And You Call Yourself a AScientist!

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PETER BENCHLEY'S CREATURE (1998)

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“What if Bishop was able to micro-inject a portion of the human genome into the early stages of the shark foetus?”
“No, no, no! He could never get the DNA to incorporate or replicate!”
“But – if he could…?”

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Director: Stuart Gillard

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Kim Cattrall, Giancarlo Esposito, Matthew Carey, Cress Williams, Colm Feore, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Blu Mankuma, Michael Reilly Burke, Gary Reineke, Michael Michele, John Aylward, Michael Aubertin

Screenplay: Rockne S. O’Bannon, based upon a novel by Peter Benchley

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Synopsis:  In 1972, Lt Aaron Richland (Colm Feore) travels to a secret island naval research base in response to a request for more funds from project head, Dr Ernest Bishop (Gary Reineke). Richland is met by Ensign Thomas Peniston (Giancarlo Esposito), who tells him that the extra money is required for “security and safety”. Bishop shows Richland one of the results of his research: a hybrid, part shark, part dolphin – a trainable killer. But there is something else at the facility…. As Bishop demonstrates his hybrid’s killing ability, an unseen creature in the next tank goes berserk. Suddenly, the animal succeeds in lifting the metal door to its tank. It launches itself through the gap and slaughters both the hybrid and three men who fall in during the attempt to subdue it. One of the men is Bishop. Richland fires at the creature repeatedly, and it submerges. Peniston realises to his horror that it is heading for the open ocean. He races out to the end of the dock and succeeds in capturing the creature in a cage-trap. He then takes a boat and heads out to sea with the trap, as Richland screams at him to kill the thing. Peniston raises a rifle but, as the creature looks at him with strange light eyes, finds that he cannot do it. He cuts the cage free and, as it sinks into the water, cries hysterically that he is sorry, so sorry…. Twenty-five years later, West Indies-based shark researcher Dr Simon Chase (Craig T. Nelson) and his assistant, Tall Man (Cress Williams), clash with a boatload of sport fishermen. Chase yells furiously that the great white shark that one of the men has hooked is a pregnant female that he has been monitoring. When the fishermen are unmoved, Chase dives in and cuts the weary animal free. Boat owner Ben Madeira (John Aylward) threatens revenge. Meanwhile, local poacher/scavenger Adam Puckett (Michael Reilly Burke) hooks something odd with his drag-line: a large metal cage. As he pulls it up, something passes beneath his boat…. Elsewhere, the fishermen are trying again. When his young assistant loses his headset into the water, Madeira leans in to grab it, only to be dragged into the water and to disappear in a cloud of blood. Chase and Tall Man rush to the airport to meet Chase’s ex-wife, Dr Amanda Mayson (Kim Cattrall), and his teenage son, Max (Matthew Carey). Amanda, herself a marine biologist, has rearranged her research to allow Max to spend time with his father. Before long, Chase and Amanda are arguing as of old. The discomforted Max announces that he is going to explore the island, and soon falls in with a group of local teenagers – including the lovely Elizabeth Gibson (Megalyn Echikunwoke), the daughter of the island’s Chief Constable. At the docks, Chief Gibson (Blu Mankuma) greets Chase with the news that Ben Madeira has been killed, and accuses him of concealing his knowledge of the great white shark’s proximity to the island. Chase examines the body, and announces that a white could not have caused the injuries. He further argues that a white would not have pulled a man off a boat, but none of the locals will listen. Down on the beach, Puckett tries to sell the metal cage to a scrap dealer. He is watched closely by a homeless man, whose erratic behaviour and periodic howling have earned him the nickname “Werewolf”. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is trying to talk Max out of joining in the local boys’ game of cliff-jumping. However, the leader of the teens, Kimo (Michael Aubertin), taunts Max roundly before jumping in himself, and Max immediately responds. As he plunges beneath the waters, Max can only look on in horror as Kimo is attacked and killed by a strange, terrifying creature – one like a shark, and yet – not like one at all….

Comments:  Poor Peter Benchley. Few things could be as painful for a professional writer than constantly to have it made clear to you that other people think that they can do a better job than yourself – with your own material. It certainly happened with Benchley’s novel “Jaws”, and in that case those “other people” – namely, director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, and (just as importantly as either of the other two) editor Verna Fields – were absolutely right. “Jaws”, the novel, is a pretty poor piece of writing. It’s a potboiler; an airport book; a beach book, ironically; a mechanical effort with scenes of sex and violence inserted so regularly you can almost hear Benchley counting off the pages in between them. In contrast, Jaws, the motion picture, is a brilliant piece of film-making; one of the best action/adventure films ever made, and a film that I can love in spite of all the lies it tells about sharks – and the real world consequences of those lies. And while it must have galled Benchley to know that, in truth, he had little to do with the quality of Jaws, still there was the fact that people associated his name with a great film – and that his ratty little novel had earned him squillions of dollars.

It is unlikely, however, that Benchley could subsequently find much personal consolation in the quality of the adaptation of his later novel, “White Shark”.

Peter Benchley did in fact submit a screenplay – actually, several screenplays – for the filming of “White Shark”, which was eventually made under the stunningly original title of Creature. However, the producers felt that Benchley’s adaptation of his own novel was “not quite right”, and handed the project over to TV science fiction veteran Rockne S. O’Bannon. (O’Bannon last appeared at this website as director of Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare.) I haven’t read “White Shark”, so I can’t comment upon the quality of the novel. I do, however, know enough about it to know what changes were made during its transference to the television screen. “White Shark” was set in and around the waters of New England, and was concerned with the results of a late-WWII Nazi experiment. Creature is set in the West Indies, and involves a secret US naval project – one intended to put trainable killer animals in the rivers of Vietnam – gone horribly, horribly wrong.

By now, the experienced B-Movie watchers amongst you have probably pricked up your ears; and yes, it is true: twenty years after the event, the makers of Creature did indeed think it would be a good idea to reproduce the plot of Piranha wholesale – and what’s more, to do it with a straight face.

Allow me to digress for a moment. While there is no question that Piranha is a rip-off of Jaws, it is infinitely more than just that: it is a tribute to, an intelligent, affectionate parody of, its model – and one, moreover, that not only features special effects by a very young Rob Bottin, but is highlighted by the mind-boggling co-casting of Dick Miller and Barbara Steele. The absence of Piranha from this Roundtable speaks for itself. In fact, the B-Masters may have inadvertently succeeded in providing a definition for the difference between “rip-off” and “hommage”: hommage is when they get it right.

In Creature, sadly, they mostly got it wrong; although the story is not entirely without interest. Firstly, this was not a movie but a two-part miniseries; it was originally shown over consecutive nights, and without ad breaks runs just under three hours. The story, unfortunately, is neither strong nor complex enough to support that. While Peter Benchley’s previous foray into the world of the mini-series – namely, The Beast, which was written by Benchley from his own novel – was cut for later video release (or so, at least, says Douglas Milroy, in his epic review of the same), Creature was broadcast here intact; and unlike The Beast, which apparently lost a lot of unintentional comedy when cut, Creature could have stood some judicious pruning, particularly in the second part. The problem is, with that amount of time to toy with and not a lot of solid material, everything in Creature plays out in real time. This means endless footage of boats crossing the water, and torchlight searches through dark, water-logged corridors that take just as long as---well, as a search of a dark, water-logged corridor really would. Also (although I guess it’s unreasonable of me to complain about this), Creature looks every inch like it was made for TV: it is full of unimaginative camera-work and tight shots of the principals. Let me put it this way: I hope you like close-ups of Craig T. Nelson looking wide-eyed and gob-smacked, because you get an awful lot of them.

The other problem with Creature, a far more serious one, is that it almost collapses under the weight of its own clichés. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen done somewhere else – and done better. First up, the creature itself is [*stifling yawn*] the unforeseen result of a secret US military project intended to create The Ultimate Killing Machine – although in fairness to the navy, I should point out that (i) no-one ever actually calls it that; and (ii) the project was meant to create something else: the titular beastie is the progeny (not literally) of a naval scientist gone rogue. Secondly, in Dr Simon Chase we have the inevitable Arrogant Jerk Of A Scientist Who Is Never Wrong. I really am torn when it comes to Chase. On one hand, I sympathise with him entirely; with the aims of his research, and with his objections to the some of the behaviour of the people around him. On the other hand, he’s such---well, such an Arrogant Jerk that you just want to hit him. Chase is the kind of guy who never simply speaks to anyone; instead, he lectures. He talks down. He admonishes. And then he wonders why no-one likes him, or wants to listen to him – and amazingly, Creature wonders also. At one point, Chase’s local assistant, Tall Man (it may actually be Talman, I guess, but that’s not how it’s pronounced and the credits don’t say), says flat out, “Everyone else is wrong and you are right and that’s all there is to it.” They don’t put that speech in the mouth of Chase himself, but they might as well have done. It is certainly the story’s own philosophy. Case in point: Chase and Tall Man realise that the fishermen have hooked one of the sharks that they are monitoring. They give, uh, chase, and Chase leaps onto their boat, arguing his case not with conciliation and common sense (which really I hope would work in this situation) – “C’mon, fellas – you don’t want to kill a pregnant female” – but with his own self-centred brand of logic: “You guys look healthy: got any friends or family with cancer?” The fishermen, who have been out in the sun all day and drinking all the while, respond as you might expect: “Huh? Whassup?” By the time Chase condescends to using the pregnant female argument, he has so thoroughly antagonised the fishermen that they’ve lost any desire to listen to him. Thus our hero. But Creature never utters a breath of criticism. Instead, it, like Chase himself, simply hangs in there, knowing that in time, everyone in the vicinity will acknowledge the truth: Chase was Right All Along – and they Should Have Listened.

Killer Cliché #3 is the story being centred about the reconciliation of an estranged couple, a genre convention amazingly entrenched, considering that it is one of the few that didn’t emanate from Jaws itself. It is also one of the more puzzling ones: why should fighting a monster bring two people together? I’ve always suspected that such a scenario would end up in precisely the opposite way – or, as Monty Burns once put it – “When you’ve been through an experience like that with someone, you never want to see that person again!” (When this Roundtable topic originally came up, well before I was seduced by the notion of Genetically Modified Killer Sharks, my first thought was to tackle one of the very oddest of all Jaws rip-offs: Snow Beast, a yeti-on-the-prowl story that offers up Sylvia Sidney refusing to close her ski resort on the busiest weekend of the season, and Bo Svenson and Yvette Mimieux as an estranged couple reconciled when he proves his worth by disposing of the beast in question.) Simon Chase, like so many movie scientists, has had the direction of his career shaped by personal tragedy – although for once, he did become a scientist well before the tragedy struck: he lost his kid brother, and “best friend”, to cancer. Subsequently, Chase has become obsessed with the thought of helping to develop a cure; obsessed to the exclusion of all else, including his marriage.

It might be worthwhile stopping here and just explaining what has rapidly become a beloved (read: over-worked) movie trope: the “sharks don’t get cancer” card. Apparently, this is true. As far as I understand it, it works this way: cancers cannot grow without a blood supply to sustain them. If you can cut off the blood supply to a cancer, you can prevent its growth. There is a component found in, and produced by, cartilage that operates as a natural inhibitor of angiogenesis – that is, it prevents the formation of new blood vessels. Sharks are not bony fish, but cartilaginous; being so, they naturally possess much more of this anti-angiogenic factor than animals with bony skeletons – like human beings – and hence they don’t get cancer. It is possible to isolate this factor in reasonable quantities from the cartilage of sharks.

Of course, although these facts form as essential component of its back-story, Creature ends up being profoundly morally confused with respect to Chase and his research. For much of the story, we are left thoroughly baffled over what Chase’s line of research, not to mention his relationship with “his” sharks, actually is. On one hand, it is, not unnaturally, inferred that Chase is in the West Indies in the first place because it is a great place for research into sharks; indeed, Chase says so himself. Yet when the attacks start, Chase gets roundly blamed for the actions of  “his” great white. The inference is not just that he failed to alert the authorities to the animal’s presence in the region (which he did), but that he somehow lured it there in the first place; that there were no whites in the area before Chase came there. It’s as if they couldn’t quite decide whether Chase is in the West Indies because of the sharks, or the sharks because of Chase. (What’s actually going on is that they want Chase to be as falsely accused as possible, so that his vindication can be all the greater.) When Creature opens, Chase and Tall Man are monitoring a particular group of sharks, including the pregnant great white. There are muffled references to “reducing the zone” and “making the locals happy”, which imply that what Chase and his assistant are doing is setting up some way of electronically confining the sharks to a particular area, so as to protect both the animals and the people. (And they may well be: I’m not convinced, upon reflection, that my print of Creature wasn’t cut. But if it wasn’t, the writing is mightily confused.) Later, after the death of Ben Madeira, Chase frets that the unjustly blamed great white will become the target of “every yahoo with a boat”. A nice moment follows, as Chase begins to complain about the failure of the authorities to make the white a protected species; something he blames upon the fact that--- “They’re not mammals and they’re not cute,” finishes Amanda in a wry tone; one that suggests she’s heard that song – once or twice before. “Well – it’s true,” sulks Chase. And it is true; although in terms of this story, it is also marvellously beside the point. What Creature never comes to grips with, while Chase is on his frantic crusade to save the sharks, is that if he is actually researching that anti-angiogenic factor found in the animals’ cartilage, then sooner or later he’s going to have to – you know – do something to a shark or two. Of course, Chase could argue (as indeed I would myself) that there is a big difference between killing a shark for a purpose like that, and killing one just for sport; but I guess that was too morally complicated an issue for the makers of Creature. By the end, the point of Chase’s presence in the area has simply been forgotten.

Although I complained about the “estranged couple reconciled” plot, I have to say that the way it is worked out in Creature isn’t too painful, partly because it is never dwelt on, but mostly because Nelson and Cattrall are professional enough to put such hackneyed material over. In fact, they are very believable as a couple whose relationship has been knocked off its foundations by tragedy. This is one area where Creature manages a bit of subtlety. You know without being told that Amanda supported Chase as long as she could, that he finally chose to leave his family in order to pursue his cancer research, and that she instigated the divorce in an abortive effort to move on. You also know that neither of them has stopped caring for the other. Indeed, the very alacrity with which the two of them fall back into their old squabbling patterns suggests that they will soon be picking up where they left off. It is pleasingly apparent that these two were friends as well as lovers; also how well they must have worked together as partners; and how much stubbornly senseless butting of heads must have gone on between them – mostly, we gather, over whose research took precedence. The actual moment of reconciliation is credibly simple: a hug, a muttered, “God, why did we ever get divorced?”, and two difficult, lonely years have ended for both of them. The equality of the relationship between the two is perhaps best conveyed by the fact that while there is an attempt made to send Max away to somewhere safer, there is no real suggestion from Chase that Amanda should go too – even after she has been wounded by the Creature. Amanda, in turn, shows her grit by obeying without hesitation Chase’s demand that she shut him in with the Creature, when the situation demands it. Working side by side, even in dangerous circumstances, evidently comes very naturally to these two. The other enjoyable thing about the presentation of Chase and Amanda is that they actually look like marine biologists. Cattrall never glams up, but like Nelson goes through whole the story with the casual, windswept, slightly weather-beaten appearance of someone who has chosen to spend their life surrounded by sun, sand and sea.

Unfortunately, if the Chase-Amanda relationship is handled with some subtlety, the rest of Creature’s subject matter is not; or rather, for every intelligent or nuanced moment, there are three so ham-fisted and obvious you just want to scream. Particularly annoying is the way the screenplay insists on explaining things that have already been sufficiently implied. The best example of this is the subplot involving the local “wild man”, Werewolf, whose involvement in the story is one of its more imaginative aspects. Through various hints, we slowly learn the truth about Werewolf; but that wasn’t good enough for Rockne O’Bannon, who instead of relying on the viewer’s intelligence, had to shoehorn in a scene where everything is spelled out in words of one syllable. Ugh…. Perhaps the worst thing about Creature is the depiction of Aaron Richland – Admiral Aaron Richland, by the time he reappears in the story – who turns out to be yet another example of that most overdone of stock characters, the eee-vil military guy gleefully covering up a service screw-up. Here, Richland is actually alerted to what’s going on by Chase himself, who phones Washington and drops the name “Dr Ernest Bishop” (the only clue that he and Amanda have managed to dig up) in an effort to get at the truth. Richland arrives with a team of Creature-fodder---sorry, I mean of SEALs, and sets about destroying the evidence of Bishop’s transgressions. This sequence is negatively highlighted by a scene in which, over Chase’s distraught cries that the notebook he holds might contain a cure for cancer, Richland deliberately destroys that notebook with a big eee-vil grin on his face. Because, you know, he’s in the military, and therefore---well, eee-vil. But we all know what happens to eee-vil people, right? After Max and Elizabeth encounter the Creature in an (embarrassingly artificial) area of marshland, Richland leads his team into action – and to their collective deaths – in a sequence that plays like a shameless rip-off of Aliens; although in fairness, I suppose it’s hard to do a “military seeks monster” sequence these days that doesn’t look like that. (There is a beautiful piece of idiotic inconsistency here: Richland has overseen the destruction of all the evidence of the Creature’s creation, yet he lets Chase tag along on the mission taking photographs!) Richland himself is dragged down into the marsh and dies shrieking, “Kill it! Kill it!” at Chase. (It’s like I’ve always said: you should never send the military to do a scientist’s job.)

The original object of Ernest Bishop’s secret research program was to create a hybrid that was part shark and part dolphin: an intelligent, trainable killer. But Bishop went beyond that, using breakthrough DNA techniques to breed a creature part shark, part human. Probably wisely, the screenplay never attempts to explain exactly how Bishop did this, beyond some vague speculation from Chase and Amanda. The two of them do discover Bishop’s secret laboratory, jars filled with the preserved remains of his early experiments, and the scientist’s water-soaked notebooks (including one filled with revolutionary information about shark physiology, which leads Chase to mourn softly, “If only I’d had this five years ago….”); but Richland and his people arrive and get down to business before Bishop’s methods can get an airing. The slow revelation of the Creature itself is rather well-handled. Initially, we get quick flashes of it, glimpse shadowy outlines; and during Max’s traumatic underwater experience, we see enough to know that whatever is out there is indeed unnatural. Furthermore, a tooth left embedded after an attack proves to have mammalian roots; and when the Creature finally attacks Chase’s boat, it turns out to have clawed hands. (Chase lops off one of its claws with a machete and tries to use it to back up his claims of a monster on the loose, but of course no-one believes his story.) The Creature finally shows itself while pursuing Chase and Amanda through the underground tunnels beneath the military laboratories that Chase has taken over – and thankfully, when it emerges into the light it is not a disappointment. (After all, it’s a Stan Winston). In one of the story’s better twists, the Creature proves to be amphibious; it has lungs as well as gills, although it has never used them before. When it comes up out of the water and collapses, convulsing, Chase and Amanda leave it there, convinced that it is suffocating to death in the open air. It is, on the contrary, being born, if you like: it coughs up the liquid that until then has filled its lungs, draws its first breath, and rises to continue its attack.

Unfortunately, the Creature’s actions are full of inconsistency. While it is believable that the thing would initially be clumsy and uncertain on land, inevitably its speed on land and in the water tends to vary depending upon whether it is chasing Our Heroes or someone disposable. (I’ll grant this, though: there’s one brilliantly unexpected twist during the final battle when Chase, up on a catwalk, tries to lure the Creature away from his family. He succeeds, but not in the way he anticipated: instead of climbing up the stairs towards him and giving him time to get away, the Creature leaps up onto the catwalk in a single startling bound.) There is also a moment when the Creature does not kill Max, although it easily could have. Chase interprets this as evidence that it is “intelligent, capable of making choices”; and while that’s fine, there absolutely no reason why it should have made that choice. It’s not like Chase has been protecting it, or anything. On the contrary, he does nothing but try to kill it from the first moment he accepts the fact of its existence – and Amanda is not far behind him, once she has glanced through what little they have managed to salvage of Bishop’s notes. The notes reveal, among other things, that Bishop was in some ways a very practical man. Knowing full well that the navy was not going to fund his research in perpetuity, he decided to add one more designer accessory to his Creature: he made it, unlike other hybrids, fertile; specifically, capable of mating with female great white sharks and breeding more like itself. As the significance of this piece of information dawns upon Amanda, she becomes as desperate for the Creature’s destruction as Chase. “If that mating urge kicks in - !” she cries, horrified at the thought of an ocean full of baby Creatures. It is rather unclear, however, why the dreaded mating urge should kick in now, twenty-five years after the event – unless in fact the Creature is supposed to have been confined in its cage all that time, and to have escaped only through the activities of poacher Adam Puckett. However, this still doesn’t explain why the Creature eventually kills Chase’s beloved white. Unless---well, unless Ernest Bishop wasn’t quite the scientist he thought he was. Or perhaps twenty-five years in solitary is simply too much for anyone – even a Genetically Modified Killer Shark.

Although they never do get down to brass tacks, there is of course some debate amongst the Chase family over the Creature’s origins, leading to one piece of science so eminently true and intelligent that its utterance had me literally gasping in surprise and pleasure – and two other pieces so dumb and inaccurate, they made me want to cry. The first comes the morning after Kimo’s death, and the family’s night-time encounter with the Creature. While Amanda makes a series of phonecalls to the US, trying to get them some expert help, and to find out what was going on in that research facility in the first place (both attempts unavailing), Chase and his son kick some ideas back and forth, with Max eventually suggesting that the Creature is “some kind of pollution monster”. Chase immediately vetoes the notion. “Mutation from toxic exposure doesn’t work like that. It can’t make something that doesn’t have the genetic coding for arms suddenly grow arms.” Ahhh….yessss…. But having, most unexpectedly, tossed this piece of factualness into play, the screenplay ruins everything by trotting out two of science fiction’s most beloved, and most erroneous, maxims. The first makes an appearance via a wince-inducing throwaway line from Ernest Bishop, and then is dragged in again during a conversation between Chase and Amanda: “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This is a theory developed early last century, which claims that during embryonic development, an animal passes through all the stages of its evolution. This is, briefly, WRONG; and having three scientists discuss such a possibility in all seriousness is simply painful. (I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of why this is wrong here, because there is another science fiction film out there that gets even more mileage out of this old saw, and I hope to review it in another few weeks.) Creature’s other major inaccuracy is yet another example of “popular but untrue”: no less than good old “explosive decompression”. There is a recompression chamber in the old research facility, and Chase, Tall Man and Max work at getting it back into working order. At one point, Max seems about to release a pressure valve he shouldn’t (believe it or not, his father all but yells, “Don’t touch that lever! You’ll blow us all to atoms!”), leading to another of Chase’s lectures, in which he explains gravely that, “The air in the body – in your chest, in your head – will hyperexpand.” “In other words,” says Max, for the benefit of the slightly dull-witted, “you’ll blow apart.” “There’s a reason it’s called ‘explosive decompression’,” concludes Chase. Yes, there is; but that (as I explained to quite unnecessary length in my review of Outland) isn’t it. Oh, well. After this exchange, it takes very little mental effort to guess what gruesome demise the screenplay of Creature has in store for its monster.

I chose to include Creature in a Roundtable dealing with rip-offs of Jaws; and by now, you might be wondering why. After all, beyond the mutual presence of a great white shark, what resemblance is there between the two? Quite a lot, as it happens – and it is precisely this that constitutes the mini-series’ most imaginative aspect. Almost all of the beloved Jaws clichés make an appearance here; all but, ironically, the one that gave this Roundtable its title; but they have each been carefully re-worked into forms that you might not expect. (It is fascinating to contemplate whether this was actually the work of Peter Benchley; or if not, how Benchley felt about it.) Like almost all of Bruce’s spawn, Creature features (hey, Creature Feature, geddit? [sorry]) a “Little Shark”; that is, an innocent animal that is initially blamed for the human deaths, and whose death it is assumed (wrongly, it goes without saying) will put an end to the killings. In Creature, the Little Shark is itself a great white – and a refreshingly normal-sized one, too, about ten feet. Accordingly, the classic “This was no boat accident!” scene becomes a “This was no great white attack!” scene, as Chase tries to convince a hostile crowd that “his” shark was not responsible for killing Ben Madeira (largely on the grounds that – ulp! – not enough of the body is missing). Subsequent to this, poacher Adam Puckett (who as you might expect, has had many a clash with Chase in the past) takes on the Mrs Kintner role, shouting at every opportunity, “You knew that shark was out there and now a man is dead!” – not because he has any personal investment in Madeira’s death, just to make as much trouble for Chase as possible. Meanwhile, Chase tries to convince a wholly unsympathetic Chief Gibson that the white was innocent (“Chief, ya gotta believe me!” – has that line ever worked?), so that she does not become the victim of those “yahoos in boats”. The most prominent yahoo, Puckett himself, declares his intention of hunting down the white; and shortly afterwards, he hauls in her body, claiming it as his own kill despite the teeth and claw marks visible all over her body. Chase points these out, but Gibson (who has his own agenda) chooses to ignore the evidence of his eyes. At that moment, Max (who must watch all the right movies) yells out, “Hey, Chief! Why don’t you just cut the shark open, so we can see what it’s been eating?” Puckett objects, and Gibson plays along, leaving the matter unresolved. After this, it comes as little surprise when Puckett proves the great white’s innocence by falling victim to the Creature himself – later bobbing up (literally) as the inevitable decapitated head. (The head is found in one of Puckett’s own poaching traps, which would seem to indicate that along with those for arms, legs and lungs, the Creature got whatever genes are responsible for a warped sense of humour.)

The single most interesting Jaws steal to be found here is, however, Chief Gibson himself, who is Creature’s own version of Martin Brody – although we certainly do not realise this at once. Gibson seems initially to be a singularly unimaginative characterisation; just a man made impossibly pig-headed for no reason other than to create obstacles for Chase to overcome. But it’s actually more complicated than that, as we learn when Elizabeth, Gibson’s loving but critical daughter, defends her father to Max. We then learn that Gibson, like Martin Brody himself, has certain hang-ups because he is a relative newcomer to the island, an outsider. “He wasn’t born here,” Elizabeth explains. Like Brody, Gibson is aware of local prejudices, local alliances, against him; but unlike Brody, who simply finds himself stonewalled, Gibson becomes a willing participant in those very prejudices. Gibson has fought hard to be elected Chief Constable, and is so determined to cling to this evidence of his acceptance that he simply will not do anything that the locals might not like – even if this runs contrary to his clear duty, as it frequently does. Gibson’s insecurities are also at the root of his hostility towards Chase (although Chase’s own attitude certainly doesn’t help): as immigrants sometimes will, he tries to prove what a good local he is by attacking other outsiders. The locals do not believe in the story of Chase’s monster – or so Gibson thinks – and so he will not believe either, despite the physical evidence that Chase brings to him. He will not listen even when Elizabeth brings him her own story of the Creature. You might expect, from all of this, that Gibson will end up another Creature victim, but the screenplay spares him, contenting itself with merely wounding him, so that he may live to admit that Chase was Right All Along, and that he Should Have Listened.

The focus of Creature is never upon Rollie Gibson, but for all that he delivers perhaps the story’s single most effective moment. As an outsider, Gibson is excluded from knowing just how thoroughly the locals do believe in Chase’s monster; they always have believed in it, as “an evil spirit”; and a voodoo ceremony follows the killings. (This is witnessed by Max and Elizabeth; the latter, a local herself but still her father’s daughter, is both annoyed and embarrassed by her fellow islanders’ conduct.) Gibson, meanwhile, is out with Chase, Richland and the SEALs. During their search, they stumble across what’s left of Adam Puckett – and without thinking about it, Gibson crosses himself. There has been a lot of talk about Rollie Gibson up to that point; much more, as it turns out, than was necessary. In that one simple, instinctive gesture, the yawning gulf between Gibson and the people whose acceptance he craves so desperately is achingly apparent. If there were more moments like that in Creature, understated yet still powerful, it would be a far stronger production.

 

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