Our reviews of 20 Million Miles To Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition (published August 10th, 2007) and 20 Million Miles To Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray) (published December 13th, 2007) are also available.
"If I could have two helicopters and a squad of armed paratroopers…"
When it comes to classic science fiction movies, I cannot help but laugh at the myriad of scientific fallacies that are purported in those films. You might want to say the same thing about today's films, but I would contest that we've come a long way and our science fiction has a far better basis in science fact than ever before. Yes, we know that they were working with what they believed true at the time, but I still laugh. Sometimes their facts are just so wrong, I just shake my head in wonder.
20 Million Miles to Earth is part of the Ray Harryhausen collection showcasing the groundbreaking special effects artist's work with dynamation. All I have to mention is the fighting skeletons from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad—which, by the way, came out a year after this film—and you'll know exactly whom I'm talking about. It looks like Harry was fine-tuning his art with this one, because without Ray, I don't think anyone would care about this turkey for a second. Let me just say, for now, that this movie was so utterly exciting that I fell asleep during the climax (and it was only 8:00PM), and I had to "rewind" (what is the correct term?) the DVD to see how it all ended.
I could point out a hundred scientific errors in this film, but I'll be kind and just point out a couple here and there as we go along. Our first is truly a small one, pun intended, and that Venus and Earth are, on average, approximately 25 million miles apart.
Facts of the Case
It's some year where we only have black and white movies, yet the United States has built an amazing "aircraft" (or spacecraft, as we might prefer to call it) that has taken 17 astronauts to Venus and back! Amazingly, even though it is impossible for man to even set foot on the planet without being boiled alive or crushed by the pressure and weight of the atmosphere, our intrepid explorers have investigated that planet and found life! Even with their "foolproof equipment" that allows them to only be in the Venutian atmosphere for a "short while," many men were lost on the fateful trip. But even in the face of such tragedy, the mission is still considered an utter success because man has finally set foot on another planet! Even better, they found life! Our amazing group of travelers "accidentally learned" how to capture one of these peaceful creatures and have decided to bring it back to Earth for study.
On the cusp of fame and glory, the trip goes awry when the creature does nothing! The creature is bundled all nice and cozy in its gelatinous membrane when a stray meteor crashes into the ship. Immense damage is caused, instruments fail, more astronauts die. Fortunately Colonel Robert Calder (William Hopper) is able to pilot the damaged vessel back to Earth, but he only succeeded in crashing it into the Mediterranean Sea. After a spectacular crash, a couple local fishermen make their way to the strange vessel to see if they can find any survivors. Miraculously, they find a way to enter the sinking ship and find two men still alive, one being the Colonel. They are able to get away from the craft just in time, and they get the survivors to a local hospital.
Meanwhile, Pepe, the son of one of the fishermen, finds an unusual container on the beach. Being an inquisitive (some would say stupid) little boy, he opens it up and finds this weird, rubbery thing inside. Knowing an opportunity to make a quick lire, he takes the thing to a zoologist who just happens to be visiting the area. The scientist is amazed by the discovery and readily agrees to give the boy two hundred lire—which the silly boy uses to buy a real cowboy hat "from the country of Texas." After his purchase, he begins a quick examination of the object but is unable to make any deductions—least of which that it's a creature from Venus!
Meanwhile at the local hospital, a visiting "almost doctor" is treating the two surviving astronauts. It turns out she's still a student just shy of her degree, and that she's also the granddaughter of the visiting zoologist. Colonel Calder wakes up healthy as a horse while his companion, the ship's doctor, dies a terrible death. Calder realizes that he must learn what has happened to the container with the creature in it. Sixteen men lost must be redeemed by finding this amazing creature from another planet.
Back in Washington D.C., everyone is distressed when they believe that their fantastic craft has been lost in space. But soon they are overjoyed to learn that it has crashed with survivors just off the coast of Sicily! Arrangements are made and these important people are off to Sicily, where everyonea ina thisa area speaksa Englisha witha justa slighta Italian accenta.
Very quickly (hey, this is just an 80-minute movie after all) the people from D.C. meet up with the Colonel and they begin to search for the missing creature. Naked Italian men with small tanks are sent down to scour the wreckage. But soon they stumble over Pepe and learn that he already found the canister and sold its contents to the zoologist.
And the hunt begins for the zoologist, who is off on his way to Rome with this fascinating discovery. However, his trip comes to an abrupt end when the creature escapes after growing to ten times its original size! Will the United States recapture the creature from Venus? Will the Italians cooperate in the search? How big will the creature get? Will it be taken dead or alive? Will Rome ever be the same?
You can practically feel the innocence dripping from the screen while watching this old movie. Everything about this film screams out, I'm from the 1950s:
• Everyone dresses up in the film. Men were ties and women were
dresses, even at the zoo.
Maybe not everything I just mentioned is strictly '50s idealism, but it's a convenient enough place to toss out those little nuggets.
Aside from the fact that I'm a jaded viewer and that the science is quite ill conceived, this really is just a plain, boring ole movie not worthy of your time. Why? Mainly because the monster/alien is not all the scary or impressive. It really doesn't terrorize that many people nor does it cause that much damage. It's simply trying to run away from those weird Americans that kept shooting at it. There's no suspense, no feeling of danger, no anxiety about who will survive or what mayhem will ensue. This film, in my mind (and without any research), really seems more as a showcase for dynamation than for anything else. I had actually wondered why dynamation was used for this film at all, for it's just one monster with minimal screen time. I figured some other special effect, a simpler special effect, could have been used instead. Not knowing at that point that this was before Sinbad, I figured someone just jumped at the chance to cash in on Harryhausen's talent. But, now I know this came first so it seems he was refining his skills. Dynamation is cool, but this movie does not do the form justice.
Did I mention I fell asleep during the movie's climax?
For a dud from 1957, the video transfer is surprisingly acceptable. You're given a choice of either anamorphic widescreen (yes) or full screen (no), and when you choose the former, you'll find a presentation that is quite dirty, grainy, a bit dull, and not that impressive. The film is black and white and there is solid separation and definition between the two. Another big downfall of the film itself is the fact that whenever the monster is onscreen, the special effects layering (I'm deducing) causes the film to get exceedingly dull and unfocused. It's not the transfer, but the film itself—the limitations of the day. On the bright side, there are no transfer defects: no artifacting, edge enhancement, or any other evil picture degradations. This is truly a mediocre transfer, but I am not all that concerned because of the film's age. It may be bad, but it seems "to fit" with the feel of the film itself. On the audio side, you have exactly one choice: a Dolby Digital mono track. It is not a very dynamic track, but it does clearly present the dialogue. Can't ask for much more for a 45-year-old film.
There are a few bonus features available for your perusal on this disc. The first is "The Harryhausen Chronicles." It's a three and a half minute piece that really doesn't belong on this disc. It purports to give some background information on Ray Harryhausen, but it really is a fluffy look at The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I presume you'll find this little PR piece on that disc too. Then you get the "This is Dynamation" featurette as narrated by Spock (Leonard Nimoy, in case you've been living on Venus) himself! That's what's good about it. Okay, I exaggerate. This has some mildly interesting information about dynamation, but nothing you really don't know or couldn't find out on the Internet. Lastly, you get two trailers, one for this film, and one for The 3 World of Sinbad. To wit, what is it with numbers in all the titles of Harryhausen movies?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is classic science-fiction horror at its best with a big, bad creature wrecking havoc upon the unfortunate victims of a city. Mayhem, destruction, and explosions! Everything you could want in a film plus the magic of Harryhausen's dynamation. How could you go wrong? You can't.
There is no danger, no excitement, and no edge-of-your-seats wonder in this film. Even dynamation can't make this movie better than blah. Alas, I must say that this movie is one that you're better off staying away from. It's definitely not worthy of a purchase but possibly worth a rental, if you're bored and looking for something to watch while drunk.
Even though rocket propelled grenades are launched at the Coliseum causing damage to this ancient and revered structure, all charges are dropped. A little superglue and no one will ever be the wiser.
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