Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (DVD)

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep DVD (click for larger image)Starring Charlie O’Connell, Victoria Pratt, Jack Scalia, Kristi Angus, Christa Campbell

Directed by Tibor Takacs

Distributed by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Originally saddled with the terrible title Deadly Water, the Sci-Fi Channel’s website held a contest this past July for fans to come up with a new title for the film. I find it hard to believe that they really needed a contest for someone to come up with a title like Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep, a title that sounds like something the Sci-Fi Channel brass could have easily come up with on their own. After watching their latest stinker I’m thinking that next time maybe the Sci-Fi Channel should let the contest winner make the whole damn movie.

At least in Peter Benchley’s The Beast the giant squid was the focal point of the four-hour miniseries. Despite this film’s title the giant squid here is secondary to the (lack of) intrigue involving a treasure hunt you don’t give a crap about. Come to think of it, the squid comes in third behind the lead characters’ budding romance.

Things kick off in 1982 with our leading man Ray, a young boy at the time, on a boat with his mom and dad on a body of water called Desolation Passage. Ray is shown reading a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that has a giant squid on the cover. Moments later his mom and dad both fall victim to an actual giant squid.

The original plot synopsis I’d been hearing for over a year claimed that the adolescent Ray managed to put out one of the giant squid’s eyes and that’s how’d he be able to identify this specific giant squid 20+ years later as the one that killed his parents. I remember thinking that may very well have been the single most ludicrous plot point I’d ever heard. I think the filmmakers agreed since that particular aspect of the plot is nowhere to be found here. In retrospect, I’m not sure if that was a good or bad move. As dumb as that plot contrivance may have been, it at least would have been a spectacularly dumb part of a film that is otherwise remarkably unspectacular.

Jump forward to Desolation Passage again, now present day. Nicole (Victoria Pratt of “Mutant X”, “Cleopatra 2525”, and quite a few Sci-Fi Channel original movies of late) leads an expedition in search of a priceless opal. The crew consists of herself, two of her students that can’t keep their hands off one another, and an old boat captain.

You are aware that all female marine archaeologists are hot blondes, aren’t you? According to this film, it’s true. One’s a teacher and another’s a student (even though she doesn’t look that much younger) and both are hot blondes. Vicki Pratt spends most of the film in bikini tops even though Desolation Passage is said to be north of Vancouver, Canada.

Their scientific journey has just paid off with the discovery of the sunken wreckage of the ship on which that invaluable artifact – the big opal that looks like a dinosaur egg made of blue tinged glass – had been lost long ago. I won’t bother trying to explain the whole legend surrounding this opal, and frankly, I really wish the movie had spent less time talking about it, too. The legend also has to do with some ancient mask that looked to me like someone bronzed the stingray that killed the Crocodile Hunter. If only there had been a stingray around to put this movie out of its misery.

It turns out Mr. Kraken calls this sunken shipwreck home. Or could it be the legendary guardian of this famed opal? Whichever, it’s unhappy having its area violated by the world’s most photogenic marine archaeologists. The giant squid tries taking down their boat but only manages to decapitate the old captain in a brief moment of inspired stupidity.

Adult Ray (Charlie O’Connell, former co-star of brother Jerry’s “Sliders” and a former bachelor on ABC’s “The Bachelor”) now grown up, all hunky and haunted by bad memories, hears a news report about a giant squid sighting up at Desolation Passage and decides its time to settle an old score. It’s Deathwish: Calamari Style!

At least it should have been.

Ray shows up and instantly tricks Nicole into letting him onto the crew. Nicole is initially unsure but his hunkiness persuades her. Good thing too because Ray will definitely come in handy. Mechanic, skipper, lifesaver, nurse, diver, squid expert, and hunk: Ray’s a regular Bacheloroo Banzai. Between Ray and Nicole and Nicole’s two lovebird students, this isn’t an expedition for undersea treasure – it’s the freakin’ Love Boat.

Ray may have headed back up to Desolation Sound with eight-armed revenge on his mind, but the moment he laid eyes on Nicole, that parent-killing squid became the last thing on his mind. And not just his mind; the filmmakers’ as well. Ray and Nicole make constant goo-goo eyes at one another, have lunch and dinner dates, chat endlessly about her treasure hunt, and even after another encounter with the squid, he still seems more preoccupied with doing anything he can to help her out rather than doing what he went up there to do in the first place. The two have several discussions as to why it’s so damn important to her to find this legendary treasure, yet him finally telling her about his parents and why he’s after the squid is tossed out in a throwaway line as if it’s no big deal – and then it’s right back to her quest for the opal. Enough with the Greek legend gobbledygook! Isn’t this supposed to be a giant squid flick? Make with the killimari already!

Ray’s obsession with killing the giant squid that killed his parents is a lot like Captain Ahab’s obsession with killing Moby Dick only I don’t recall Ahab spending the majority of the story trying to get into Queequeg’s pants.

As if the whole middling mess involving that opal wasn’t lame enough, in true Sci-Fi Channel original movie fashion, a human villain has to be introduced to the proceedings for no particular reason other than to include a human villain element. God forbid they actually make a giant killer squid movie that’s actually about people contending with a giant killer squid. This is the Sci-Fi Channel’s favorite bad cliché. Hell, I think the Sci-Fi Channel actually dictates that all Sci-Fi Channel filmmakers include some sort of evil corporate type, military bad guy, devious scientist, dangerous terrorist, or corrupt whatever.

Enter veteran TV actor Jack Scalia (20 years ago he’d have been playing Ray instead) as Maxwell Odemus, a wealthy Greek shipping magnate whose family is also a notorious crime family. Scalia shows up dressed like Steven Seagal, talking like a Mafia legbreaker with a bad fake Greek accent and milking that cigar of his like a Borscht Belt comedian. It’s not a good performance by any stretch of the imagination – and it’s an even lamer character to boot – but at least Scalia gets it. He knows what kind of movie this is supposed to be as opposed to O’Connell and Pratt, both of whom come across like a couple of wet drips. Pratt’s pleasant enough and easy on the eyes, but there’s nothing to her character and no good reason why her character and her quest for this opal should take center stage over O’Connell’s squid vengeance. As for Charlie O’Connell – an actor can only coast by on being hunky for so long before he actually has to start, you know, acting.

Odemus shows up with a few henchmen and a henchwoman – all of whom clearly exist solely to provide the squid with a few extra bodies to wrap its tentacles around later on – determined to beat Nicole and her researcher group to the precious opal. This leads to quite a bit of strife between the two parties, only a little of which will have anything to do with the giant squid the movie is named for. If you want an idea how riveting the addition of Odemus is to the proceedings, one plot twist has Nicole’s boat being burned down by Odemus’ top goon. A distraught Nicole declares that their expedition is over as well as, judging by her melodrama, her life. Less than two minutes later – wait for it – Ray blows his entire life savings that we didn’t even know he had to buy some guy’s speedboat right there on the spot, thus putting them back in the hunt for the opal. Whoa, that was suspenseful.

But then why should one expect suspense from a film that ends by showing one of the main characters being nabbed by the giant squid and pulled underwater to their death in exactly the same manner we had just seen two other characters perish moments earlier only to have this main character show up alive and seemingly unharmed moments later with no legitimate explanation as to how or why the squid didn’t kill them. A total cheat. A bad cheat.

There are a few fleeting moments of squidly goodness, almost all of which don’t occur until the final minutes of the film. The sight of O’Connell and Pratt wildly swinging axes (Where did those come from anyway?) at the squid’s attacking tentacles made for an amusing scene, almost as much as seeing O’Connell going all Rambo on the squid with a machine gun. There’s also a bit earlier on where we learn that this squid is actually smart enough to know how to sever a scuba diver’s air hose. That was quite the moment.

For the most part the squid attacks are among the least suspenseful ever seen in an animal gone amok type of flick. Some tentacles pop out the water and wriggle around. Victims get knocked overboard and tread water until they’re pulled down and a burst of blood bubbles to the surface. In underwater attacks the victims get wrapped up in its tentacles; lots of thrashing about followed by a shot of the not-so-convincing squid moving in or reeling them in for the kill. The squid is boring; the way it kills is boring. Some shots of the computer generated squid in action have it moving in such an unnaturally jerky manner that a squid hand puppet would have been an improvement.

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep reminded me a bit of Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid in that its titular critters weren’t really the focal point of the film. Although the anacondas still had more to do with the proceedings of their film than the giant squid does in this clunker. There’s barely any giant squid in the first hour. If you completely removed the giant squid element from this plot, it really wouldn’t have made that huge of an impact aside from requiring the screenplay to find a different means by which to kill off some of the characters. The movie is named after it, but it’s not the star. It’s just there, and even when it’s there, it’s still nothing special. Even the screwy attempt to tie the squid into the legend surrounding the opal flops badly.

The makers of Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep have made the biggest mistake the makers of this type of film ever can: They’ve reduced the title monster to being nothing more than a recurring plot device that isn’t even the centerpiece of the film. If you’re going to make such a film, fine; just don’t name the damn movie after it and hype it as something that it’s really not.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep other than it simply being a sucky movie.

1 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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