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The Sea Around Us

The Sea Around Us(1953)

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teaser The Sea Around Us (1953)

Based on Rachel L. Carson's best-selling study of marine life and its origins, The Sea Around Us (1952) was transformed into a Technicolor documentary by Irwin Allen that showcased the mysteries of the deep - everything from microscopic sea life to a deadly encounter between a shark and an octopus. The film won the Best Documentary Oscar® for 1952 and earned critical praise for its dazzling footage which sometimes bordered on the sensational; a bloody whale hunt, crab-herding, the hatching of baby turtles and their precarious journey across the sand to the safety of the water.

RKO bought the film rights to Carson's book and even hired her as a consultant on film footage to be used for The Sea Around Us. While Carson's contract with RKO allowed her to review the script, it did not grant her the power to insist on any changes to the film, a situation that would create considerable tension between Carson and Irwin Allen in the end. According to author Linda Lear in Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, Allen sent Carson the final draft but her response was not favorable. 'Frankly, I could not believe my first reading," she told Shirley Collier, her film agent in Hollywood, 'and had to put it away and then sneak back to it the next day to see if it could possibly be as bad as I thought. But every reading sends my blood pressure higher'.....Carson was shocked that instead of sticking to the atmosphere and basic concepts of her book and presenting the authoritative scientific knowledge of the ocean as she had, Allen's script was full of outmoded, unscientific concepts, presented in a distressingly, amateurish manner. She particularly objected to the anthropomorphism of the language Allen used to describe ocean creatures and their relationships with each other. In her cover letter Carson told Collier, 'the practice of attributing human vices and virtues to the lower animals went out of fashion many years ago. It persists only at the level of certain Sunday Supplements.'

Allen, who went on to produce such trend-setting disaster films as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), was upset by Carson's criticism of his film but an agreement was eventually worked out between them where she agreed not to make any detrimental public statements regarding the film and its producer. While it is true that some critics noticed that the film bore little more than a titular resemblance to Carson's book, The Sea Around Us was quite popular with the movie-going public and it remains a fascinating visual document with unique footage of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, cormorants and sponges, and other seldom viewed denizens of the sea.

Producer: Irwin Allen
Screenplay: Irwin Allen
Photographic Effects: Linwood DunnFilm Editing: Dean Harrison, Frederic Knudtson
Original Music: C. Bakaleinikoff
Commentary: Don Forbes

by Jeff Stafford

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