, but we get a nice supplement section as well. Along with the requisite trailer (the trailers from the other two sequels to this film are oddly not included - a jarring oversight considering they probably won't see DVD anytime soon), we get a photo gallery, cast and crew info, and the previously mentioned commentary track with film historian Tom Weaver. Weaver's commentary is fast and furious... and I mean FAST. Sometimes UNCOMFORTABLY so. Weaver had so much to say in the 79 minute running time of this film, that he had to just cram it in. The track quickly becomes overwhelming (and even annoying), because it's so factoid filled. It's really hard to concentrate on everything you're sucking in. It isn't a bad track, but it's not the easiest track to listen to, for me at least. But if you love the Gill Man (and you can handle it), you might want to listen to the commentary a couple of times just to make sure you get everything.

Also on board is a documentary showcasing the talents of historian David J. Skal. This is a good thing and a bad thing. I like David - I think he has a lot to offer when it comes to historical facts. Plus, he's a great documentarian. But like most people, he's not great at everything he does. As evidenced in my Frankenstein review, Skal really shouldn't act in front of a camera. But, for what it's worth, he's back and he's as hammy as ever as the host of this new documentary. He has a great voice though, and when he does the voice over work, you can't help but to listen to and enjoy everything he has to say. I really liked this documentary - almost as much as I liked the film it supports, which is a great thing indeed. A world opens up here, on the making of, the people involved and politics behind this film. It's very fun and makes the commentary track that much more forgivable. Fans should really be in hog heaven.

You have to love The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It's got a lot going for it. And on DVD, it's that much more special. This is a good special edition - not great and not the best, but it's fun and fact filled (even if you have trouble retaining the facts). As a follow-up to the original series of films, this had a lot to live up to - but it stands tall among them. The Creature may have come late, but he certainly stands among the greatest monsters of all time.

Todd Doogan
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