Tag Archives: Ray Harryhausen

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The Ugly American's got nothing on the Ugly Venusian.
The Ugly American’s got nothing on the Ugly Venusian

Plenty of sci-fi properties obsess over the planet Mars but there was a time, throughout the early part of the twentieth century, when the planet Venus commanded similar attention. Obviously, this was before robotic observation revealed the 900 °(F) desert under those miles-thick clouds of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. Damn place is hotter than Mercury once you get right down to it. But if you ever are magically transported to the surface, don’t panic: atmospheric pressure will crush you long before you have time to fry or choke on your own melting innards.

Nobody knew this in June, 1957, obviously. Sputnik was four months away from launch. Mariner-2 was five years away and scientists spent the rest of the 60s arguing about its data…i.e., doing their damn jobs. We can forgive 20 Million Miles to Earth its interplanetary ignorance. Especially since that ignorance doubles as the source of some truly batshit excuses for Science. And this is me talking: the from a man who thinks nothing of movies about dinosaurs spontaneously reanimated by atomic explosions. Unfortunately, this film signals a trend toward the same kinds of awful unthinking that kills genre movies to this day. It had all the elements of past successes, but the essential creative sparks that powered, say, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, or even Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, obviously faded as the decade that spawned them wore on.

I name drop those last two because 20 Million Miles to Earth is another collaboration between Columbia pictures and stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, flowing directly from 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea. Which also happened to be Harryhausen’s first collaboration with producer Charles H. Schneer, who would go on to produce Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and every other memorable movie with Harryhausen’s name on it until 1981’s Clash of the Titans. Continue reading 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

I'm sure you've seen this before in a hundred thousand "History of Special Effects" documentaries.
I’m sure you’ve seen this before in a hundred thousand “History of Special Effects” documentaries. Well, too bad, because 90% of the movie is…something else.

Columbia Pictures should give us all hope that we can rise above our station in life. This little Poverty Row studio, which made a name for itself producing comedy shorts in the 30s (including The Three Stooges’ most famous works) had, by the mid-50s, replaced RKO as a member of the Big Studios Club. With everything from Superman cartoons to  Marlon Brando Oscar winners in their catalog, its seems only natural Columbia would try to field a giant monster movie for 1955.

You have to give them credit for going about it the right way – hiring two of Them!‘s writers and a man (now) more famous than either of ’em – the stop-motion animator behind The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Ray Harryhausen. If this film’s remembered for anything, it’s remembered for Harryhausen’s effects. This is the mid-point between his career-defining turn in Beast and the next year’s State of the Art showcase, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. But Art doesn’t come cheap, so I shouldn’t be surprised all of Harryhausen’s contribution’s are crammed into the film’s last 15 minutes. I was. Unpleasantly so. But I shouldn’t have been.

It Came from Beneath the Sea fired its first warning shot right off, beginning with a Bad Movie Double Down: droning narration played over military stock footage. It’s 1955, after all, one year after the successful launch of the U.S. Navy’s first nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus. This is meant to make the move Relevant to a distracted audience who may not give a crap about anything outside their pathetic little lives. It ends up pointing towards a theme that might’ve ameliorated the many failings of this film, had anyone cared to play that theme out. As Our Humble Narrator says,

“The mind of man had thought of everything – except that which was beyond his comprehension!” Continue reading It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Photo by Peter Parker.
Photo by Peter Parker.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of giant monster movies. If I were Emperor, I’d ram a law through the Imperial Senate making it a felony office to call yourself “a giant monster movie fan” without having seen this movie. You don’t have to like it, certainly, since it’s not very good. But the one thing it is beyond all else is influential. Without this film, there would be no Godzilla, no daikaiju genre as a whole. Beast from 20,000 Fathoms did for radioactive dinosaurs what Dracula did for vampires and King Kong did for giant apes. For that, I salute this film, and so should you.

If you want to understand why monster movies are what they are to day, seeing Beast is unavoidable. It’s an indispensable resource, a key to all the genre’s modern conventions. It brought the monster-on-the-loose movie forward, into a post-War age. And it did it all without even trying to do anything more than cash in on a the previous year’s re-release of King Kong. Continue reading The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)

Watch the Skies!About six months ago I bought Earth vs. the Flying Saucers on impulse. I’d picked up an MST3K episode and was looking for something to go along with it. This was before Christmas, before the snowstorm trapped us all inside the house. So I bought Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and set it down on my bookshelf, next to the stack of Books To Read. I remember setting it down and thinking Eh, I’ll get to it, eventually.

Three months later I found the tape (still unopened) under a Dean Kootz book. Lightning, I think. I dusted the movie off and put it in my Movie Drawer, thinking, Eh, I’ll get to it, eventually. I began reading.

Three months after that (last night, as a matter of fact) I opened my Movie Drawer and there it was, nestled snug between my copies of The Thing and Bulworth, where it would rest, I realized, until the last trumpet sounds and the gates of Doomsday opened up to swallow us all, screaming. {More}

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

Well, its easy to make fun off. We can say that, certainly. What else is there to say about One Million Years B.C.? That “mockablity” does not a good movie make. Apart from some vintage Ray Harryhausen special effects, sure to please dinosaur and monster fans, this bland, mildly bitter little flick has absolutely nothing to recommend it. Except Raquel Welch’s breasts. If only they, and Harryhausen’s dinosaurs, had gotten more screen time. This movie might’ve been decent. Instead, they (the dinosaurs, not Welch’s breasts) pop up for no particular reason at all, distracting and interrupting my modest efforts to understand just what the hell is going on.

For some unforgivably stupid reason, screenwriters George Baker and Michael Carreras wrote an entire script in Cavemanese. If this film were a simple bit of exploitative nonsense (an excuse to star at Harryahusen’s T-rex and Raquel’s twin reginas) I’d say, okay: no harm, no foul. Just a pointless waste of movie. Unfortunatly, in a movie that is obviously driven by dialogue, its usually a good idea to have dialogue your audience can understand. Then again, films set in prehistoric worlds notorious for their stupid dialogue. Perhaps director Don Chaffey thought to avoid that Bert I. Gordon route,  having sat through the Notorious B.I.G.’s equally-notorious King Dinosaur. More likely love of Lon Chaney’s 1940 vehicle, One Million B.C., moved him (and his producers) beyond all rationality. After all, they decided to remake that piece of crap. {More}