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Case Number 03534: Small Claims Court

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The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

Warner Bros. // 1953 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 12th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Sci-Fi Adventures, published February 2nd, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

They couldn't believe their eyes! They couldn't escape the terror! And neither will YOU!

The Case

The rhedosaurus, a prehistoric dinosaur, is thawed out of its deep sleep in the North Pole after scientists detonate an atomic bomb for research. Scientist Tom Nesbitt (Paul "Christian" Hubschmid) has seen the beast first hand. Only one problem: no one believes him. Desperate, he visits Dr. Elson, an authority on prehistoric creatures. He too, dismisses Nesbitt's claims, but Elson's assistant Lee Hunter thinks Nesbitt is on to something. The various other sightings of the monster help, too. Eventually, they get military aid from Col. Evans (Kenneth Tobey, The Thing from Another World).

Can they stop the monster from destroying the East Coast? Can they prevent the monster from spreading a deadly, blood-borne radiation disease? If you can't answer these questions, you haven't watched enough movies.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms may be the first in a well-used (and abused) cycle: the monster on the loose movie. The screenplay by Fred Freiberger (Star Trek), Robert Smith, Louis Morheim, and director Eugene Lourie, adapted from a Ray Bradbury story, is fairly intelligent and with brisk, believable dialogue. Granted, some of the scientific theories may be shaky, but considering this was a low budget ($200,000), independent production, it will keep you stimulated during all non-monster scenes.

The movie is just a good time. I haven't had so much fun watching one of these movies, well, since ever! The majority of these films are such cheap junk that I usually have a built-in resistance to them. Not this time.

Lourie, an underwater photography specialist, directed the film and does a serviceable job. He was not a great director (or even a good one at that), but he does all right here. His strength was in shooting both underwater footage and visual effects, and that strength comes to good use here. As for the acting, it's not really important here. Who watches these films for performances anyway? (Especially since lead actor Paul Hubschmid, a Swiss actor, speaks English as if he has peanut butter stuck on the roof of his mouth.) We're here for the monster.

But the real star is Ray Harryhausen. Having gotten his start working for George Pal on the Puppetoons series (Tubby the Tuba, John Henry and the Inki Poo), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was his debut feature. His specialty was stop-motion animation using puppets, and he creates a doozy of a creature here. Harryhausen's effects may seem dated compared to modern CGI, but I think his work looks much better than even the best CGI. His setpiece involving the rhenosaurus and a rollercoaster at a local amusement park is a small masterpiece. Compare that to the CGI Hulk, why don't you!

Warner presents the film in full frame, keeping true to the original aspect ratio of the film. The transfer is a mediocre affair. Stock footage was used in addition to newly filmed footage and as a result, the quality of the picture often changes throughout the brief running time. The stock footage is loaded with scratches, specks, dirt, and grain and there probably isn't much that could be done to fix it. The newly filmed footage is much better, looking clean and crisp, and other than a few jumpy edits in the print used for the transfer, there are no problems.

A flat Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound mix is included. The sound effects and musical score seem overmixed, often overpowering the film's dialogue. This is not a good thing, considering that the dialogue is necessary to understand the story. Ironically, the featurettes were presented in a much crisper, cleaner Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix.

Two featurettes are included and both are invaluable. "Rhedosaurus to the Rollercoaster: The Making of the Beast" features Ray Harryhausen discussing how he created the memorable title character. Still active in stop-motion animation at age 83 (his latest work, "The Tortoise and the Hare," had its world premiere on Turner Classic Movies this past July), he talks in a straightforward, completely honest manner. The second is "Harryhausen and Bradbury," a conversation with both men taped before a live audience. Wonderful to watch and listen to, this is a must for fans and casual viewers alike.

A set of four theatrical trailers, all sharing the common theme of stop-motion animation, are included. The Harryhausen productions The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (full frame), Clash of the Titans (in anamorphic widescreen), Valley of Gwangi (ditto), and the Willis O'Brien feature The Black Scorpion (full frame) are all films worth seeing.

Despite the shortcomings of the transfer, I happily recommend the disc anyway. This film is too much fun to ignore and those left unsatisfied by Godzilla (1998) and countless other awful monster on the loose films, should see this to see how such a movie should be made.

Case dismissed!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 84

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Fantasy

Distinguishing Marks

• "Rhenosaurus to Screen" Featurette
• "Harryhausen and Bradbury" Featurette
• Theatrical Trailers


• IMDb
• A Chat with Ray Harryhausen

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