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Mysterious creature of the deep

Published January 12. 2013 09:04AM

It was one of my favorite adventure movies growing up and I looked forward to it each time I knew it would be on television. "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" with Kirk Douglas and James Mason was one of those films that stuck with me throughout my life. I hardly ever missed seeing it when it was on television. Captain Nemo as portrayed by Mason was one of the first anti-hero villains I remember and his performance was stellar. Granted it was an adventure movie but it still snagged two Oscars in 1955 for Best Art Direction and Best Effects, Special Effects.

For those unfamiliar with the Jules Verne novel of the same name on which the movie is based, Captain Nemo is the captain of the Nautilus, a submarine at the center of ocean liners being attacked and sunk by a mysterious creature thought to be a narwhal which is a medium sized whale. When a harpoonist named Ned Land played by Douglas is sent to capture or kill the mysterious creature, he and his companions Professor Aronnax and Conseil escape the ship as it is attacked by the sea monster. As they find themselves trapped in the water, the creature comes up under them and they learn it is not an animal but a metal ship. At that point they soon find themselves inside the Nautilus and guests or prisoners of Captain Nemo.

Nemo takes them on a tour exploring and showcasing the wonders of the seas and oceans. As they spend time with him, they learn he is on a mission to avenge the death of his family at the hands of a foreign government. In the story, his motivations are less clear, but his method of vengeance, sinking enemy ships, is the same. At one point the Nautilus is attacked by the Kraken, a giant squid fabled to rule the ocean depths. In the movie they fight the giant beast off but not without a cost. One crew member is swallowed by the monster.

The giant squid or the kraken which is a Norse legend that is first mentioned in the Middle Ages. It is believed that this sea monster is based on sightings of real giant squid off the coasts of those countries by sailors.

Their estimates placed some of these squid at 40 to 50 feet long. They became the basis of legends about the giant squid which normally swim deep in ocean but sometimes surface and are sighted by sailors. There have been several sightings of these beasts throughout history and while the largest ones have been estimated to be over 66 feet, there is no evidential proof of that size. Most of the remains that were found inside of whales and other creatures were no more than 30 to 40 feet in length far less than the 66 feet described by accounts.

Periodically giant squid would be found stranded on beaches throughout the world and while scientists are not sure, they believe it could be due to the temporary redistribution of cold water in the oceans according to Wikipedia. Thanks to scientific study, by 2004 over 600 giant squid were estimated to exist in the world's oceans. While there has been footage of these animals shown throughout the years, no one has been able to capture footage of the live, healthy adult squid in its natural environment. That is up until now.

On Tuesday, news channels reported that a crew from NKH and the Discovery Channel have successfully filmed an adult giant squid around 2,000 feet under the surface swimming off the coast of Chichi Island. They spent hundreds of hours hunting and searching, but their perseverance paid off with footage that will air on the Discovery Channel program "Curiosity" at the end of the month.

While the squid is nowhere near as large as Captain Nemo's alleged nemesis, the giant squid still remains as one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep. It also makes me wonder what else could be lurking deep under the sea. For all of our technological advances and pioneering, it is still amazing how much of our planet still remains unexplored especially in the depths of the seas. The stone highways off the coast of Florida submerged in the ocean leads to much speculation as to what may have silently slipped below the depths centuries or millennia ago.

Unfortunately, Nemo eventually crosses paths with the warship that killed his family in the film (or was from the country of his persecution in the novel) and he destroys it which took him to the depths of depression.

He eventually guides the Nautilus into a whirlpool where it is presumably destroyed but not before freeing his prisoners. Verne resurrected Nemo in a later novel "The Mysterious Island" but the Disney screenplay indicates Nemo died with his crew.

In any case, it is a fascinating book and film that not only depicted the giant squid and nuclear submarines, but became prophetic in a way in that Verne foresaw the submarine's utility decades before the modern submarine came into common use and then employed a nuclear reactor for power. Verne's stories are incredibly prophetic and that is what makes this legendary master endure.

Til next time…

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