‘The Sea Beast’ Director Chris Williams: 5 Movies That Inspired the Oscar-Nominated Ocean Adventure

From “Mad Max” to “Paper Moon,” these films helped Williams steer the Netflix animated voyage

The Sea Beast

“The Sea Beast,” the most-watched Netflix original animated film, is also an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature. And it’s the type of movie that you can feel was made by someone who really loves movies.

That someone is producer/writer/director Chris Williams, whose story centers on a monster hunter named Jacob (Karl Urban) whose life is turned upside down by a pint-sized stowaway named Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator). Maisie winds up challenging his entire way of life, as he’s forced to confront the harsh truths about what he does so well – hunt sea monsters.

TheWrap spoke with Williams during the final leg of his Oscar campaign about the five movies that inspired him the most during the making of “The Sea Beast” – and what made them influential.

1. “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

Paramount Pictures

This might be the easiest movie to see in “The Sea Beast,” both because of Jacob’s somewhat Indiana Jone-ish persona and just the feeling of the movie, as a swashbuckling old-school adventure. And “Raiders of the Lost Ark” had a huge impact on the movie and the man who made it.

“‘Raiders’ is a specific one because of the influence it had on the movie and also on me. There are those movies where you remember not just the movie but the experience of watching it. That was one for me. I remember the theater. I remember everything about it. I was so enthralled by it, it was everything I wanted a movie to be,” Williams said. “I was having an internal conversation where I was cognizant of the fact that adults made this and they obviously love this material. I thought, I didn’t know you could be a grown-up and still be that passionate about this kind of thing. It was reassuring because I could knew I could growup and I wouldn’t have to let go of all of the things I love as a kid. It was a really important experience for me. It’s one of the handful of movies that made me want to make movies and tell stories visually.”

And all of that fed into “The Sea Beast.”

“Of course, the spirit, the adventure of it, in terms of the tone, the sensibility, that was one of the things I was most inspired by as far as ‘The Sea Beast’ goes,” Williams said.

2. “Paper Moon”

Paramount Pictures

This next one might be harder to see in “The Sea Beast,” but it’s there. Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 classic “Paper Moon,” a Depression-era comedy starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal.  But then when you think more about it, you can sense the connection, especially since “The Sea Beast” was initially called “Jacob and the Sea Beast,” before the production added the much-needed character of Maisie.

“I loved the dynamic between the two leads in ‘Paper Moon.’ There was something about the approach to the young girl with this fiery energy and this point-of-view and she was very much driving things. And the way she would knock Ryan O’Neal back on his heels and he was so much better. They were great foils for each other,” Williams explained. “Both characters were better because they had such great foils. That was one of the things that I think about a lot. People talk about great characters but no character is great sitting alone in a room by themselves. I was very much influenced by that in ‘The Sea Beast.’”

Instead of having a lone character, the introduction of Maisie made the entire movie richer and more complicated. It’s hard to think of a version of the movie without her, much less one they toiled away on for ages.

3. “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”

20th Century Fox

There are huge sailing ships in “The Sea Beast.” And one of the only movies to see that kind of experience is “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” Peter Weir’s delicious (and still hugely underrated) nautical adventure starring Russell Crowe. And it turns out that the two movies shared an important crewmember.

“’Master and Commander’ was a huge influence in terms of the authenticity. I didn’t know anything about ships before I embarked on making this film but I really wanted that feeling of knowing what it felt like being out at sea. I visited naval museums in Dana Point and San Diego and I met this guy Gordon Laco, who was this incredible consultant who had worked on ‘Master and Commander’ and he knows everything about these tall sailing ships,” Williams said. “We talked to Gordon about life at sea and how these ships work and the organism that is the crew. That was a big priority for us. I knew that the worldbuilding was going to be really important more than any other movie I’ve worked on and that was something that ‘Master and Commander’ did so well. When you watch that movie you understand what it’s like to be out at sea to the extent that you can without going into the open ocean. That’s making sure you’re talking to experts and making sure you sweat the details.”

And speaking of worldbuilding…  

4. “Blade Runner” / “Lord of the Rings”

blade runner harrison ford
Warner Bros.

Okay, so we lumped Ridley Scott’s dystopian detective movie “Blade Runner” and Peter Jackson’s soaring J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation “The Lord of the Rings” together but so what? They both served a purpose (and a point of inspiration) for Williams and his entire creative team.

“People got sick of me talking about those movies. I would talk about ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ as incredible examples of complete world-building – where you get a sense that there was a history that led up to the point the story began and you get a sense there’s an incredible world outside of the frame,” Williams said. “That ethos guided us as we were designing everything in this world. The thing with animated movies, nothing comes for free. Everything you see is thought about and designed and built. To get that feeling of immersion and believability in the world you have to sweat the details. That is something that I wanted to bring to ‘The Sea Beast.’” And he did.

5. “The Road Warrior”

The Road Warrior
Warner Bros.

If there is one filmmaker Chris Williams absolutely adores, it’s George Miller. (Williams was the one who designed the sequence in Disney’s “Moana” that feels lifted out of “Fury Road.”) And so for “The Sea Beast,” you can sense the aura of George Miller, in the elaborately produced action sequences, which escalate in terms of intensity and complication, something Williams was keen to discuss.

“What I always loved about George Miller is that through the course of his scenes there’s this really kinetic, propulsive feeling. But at the same time you can always tell what is going on. It’s not just cutting from one person shooting a gun to one person falling down,” Williams said. “He’s constructing stories and stories that present new complications as they go on. The hero is confronted with bigger and bigger obstacles. I love that balance of real propulsion and thrilling editing, thrilling staging but the clear geography. That’s the balance I wanted to strike with this film. But also the scale of it – he always goes big and bigger than you expect. And I love action scenes and in animation they are challenging and expensive and there’s a tendency to contain them and shrink them. And the whole time I kept thinking, What would George Miller would do? No he’d make it even bigger! I kept expanding the scale and the audacity to it. There’s an audaciousness to his scenes and I wanted to tap into that spirit.”

“The Sea Beast” is on Netflix now.