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October 13th, 2012

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03:35 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: 20 Million Miles to Earth
This is gonna be quick, because I have a bachelor party to leave for in a little more than half an hour. Today, I look at 20 Million Miles to Earth, which was directed by Nathan Juran, but really, it's a showcase for Ray Harryhausen's special effects. Don't know who Ray Harryhausen is? Look him up -- you're missing out.

The film begins as a spacecraft crashes into the Mediterranean off the coast of Sicily. A fishing boat investigates, and rescues two of the crew, but the ship is sinking fast, and it is submerged before they can pull anyone else out. The two men are treated by a medical student named Marisa who just happens to be in the area with her grandfather, the eminent zoologist Dr. Leonardo.

The Pentagon gets involved. The ship was one of ours, and it was returning home from a top secret expedition to Venus. It turns out that Venus is full of precious and useful minerals, but it won't be easy to harvest them because of the harsh Venusian atmosphere. Still, Venus apparently sustains some life of its own. Even if the rest of the mission was a failure, they've brought back a specimen to study with the intention of figuring out how it survives. Does uh, does anybody know where the specimen got to?

As a matter of fact, someone does. A little boy salvages it when it washes up on shore, and sells it to Dr. Leonardo, who has no idea what it is or where it comes from. By the time the Pentagon catches up to Leonardo, the egg has hatched, and the creature is growing at an unprecedented rate. You can guess the rest: soon it becomes too big to contain, and goes on a rampage through scenic Rome, destroying landmarks faster than you can recognize them.

It's not a bad story, but it's not a important one, either. Mostly, you watch these movies for the spectacle, and unfortunately, that becomes harder and harder as special effects improve. These days, a reasonably good Kaiju rampage can be whipped up on a budget with CGI, and it's easy to forget how much work must have gone into 20 Million Miles to Earth. The creature is done in stop-motion, and it's amazingly detailed. I can only imagine the level of skill and patience necessary to create such a thing, let along to create the scenes where it mauls a (stop-motion) man, or tussles with an elephant. Seriously, these are incredible sequences. Yes, you can tell that they're fake, but for me, that just highlights the quality of the artifice.

What else can I tell you? Well, the general quality of the film and its actors are acceptable. Not high, but again, the special effects really are the centerpiece of the film, and I think it was always planned that way. Listen for American actors whose Italian accents fade in and out, and uh, don't pay much attention to the "science", and you should be fine.

I watched the original, black and white version, but apparently Harryhausen oversaw a color restoration which came out on DVD in 2007. Somehow it's a sacrilege when Ted Turner colorizes old movies, but when Legend Films does it, they're doing us a favor. There's not a joke in that sentence -- I mean it.

Here's the trailer.

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Garmonbozia for the soul.

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