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This movie is a prime example of the work of one of the masters of stop-motion animation, a form of art that is rapidly being supplanted by CGI. Ray Harryhausen was the ultimate master of this technique, having trained under the likes of Willis O'Brian. His work is still the inspiration for many of the special effects wizards today. Granted, the movies of the 1950's do seem stilted and silly, but quite frankly, the worst of them are probably still superior to most of the direct-to-video drek produced today, and likely better than most of the films produced by major studios. I was raised on films such as 20 Million Miles to Earth and have no problem letting my child watch films like this. I cannot say the same for most of what is released today. 20 Million Miles to Earth is a unique, fun film. It, like others of its kind, comes from a different era, when people were not as jaded and world-savvy as they are today. Save the critical eye for the more cynical, overproduced films of today. Enjoy it for what it is.
This is a simple enough film. Rocket returning from Venus crashes near
Sicily and a foetal thing grows to become a giant lizardy humanoid type
thing. The acting is ordinary and the script predictable.
What makes it better than average for a 1950s monster movie is the Ray Harryhausen animated Venusian, called a Ymir here. Photographed in atmospheric black and white, its progress from small caged creature to being loose and dangerous on the streets of Rome and fighting an elephant is engrossing. You can't help rooting for the Ymir, attacked along the way by dogs and soldiers. The Ymir becomes a character like Frankenstein's creation or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Excellent work by Harryhausen, and far more interesting than the CGI dinosaurs from Spielberg's over praised (and underwhelming) Jurassic Park trilogy.
I saw this gem in 1957 at the Vineland Drive In, La Puente, California (which still exists! Saw Hellboy there last night.) The creature was so believable it scared me into peeking from beneath a blanket. I was eleven. I was hooked. Sci-Fi rules. Harryhausen's work is amazing and reason enough to seek it out. I was thrilled to discover it is available on DVD, and disappointed that some TV stations cut the elephant/creature fight scene for fear of upsetting animal rights folks. I will definitely find that DVD - and thanks to someone for noting the Full screen version is best, the "Wide-screen" is actually cropped top and bottom. I wanna see it all!
The thing that distinguished Ray Harryhausen's movies from other '50s science fiction pictures was truth in advertising. Other producers crammed their posters with all kinds of things you knew you were never going to see on the screen, but with Harryhausen you got what was advertised and then some, whether it was flying saucers decimating Washington or (as in this case) a giant Venusian reptile terrorizing Rome. This movie is fast-paced, well-made, and intelligently crafted. The scene in the barn is a gem. And enough of this crap about the special effects being old fashioned. We're not talking about fashion here, children, we're talking about art. Stop-motion is an art form in itself and it may only appeal to minority tastes but so what. To slam Haryhausen's work for not looking like CGI graphics is like criticizing Rembrandt for creating pictures with a brush and paint instead of using a digital camera. Fashions change, art endures. That's your lesson for today.
Ray Harryhausen always wanted to film a monster movie in Europe and he got
his chance with 20 Million Miles to Earth.
A spacecraft returning from a trip to Venus crashes into the sea just off the coast of Italy. Local fishermen rescue two of the occupants who are still alive just before it sinks. One of them dies just after and the other is taken to a local hospital. Then, a small boy finds a canister containing a strange jelly substance and takes it to a visiting circus to see what it is. The owner of the circus takes charge of the jelly and a strange creature, the Ymir emerges from it. The following day, the Ymir has grown into a giant and it escapes and goes on the rampage, eventually ending up in Rome. The Military are called to try and capture it, but fail. While in Rome, the Ymir is put in the zoo as a tourist attraction, but it escapes from there, fights and kills an elephant and climbs the Colosseum, where he gets shot down and killed.
This is Harryhausen's personal favourite movie and he has a cameo appearance in the zoo sequence. As well as the Ymir, the elephant is also done in stop-motion.
The movie stars 50's sci fi regulars William Hopper (The Deadly Mantis) and Joan Taylor (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers).
This movie is one the better monster movies of the 50's and one of my favourites.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The moment the film begins it draws the viewer into its story about a US mission to Venus that brings back a specimen of a creature that grows at an incredibly rapid rate in Earth's atmosphere. The creature is like nothing else ever before on screen with its lizard-like human head and human torso, and dinosaur like legs and tail. The story naturally concentrates on capturing this creature before it destroys Italy. Like other monster films where the monsters are the sympathetic ones and the real monsters are the people, 20 Million Miles to Earth depicts a creature that is inquiring, basically harmless unless provoked, and heroic despite its eventual fate. Ray Harryhausen did a terrific job with his stop-motion animation, especially when we see the beast battle an elephant in the streets of Rome. The acting is decent, not as bad as some critics would argue. The film is pure entertainment and yet another commentary on mankind and the whole concept of the stranger within our society.
Let's state the obvious right off the bat. If it weren't for the stop-motion
animation in this film, it would be simply awful. Awful acting, awful
script, mediocre direction, this film has it all.
But once the monster appears on screen, none of that matters. Ray Harryhausen's animation is, as always, simply spellbinding, giving the monster, paradoxically, both a heightened reality (as it really is a physical object photographed in "real life") and a dreamlike quality. It's easy to see how Harryhausen's work set the standards for monster special effects until Star Wars and computer animation came along many years later.
This film is a particularly good example of his work for a number of reasons. There's only one monster (unlike the Sinbad/Jason/Titans movies), so all his effort is spent on that one "character". The monster also starts out small and grows huge by the end of the movie, allowing us to see it in a variety of settings. And, the fact that it's a humanoid (rather than a dinosaur or big octopus) allows it to "act" in a much more expressive manner (not unlike the original Kong).
So while this movie may qualify as little more than "MST3K" fodder as a science fiction work (did I mention how truly awful the script is?), as a piece of animation, it's a pure classic, deserving a space on your shelf next to King Kong, Snow White and Fantasia.
I think the best thing about this movie is that it's fast-moving. The
filmmakers don't waste a lot of time with unnecessary dialog or a sappy
romance. They get right to it and stay on track for almost all of the
Thus, if you like somewhat-hokey 1950s science-fiction movies dealing with space or monsters, or in this case both of them, you should enjoy this little film. Most of it involves trying to cope with a specimen from Venus which quickly grows into a Godzilla-like monster (but smaller).
It seems a space ship had gone to Venus, but crashed on the way home. Only good-guy William Hopper, who used to help Perry Mason win courtroom cases on TV about this same time, survives the crash. The ship lands in a big body of water off Italy. The specimen, about the size of a trout, washes onshore where a little boy finds it and then shows it to his scientist-uncle. Within hours, it seems, the "thing" begins to break out of its ice encasing and - presto! - we have a small little Godzilla. Hours later, it's about the size of a small man. Very soon it's several times the size of a man.
Here's the good and bad news on the special-effects, which are crucial to a film like this. With Hall of Fame FX man Ray Harryhausen, you know you're going to get the best of what you can expect from a film 50 years ago. Compared to most films of its ilk during the '50s, this is good stuff and the creature looks and moves in a pretty realistic manner. The only "goof" is that in some scenes, such as the one in the barn, the monster looks about three feet high in some shots, and 20 feet in others. The scale gets thrown out of whack a few times and then several times later in the film. Thus, you never really know how big this lizard-creature is. Overall, however, it's still done extremely well for its time period.
There is a scene, too, where the alien creature fights an elephant! Once again, for something 50 years old, they did an excellent job re-creating what that fight might look like. It was well done....and how often do you see a monster fighting an elephant?? Pretty cool stuff. By the way, I watched the colorized version and the monster was green.
The acting is passable, too. Hopper, as "Col. Robert Calder," knows what's he doing, as do most others in here. Some of the actors are familiar faces from '50s and '60s television. The female interest - which is played down - has Joan Taylor as "Marisa Leonardo." She's a bit bland but not bad-looking. She reminded me of Phyllis Coates, from the first season of "The Adventures Of Superman."
All in all, if you're looking for a campy and fun, along with fast-moving classic-era sci-fi flick, this is highly recommended. You won't be bored.
20 Million Miles to Earth is written by Bob Williams and Christopher
Knopf from an original treatment by Charlott Knight. The film was
produced by Charles H. Schneer's Morningside Productions for Columbia
Pictures and directed by Nathan H. Juran. It stars William Hopper, Joan
Taylor, Frank Puglia and a Ymir, a creation by stop-motion maestro Ray
The plot sees an American rocket ship on its return from a mission to Venus, crash land in the Mediterranean Sea near the Sicilian village of Gerra. Some fishermen aid the stricken ship and manage to pull free two survivors, Colonel Bob Calder and Dr. Sharman. Once Calder recovers it becomes known that an important canister brought from Venus has not been found after the crash. However, Pepe, a young fisher-boy who was present at the rescue, found the container and sold its rubbery contents to his Zoologist friend Dr. Leonardo. Whilst in the hands of Dr. Leonardo the gelatin like substance gives birth to a tiny Venusian bipedal creature called a Ymir, but it doesn't stay tiny for very long...
As the work of Dynamation legend Harryhausen got more accomplished and praised, it became a standing joke that his creatures were better actors than most of their adult co-stars. That's never more truer than with 20 Million Miles to Earth, where one of his best creations takes centre stage and acts the actors off the screen. It's also true that some, not all, of Harryhausen influenced movies are just thin clothes lines to hang his work upon. Thankfully that isn't the case here, for although it's homage a go go to King Kong, where Harryhausen hero Willis O'Brien pioneered the stop-motion process, Juran's movie has intelligence within its on the surface monster on the rampage plot.
There's nothing totally new in this genre piece about mans pursuit of more via technological advancement, the unremitting pursuit of science as a tool or plaything. So where Jeff Goldblum mused in Jurassic Park many years later, about that nobody stopped to ask if they should be tampering with science and nature, so it be here. Where the Ymir creature is whipped from its home planet, starts off harmless, afraid, puzzled and very much a stranger in a strange land, yet is provoked into an aggressive state. This even after we are told that the Ymir only attacks if being attacked first, cue next scene as man who said it starts poking confused creature with a big pole! You would laugh if it were it not so adroitly cunning.
Not only does the big question of "why?" loom large as things spiral out of control here in Italy, but animal rights are also given a poke, as is a nice thread as regards guns. It's just too cute not to mean something as Pepe, quite the capitalist indeed, wants to be an American cowboy. Buying himself a Texas hat he happily starts clicking away with his toy guns like some Western cowboy of the silver screen. You just know what is around the corner, soon enough the mighty army are throwing everything at poor Ymir, guns, tanks, bazookas, flame throwers, you name it and the mighty military are using it. America flexes its weaponry muscles on foreign soil, indeed. Against something that they are responsible for being here in the first place! You would laugh if it wee not so cunning...
Of course the trump card here is the creature itself because it shows a number of basic emotions. Harryhausen works his magic as Ymir goes through the various stages of its sad stay on Earth. From its brilliant birthing sequence where it rubs its eyes and shies away from the light, to the rousing finale at the Colosseum where rage and anger has fully taken over as the creature fights for its life; on a planet it doesn't know or wanted to be on anyway. This "thing" may eat Sulphur, but it has one hell of a personality thanks to Ray, who sat at his table for days on end creating these wonderful sequences for us to enjoy. Letting the creature breath, flick its tale and wrestle other animals. Quite a character indeed.
No personalities with the human cast though, Hopper (son of actress and gossip columnist, Hedda) is lantern jawed adequate enough for the role, and Taylor is pretty but playing a totally perfunctory character. While the Italian characters are as stereotypical as they come. But just like King Kong, 20 Million Miles to Earth has many fans who just adore it. More so now as advancements in DVD technology have seen remastered releases (even with a colour choice that's not bad at all) reach a new and interested audience. A fine fine film that rises above its failings due to a wizard at his work table and some brainy cheekiness from its writers. 7.5/10
This 50s sci-fi film has always been one of my favorites from that era. As with another Columbia Pictures film, "Earth vs the Flying Saucers", released the previous year, "20 Million Miles To Earth" features some of the same cast. This film has a relatively simple, straightforward plot, perfunctory acting, and a brisk pace. And as with "Earth vs the Flying Saucers", the main attraction is the outstanding Harryhausen effects. It is because of these similarities that I consider the two films companion pieces. Leonard Maltin calls the film one of the best monster-on-the- loose movies ever made and I certainly agree. The sulphur- eating, reptilian-like Venusian creature, "the Ymir's" titanic struggle with an elephant in the streets of Rome, preceding the climatic confrontation in the Colosseum with mankind, remains one of the greatest one-to-one creature battles of all time. Definitely recommended for the 1950s sci-fi connoisseur.
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