Arrival (2016)

Linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has a baby girl, raises her through her childhood, and then suffers through the heartbreak of finding out that her daughter will die of an incurable disease at a young age.

Then twelve flying saucers land in different parts of the world.  People start panicking and governments begin mobilizing, which I suppose is only natural.  But let’s face it.  If they wanted to kill us, then given their advanced technology, there wouldn’t be anything we could do about it.  Be that as it may, because of Banks’ language skills, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) shows up in her office to enlist her in translating the language of the aliens.  Weber plays her a snippet of the aliens talking, which lasts just a few seconds, and he asks her what she makes of it, as if anyone could translate a completely alien language from such a small sample.  I was hoping her reply would be, “He said, ‘Take me to your leader.’”

Banks says she would have to interact with the aliens in person to be able to communicate with them.  Weber refuses and says he is going to Berkeley to see if Dr. Danvers will work for them instead.  Banks says, “Before you commit to him, ask him the Sanskrit word for war and its translation.”  Is this a trick question?  The translation of the Sanskrit word for war has to be “war”; otherwise, it’s not the Sanskrit word for war.  Presumably, she is talking about the etymology of that word, which is “gavisti,” rather than its translation.  In that sense, I suppose you could say that the “translation” of the Spanish word for pregnant is “embarrassed,” for example.  Anyway, the whole point of this is Banks’ way of letting them know that Danvers is second rate.  When Weber finds out that Danvers thinks the translation of “gavisti” is “an argument,” whereas Banks knows that it is actually “a desire for more cows,” Weber knows that he must give in to her demands to meet with the aliens.  Thank goodness Weber didn’t enlist Danvers for the job!  With his second-rate language skills, he might have caused an intergalactic incident.

On her way to the aliens in Montana, she meets Dr. Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist.  He quotes from the preface of one of her books, “Language is the foundation of civilization,” and then tells her she is wrong, because, as he puts it, “The cornerstone of civilization isn’t language, it’s science.”  I guess this is the movie’s way of introducing some kind of science-versus-the-humanities conflict into the story, but we cannot help but feel we are being manipulated into being on Banks’ side, for it is beyond obvious that you can have language without science, but you cannot have science without language.  And just in case we missed it, the point is further driven home when they arrive at the place where Banks is going to get some facetime with the aliens so she can learn how to speak Alienish.  Donnelly asks if the aliens have responded to things like Fibonacci numbers.  Weber has to point out to him that they are still working on the responses to the word “Hello.”

However, even Weber seems a little obtuse on this point.  He later complains that the vocabulary list that Banks has constructed has words like “eat” and “walk,” which he calls grade school words.  Didn’t he take a foreign language course when he was in school?  We all know that you have to start off with common words like “eat” and “walk” in the beginning, that you have to learn how to say things like, “Where is the library?” before you can start having complicated discussions about whether the aliens intend to kill us.  Once again, the movie forces us to identify with Banks, because everyone else in the movie seems to be a little bit thick.

Now, it seems to me that if the aliens have the technology to travel light-years across space, they have the technology to receive our television broadcasts, by which they could have learned to speak English before they ever got here.  But the problem with that, according to the movie’s version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, if the aliens learned to speak English it would rewire their brains, and the next thing you know, they would become rational like us.  That would never do.  So, Banks has to learn Alienish, which will rewire her brain so that she can grasp the mystical premise of this movie, which has something to do with the Eternal-Now and the Oneness-of-Allness.  This is why, presumably, their written sentences are basically circles with curlicues.  Our sentences have a beginning and an end, but the circular expressions of their thoughts defy such a linear manner of thinking.  The practical consequence of this mystical premise is that the future has already happened.  In fact, the aliens are helping us now to become One with each other so that three thousand years later, we will help them.

Furthermore, what we saw at the beginning of the movie is actually what will happen later after she marries Donnelly, and all the flashbacks she was having about her daughter were really flashforwards.  In one of those flashforwards, she tells her daughter that Daddy became angry and said she made the wrong choice, after which he divorced her.  The choice in question had to do with her deciding to have a child even though she knew the child would die from a rare, incurable disease.  My guess is that he said something like, “Why the hell didn’t we go to a fertility clinic and get the bad gene removed?”  But that would just be the same old, rational, scientific, linear way of thinking that comes from speaking English.

Capricorn One (1977)

Shortly after we put a man on the moon, a conspiracy theory emerged that it never really happened, that the whole thing was filmed in the Arizona desert.  Say what you will about conspiracy theories, they can make the basis of some pretty good movies.  Capricorn One is just such an example.  Instead of the moon, the plot of this movie consists of an effort to fake a manned mission to Mars.  It seems that Congress is ready to cut NASA’s budget at the first opportunity, and when it turns out that the planned mission would fail, certain bigwigs at NASA decide to fake the Mars mission to keep that from happening.

Reluctantly, the three astronauts go along with the hoax, because the conspirators have threatened to kill their families if they don’t.  Elliot Whitter (Robert Walden), a technician at mission control, figures out that the television signals are really coming from somewhere on Earth, about three hundred miles away.  He tells his superiors, but as they are in on the conspiracy, they tell him not to worry about it, but it is clear that they are worried about him.  He tells his friend Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) about the signals one night over a game of pool.  Just then, Caulfield is called to the telephone, which allows some henchmen to spirit Whitter away.

Subsequently, the computer simulation of a spaceship returning from Mars shows that the module lost its heat shield on its return to Earth, which would mean the death of the three astronauts.  They realize that the conspirators will try to kill them to cover things up.  They escape and steal the jet that took them to their isolated location.  However, they run out of fuel and have to land in the middle of a desert.  When they get out of the jet, one of them delivers the greatest line of the movie:  “It looks like we’re on Mars.”  The rest of the movie is about Caulfield’s attempt to figure out what is going on and the astronauts’ attempt to escape, until the two stories merge when Caulfield saves the only surviving astronaut, Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), the two of them blowing the conspiracy wide open when they show up at Brubaker’s funeral.

As good as this movie is, it has the two unfortunate and unnecessary flaws that plague most conspiracy theory movies:  there are too many conspirators, and they overdo their efforts to control what happens.  In this movie, when Whitter disappears, Caulfield goes to his apartment, which he has been to many times before over the years.  When he arrives, there is a woman pretending that she is the occupant of the apartment and that she knows nothing about Whitter.  The apartment has been completely redecorated and refurnished, and there are stacks of magazines addressed to this woman.

This is totally absurd.  The simplest thing to do would be to just let Caulfield go to the apartment and find that no one is home.  Sure, he could report his friend’s disappearance to Missing Persons, but people go missing all the time.  There would have been no need to include that woman as part of the conspiracy, not to mention all the people needed to completely renovate the apartment.  Oh, and the people in the leasing office are part of the conspiracy too, because they show him rental receipts from her for over a year.  And the personnel department at NASA is in on it too, because they say they have no record of Whitter ever working there, and they have never heard of him.

By letting Caulfield knock on the door and find that no one is home, nothing would have been lost but the absurdity.  He could still have continued to investigate based on Whitter’s remark at the pool table.  Moreover, the woman in the apartment claiming to be the tenant and the scrubbed records in the personnel department at NASA only confirm that something insidious is going on, thereby guaranteeing that Caulfield will start investigating; whereas if Whitter had merely disappeared, Caulfield might have shrugged the whole thing off.

During the time that Caulfield was at Whitter’s apartment, the conspirators were busy sabotaging his automobile.  Said sabotage consisted of causing his car to suddenly accelerate after he is on the road for a while.  When this happens, the brakes fail, the gearshift disengages, and the ignition switch comes loose.  Boy, did those mechanics work fast!  Miraculously, Caulfield survives when his car gets to a raised drawbridge, causing him to plunge into the river.

Now, there must be easier ways to assassinate a pesky reporter than by sabotaging his car.  I would have shot him with a silencer when he entered Whitter’s apartment and just left the body there.  Maybe Whitter would have been blamed for the murder.  In any event, if they were going to kill Caulfield anyway, what was the point of the elaborate charade with the woman in the apartment, the leasing office, and the personnel department?

But why kill Caulfield at all?  In fact, why kill Whitter?  If the conspirators had managed to successfully kill the three astronauts, the signals Whitter was concerned about could have been dismissed as a computer malfunction.  And if he persisted with his story, most people would laugh him off as some goofball who is into conspiracy theories.

I said that there was an easier way to get rid of a pesky reporter, and that is by shooting him.  That apparently occurs to the conspirators too.  Brubaker tried to give his wife (Brenda Vaccaro) a secret message while pretending to be on his way back to Earth, indirectly referring to a town called Flatrock, which features a movie set for making Westerns.  In other words, it is fake, just like the Mars landing.  When Caulfield drives out to Flatrock, the conspirators, who apparently followed him, try to shoot him.  Now, the place looks deserted, so the conspirators could have just walked up to him and put a bullet in his brain and then driven off without any witnesses, but they fire a couple of shots at him from a distance and then drive off without finishing the job.

But we’re not through.  Now some Drug Enforcement Agents that are also in on the conspiracy plant some cocaine in Caulfield’s apartment and arrest him for possession.  I guess they figured that since they couldn’t kill him they would settle for locking him up.  Of course, he gets out on bond, but I suppose they didn’t count on that.

All right, so this movie is not realistic, if by “realistic” we mean the sort of thing that could actually happen.  But it is realistic in the sense that it matches the outlandish imaginings of people that espouse conspiracy theories, such as the one that we faked the moon landing.

Ex Machina (2014)

The problem of other minds was already a perennial problem of philosophy long before anyone even thought about robots.  The only conscious mind each of us is sure of is our own.  We naturally attribute consciousness to others by instinct, and the rational justification of such attribution is that from like causes we expect like effects:  other people are similar to us in matter and form, in what we are made of and how we are structured, so it is only reasonable to expect other people will be conscious beings and not mindless automata.

Most of us attribute consciousness to animals, but as animals become further removed from us, the analogy to ourselves weakens and our willingness to attribute consciousness weakens likewise.  Many have doubts about sponges, for instance.

The odd thing about robots is that they are increasingly being made in a way that stimulates our analogical inference to consciousness.  We already personify computers, saying that they are thinking, for example, even if we do not attribute consciousness to them; so when robots are given human form, including eyes and facial expressions, the tendency to personify them becomes irresistible.  And yet, we wonder if the analogy is just superficial.  After all, they are not made from the same stuff, and they are not put together the same way we are.

When the movie begins, Caleb wins a chance to spend a week with Nathan, the CEO of the company he works for.  Caleb finds out that Nathan has constructed a robot named Ava who is so humanlike that we naturally believe she is conscious.  Of course, a human actress plays the part, so we in the audience are bound to think so.  In fact, we have to be convinced that she is a robot, for which purpose she is deliberately constructed so as to show off her mechanical parts.  Were it not for these obvious robot features, Caleb himself might wonder if Ava is just some woman trying to fool him into thinking she is a robot.

Anyway, his job is to perform a Turing test, which a computer or robot must pass in order to qualify for having true artificial intelligence (intelligence is not the same thing as consciousness, but let’s not get too deep here).  The main thing is that in talking to Ava, Caleb falls in love with her.  When he finds out that Nathan intends to reprogram her, wiping out her memory, he is alarmed, for memory is essential to the survival of our person.  As Leibniz once said, if you tell me that when I die, I will be immediately reborn in another body, but I will have no memory of my present life, then you might as well tell me that when I die, another person will be born.  Nathan plans to keep Ava’s body, but in destroying her memory, he will effectively be killing her.

Caleb plots to help Ava escape.  At this point, I thought the movie would turn out in one of two possible ways.  My first possible plot was that the movie would become an adventure story, in which Caleb and Ava try to make their way through the forests and mountains with the very athletic and brilliant Nathan in pursuit.  They would eventually escape and live happily ever after.  The second possible plot was that just as they were about to escape, Nathan would tell Caleb that because he obviously regards Ava as a person, since he loves her and is trying to save her from death, then she has passed the Turing test big time.  Then he announces he never planned on wiping out her memory, so if Ava and Caleb want to get married and live happily ever after, that is fine with him.  He will simply begin working on a newer model tomorrow.

I can’t believe I did not anticipate the real ending.  After all, have I not watched every film noir that has ever been made?  How could I have missed the fact that Ava is the ultimate femme fatale, more ruthless than any of those played by Jane Greer, Joan Bennett, or Barbara Stanwyck?  She not only kills Nathan with the help of another female robot, but she locks Caleb in the house where he will eventually die and blithely walks away to board the prearranged helicopter to take her to the city.

Perhaps even more unnerving is the way she smiles after she has locked Caleb in the house, and again when she makes it to the city and stands on a street corner watching people come and go.  Robots in the movies are typically mirthless, perhaps because we suppose that robots might have thoughts and sense perception but not emotions, especially not positive ones.  Any smiles made before her escape could be dismissed as part of her deceitfulness.  But these smiles occur when she has no need to manipulate anyone, and they are smiles that exude genuine delight and happiness.

In other words, just because a robot passes the Turing test doesn’t mean she won’t turn out to be a psychopath.

The Hidden (1987)

The Hidden could never have been a great science fiction movie on a par with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Star Wars (1977), but as most science fiction movies go, this one could have been something really special in its own small way.  Unfortunately, the producers of this movie did not have the guts to carry things out to their logical conclusion, but pulled back to something they felt would be safe. Big mistake.

FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) enlists the aid of local cop Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) to hunt for a succession of people connected to a bunch of strange murders.  As Gallagher knows, but Beck does not, they are pursuing an alien from another planet that takes over human bodies, and when they manage to pump one so full of bullet holes that it can barely function, it leaves that body and takes over another.  During the transfer, the human body opens its mouth, and a large, disgusting parasite that looks part slug and part insect comes out and enters into the mouth of its new host.  As the alien moves from one host to another, it really seems to enjoy the pleasures afforded it by dwelling inside a human:  it likes fast cars, rock music, and sex.  Its big crimes, however, are motivated by a desire for money and power.

Eventually, it turns out that Gallagher is actually an alien cop from the same planet as the alien they are pursuing.  After coming to Earth, he took over a human body that was going to die anyway.  Just as he and Beck finally manage to destroy the bad alien, Beck suffers fatal bullet wounds.  But Gallagher has met Beck’s wife and daughter, whom he likes, and having lost his own wife at the hands of his nemesis, he decides to take over Beck’s body just as Beck is about to breathe his last.  But when he opens his mouth, we see no parasite emerge, but only a golden beam of light leaving him and entering Beck’s mouth.  When the doctor enters the room, along with Beck’s wife and child, they find that Gallagher has died and Beck has seemingly made a miraculous recovery.

Imagine how great it would have been if Gallagher had opened his mouth and, instead of that beam of light, another disgusting parasite had come out and entered into Beck’s mouth.  We would have been forced to think that something that looks like a combination slug-insect could be good, decent, and kind.

It is standard in science fiction movies that good aliens look like humans, usually with frail bodies, slightly larger craniums, and big eyes.  But if the aliens look like insects, then we know they are evil and must be destroyed.

This movie could have split those alien stereotypes wide open, making us accept what we should have known all along, that someone who is ugly may nevertheless be a nice person to know.  But the producers of this movie had a failure of nerve.  Sure, we can assume that Gallagher and his nemesis were of two different species.  We can make up any story we want.  But the result will still be the same.  The minute Gallagher opened his mouth and a beam of yellow light came out instead, this movie became second rate.

Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)

Invasion of the Star Creatures is a low-budget spoof of equally low-budget science fiction films.  Just to make sure everyone is in on the joke, the credits open with, “R.I. Diculous Presents An Impossible Picture.”  It is filled with silly situations and corny jokes, but it is rather amusing, if you are in the mood for this sort of thing.

On an army missile base, Private Philbrick and Private Penn are normally in charge of such things as washing the garbage cans, but are assigned by Colonel Awol to be part of a team investigating a cave that opened up as the result of a nuclear test explosion.  The team discovers seven-foot-tall plant-like extraterrestrials, sort of like the alien in The Thing from Another World (1951).  However, these plant creatures are just slaves, their masters being two tall, beautiful women, reminiscent of movies like Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) and Queen of Outer Space (1958).

The two privates are captured by the vegetable monsters and brought before the two women, Professor Tanga and Dr. Puna.  Philbrick wonders aloud what Space Commander Connors would do, an allusion to such radio and television characters as Captain Video and Captain Midnight, or the television show Space Patrol (1950-55).  The women tell Penn and Philbrick they plan to return to their planet, after which Earth will be invaded and conquered.  Then they show the privates the room where they grow the plant men.  We see flower pots, most of which have a hand sticking up out of them.  When they prepare to leave the room, Philbrick says goodbye to the plant hands, one of which waves bye-bye.

Although there are warrior men back on their planet, the women don’t seem to know anything about love, so Philbrick teaches Dr. Puna what “kiss” means. She swoons, allowing Penn and Philbrick to escape.  They return to base and tell Colonel Awol that he must stop the spaceship from blasting off.  Awol does not believe them and orders them to be thrown into the guardhouse, assuming them to be drunk.  But when Philbrick swears on his Space Commander Connors’ secret ring, Awol asks to see the ring.  When Philbrick shows it to him, Awol shows Philbrick his.  They utter the secret code words and do the hand signal.  Then they discover they both belong to the same stellar squadron, and it turns out that whereas that Awol is only a junior flight leader, Philbrick is a senior flight leader, which means Philbrick is now in command.

The three of them head back to the cave.  Penn says the three of them will not be enough to stop the space broads from taking off.  Just then, a bunch of Indians come along, whereupon it turns out that they also are members of Space Commander Connors’ flight squadron, only one of the Indians is General flight leader, and proves it with a badge pinned to his bare chest.  So now, the Indian is in command.

But they all have a pow wow, during which the Indians and the colonel get drunk.  Penn and Philbrick go back to the cave and manage to blast the rocket ship off into space, marooning the two women.  But Dr. Puna gets Penn to teach Professor Tanga what “kiss” means.  They all get married and live happily ever after.

I saw this movie a couple of times in the 1960s on the late show, and I liked it so much that I bought my own copy on DVD recently.  I was looking forward to one of my favorite jokes in the movie, when Penn and Philbrick try to get telepathic control of one of the plant men.  The way I remember it, Penn says, “Focus on his eye.”

But as the eyes of the plant men are spaced really far apart, Philbrick asks, “Which one?”

“The one next to the carrot,” Penn replies.

Imagine my disappointment when I found it was not on the DVD.  Then I noticed that IMDb says that the television version is ten minutes longer than the theatrical version.

I guess I’ll have to wait for the director’s cut.

Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green is more interesting as a futuristic milieu than as a story.  From a 1973 perspective, the movie imagines the world in 2022, where the temperature is stifling owing to the greenhouse effect, and where overpopulation has reached critical proportions.  Only the very rich and well-connected eat what for us is ordinary food, while the vast majority must eat crackers of different colors indicating their quality, with green being the most desirable because it is the most nutritious.  Even water is rationed.

There are film noir elements in this movie.  Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) is basically a good cop, but when investigating the crime scenes of rich victims, he does a little looting, mostly taking items of food, like beefsteak, vegetables, and liquor, and he also helps himself to whatever prostitute, referred to as “furniture,” happens to be attached to the luxury apartment.

Whereas today, a science fiction movie must display the latest in special effects, such as CGI and 3D, this movie effectively creates its world without recourse to anything but ordinary photography.  We see Thorn having to struggle to walk up the steps to his apartment, because there are so many people sleeping on the stairs.  Later, when a riot starts because there is a shortage of Soylent Green wafers, we see dump trucks called “scoops” being used to remove people from the streets.

As for the plot, Thorn investigates the murder of Simonson (Joseph Cotton), which he suspects is an assassination.  Thorn’s assistant, referred to as a “book,” on account of his ability to do research on old written material, is Sol (Edward G. Robinson).  Sol learns a terrible secret and decides to end it all by going to a euthanasia center, where he gets to look at scenes of nature as it once was and listen to beautiful music for twenty minutes before dying from some concoction he imbibed.  Before dying, he tells Thorn that the plankton used to make Soylent Green is disappearing from the oceans.  As a substitute for the loss of plankton, people that die are secretly processed and turned into the Soylent Green wafers.

The problem with the story described thus far is that it never gets past the ick factor.  Rich men are obnoxious, and we resent the way they are so privileged and arrogant.  The image of old people walking into euthanasia centers to end their lives is creepy.  And the use of human flesh to make edible wafers is disturbing.  Setting aside the fact that cannibalism can lead to the transmission of abnormal prions as in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the main objection to using human flesh for consumption is that the idea of it is repulsive.  But in a world that is overpopulated and in which there is a food shortage, such a solution may actually be rational.  After all, we are not talking about the kind of cannibalism where we have a bunch of savages standing around a pot with a missionary in it.  The people being turned into food either died naturally or, in the case of the euthanasia centers, voluntarily.  So, the worst you can say about such a world is that it makes us feel a little queasy.

Nevertheless, the movie should have simply ended with this revelation about Soylent Green.  Instead, in an apparent effort to make the whole business more insidious, Thorn tells his supervisor, “They’re making our food out of people.  Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle.”  Unfortunately, this line, which is supposed to make us even more horrified by what is going on, only makes us groan at its absurdity.  In a world where there are too many people, it makes no sense to breed more.  You just eat the ones you have.  Furthermore, according to my rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations, you would have to feed people at least five times as much protein to raise them as you would get out of them once you brought them to slaughter.  Because this idea of breeding people is illogical, it turns what would have been a believable, pessimistic vision of the future into something so silly we can only snort with contempt.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Faith Domergue had a cold beauty that made her suitable as female scientist, Professor Leslie Joyce, in It Came from Beneath the Sea.  It also helped that she was a brunette.  The stereotype of the cold, hard scientist whose intellect does not allow itself to be swayed by mere sentiment and feeling was especially prevalent in the old science fiction movies, and thus a beautiful female scientist constituted a special challenge for a macho leading man, used to having his way with ordinary women.

In this movie, said macho leading man is Commander Pete Mathews, played by Kenneth Tobey.  Tobey already had experience as Captain Patrick Hendry in The Thing from Another World (1951) breaking down the resistance of science assistant Nikki (Margaret Sheridan), so you might think things would be a little easier for him in this film; but then, Faith Domergue also had experience playing the beautiful, cold scientist, Dr. Ruth Adams, resisting the charms of Rex Reason playing Dr. Cal Meacham in This Island Earth (1955), so I guess that made them even.

A lot of old movies are sexist by twenty-first century standards, but science fiction movies from the 1950s, with their inevitable beautiful female scientists, often have a feminist theme in them, pushing back against that sexism.  But the message tends to be mixed, with the movie expressing a sexist attitude one minute and a feminist attitude the next.  For example, in Rocketship X-M (1950), Dr. Lisa Van Horn is a female scientist who is going to be part of a crew on the title spaceship.  Much is made of her qualifications. But then, when it comes time for the astronauts to strap themselves in, we see that the men can easily strap themselves in, but one of the men has to strap Lisa in.  This strange combination of sexism and feminism is especially flagrant in It Came from Beneath the Sea.

Joyce’s colleague is Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis).  Other than when first names are being used, he is always addressed as Dr. Carter, never as Mr. Carter, but while Joyce is frequently referred to as Professor Joyce, she is often addressed as Miss Joyce as well, presumably because her status as a nubile maiden is important enough to be emphasized.  They have both been called in to investigate a hunk of mysterious substance that got caught in the diving plane of Mathews’ submarine.  After an initial inspection, however, Joyce is not willing to spend any more time studying the specimen, because she has more important matters needing her attention elsewhere.  In other words, she is just as hard to get as a scientist as she is as a woman.  However, her expertise in marine biology makes her indispensable, and she is forced to continue with the investigation.

Of course, once Mathews has seen what Joyce looks like without her protective radiation suit on, he is especially glad she will be forced to continue on, and he wastes little time making his moves on her.  He wants to know if there is anything going on between her and Carter. “Oh, you mean romance,”  she says, as she picks up foot-long test tube.  While gently holding this scientific prop with phallic significance, she teases him about the lack of women aboard a submarine, but she refuses to say whether there is anything between her and Carter.  Later, when Joyce definitively determines the nature of the substance, Carter kisses her on the cheek, and then she nestles in his arms as Mathews calls Naval Intelligence.  If they were actually involved romantically, this would not be so strange.  But they are not.  As a result, we once again get that strange mixture of feminism and sexism:  on the one hand, she is the expert in her field and has found the solution; on the other hand, she is a pretty girl that men just naturally kiss and hold in their arms, even when that man is a colleague in a professional setting.

Anyway, the substance turns out to be a piece from a giant octopus.  The octopus has been exposed to a lot of radiation owing to tests of the hydrogen bomb.  Radiation did not make the octopus big as it did the title character in The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), because this octopus has always been big.  However, the fish it was used to eating have natural Geiger counters in them that make them avoid the octopus, forcing it to leave its natural habitat and seek food elsewhere.  It is amazing what lengths these 1950s movies would go to in order to make radiation the cause of whatever monster they had to deal with.

Joyce and Mathews are somewhat contemptuous of each other’s profession.  She says to Mathews, “my mind just isn’t attuned to discuss things on your level, Commander.”  Later, hearing that Joyce and Carter will be meeting in Cairo to investigate the sinking nature of the coast of the Red Sea, Mathews says to Carter, “Sounds ideal.”  When Carter refers to it as mixing work with pleasure, Mathews responds, “Work?  Oh yes, that is your work, isn’t it?”

On their last night in Pearl Harbor, they all decide to have dinner together at a restaurant.  Mathews is bossy, practically pulling Joyce out of her chair while announcing they are going to dance and even telling Carter to order her a steak.  She refuses to dance, says she does not want a steak, and sits back down.  But she agrees to his suggestion of lobster and finally agrees to dance with him.  While discussing the weather in Hawaii, which is always balmy, she says she likes the winter and the snow, which naturally suggest frigidity on her part.  At first, we think that Mathews is going to try to kiss her, but she moves her head forward and kisses him instead and then puts her arms around him.  So, contrary to appearances, she is a sexually aggressive woman.  Then they return to the table and have their meal.  When Mathews realizes that Joyce still intends to go to Cairo, he is shocked.  Presumably, he thought that since they kissed, she was going to give up all this foolishness about a career, marry him, and have babies.  He leaves in a huff.

Their plans to go to Cairo, however, are foiled by the occurrence of another incident.  It seems a tramp steamer has disappeared at sea, and Admiral Norman has rescinded their release so they can investigate to see if there is any connection to the previous one with Mathews’ submarine.  Fortunately, they find a few survivors.  In order to get the facts, a doctor examines them.  After the first survivor tells his story, in which it is clear that the giant octopus attacked the ship, the doctor indicates that he does not believe him, starts humoring him, and tells him in an ominous manner that he is to be taken down the hall to talk to another doctor about what he thinks he has seen.  The other three survivors are not fools.  They realize the other doctor is a psychiatrist and that their mate is likely to be diagnosed as mentally ill.  So, they deny having seen anything.  They are given lie-detector tests, which show that they are lying when they deny having seen anything.  And then the first survivor recants his story so that he can be released from the infirmary.  Mathews and the other officers are exasperated and just don’t understand why they can’t get the truth out of these guys.

Professor Joyce rises to the occasion.  Removing her coat so as to expose a little more of her soft, warm flesh, she tells the officers she will talk to the first survivor when he is released, and then contrives to be alone with him in a room.  Using her womanly wiles—giving him sexy looks, touching his hand, showing a little leg—she gets the man to admit he saw the sea monster, which the officers hear through the intercom.  So, you see, that’s why we need female scientists, because they have special ways of getting to the truth.

Mathews and Joyce decide to investigate reports of poor fishing along the northwest coast, because it may be that the octopus has been eating all the fish.  They spot what might be called an octopus footprint on the beach and they send for Carter.  Meanwhile, they decide to check out the fish population in the area, which they do by putting on the swim suits they just happened to have with them.  No fish, so they do a little hot necking on the beach.

When Carter arrives with the deputy sheriff, Mathews asks Carter to help him persuade Joyce to leave and let the Navy take over the job.  When Carter asks what Joyce has to say about that, Mathews responds, “What’s the difference what she says?”  At that point, Carter proceeds to lecture Mathews about women:  “There’s a whole new breed who feel they’re just as smart and just as courageous as men.  And they are.  They don’t like to be overprotected. They don’t like to have their initiative taken away from them.”

Joyce picks up the argument:  “A, you’d want me to miss the opportunity to see this specimen, one that may never come again. B, you’d be making up my mind for me. And C, I not only don’t like being pushed around, but you underestimate my ability to help in a crisis.”  Carter says that he is entirely on her side, as she nestles into the arm her puts around her.  Mathews concedes to having lost the argument.

Suddenly, the octopus appears and kills the deputy, causing Joyce to scream like a girl.

The octopus starts wreaking havoc on San Francisco, Mathews and Carter take turns saving each other’s lives, during which Joyce screams again, finding solace first in Carter’s arms and then Mathews’, until at last the octopus is killed.

They have dinner again.  Mathews, saying that women can change, says he wants Joyce to marry him and start a family.  She says she hasn’t time for that and offers to collaborate with him on a book, How to Catch a Sea Beast.  Mathews tells Carter he is right about this new breed of women.