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DVD Review: The Giant Behemoth

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The middle film of director Eugene Lourie's unofficial giant monster trilogy, The Giant Behemoth is the cheapest of his films in this genre. It's a shame, too. After singlehandedly starting it in 1953 with the classic Beast From 20,000 Fathoms he should never have been stuck with such a small film. While he would redeem himself with Gorgo a few years later, it's still hard to swallow Behemoth.

A major criticism of Behemoth is how familiar this film is. While it does have some things in common with Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, they're on entirely different levels of entertainment. The original script called for the threat to be invisible or a gelatinous blob, but the studio wouldn't allow it.

Stuck with designing the monster and animating it via stop motion, the budget was sapped. Likewise, the short shooting schedule leaves drawings of the creature in the human drama incorrect even after the monster has been seen in plain view. The final design must not have been nailed down until late into the shoot.

What the audience is left with is a 90-minute monster movie in which the monster is on screen for 15 minutes. Within the opening moments, star Gene Evans gives us the basic information on what spawns the beast. The rest of the movie hits the cliché rut of explaining everything while various attacks happen off-screen.

There's far too much banter between scientists as they try to decipher clues the audience could have easily put together themselves. Worse, much of the dialogue is recited multiple times, and the viewer is forced to endure the conversation as more useless characters are given a rundown of what they know up to that point in the film. The number of scientists in this one has to be record-setting.

The first real appearance of the Behemoth is not the proper entrance. A stiff, immobile, and completely unconvincing puppet begins dismantling a small boat (an obvious miniature). It's hardly a terrifying moment, and on an interesting side note, was cut from the Warner Bros. VHS release, and finally included on this DVD release, making it the first time it’s been seen on home video.

The other appearances of the beast are handled via stop motion animation. Willis O'Brien, the man who gave life to King Kong in the early 1930s, is credited. Reports have indicated failing health forced his role to be more passive. Pete Peterson, who handled some of the effects on the far better 1957 piece, The Black Scorpion, is regarded as handling the animation. That, along with a meager budget, means the animation is quicker and cheaper than usual.

Numerous shots are repeated, including one of the monster's foot crushing a car. As the creature moves inland, numerous shots focus on its head while a repetitive background attempts to show forward motion. Adding to the cheapness is the Behemoth's "power," the ability to shoot radioactive waves of some kind that burn anyone close by. This leads to some graphic deaths, especially for 1959, as numerous charred remains stay on screen. However, the "beams" look pasted onto the film at the last minute.

That's not to say there's nothing of merit. The long-necked critter does have a few shining moments. Its attack on an electrical line is spectacular. It's the only time Behemoth feels like a true 1950’s monster flick. Meager destruction, sloppy editing, and blatantly obvious repeating cycles mar any other successful moments. Those looking closely can also visibly see the model deforming or tearing as the shots continue on, especially towards the feet.

For fans of this quirky genre, Behemoth is an oddity worth tracking down, mostly because of the names attached to it. Beast From 20,000 Fathoms fans will enjoy the brief stop motion, and Gorgo followers get to see a semi-dry run for that classic. Anyone else would be unlikely to last long enough to see the mildly enjoyable payoff at the end.

Warner has a winner on DVD. This is a clean, sharp transfer. Detail is staggeringly high for a low budget affair like this. While some excessive dirt and beaten up stock footage do drop this down a bit, this is a superior presentation. Black levels are rich, and high end whites (due to some excessive lighting at times) are maintained beautifully.

A basic mono audio effort performs as expected. There are some minor instances where static can be heard when switching to a new scene, though these are hardly a distraction. The generic monster roar comes through cleanly.

Warner went a little further for this DVD release by calling in modern effects masters Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett for a commentary track. Unfortunately, they have trouble recalling some quintessential films, mistakenly identify some actors, and while a smarmy tone is expected, they constantly remind the viewer of how boring this movie is. Aside from that, it’s a lively discussion on how these movies came to be, even if they don’t take it seriously. A trailer, in great condition, is the only other extra.

Muren repeatedly states he has the model used in the film during the commentary. This leads to the inevitable question: Why is there no footage of the model as it is now on this disc?

It’s nothing more than a tease at this point. Even a few still pictures would have been nice. That’s the most disappointing aspect of the disc, aside from the film itself of course.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.