Bermuda Depths, The (Blu-ray Review) – The Digital Bits | Episode Movies

  • Reviewed by: Stefan Bjork
  • Examination date: November 23, 2022
  • Format: Blu Ray Disc
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Bermuda Depths, The (Blu-ray Review)

director

Tsugunobu Kotani

release dates)

1978 (March 30, 2021)

Studio(s)

Rankin / Bass Productions / Tsuburaya Productions (Warner Archive Collection)

  • Film/program grade: B
  • Video quality: A+
  • Audio quality: A-
  • extra class: B

The Depths of Bermuda (Blu-ray)

Buy it here!

review

What do you get when you cross Rankin/Bass, Burl Ives, Carl Weathers, Connie Sellecca, the Bermuda Triangle, Moby Dick, Jawa saccharine but memorable theme song, and, oh, a giant sea turtle too?

The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.

The Bermuda Depths was the second of three television movies Rankin/Bass made in association with Tsuburaya Productions between 1977 and 1980, along with The Last Dinosaur and The Ivory Monkey. Those of us who saw it when it originally aired have since burned images of it into our brains. Unfortunately during The Last Dinosaur was relatively easy to catch in reps, The Bermuda Depths disappeared without a trace, leaving little but memories that became increasingly blurred over time. Those dreamlike mental images were all most of us had as proof the film ever existed, as it remained largely lost on home video for decades. In fact, over the years I’ve wondered if I’d just imagined the whole thing, since in the pre-internet era there were very few ways to research obscure productions like this. While Warner Bros. eventually released it on VHS in 1992, that wasn’t a tape that was easy to find anywhere, and it was also an abridged version of the film. When Warner Archive finally released an uncut Manufacturing-on-Demand DVD in 2009, it was cause for celebration. I bought a copy but unfortunately I was never able to get the MOD disc to play on any of my players. Fast forward to 2021, and Warner Archive has upgraded this disc to an honest Blu-ray, remastered in glorious high definition. The stuff of dreams finally became reality 43 years later.

It’s fair to question those fuzzy childhood memories of a spooky movie about a giant mystical turtle, because the entirety of The Bermuda Depths immersed in a correspondingly dreamlike atmosphere. Reality and imagination blend throughout the narrative, with protagonist Magnus’ (Leigh McCloskey) perceptions openly challenged by all other characters. His mental state remains controversial from start to finish. Since we see almost everything through his eyes, including events he couldn’t have witnessed in person, it’s fair to question the reality of what appears to be happening on screen. This is also why the inherent artificiality of Tsuburaya Productions’ stylized visual effects works perfectly in this context. The miniatures look like children’s toys, and given the nature of the story, they should look just like that. Even the fact that the giant tortoise sounds inappropriately like a humpback whale makes perfect sense from this perspective. (It’s also an excuse for Carl Weathers mispronouncing the word “coelacanth” at one point, since Magnus himself probably wouldn’t have known how to pronounce it correctly.)

Screenwriter William Overgard openly raised his Moby Dick-inspired ending by Peter Benchley Jawbut since Carl Gottlieb completely rewrote that ending for Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, it doesn’t feel derivative The Bermuda Depths. More importantly, the supernatural undertones Overgard added to the story give its ending a completely different feel, particularly in the way the coda plays afterward. Everything remains vague, and that is what makes the film so haunting. Ultimately, the question of whether the whole story is reality or fantasy isn’t particularly important. All that matters is that viewers are given a subjective experience from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know the difference between the two. For Magnus, perception is reality, and so is the essence of cinema itself. There is The Bermuda Depths a timeless quality that transcends all outdated elements and therefore still resonates decades after it was first broadcast. It’s an eclectic potpourri of ideas borrowed from other works and manages to combine them into a uniquely surrealistic experience that lingers long after the credits have rolled. If you dismiss this memorable Rankin/Bass production as just “kids stuff,” that’s your own loss.

Cameraman Jeri Sopanen was shooting The Bermuda Depths on 35mm film with Panavision cameras with spherical lenses. As a television production, it was originally shown full-frame at 1.33:1, although it was matted to 1.85:1 for its international theatrical release. Both versions are offered here, but sopanes are clearly framed to 1.33:1, since the picture is too narrow at 1.85:1. This presentation uses a 4K restoration performed by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging and while the Warner Archive press release did not state that it was a scan of the original camera negative, it could not possibly have been anything else. The results speak for themselves – the MPI crew gave this broadcast a wealth of TLC, frame by frame. While the aperture tiles and all optical composites naturally look softer and grainier than the surrounding material baked into the elements, those flaws are accurately reproduced here. Everything else is finely detailed and immaculately clean, with hardly a stain in sight, let alone any sign of significant damage. The encoding is nearly flawless, and despite the fact that both framings are included on the same disc, the bit rate for the 1.33:1 version remains consistently above 35 Mpbs for all but the simplest recordings. Contrast and black levels are both excellent and the colors are simply stunning – the lush greens and iridescent azure of the sea and sky really add to the film’s enhanced atmosphere. This is a reference quality transfer from the Warner archives and a fantastic job by everyone involved.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Clarity is good and there is no audible hiss, hiss or distortion. Because the original mix favored production audio, dialogue is generally well integrated into the soundstage. There’s not much in the way of deep bass, but Maury Laws’ score still has some depth, and his unforgettably maudlin title track comes through loud and clear. (The lyrics for this were written by none other than Jules Bass himself, and they’re arguably a bit too clear, so try to ignore them if you’re watching the film for the first time – it gave too much of the story upfront. )

The following extras are included:

  • Audio commentary by Amanda Reyes and Lance Vaughan
  • 1.85:1 version

The comment features Amanda Reyes, the editor of Are you alone in the house: A television film compendium 1964-1999as well as Lance Vaughan from the website child trauma. Interestingly, they point out that other people have wondered if they only dreamed of seeing the film, so that seems to have been an in-universe experience. Reyes and Vaughan spend considerable time addressing the film’s dreamlike picture-book quality and provide a wealth of background information. They cover the cast and crew, including director Tsugunobu Kotani (aka Tom Kotani), who directed all three of these TV movies for Rankin/Bass. They also talk about the relationship between Rankin/Bass and Tsuburaya Productions. While Reyes struggles with pronouncing many names, she openly admits this fact and it’s hard not to be drawn in by the breathless energy they both exude throughout the track.

Since The Bermuda Depths Full screen was composed at 1.33:1, Warner Archive chose to include the 1.85:1 version as an extra rather than as the primary viewing option. It’s a matte version of the same master, but they prioritized the 1.33:1 version when authoring the disc, so it runs at a significantly lower bitrate. It still shares similar characteristics to the main one, but it’s offered here for completeness rather than as a compelling alternative.

The Bermuda Depths may have a loyal following, but it’s still a small one, so kudos to Warner Archive for giving the film that kind of loving attention. For the hopes they can give The Ivory Monkey and specially The Last Dinosaur equally outstanding Blu-rays – Richard Boone’s breathtaking performance in the latter really deserves to be seen in high definition. Despite it, The Bermuda Depths is positive proof that all you need is love when it comes to quality home video releases (well, a little restoration budget doesn’t hurt either).

– Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

keywords

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