More Cephalopod Cinema Please

The Thimble Tickle Giant Squid of 1878 (Image Credit: Julie Potton, CC BY 4.0)

Cephalopods have absolutely everything you could want in a movie hero. Spread across the class Cephalopoda are the cute (baby cuttlefish), the intelligent, the devious (pretending to be a female to get past the males is spectacularly sneaky), the tragic (the plight of the octopus mother is heartwrenching), and even the dramatic (blasts of ink to mark your departure aren’t exactly subtle).

What I’m saying, in a very roundabout way, is that there should be more cephalopods on screen. More speeches by Andy Serkis on the power of the cuttlefish. More cranky octoplebs slinking around getting up to no good in aquariums helping the Dorys of the world.

Which is why I’m happy to have been hit with a barrage of octopodes/octopuses/octopi in media lately. The list includes the astonishingly CGI Octalus in 90’s B classic Deep Rising, to Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Kraken, to the Land Octopus that has been wreaking such havoc on the lives of Elden Ring‘s players. So I thought I’d traipse through some of the more fantastical traits that these octoplonks have been blessed with.

Life on Land

The Land Octopus of Elden Ring seems to have gained notoriety for an exceptionally confusing design, and for being an octopus on land (it’s in the name). Yet this isn’t that much a stretch of the imagination. There are a few octopus species who will make there way between rock pools via the land when the tide has gone out, looking for prey. They move much the way you’d expect, slimily dragging themselves across rocks by their suckers. Most ventures last a couple of minutes, however there are claims that some species can last up to 30 minutes out of the water. You can even see David Attenborough narrate one such escapade in the vid below (the species is Abdopus aculeatus).

Normally they would be doing this at nighttime though, and staying well out of the sun, as they rely on staying moist during their land-bound sojourns. So the Land Octopus we see hanging around water bodies in Elden Ring would probably not be out of the water for very long, especially given how many seem to be doing so in broad daylight.

Arm Independence

The big reveal in 90s cult sleeper Deep Rising is that the large vicious worm-like critters that have been hunting down the film’s humans are actually the tentacles of one large, monstrous octopus analogue. The reveal is kind of fun, but seriously draws into questions the seeming intelligence of the individual limbs.

Though it seems a bit far-fetched, once again it’s not too much of a departure from the general brilliance of octopuds. Our intelligence is obviously centred mainly in our brains, but octopus intelligence is distributed along their tentacles as well, and the tentacles are capable of a lot more autonomy than our limbs are. Individual suckers on some species are even capable of making their own ‘choices’.

The constant ambushes that the individual arms perform are probably a bit of a stretch, seeing as most octopuddles taste through touch. So a blind groping motion would probably be more realistic than carefully planned ambushes.

Krakenesque Size?

The Kraken has had many ‘faces’ over the years, but the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (not to mention much of Norse mythology) depicted it as a large squid-like creature. The giant squid is obviously a real creature, but for the longest time evidence of them was incredibly sparse, with some of the earliest examples a rare catch by Reverend Moses Harvey (more about him at the bottom of this article), and marks on sperm whales (one of their only predators).

The longest giant squid found was 13 metres from head to tail, but the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can get even larger, up to 14 metres. It’s not exactly ship-sinking length, but I wouldn’t want to have to confront one in its natural habitat (and not just because they live at depths that would crush me instantly).

None of this precocious pedantry detracts from the fact that cephalopods are still well worthy of as much screen time as possible. Huge mimic octopants as comic relief? Perfectly camouflaged cuttlefish lurking in the shadows (or anywhere)? Fantastic film fodder. Gimme a romantic comedy between a giant squid and a sperm whale. More please.

If you enjoyed this, check out our recent podcast episode below featuring more octopus-filled speculation.

New episodes of Cinematica Animalia are available every Thursday. You can listen in on Spotifyon Soundcloud, or any podcast app worth its salt.

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