20 Million Miles To Earth has always been one of my favorite films. It was from this classic monster fest that I developed my long standing respect for stop motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. In 1998, I got to meet Ray for the first time as his assistant for a horror convention (unfortunately run by a megalomaniac). It was there that I developed enough of a relationship with him and his lovely wife Diane that I was able to interview him at the 2003 Wonderfest in Louisville. Ray’s time was extremely limited, so I …as joined in my interview by Einsiders’ Rusty White. You can find the actual interview at: http://einsiders.com/features/interviews/harryhausen.php.
20 Million Miles to Earth was originally written by Harryhausen to take place in Chicago, but as Ray tells me: “I originated the story. Then, I wanted a trip to Italy, so I changed the location when I submitted it to Columbia. I had always wanted to go to Europe and I didn’t have the money. So, I changed the location to Sicily because I wanted to go to Rome.” The more exotic location gave Ray more than his chance to visit Italy. It supplied the film with one of those memorable climaxes as the creature climbs the walls of the Coliseum. The creature itself also went through several changes. Ray explains, “First he was a Cyclops, then he was a two-horned, with two eyes. Oh, he was very stout originally. Then I decided that he would be better off thin. So I made him more humanoid.”
The Ymir was indeed a humanoid and compassionate creature that would remind us of the touching King Kong. The stop motion effects of Ray Harryhausen alone are worth the price of this DVD. The story was more complex and inspired than anything else being done in the genre of the time. It has even been suggested by film historians that 20 Million Miles To Earth would be instrumental to the American acceptance of a certain Japanese monster who was being born that same year.
A secret rocket returns to Earth from the planet Venus. It crashes at sea off the coast of Sicily and the lone survivor is rescued by Italian fishermen. When a young boy finds a canister containing a strange jelly-like substance, he brings the object to the local zoologist. The jelly hatches into a doll-like creature with an extraordinary growth rate. As the creature grows, it threatens the inhabitants of Rome, where it must be stopped.
This film was made in 1956. The mono track supplied here can’t be expected to measure up to modern standards, and it doesn’t. While I wish Columbia had spent more money to restore the sound, I’m not sure that a digital remastering would add much to this film. You will always be able to hear the dialogue. The creature’s cries often reach into some high-end distortion and there are no lows to speak of.
You have 2 choices from the main menu. There is a Pan & Scan version or the superior original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Sadly, the print is not in great condition. This transfer is better than the laser version but not by much. There are plenty of scratches and even obvious splices to mar this classic film. Once again, its age has to be taken into consideration. All in all it is most definitely watchable. None of these dated problems can take away the magic of Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful effects wizardry.
Sadly, the only bonus materials are the same ones that are found in every Ray Harryhausen release… two documentaries entitled “Ray Harryhausen Chronicles” and “This Is Dynamation”.
It’s obvious I have a weakness for this film and the man responsible for bringing it to life. Those of you jaded by the great CG effects of the modern cinema might find this film tiresome and that is a great shame. If you are open-minded enough to appreciate it, this film will nestle comfortably in your heart forever. Sure beats “cooking over a hot creature all day”.
Special Features List
- “The Harryhausen Chronicles” documentary
- “This Is Dynamation” featurette