johnlink ranks 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

There aren’t too many behind-the-scenes folks who trump all others in recognition. 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH is a Ray Harryhausen film. That it was directed by Nathan Juran is trivial. It is Harryhausen’s name which conjures, in many, a particular style of stop-motion monster mayhem.

I watched 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) on 2.27.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

So this movie starts with a manned mission to Venus crash landing back on Earth. There was a larvae on board which eventually hatches and turns into a monster which looks a lot like Lizzie from the RAMPAGE video games (pictured below). It grows up to trounce Italy.

The opening sequence with the returning ship is unfortunate. The stop motion looks terrible. Once it gets into the water, the ship looks fine. But those opening shots set a weak tone.

I was expecting that to continue, but the stop motion with the monster is actually quite good, quite nuanced. It is sadly more nuanced than the acting. The story is pretty unbelievable, and I don’t mean in its sci-fi aspects. The way the military and the governments respond to this thing is so counter to the way  we all understand it would actually happen. Plus, I just find it strange that they called this 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, when the entire thing takes place on Earth. In fact, the information we get to hear about the mission on Venus, which is told by the surviving astronaut (who also gets to lead the chase for the monster for some reason), turns out to be far more interesting fare than the story this movie chooses to put forth.

But this is not meant to be a film about its plot. It’s supposed to showcase a monster being destructive. Through the first three-quarters of the film  it is the size of a man or smaller. The danger comes across as fairly minimal. In the final scene, when it grows to King Kong size, the first big fight occurs between the beast and an elephant. Why the elephant seems to pick the fight, I’m not sure. But it delays the beast long enough for the military to shoot some stuff at it, chase it into a coliseum, and then knock it off the top of the building (almost exactly like KING KONG but on a much, much, much smaller scale). So, unfortunately, the action aspect of this doesn’t really pay off.

I try not to grade older movies on a curve. When I give something like ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD a ’10’ for its entertainment value it is because it has earned it, not because it was good for its time. So while I appreciate that modern special effects stand on the shoulders of Harryhausen, there is no denying that this isn’t a good film. I don’t think it is terrible, though the writing is weak, the acting poor, and the direction ineffective. But rather, I see it as an artifact of the 50s, when the imaginations of some of these special effects visionaries were outpacing what the film medium was technologically capable of providing. Am I glad I saw it? I guess so. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed. But I’m not asking 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH on a second date.



I do have to give credit for the work on the monster, even if some of the other stop-motion stuff (the ship, and later, some falling rocks) is eye-rolling. The detail and effort put into the beast from Venus really is stellar.



~ by johnlink00 on February 27, 2012.

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