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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)


Yesterday marked the 91st birthday of Ray Harryhausen- who is famous for being a master in the field of stop motion animation.  He pioneered techniques that allowed models to seemingly interact with live action scenery and people.  His work can be seen in such classics as, "It Came From Beneath the Sea" (1955), "Earth vs The Flying Saucers" (1956), "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "One Million Years B.C." (1966), and "Clash of the Titans" (1981).  To celebrate this great man, I'll be reviewing, "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" from 1953.

Happy 91st Birthday
Ray Harryhausen!

After a nuclear bomb test in the frigid ice near Baffin Bay, Professor Thomas Nesbitt discovers that they've released a prehistoric beast that follows the currents to New York City.  Soon, Nesbitt and his friend, Colonel Jack Evans are in a fight to save the city from the beast's rampage...

"The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" is based upon Ray Bradbury's short story, "The Fog Horn" that tells the tale of a see monster that is attracted to the sound of a fog horn- thinking it was another beast.  Upon discovering that it was just a light house, the beast destroys it.  Producers, Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester had a screenplay written, then asked Bradbury to have a look.  When he mentioned that he recognized the lighthouse scene from his story in the screenplay, Dietz and Chester arranged to buy the rights to "The Fog Horn", and credited Bradbury as being the basis of the screenplay.

This movie cost $210,000.00 to make- and made over $5 million, and would spawn an entire genre of monster movies.  Movies like, "THEM!" (1954), "Godzilla" (1954), "Behemoth, The Sea Monster"(1959), and many others would quickly follow, and remain a beloved part of the horror movie industry up to the present time.

I have a real soft spot for this movie.  I saw this film as a kid, and instantly fell in love with monster movies and dinosaurs.  Because of "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms," I think I was one of the few ten year olds that not only knew what Paleontology was, but how to spell it.  In fact, as a kid, I wanted to become a Paleontologist. Watching this film, I couldn't help smile and remember the influence it had on me.

This film may not have great acting, the performances by a few of them are still enjoyable.  Cecil Kellaway as Dr. Thurgood Elson was great.  I couldn't help get caught up in his calm enthusiasm.  His character's death was noble and appropriate as he put himself at risk for the sake of knowledge.  Paul Hubschmid (as Nesbitt), and Paula Ramond (as Dr. Lee Hunter) worked well together in their scenes, I felt.  Their best scene is when looking through drawings of dinosaurs in an attempt to identify the beast he accidentally released from the Arctic ice.  There is some good chemistry in this scene.

Of course, even though the above actors got star billing, the REAL star of the movie is Ray Harryhausen's, beast.  For the time it came out, "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" was quite innovative for how it was able to blend the animation of the beast, with the footage of actors and scenery.  There are some scenes where, even though the monsters movements are a little "twitchy", you can hardly tell that it was matted into the shot- especially in the scenes where it's coming from behind a building.  The beast itself looked pretty good, even if it had more of a modern lizard appearance to it.

The music was composed by David Buttolph, and set the standard and tone for the giant monster movies during the 1950's.

Not only did I enjoy watching this film as a kid, I still enjoyed watching it as an adult... and would probably enjoy watching it again with my own kids one day.  And for that reason, I'm putting "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" into "The Good".

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