The Bermuda Depths

Director: Tom Kotani
Leigh McCloskey, Carl Weathers, Connie Sellecca, Burl Ives

More than fifty years ago, crooner Dean Martin first sang the hit song Memories Are Made Of This. In the song, he sang of certain things that make memories, such as "two sips of wine", which I believe because whenever I drink more than two sips of wine, I wake up feeling terrible in the morning and unable to remember a thing about the night before. All kidding aside, I have to admit that Dino made some good points in the song, that being that many of the various memories that we have in our minds are made up of pleasant experiences. Pleasant experiences that we never had anything to compare to before. But I would also like to point out that all of us have plenty of memories that are not necessarily pleasant experiences. For instance, there are memories burned into our brains that are of unpleasant experiences. True, occasionally there are some unpleasant experiences that we have somehow managed to block from our minds. When I look at my right hand, I see a gigantic scar on one finger that my parents said came from me sticking my finger into the gap of a closing door when I was very young. Somehow I have forgotten the great pain I must have felt at the time. But there are other painful experiences I remember in great detail despite so many years have passed, like when I put my hands on a hot kettle when I was five years old. Then there are memories we have of incidents that may not have physically hurt, but provided enough trauma that one can't shake them from their mind even with the passing of many decades. I think I have mentioned in a past review that I was a passenger in a car accident when I was very young, and while I was not physically hurt, I'll remember the collision forever.

We all have memories that are good, and we also have memories that cause us to wince whenever they come up in our minds. But I would like to talk a little about a third kind of memory. This memory is neither good nor bad. It's just... there. It's the kind of memory that nags in our mind because we don't have all the information about it that would satisfy us and be able to place it on a shelf in our brains that has a label reading, "Understood". What kind of memory I am talking about? I am talking about movies that we saw as a child, either in their entirety or just a scene or two of. Let me explain this with a couple of such murky movie memories I had for years as a child. One day when I was quite young, I saw the climactic scene of a movie on television. Taking place in a washroom, it involved a woman beating the crap out of a cop who was trying to take her down. During the struggle, the woman's blouse was ripped, and her breasts were exposed, which was an eye-raiser for me, having never seen nudity on television before. I didn't know the title of the movie, nor could I find it for years afterwards until I rented a 1974 movie one day that I had been meaning to watch for years. The movie was Freebie And The Bean, and imagine my shock when I saw the scene unfold again in front of me... and imagine my embarrassment when I saw that the woman whose blouse got ripped off was really a man dressed in woman's clothing. Obviously, when I first saw the scene as a youngster, I had not been well taught at this point of my life about controversial topics like men who dress up in drag.

Another movie segment that I saw as a child that was burned into my brain was the last part of the movie Duel At Diablo. If you read my review for that movie, you'll see that the memory of it deeply burned into my brain as a youngster, but for years afterwards I could not find out the The Bermuda Depthsname of the movie until the Internet was wide spread among the public. Anyway, by now you have probably concluded that the movie I am reviewing here - The Bermuda Depths - happens to be a movie that was burned in the mind. Well, yes... but not with me. Over the years since I first got a computer and the Internet, I have come across an extraordinary number of people who saw this movie as children but could not remember its title as adults. I have personally been e-mailed by a few people describing the movie and pleading with me to tell them what the title was. The fact so many adults are puzzled by memories of  the movie eventually got me to track down a copy so I could see what on earth could haunt so many people for more than three decades, as well as provide an answer to people searching for the movie's title on the Internet. A Rankin-Bass production, the movie concerns a young man named Magnus Dens (McCloskey, Lucky Stiff). When he was a child and living in Bermuda, he was friends with a young girl named Jennie. One day, the two close friends wrote their initials on the shell of a turtle, but shortly afterwards Magnus watched the young Jennie take off to sea with the turtle and vanish from his life. That night, at the seaside home of his father, Magnus' father was killed by an unseen gigantic force coming from the ocean. Years later, Magnus is grown up and has returned to Bermuda after a long absence. He reunites with an old friend named Eric (Weathers, Action Jackson), who is working under the guidance of one Dr. Paulis (Ives, Hugo The Hippo). Eric and Dr. Paulis are interested in uncovering undocumented marine life in the area - specifically, what appears to be a gigantic turtle judging from massive turtle footprints found on the sand of a nearby beach. While this creature pursuit is going on, Magnus has some mysterious encounters with a young woman (Selleca, Hotel). He eventually realizes that she's his long lost childhood playmate Jennie. But he also learns that there is a local legend about a mysterious spirit from the sea named "Jennie Haniver", who can appear as a little girl or a young woman. It's unclear if Jennie is a woman, spirit or a hallucination, but she sure seems to know a lot about the turtle the three men are pursuing. Could this turtle be...?

Although I don't like to consider myself to be that old, at the same time I have to admit that more than a few decades have passed since I was a kid. Because of that, I find it hard to determine how I would have reacted to The Bermuda Depths if I had seen it as a child like all those present day adults who are haunted by childhood memories of the movie. But I think all the same I can understand why the movie burned into the minds of those impressionable children years ago, because this adult viewer found some elements of the movie things he won't forget for a long time, if ever. For one thing, the musical score by Maury Laws (The Flight Of Dragons) is very haunting, from the eerie opening credits song Jennie (penned with Rankin-Bass honcho Jules Bass) to the use of classical composer Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto In D Major 2nd Movement at several different moments during the movie. Come to think about it, the word that I used to describe the music - "haunting" - can be used to describe some other aspects of the movie that almost certainly also stuck in kids' minds. When it comes to the visual portion of the movie, there are some images that are extremely striking. I am sure kids who sat down to watch this movie in 1978 were instantly transfixed by the opening credits sequence, showing Jennie swimming deep down in crystal clear ocean water with no scuba equipment. After the credits have played out, it is followed by an extraordinarily striking (and haunting!) composed shot that introduces us to Magnus. And the several minutes long flashback sequence that immediately follows forces the audience to carefully observe with their eyes the mysterious going-ons that happened in the past, since hardly a word is spoken in this segment. I think this flashback would have been even more haunting and magical had those few unnecessary spoken words not been uttered, but that's a minor quibble. These first few minutes of The Bermuda Depths are 99 44/100% magic. Not quite perfect, but there's more magic in this opening than with many other movies in their entirety.

These first few minutes of The Bermuda Depths is just an example as to how the movie will burn into the brain of viewers (both kids and adults) with its visuals as well as with its soundtrack. There are other examples later on, but I will leave it to you to watch the movie if you want to find them out. Next, I want to describe another reason why I think the movie stuck with kids all of these years - the screenplay. Written by William Overgard (The Last Dinosaur) from a story from Rankin-Bass honcho Arthur Rankin Jr., the story has some elements that I am sure kids were surprised by after previously ingesting many happy and triumphant formula stories from other movies. There is an underlying feeling of sadness to much of the movie. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) We have a protagonist who loses his father as well as his best friend when he's only a boy. When the protagonist is grown up and is reunited with his childhood sweetheart (now a grown woman), there is a clear feeling of doubt right from the start that a relationship could ever work between the two. And at the end of the movie, all of the (surviving) main characters are far from being in a position of happiness and contentment. Sad and downer touches like these further makes it no wonder kids who saw The Bermuda Depths at the time remembered it for years afterwards... though their present day memories seem to have forgotten the movie's ample shortcomings. To start to explain these, let me continue to look at the screenplay a little longer. The story has some plot elements that are never properly explained. It's not made very clear why Magnus' father was killed by the mysterious ocean force, for example. Later, when tracks of a turtle that is as big as a house are discovered, it doesn't cause anything near the expected firestorm that would happen in real life. It gets sillier when Eric decides he will track down and kill the elusive gigantic turtle, not seeming to realize that doing so would cause a great public backlash, even though it was the less politically correct time of 1978 when the movie was made.

Probably the most disappointing writing found in the script for The Bermuda Depths comes with the central characters of Magnus and Jennie. Often their dialogue and actions comes across as not only murky, but at times makes them idiots. We don't learn why Jennie attached herself to Magnus as a child, or why she abruptly left one day and remained missing for years afterwards. It's not shown why later the adult Jennie is in love with Magnus, or why she is so hesitant to give Magnus a good explanation to what has happened between them. For that matter, Magnus has the opportunity a few times to demand some sort of explanation from Jennie, but never does so. Such poor and unbelievable character construction really hurts the movie. I will say that despite these scripted problems, the cast does their best to do a professional job, giving warm and likable performances. Some of that has to come from director Tom Kotani (The Last Dinosaur), who also manages to make for the most part a good looking movie in part to Jeri Sopanen's photography. However, there is one aspect of the movie where Kotani is helpless to make passable what's on the screen, and that happens to be the special effects. Although the movie is far from being wall-to-wall special effects, there are some key moments that depend on special effects, and they are abysmal. From matte painting backgrounds that tremble slightly, to boats and helicopters that look like children's toys placed in a bathtub, the effects are pure cheese, and distract us from what's happening to the characters. In another movie, like a dumbed-down action movie, maybe I could have accepted these poor special effects. But The Bermuda Depths is more serious in nature, so the poor quality of the special effects feels shabbier next to this sober treatment. With the bad special effects and the often poor writing, I think that many people who have fond memories of this movie as a child will be somewhat let down by a revisit as an adult. Still, I will state again that there are some truly magical moments to be found in The Bermuda Depths. Just keep in mind that is much different from saying that the movie is a truly magical experience.

(Posted September 6, 2017)

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See also: The Brothers Lionheart, Hugo The Hippo, The Last Unicorn