Notable neither for its director nor its stars, 20 Million Miles to Earth
has been given the widescreen spit 'n' polish treatment because of its special-effects man, the legendary Ray Harryhausen. And it's his work here that makes this daft slice of hokum so watchable. When a group of Italian boat fishermen investigate a crash-landed space rocket returned from a trip to Venus, they find one surviving all-American hero and an alien in aspic: the Emere, a tiny homunculus hungry for sulphur and growing faster than a teenager on steroids. Cue man-vs-alien mayhem, screenfuls of avuncular patriarchs and the gratuitous destruction of Rome.
A by-numbers B-movie, Harryhausen's sixth feature isn't a patch on his later Technicolor masterpieces, but the unusual Italian setting ("I wanted a trip to Europe") adds an exotic quality and his effects are as solid and convincing as ever. The film only really begins to crackle when his stop-motion creation is onscreen. Like a scaly King Kong, he's as likely to engender sympathy as fear: surely anyone who's been bombed, blasted, burnt, electrocuted, shot at by trigger-happy squaddies and involved in a punch-up with a pachyderm is entitled to lose their rag a little. And fans will enjoy spotting in the Emere the flowerings of Harryhausen's later and greater creations, Sinbad's Cyclops and The Titans' Calibos and Kraken. The denouement, with the creature atop the Colosseum, is as effective as that of Kong's. It wasn't beauty who killed the beast here, however, it was bombs.
On the DVD: 20 Million Miles to Earth's black and white picture is clean and crisp in this anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, and the Dolby digital mono soundtrack is clear enough. The theatrical trailer will please fans of kitsch, as will the featurette "This Is Dynamation" produced at the same time as the first Sinbad movie. The real corker here, though, is the generously lengthed documentary "The Harryhausen Chronicles". Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, this features a stellar cast of devotees (George Lucas among them) waxing lyrical about the influence of Harryhausen's films, and allows the man himself to ramble fascinatingly over clips of his filmic canon. The claw-slash menu marker is a nice touch, too. If you're a fan, this disc is Harryhausen heaven. --Paul Eisinger
The first human expedition to Venus returns to Earth in a crash landing off the coast of Italy. Theonly survivor is Hopper and he's frightened that he may have lost a canister holding specimens of Venusian life. 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH is Ray Harryhausen's signature special effects story of a terrifying monster from Venus running wild and wreaking havoc in Italy.