Monday, April 20, 2015

The Evolution of (Gill)Man


At the start of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON we see a team of geologists unearth the fossil of a webbed, skeletal hand at an excavation somewhere in the Amazon. While we never really learn exactly where this excavation is taking place, an even more interesting bit of trivia is revealed: The fossil dates back to the Devonian Period. It was probably a WOW! moment for all of the paleontologists in the house, but was essentially meaningless to those of us in gen pop.

Universal Monsters movies aren't the best place to learn about any science other than the “mad” variety. All you're supposed to infer from the use of the word Devonian is that the fossil was old (something also implied by the word "fossil"). But the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s ancestor was a lot older — and tougher — than you might think.

The Earth was a very different place at the start of the Devonian Period, which began about 416 million years ago. Citing “creative differences,” the original supercontinent of Pangaea had divided into two supercontinents. One of them, named Gondwana, would continue to fragment, eventually creating South America and Africa.

The Devonian period was part of the Paleozoic era, sometimes referred to as the Age of Fishes. In this case, “Fishes” means “Bio-mechanical Nightmares,” because many of the sea creatures swimming around Earth’s oceans during this period were not to be fucked with. National Geographic describes a variety of armored placoderms that patrolled the waterways that had “powerful jaws lined with bladelike plates that acted as teeth.” After spending some quality time with evolution, these monsters grew as large as 33 feet in length.

If Devonian life wasn't shitty enough, the period ended on an extremely dour note: The Earth endured one of its five major extinction events during its final act. And it didn't happen all at once, either. Depending on who you ask, the gods went all George RR Martin on this planet for anywhere between 500,000 and 25 million years. The words “mass” and “extinction” are used frequently when discussing the Devonian period. Approximately 70 percent of all invertebrate life on Earth died during this time.

When the apocalyptic dust settled, though, our fictional Gillman (and his kin) must have spent the next few million of years on vacation. As the neighborhood Apex Predator, the Creature from the Black Lagoon appears to have had only two genuine threats: Man and himself. If the Black Lagoon’s modest “creature” population is evidence of anything, it’s that they either died off from boredom, depleted their food sources or had a Panda-esque aversion to reproduction.

The Gillman's fascination with Julie Adams suggests otherwise, though.

Had our intrepid archaeologists ventured further into the Amazon, they might have found a thriving community of Gillmen and Gillwomen. It’s even possible that the one we meet in this movie was kicked out of the tribe like so much Jar Jar Binks, and there are hundreds more living the Life of Riley somewhere deeper in the Amazon. But: These were tough, dangerous creatures that managed to survive millions of years against the meanest and nastiest lifeforms to ever roam the Earth. Because these creatures aren't popping up on beaches all over the world, we can assume there aren't many left by the time Julie Adams took her first dip in the Black Lagoon. When the Gillman is seen walking into the water at the end of 1956's THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, it almost certainly marks the extinction of this rugged and unlikely life form.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...