Judge George Hatch rubbed The Buddha's belly and requested guidance in approaching this review. The Buddha replied, "No matter how much one chooses to show...it is, often, considerably less than what others are able to see."
So where's the kitchen sink?
Director René Cardona, Jr., has almost 100 Mexican films to his credit, including two that made it to American theaters: Survive! (1976), purportedly based on Charles Blair's true account of the plane-crash victims in the Andes who resorted to cannibalism, and Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979), a quickie that cashed in on the mass suicide prompted by cult leader Jim Jones. (The latter should in no way be confused with the excellent three-hour, made-for-TV epic Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1983) starring Powers Booth, a film well worthy of DVD release.)
Cardona's The Bermuda Triangle is not based on the speculative bestseller by Charles Berlitz. Together with screenwriter Stephen Lord, they merely appropriated the title and concocted a script that could fall into any number of PSI (Paranormal and Supernatural Investigation) categories and be targeted toward various demographics. In other words, if the "Triangle" hook didn't work, it could have been marketed as "The Killer Doll from the Deep" or "Aliens Invade Atlantis!" In any case, misled audiences would still be disappointed by whatever movie they came to see.
Facts of the Case
During the opening credits, we witness a 100-year-old schooner tossed about in a hurricane. Scrambling for safety, and fearing for her life, a little girl appears to be the only one onboard. A quick cut to the present introduces us to the crew of a yacht, the Black Whale, and a team of underwater explorers hoping to locate the legendary City of Atlantis. They have brought along their families, including a little girl who, without the benefit of binoculars or a telescope, spots a tiny doll floating in the water about a quarter-mile away. When the creepy doll is retrieved, it bears a startling resemblance to both the girl in the credits and to the tot herself, so she immediately claims it as her own.
All these goings-on are interspersed with a few brief scenes during which a squadron of U.S. Air Force planes go off course, radioing in their last desperate S.O.S.: "The magnetic gyroscopes have gone crazy! I can't see the water anymore! My God! What's this?" The plane then disappears within the "coordinates of Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda," notes Capt. Mark Briggs (Hugo Stiglitz) "That's the vortex known as the 'Bermuda Triangle!'"
And, wouldn't you know, that's exactly where the Black Whale is headed.
This is where Cardona introduces so many clichéd and disconnected elements that the film could well have been titled "The Bermuda Triangle: Themes and Variations." I'll try to list them in as logical an order as possible to give you an idea of what The Bermuda Triangle is—and is not—about.
• Ghost ships—The crew of the Black Whale encounters a "ghost ship" mid-way on their cruise, and they quickly identify it as one that had been lost at sea decades ago. The signal light is flashing, but the ship is deserted. And don't forget that the film opens with the storm-tossed schooner with only the one little girl on board. A last close-up of her terrified face suggests that she's afraid of something other than the wind and rain. Perhaps…
• Sea monsters—She may be threatened by a creature from the deep. Refer this to one of the modern explorers, Peter (Carlos East), who has plastered the walls of his cabin with lithographs of giant squids and other unidentifiable mutants of underwater life devouring ocean vessels. And, is there a "human" connection to these monsters? At one point, Peter lashes out at his wife, Sybil (Claudine Auger), "You should be at the bottom of the sea…in the company of your relatives!" Maybe it's just his way of calling her a bitch, but when the camera zooms in on one of those lithographs, it opens yet another door. Do these creatures attack at random, or are they the instinctive protectors of…
• Atlantis—Martin (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and his group are searching for the Lost City of Atlantis. During an underwater expedition, they discover some columns and artifacts, indicating they may have finally solved the mystery of this legendary underwater metropolis. Unfortunately, these ancient relics lay dead center at the bottom of the titular…
• Bermuda Triangle—In over 100 years, dozens of ships and planes are claimed to have vanished within its matrix, never to be seen or heard from again. These disappearances have sparked both mythical lore and scientific theories. A few believe they conform to the particular…
• Frequency of a certain configuration of stars—So, like the moon affects the Earth's tides, the Bermuda Triangle may be of astronomic or astrological origin. But, it may also be the result of…
• Alien intervention—All the last recorded messages radioed in to home bases on land cited "bright lights coming out of the sky!" A sharp and distinct blip on the Black Whale's radar screen is quickly absorbed by a large, cloudy shape—then both instantly disappear. Did this and all of those other planes and ships really crash and sink, or were they pulled into the sky? Most skeptics blame everything on…
• Malfunctioning equipment—Engines conk out at pivotal moments, and the Black Whale's propellers unexpectedly start up when a diver is looking for damage, resulting in an aquatic bloodbath. Gyroscopes and other navigational instruments spin wildly out of control, and the captain can't find their bearing. This all prompts more fear among the already…
• Superstitious crewmembers—The Black Whale's chief mate, Gordo (Miguel Ángel Fuentes), warns the explorers, "For your sake, it is better to respect the secrets of the sea, rather than provoke its wrath." Timon (Jorge Zamora), the ship's cook, believes the danger is already on board: "The devil is what she is," he says, referring to the…
• Evil kid—This little brat goes around telling everyone who is going to die and when. What a sweetie! She says she gets her information from "a man nobody else can see." Apparently, there wasn't enough time to cram this played-out idea into the proceedings because he's only mentioned this one time. So, by default, all credit for her "tips" and premonitions go to the…
• Killer doll—"I'm hungry, and so is my dolly," the kid tells Timon. "I want a cookie, and dolly wants some raw meat." Then, for no reason at all, a flock of exotic-looking birds attacks the girl—in the middle of the ocean!—and she beats most of them away with her doll. When she's rescued, the crew finds the dead carcasses of the remaining birds littering the deck—all with their necks chewed out. Dolly's porcelain lips, of course, are covered with blood.
Despite my efforts to coordinate director Cardona's scatter-shot approach to filmmaking, The Bermuda Triangle still remains an incoherent mess. You can slice-and-dice it, toss, tease, and tweak the aforementioned elements in any order, and still come up with a movie that goes nowhere at the pace of a barnacle. Cardona tries to bracket the film with opening and closing shots of that doll, but they don't tie together, explain, or resolve anything that has occurred within the film's overlong running time. There is no suspense at all, and there are no surprises, jolting shocks, or characters worth caring about. On the basis of The Bermuda Triangle, Cardona would fail the basic examination to qualify for Filmmaking 101.
How and why the esteemed John Huston became involved in this project remains a genuine mystery in itself. It falls between two of his most unique directorial efforts, The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Wise Blood (1979). Also, in 1979, he took on a crucial cameo in William Richert's cult classic Winter Kills. But, along with the rest of the cast in The Bermuda Triangle, Huston barely walks through his role and delivers his lines by rote.
VCI's anamorphic transfer looks excellent, especially during the evocative underwater sequences. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is so good that it can't cover the fact that the film was re-dubbed, even by Huston. Reading the actors' lips, they were speaking English, but, occasionally, they are slightly off cue. The characters sound as though they're all sitting around the same microphone. Even when one walks across the room, no "distance" is defined, and background noises are totally subdued. Either their accents were too heavy or the soundman made a lot of technical errors during the original shoot. The mediocre score too often relies on Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" from The Exorcist, with an occasional dash of Bernard Herrmann-esque high-pitched screeching sounds.
Extras include biographies of the director and a few actors (with 13 pages devoted to Huston) and trailers for Chariots of the Gods and two others of definite interest to film connoisseurs, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954), which was directed by none other than Luis Buñuel, and Hannibal (1960), co-directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour and Strange Illusion).
The Bermuda Triangle is strictly a hack-job without focus. Veterans (including myself), and newcomers intrigued by this subject matter, will be better informed by watching TV episodes of Unsolved Mysteries.
For believers, non-believers, and those just curious about the events that occurred within the "Bermuda Triangle" coordinates, I've provided a few links under "Accomplices." Included is a link to the Triangle's alleged connection with Atlantis.
Guilty! This Judge is pleased that the kitchen sink was not thrown in so he can toss this DVD down the garbage disposal.
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Studio: VCI Home Video
• Actor and Director Biographies
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