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RUNNING TIME: 165 Minutes
- B&W or Color
- Audio Commentary
- The Colorization Process
- Tim Burton sits down with Ray Harryhausen
- Interview with Joan Taylor
- Film Music’s Unsung Hero
- Comic Book
- Photo Galleries
- Ad Artwork
Astronauts not only go to Venus in a rocket ship but actually bring back a specimen. A specimen whose accelerated growth on Earth can mean only ONE THING…
William Hopper. Joan Taylor. Frank Puglia. John Zaremba. Thomas Browne Henry. The Ymir.
"I found the museum trite." "I disagree, wasn’t the Meso-American stuff breathtaking… why are they leaving?"
20,000 Miles to Earth is on DVD and the warm memories of thousands of genre fans and filmmakers for one reason and one alone. The work of Ray Harryhausen. While not the premiere showcase for his talents [pick a Sinbad movie or Clash of the Titans], it does feature one of his most classic creations, The Ymir. The rest is noise. This is the 50th anniversary of the film.
This was a staple of my childhood diet amidst Shogun Warriors, Godzilla flicks, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, examples of a solid foundation for a boy of the 70’s. The attention span I had must’ve been monk-like because the lapses between creature action in films like these is often really out of sync with today’s movies. This one’s not quite as bad but in my old age I found my patience straining at times, not because the joy of seeing the Ymir in action has faded but because the story is so threadbare, the acting so leaden, and the portrayal of Italians so lame.
But, Italians ARE lame so what do I know?
"Good God man, I don’t have time to take calls at the Walt Disney Wax Sculpture Exhibit!"
The film begins in typical old school fashion with a card setting the scene of an idyllic Italian fishing village and the men who are on wooden boats out for a day’s catch as well as little Pepe, the fisherboy who is actually the villain of the piece. Little selfish dick. A spaceship crash lands in the sea and the primitive Italians row over to investigate. As is typically the case, there’s defeated astronauts inside and two of them are dragged to safety before the rocket sinks down to wait for Leo DiCaprio.
There was another passenger, though. One which washed ashore. A Jar with a gelatinous alien egg inside. Upon discovering it, Pepe decides to hoard it for himself and sell it for a few coins to a scientist so he can buy a cowboy hat. Because all Italian kids only want a cowboy hat. This selfish decision leads to many deaths and most likely the sad, short life of one of cinema’s coolest monsters. By the time the soldiers [led by stiff spaceship survivor William Hopper] realize that the egg has survived the crash and hatched it’s too late; the Ymir has been born in the scientist’s home and is growing at an astromical rate.
First a curiosity, the beast spends his time shrieking and wandering around his cage in full-on Harryhausen splendor. As he grows, realization dawns that this thing could be a threat, especially when it rips through the bars of its cage and starts questing for its primary food source, sulfur.
Kevin Bacon enjoyed his new trampoline.
What follows is a hybrid of the King Kong school of storytelling married with the less intricate "giant monster on the prowl" modus operandi of the day and what saves 20 Million Miles to Earth from being a forgettable venture is the fact that Harryhausen invests so much emotion and character in his creature that it’s impossible not to fall for it. The Ymir is a wonderful creature, and though the filmmakers feel compelled to make it scream all the time [the Hanna/Barbera school of monster creation] he is by far the most interesting and charismatic character in the film. The Italians are portrayed as fools, nearly primitive in their makeup, and though I’m typing this on a block of rock with cave paintings etched onto it, I disagree. Additionally, the human characters never resemble more than one-dimensional beings, which makes it much harder to watch the film as anything more than an effects showcase. I remember this as being a classic and though the special features of the DVD boast the characterization and acting as being reasons this film is still well-known, it’s false.
The Ymir is everything here, whether fighting with an elephant or a dog [handled effectively in silhouette, apparently a decision Harryhausen made after being disappointed with his dog sculpt], or just wandering the countryside. His eyes have a real life to them and his expressions and body language are the reason Ray Harryhausen is and was and will always be the master of this art form. Though the matte lines and lighting and interaction with live action sometimes is defeated by the technology of the time, the creatures are always amazing and alive. On that mark, this is a wonderful and important film.
Sadly, the rest is just an example of how the meat of the story and desire to create a signature film in history are pushed aside in favor of getting the beast onscreen.
The DVD is pretty stacked, featuring a really nice commentary track by Harryhausen as well as effects legends Phil Tippet and Dennis Muren. They’re joined by Harryhausen expert Arnold Kunert, and the track is loaded with information and cool bits on how this film and others came into being. The best way to watch this DVD is with subtitles on and the commentary track playing. You’re deprived of the millions of Ymir screams as well as the ham-headed line readings. This is a great track and an audience with not one but three masters of the form.
The second disc is a mini-treasure trove of stuff ranging from terrific stuff devoted to the films ad campaign and a nice 20+ minute retrospective to a really bad comic book thing and a dreadful Tim Burton/Harryhausen conversation. There’s certainly enough material to make this a special edition and worth the double dip and the new artwork is quite nice.
It’s definitely a really solid DVD package but just don’t expect the film to be as great as childhood tricked you it was.
7.0 out of 10