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Defending the underdog (or under-cephalopod)!

Warning: this review contains statements defending Octopus II. Other critics reviewing the film clearly despise it. Draw your own conclusions!

This low-budget sequel to the equally low-budget, though enjoyable, monster flick, Octopus, is essentially Jaws with tentacles (at least at heart).

Set in New York -- more specifically in and around New York harbour -- the Octopus of the title arrives State-side with minimal explanation and begins surreptitiously munching on assorted denizens of the Big Apple's foreshores. Our protagonist is a harbour patrol cop (Burke), who is the first to realise that he and his soon-to-retire partner are not dealing with an ordinary homicidal maniac. Naturally, his theories about (and then direct experience of) the Big Cephalopod that is threatening to disrupt millennial July 4 celebrations are treated with contempt by his stupidly abusive superiors. The mayor wants a peaceful and uneventful harbour-front fireworks event (tourism is important, you know) and is not willing to listen to anything that threatens to disrupt it -- stricken boats, smashed wharves and dead bodies notwithstanding (when oh! when will they learn?). So it's power-driven self-interest versus public safety, with our hero (and the mayor's disaffected female aide) racing against the odds to prevent a catastrophe.

Despite the familiar nature of that synopsis, Octopus II isn't that bad a film at all. It's not original or groundbreaking, but is a reasonable low-end monster flick that holds interest and looks pretty good. Filming along the foreshores of the Hudson River and on location around NY harbour offered a great opportunity for the filmmakers to give the movie a picturesque quality; the filmmakers took the opportunity and the open, sunny setting makes the whole thing sparkle. The film also has decent acting and direction, OK dialogue and competent cinematography. More importantly, it has a monster that seems part rubber, part CGI and part real octopus, which we get to see just often enough to keep us interested. Arguably there's a tad too much flailing about with rubber tentacles, but Wein's direction keeps things visually on edge during these moments and the acting has made us care about the fate of the main characters. There is a well-crafted climactic action sequence, too, involving a scuba-driven attack on the octopus's lair, damage to one of the harbour tunnels accessing Manhattan Island, a bus-load of kids (including Brave Girl-in-Wheelchair and Mayor's Female Aide, now Hero's Love Interest), collapsing concrete, flooding water, car crashes, old lady and dog, long urgent climb, and imminent death. Even though it looks a bit like it comes from a different movie, it's all rather effectively suspenseful, despite cliches.

In fact, the whole movie worked for me despite the cliches because generally it was done well enough to transcend its cliche-ness. Hence I was willing to ignore annoying logistical problems, too (such as the inappropriate repetition of SFX shots and the school bus with kids that takes a hell-of-a-long time to get to the scene of the inevitable climax, with constant cutting between bus interior, external shots of bus en route, scuba-guys attacking octopus, and crowds involved in ID celebrations). Admittedly the final token re-appearance of the octopus just when we thought it was dead (oh, yes?) is all rather indicative of the fact that the filmmakers were having trouble organising the pieces into an appropriate ending (especially as the main climax barely involved the octopus at all, so the beastie HAD to come back, didn't it?). But I found myself forgiving all that.

One reason for this forgiving attitude came from the fact that the filmmakers include a bit of giant monster destruction just for those of us who want our giant octopi to act more like Harryhausen's animated model version in the classic It Came From Beneath the Sea. Hidden menaces are all very well but sometimes you just want them to get some confidence, come out into the open and wreck stuff. Well, fear not! There's a nifty scene where the octopus, rather bigger than it has been up to that point, attacks the Statue of Liberty, terrorising the gathered crowds, ripping off Liberty's head and sending the hero plummeting to his doom. It turns out to be a dream sequence, but the filmmakers clearly wanted to put in a bit of giant monster mayhem even if it didn't really fit with the scenario, and this was the best way to manage it. They gain kudos there, so I'm inclined to grant them the less-than-satisfying (even cursory) ending.

In short, this is a fairly unoriginal low-budget monster film, but what the hell? If you like that sort of thing, it's enjoyable. If not, why did you read this review?

Octopus II

[aka Octopus 2: River of Fear]


Country: US

Language: English


Ratio: 4:3 in the version I watched (Hollywood DVD)

Production date: 2001

Director: Yossi Wein

Writing: Michael D. Weiss

Michael Reilly Burke
Hartfeld Meredith Morton
Fredric Lehne
John Thaddeus
Chris Williams
Stoyan Angelov
Paul Vincent O'Connor
Clement Blake
Duncan Fraser

Producer: Boaz Davidson

Production Company:
Martien Holdings A.V.V. [US]
Nu Image [US]

Original Music: Bill Wandel

Cinematography: Peter Belcher

Effects Supervisor: Willie Botha

Rating: **1/2

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copyright©Robert Hood 2004

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