It may come as a surprise to many, but Godzilla was not the first ancient "monster" reawakened by the testing of nuclear weapons; in fact, there is reason to believe that Godzilla was influenced to a significant extent by this 1953 classic. Produced on a miniscule budget of some two hundred thousand dollars, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms features high quality all across the board: an intelligent script, some pretty good acting, and wonderful direction (by first-time director Eugene Lourie) - the film even showcases a rare example of beneficial stock footage. What make it particularly special and memorable, however, are the special effects by Ray Harryhausen, the veritable king of stop-motion animation. Remember the incredible animation of King Kong in the original 1933 film? Well, Harryhausen took those same animation techniques to a whole new level, using actual footage as the backdrops for scenes featuring the beast wreaking havoc in New York City. I actually prefer great stop-motion animation like this to today's CGI, as a Harryhausen beast such as this one seems more real to me.
The story opens in the Arctic Circle, where scientists are conducting nuclear weapons tests. Two scientists go out to check readings, but only one comes back. The survivor is rushed to a hospital in the States, and as soon as he is awake he starts telling people about the gigantic dinosaur he saw before he collapsed in the snow. Not surprisingly, no one believes his story. As a scientist, though, Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) knows that what he saw was real. After hearing the account of a fishing boat up north being attacked by a "sea serpent," he goes to see Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), one of the most renowned paleontologists in the world, but the professor refuses to believe the impossible. The same goes for all of Nesbitt's superiors, who dismiss his "hallucination" as a mere product of shock. Dr. Elson's assistant, Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond), is a little more sympathetic to Nesbitt's account (and not only because she's obviously attracted to him), though, and the two of them work to gather the proof needed to convince others of the prehistoric creature's existence.
Don't ask me how a cold-blooded reptile, no matter how large he is, can possibly survive the freezing temperatures of the Arctic for very long or how he can stay under water for as long as he wants without breathing. Just know that this beast, identified as a Rhedosaurus (not a real dinosaur, so don't bother looking it up), does these things - and he comes ashore in New York City about the same time that Nesbitt finally manages to get anyone important to believe his story. New York's finest quickly learn that standard guns and ammo just aren't going to work, and things only get worse when scientists discover that the creature's newly-shed blood is potentially even more dangerous than the physical destruction the beast leaves in his wake. The final showdown, which takes place at Coney Island, is actually rather sad and tragic, especially for those of us who sympathize with the beast.
The only thing I don't like about this film is the fact that it identifies Ray Bradbury as one of the writers. It just so happened that one scene in the film ended up sounding a lot like a scene from one of Bradbury's stories ("The Foghorn"), and so the studio bought the rights to it - to avoid a possible lawsuit, one must assume. It's also no secret that Bradbury and Harryhausen were good friends. My point, though, is that any reference to this film being written by Bradbury is a vast overstatement. In practical terms, he did little more than read over the script and remark that one scene sounded like a scene in one of his stories.
The bottom line is that The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is one of the best - and certainly one of the most influential - monster movies ever made, and I find it regrettable that it gets far less attention than the monsters and monster movies that came after it. Despite (and in many ways because of) its comparatively small budget, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms more than deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Godzilla.
Nuclear testing out in the arctic rouses a prehistoric Rhedosaurs from its icy incarcerated sleep. It promptly lays waste to everything that gets in its path, and its next stop is New York City.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms stands as one of the most important of the 50s sci-fi/creature feature films that filled the screens during that particular decade. Notable for being the first picture where Ray Harryhausen had total control over the effects (and thus setting his career on an upward route), it is also one of two pictures from 1953 that would be the first adaptations of the gifted writings of Ray Bradbury (the other being It Came from Outer Space).
Watching it now you can see just what a template movie it was to be for the genre, the perils of nuclear testing a vivid jolt of paranoia, the rugged alpha male, the svelt sexy strong lady, and of course the creature to terrify all who come into contact with it, yep it's safe to say that this picture has all the trademarks. The Rhedosaurus (completely made up name) is a wonderful creation from Harryhausen, a giant stalking lizard who sinks ships for fun, pulls down lighthouses, and has no problems about feasting on local police officers, it's safe to say that since being woken from his sleep he is in a very bad mood! While the ending is wonderful, as the giant beast finds himself cloaked in a roller-coaster with mankind fighting the good fight, a perfect finish to a hugely enjoyable picture. 8/10
on 29 January 2006
An absolute Harryhausen classic.
When you consider the age of this film, the special effects are still great, and a testament to Harryhausens work.
The film is far better than similar films of today, mainly because it does not rely on using actors for their ability to look good rather than act, some bint with more mamory glands than talent, or C-G-bloody-I!
The whole family can watch this and enjoy it, and the extras are a must for any Harryhausen fan, though if you already own a Harryhausen DVD the chances are you already own the extras as they all seem to have them.
This film has all the 50's Sci-Fi standards except the flame thrower. We start off with a narrative that shows an atomic test taking place in the frozen north. Two people go out to take readings after the test. One does not come back and the other is delusional, talking of a monster. Naturally he needs curing and is almost well with a female paleontologist starts to believe him and offers to let him eat her sandwiches and look at mug shots of mobsters past. Can the authorities be convinced before it is too late?
Yes I know most people watched this movie because it has Lee Van Cleef playing a pivotal role. Yet we should not forget the many other familiar character actors that make this a true 50's monster picture. First there is that cute little monster himself curtseys of Ray Harryhausen; when he pushes over a lighthouse I can only think of one of my cats. He had the same mischievous look. Then there is Paula Raymond who has been in every TV play from "77 Sunset Strip" to several "Perry Mason's." Not to mention Cecil Kellaway, Dr. Chumley in Harvey (1950). Kenneth Tobey as Captain Patrick Hendry in "The Thing From Another World" (1951). There are way too many to mention here; so you will just have to watch for yourself.