Thursday, August 18, 2011

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

Seen: On dvd on my television, rented from Netflix.
81/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

An American manned rocket ship crashes off the coast of Sicily, with one surviving astronaut and a wayward egg that hatches into a fast-growing lizard monster. The US government wants to catch it and study it, hoping to learn more about its home planet of Venus, but the Italian authorities want it killed after it goes on a destructive spree across the Italian countryside, eventually tearing up Roman ruins like it isn't even a thing.

Also known as the BEEEEEEAST FROOOOOM SPAAAAACE, 20 Million Miles to Earth is one of those 50's monster movies that as a genre have become stuck in the public consciousness whether or not we actually watch them. It sets itself apart with its fantastic stop-motion effects done by the incomparable Ray Harryhausen. The monster looks so good, and surprisingly convincing, as he goes through various stages of growth and several bouts with surrounding asshole humans. When he's tiny he's kinda cute, and there is impressively less obvious disconnect between the stop-motion figure and his human counterparts. The final battle between him and a zoo elephant is well-staged and just weird enough to be totally mesmerizing.

I'll admit not much about the general story or characterization stands out, but I must comment on the hilarious half-hearted attempt at feminist inclusion in the character of Marisa (Joan Taylor). She starts off as an outspoken young medical student, taken aback by her patient Col. Calder's rudness and refusing to be called "nurse". She's all "I'M NOT A NURSE! I'M A DOCTOR, KIND OF!" When he proceeds to be a total dick she sedates him, and I'm totally into what's happening. But I knew it couldn't last. Five minutes later they're engaged in a super-boring romantic subplot that strips her of any fire or personality and reduces most of her scenes to wistful stares and dribbling dialogue. I mean, whatever, it's the 50's, all ladies want a big strong man who's a domineering asshole to them, I get it, but why start Marisa off as such an independent character if you're going to immediately reduce her to a dull stereotype?

Anyway. This movie is pretty cool, at times campy (so many over the top Italian accents, it's ridiculous) and at others legitimately action-packed thanks to Harryhausen's technical skills. It's not especially distinctive, though, and the script could be better.


Pair This Movie With: Aw, heck. Godzilla? I've never actually seen the original but I'm sure they'd go together well. Or any of the Gamera episodes of MST3K.

Further Reading: In an awesome moment of coincidence, I found a link to a hilarious and in-depth post about the film at Garbo Laughs the day after I watched it.


  1. 1) Watch the original Godzilla, you won't regret it.
    2) This would pair better with any Godzilla movie ASIDE FROM the original.

  2. I think you're pretty much dead-on about this movie. It's the upper-tier of the '50s sci-fi movies, just by virtue of Harryhausen's monster effects -- that Venus creature is just unforgettable.

    But the rest of the movie fades quickly. I saw it just a year or two, and I'd seen it before, but none of the writing sticks with me. That monster, though! DAMN.

  3. I wanted so badly to review this for the "50s Monster Mash" blogathon that went on last month. Unfortunately, I got stuck with "Earth vs. Flying Saucers." Not a terrible film but I much rather would have watched this, "Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," "Tarantula," or "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" instead.

    Harryhausen is the man.

  4. The introduction of "a Little Boy" into the mix was a common formula in Westerns to draw in 'families', but the Monster genre would keep this factor for years. GORGO (1961, Britain's 'Gojira' tale) used this, and Toho Studios would do it almost constantly from 1961's MOTHRA on.

    THEM's use of children was somewhat different - "the Ellinson girl" is brought into the film's intro, and two boys at the end.

    As for Harryhausen's personal favorites, he always recommended his mentor Willis O'Brien's work in 1957's THE BLACK SCORPION. The Ymir vs Elephant? Or the giant scorpion vs. the tank? Oooh - fortunately, we don't have to choose. Watch 'em both. Watch ALL of these!