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20 Million Miles to Earth [Blu-ray]  [US Import]
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The third and last of Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer's pictures for churn `em out fast and cheap executive producer Sam Katzman, 20 Million Miles to Earth is a decent mixture of sci-fi and monster movie. Rather than having its humans travel to another world and confront monsters or having ancient monsters reawaken and wreak destruction on the modern world, it tweaks both formulas to have a doomed mission to Venus bring back a sample of alien life with them. At first this creature is minute, but exposed to earth's atmosphere it doubles its size every day...
Although it's far from one of their best efforts as a film, some intelligence has gone into the script. The Italian setting allows the Ymir to fight for our entertainment on the same locations (the Colosseum) and against the same kind of creatures (an enraged elephant and well-armed fighting men) that gladiators did centuries earlier. And rather than going the King Kong route, there's no sympathy for the creature here - to the humans it's just an animal to be examined and then destroyed when it objects. But what really stands out about 20 Million Miles is the extraordinary quality of Harryhausen's special effects.
A close relative to the Kraken in Clash of the Titans, the Ymir is a huge leap forward for Harryhausen, the first of his own creatures to have a personality, conveyed through beautifully acted body language and credible reactions. It's also remarkably fluid compared to earlier efforts, constantly reacting - even when it's asleep it still breathes. Much of the animation is particularly complicated, not least a sequence when the Ymir is caught in a net. Throughout he's integrated into sets and real-life locations like the Rome Zoo, the Ponti St. Angelo and the Forum rather than just standing in the foreground as in much of Harryhausen's earlier work, even interacting properly with the shadows as the light source shifts. It's the moment that Harryhausen outdoes his mentor Willis O'Brien for the first time.
As with Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and It Came From Beneath the Sea, Columbia's region-free Blu-ray offers a typically unconvincingly colorised version alongside the original black and white version (both probably cropped tighter than on their original release at 1.85:1) and another plentiful selection of extras - audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett and Arnold Kunert, featurettes Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth, Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen, The Colorization Process and David Schecter on Film Music's Unsung Hero, an interview with Joan Taylor that's also included on the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers [Blu-ray] [Region Free], stills and poster galleries and a preview of the digital comic book, but no trailers for other Harryhausen films this time round.
Usually, these colourised films look awful. It is really obvious the colours have been artificially painted on, and they don't look like real colour film at all.
Here it is very well done, and the colour is the proper tone that Technicolour looks. Very amazing indeed.
Of course you can see it in b/w as well if you like, and the film is beautifully restored.
Lots of nice extras too.
A good disc that is recommended.
As you have guessed this movie is packed with Ray Harryhausen's stop motion. See more of Ray's work in "Clash of the Titans" notice how that there titan from the sea looks like the Ymir.
See William Hopper tackle something a bit bigger in "The Deadly Mantis" (1957)
This is an entertaining creature feature from the height of the genre. A manned mission has flown to Venus and back, picking up a specimen of the local life form whilst there. We enter the story just as the space ship is returning to Earth. It crashes in the Mediterranean, killing all but one of the crew and casting the specimen jar adrift. The jar is found and opened by a young boy who sells the contents to a local zoologist. The egg contained therein hatches and a Ymir is born. The film then follows the struggle between Ymir and man, as the creature starts to grow in an unfamiliar world. The Ymir just wants to be left alone and is by nature not an aggressive creature. But after unprovoked attacks it is driven mad, leading to a final thrilling showdown in then Coliseum of Rome.
It's a reasonably well constructed plot, and moves along at a good pace from one incident to the next. The acting is of variable quality, from the good performance of William Hopper as the space ship captain through to the terrible Italian accents of some of the Sicilian fishermen. But this is all part of the fun of these old B movies. The real joy of the feature is Ray Harryhausen's model work. He manages to imbue the Ymir with a real personality, and we feel much sympathy for the creature. The special effects are quite something, especially in the elephant fight and the rampage through Rome. From a technical and artistic point of view it is as good as only a Ray Harryhausen film can be.
This version has been colourised, though there is an option to watch the original black and white version, and one can even toggle between the two using the angle button on the remote. The colourisation works very very well. The film was originally conceived in colour, and would have been filmed as such except that the cost of colour film was prohibitive, and apparently colour film stock of the era was not of a good enough quality for Harryhausen to make his special effects. I feel that seeing it in colour is how it was originally intended, and the colourisation process has been done so proficiently you cannot see any running or overlay. The second disc of special features contains a short piece about the process which is interesting, an interview between Tim Burton and Harryhausen and a short piece about the composer. All in all it is an excellent package.
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A monster from Venus is brought back to earth by Astronauts and runs amok in Italy, growing larger by the day!
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