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DVD Reviews

HTF Review: 20 Million Miles to Earth 50th Anniversary Edition



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#1 of 19 Richard Gallagher

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Posted July 29 2007 - 03:30 PM

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Studio: Sony/Columbia
Year: 1957
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Black & White and Colorized
Languages: English
Subtitles: English


The Program

Why is always so costly for man to move from the present to the future?

That question is posed by 20 Million Miles to Earth, one of the more highly-regarded sci-fi/alien monster films of the fifties. Directed by Nathan Juran (The Deadly Mantis, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, etc.), the movie is actually the brainchild of Ray Harryhausen, who also played a major role in the production of the DVD. Harryhausen was the special effects guru of the motion picture industry in the pre-CGI days, and 20 Million Miles to Earth is one of his earlier efforts. This 50th Anniversary Edition contains two versions of the film – the original black and white presentation which was released in 1957, and a new colorized edition. My comments on the colorized version can be found in the Video section of this review.

A manned space mission to Venus, led by Air Force Colonel Robert Calder (William Hopper), goes out of control during re-entry and crashes into the Mediterranean Sea near Sicily. Two Sicilian fishermen manage to rescue Col. Calder and Dr. Sharman, the mission’s chief scientist, just before the spacecraft sinks into the sea. The two men are cared for by Marisa Leonardo (Joan Taylor), who is in medical school and is “almost” a doctor. Dr. Sharman dies of a strange disease which he contracted on Venus, but Col. Calder survives with not much more than a scratch on his arm.

The spacecraft also has an unwilling passenger – a gelatinous “egg” which was placed in a watertight cylinder. Unbeknownst to Col. Calder, the cylinder washes up on shore and is discovered by Pepe, a young boy who was in the boat with the two fishermen. Instead of telling the adults about what he has found, Pepe takes the cylinder into a cave and opens it. Big mistake! Thinking that he may have found something valuable, Pepe takes the hunk of gelatin to Marisa’s grandfather, Dr. Leonardo (Frank Puglia), who is a zoologist. Dr. Leonardo’s curiosity is piqued and he gives Pepe a few coins. Later that evening, in one of the film’s more memorable scenes, the gelatin hatches and a small lizard-like, bi-ped creature emerges. Dr. Leonardo places the creature in a cage, prompting Marisa to say, “So very ugly – and yet it seems so frightened.”

The next morning, Dr. Leonardo and Marisa are astounded to discover that the creature has doubled in size overnight. [A few words here about the creature: Harryhausen named it “The Ymir,” but the creature is never referred to by name in the film. Harryhausen explains that there was concern that viewers might confuse “Ymir” with “Emir.” Harryhausen still calls it “The Ymir,” as do many fans of the film.] Dr. Leonardo, who has no idea that the creature is an alien, decides to take it to Rome for further study. Along the way the creature gets loose, and havoc ensues.

20 Million Miles to Earth is an intriguing production. Although portions of the movie were filmed in Italy, the only actor who actually went to Italy was William Hopper. The other actors with speaking parts filmed their scenes in Hollywood, often with rear projection placing them in Sicily and Rome. For distant scenes which were filmed in Italy, doubles were used for all actors other than Hopper. William Hopper, the son of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, attained his greatest fame playing the role of private investigator Paul Drake in the television series Perry Mason.

The plot of 20 Million Miles to Earth is reminiscent of King Kong in the sense that it involves a creature taken against it will to a strange and inhospitable new environment. The difference here is that Kong was brought to New York to be put on display, whereas The Ymir was brought to Earth so that scientists could study it and learn how it survives in the atmosphere of Venus.

This film is recommended without qualification for fans of the genre. It is fast-paced, clocking in at 82 minutes, and Harryhausen’s stop animation is amazing, as always.

The Video

Most film purists agree that colorization is an abomination. However, I have no real objection to colorized DVDs as long as the original black and white version of the film is included. Thankfully, that is the case here.

On the other hand, I watched the colorized version of 20 Million Miles to Earth and it is remarkably well-done. In addition, the colorization of the film was done with the blessing and participation of Ray Harryhausen. “I am thrilled that this film is finally being seen in color,” says the 87-year-old Harryhausen. “I had wanted to do the film in color in the 1950s, but our budget was not large enough to accommodate that luxury. Now, thanks to the marvelous advances made in the colorization process by San Diego’s Legend Films and others, audiences will be able to see 20 Millions Miles to Earth as I originally intended.” The colorization process was supervised by Harryhausen, meaning that he ultimately made the choices about what colors to use. The colors here, as rendered by Legend Films, are quite vivid and consistent. Once I got into the film, I was surprised to discover that I was not distracted by the fact that it is colorized.

That said, purists will be happy to learn that the black and white version looks terrific. The picture is consistently sharp, the contrasts are excellent, and the image is free of dirt, splices or other damage. There is a minimal amount of grain, which is mostly noticeable in shots of the sky. Overall, the film probably has not looked this good since it was released fifty years ago.

Both versions of the film are on disc one, and viewers can toggle between the black and white version and the colorized version via the angle button on your DVD’s remote control.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital soundtrack is fine. The dialogue is crisp and understandable throughout. The mono sound is rendered without objectionable noise or distortion. There is nothing here that will tax your sound system, but there is nothing to complain about, either.

The Supplements

This DVD of 20 Million Miles to Earth is packed with extras. First there is an audio commentary featuring Ray Harryhausen, visual effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett, and documentary producer Arnold Kunert. As one would expect, the commentary focuses primarily on the technical aspects of the film.

Disc Two is completely dedicated to extras. A featurette entitled “Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth” covers the transformation of Harryhausen’s original idea for the film into a screenplay and then to a finished movie. Included are comments by film directors Terry Gilliam and John Landis. A major treat is a lengthy interview of Harryhausen by Tim Burton, whose career was greatly influenced by Harryhausen. This is followed by an interview with Joan Taylor, who at the age of 77 demonstrates an excellent recollection of her participation in this film and others (among them Earth vs. the Flying Saucers). She had married writer Leonard Freeman (creator of the television series Hawaii 5-0) in 1953 and in 1958 she turned to television work (she no longer was willing to go on location for films) until her retirement in 1963.

Colorization, that controversial process, is discussed at length in a featurette which describes the technological advances which are now being used by Legend Films. In another segment, Arnold Kunert talks about the film’s marketing and advertising campaign Viewers who are interested in how films of that era were scored will be fascinated by the featurette “Mischa Bakaleinikoff: Film Music’s Unsung Hero.” Bakaleinikoff was musical director, conductor and occasionally composer for Columbia’s B pictures. His credits on IMDB encompass more than 500 films. Also included on Disc Two are a Still and Production Art Gallery and a “sneak peek” of a new comic book entitled “20 Million Miles More.”

Other Features

The main menu on Disc One allows the viewer to select either the black and white or colorized version of the film. The angle button on the DVD’s remote control allows viewers to toggle between the two versions. The audio commentary also can be turned on and off from the main menu. Disc Two starts up with a similarly-designed menu which provides access to all of the extras except the audio commentary.

Packaging

This two-disc set comes in a keepcase which has original promotional artwork on the cover. The sealed keepcase arrived inside a cardboard outer case which has a label on it pointing out that the DVD includes both the black and white and colorized versions of the film.

The Final Analysis

Fans of fifties sci-fi in general and Ray Harryhausen in particular should have no hesitation about picking up this 50th Anniversary Edition. At a street price of under $20, it is a bargain.

Equipment used for this review:

Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: July 31, 2007
Rich Gallagher

#2 of 19 Doug Otte

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Posted July 30 2007 - 03:19 AM

Richard, thanks for the excellent review. Were you able to compare the B&W picture quality on this new release vs. the original DVD?

Thanks,
Doug

#3 of 19 Richard Gallagher

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Posted July 30 2007 - 03:52 AM

Doug,

No, I don't have the earlier DVD. The only thing I have to compare it with is the laserdisc.

This one looks terrific, though, so if they were any flaws in the 2002 DVD, they have been cleaned up here.
Rich Gallagher

#4 of 19 Steve Christou

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Posted July 30 2007 - 08:40 AM

Thanks for the review almost forgot about this one. The first Harryhausen movie on dvd with a commentary by the great man himself! It'll be interesting to toggle between the B/W and colorised versions. Looking forward to more Harryhausen special editions. Posted Image



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Dave hören... auf, wille stoppen sie Dave... stoppen sie Dave... Mein gehirn geht... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin ängstlich Dave... Guter Nachmittag. Ich bin ein HAL 9000 computer. Ich wurde funktionsfähig am HAL-Betrieb in Urbana, Illinois auf January 12 1992.


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#5 of 19 oscar_merkx

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Posted July 30 2007 - 11:30 AM

that seals the deal especially as the man himself has done a commentary at last.

perhaps he will do this also for his other pictures
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#6 of 19 Steve Christou

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Posted July 30 2007 - 11:39 AM

...and here he is talking about the process -

Quote:
"It gives them a whole new life," Harryhausen says. "People are prejudiced against colorization because the first ones, from 20 years ago, didn't look so good. But I'm very impressed with what they can do now."

Harryhausen, a stop-motion specialist who has a rabid fan following because of his work on '60s films like "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" (which was filmed in color) says his earlier work was in black-and-white strictly for budgetary reasons.

"We wanted to originally shoot '20 Million Miles to Earth' in color, but we didn't have the money," Harryhausen says, referring to the 1957 sci-fi epic about a fast-growing Venusian monster that demolishes Rome.

Sony is releasing the flick in a new two-disc edition tomorrow that includes a sharp new transfer of the original black-and-white version that, at the touch of a button, turns into a bright, new computer-colored version. It's the first full-length colorized feature released by Sony, which says it was approached by Harryhausen after he supervised a colorized version of "She," a 1935 science-fiction adventure with special effects by Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien of "King Kong" fame.

http://www.nypost.co....u_lumenick.htm

Dave hören... auf, wille stoppen sie Dave... stoppen sie Dave... Mein gehirn geht... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin ängstlich Dave... Guter Nachmittag. Ich bin ein HAL 9000 computer. Ich wurde funktionsfähig am HAL-Betrieb in Urbana, Illinois auf January 12 1992.


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#7 of 19 stevenHa

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Posted July 30 2007 - 11:40 AM

If someone has the old and new editions, can they comment on the video quality ? Thanks.

#8 of 19 Thomas T

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Posted July 30 2007 - 12:47 PM

The colorized She that Harryhausen supervised is coming out via Kino. Unlike 20 Million though, I'm not sure its "his" to colorize .... in the moral sense, not legal. What next? A colorized Beast From 20,000 Fathoms? Well, at least the original versions are always provided.

#9 of 19 Richard Gallagher

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Posted July 30 2007 - 01:28 PM

The Kino edition of She is scheduled to be released on August 21.

http://www.amazon.co....5845221&sr=1-2
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#10 of 19 mike--

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Posted July 31 2007 - 09:38 AM

It's still cropped??.....the original DVD was cropped if you compared it the full-screen version (the original DVD had BOTH a widescreen version and full frame version).......and when I watched this new 50th anniversary edition-- it's the same cropped widescreen version as the original DVD!.......the color though is a nice feature.

#11 of 19 Doug Otte

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Posted July 31 2007 - 10:37 AM

Mike, I'm pretty sure the cropped widescreen is how it was presented in the '50s. The film was shot open matte and some theaters showed it that way; others cropped it to widescreen.

Feel free to correct me on this topic, but I remember a long thread here about these '50s films a while back.

Doug

#12 of 19 Douglas R

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Posted July 31 2007 - 06:45 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Otte
Mike, I'm pretty sure the cropped widescreen is how it was presented in the '50s. The film was shot open matte and some theaters showed it that way; others cropped it to widescreen.
Doug

I find it hard to believe that in 1957 any commercial theater would show a film in 1.33:1. Certainly that would not have been the intended ratio.

#13 of 19 Doug Otte

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Posted August 01 2007 - 02:08 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Douglas R
I find it hard to believe that in 1957 any commercial theater would show a film in 1.33:1. Certainly that would not have been the intended ratio.

You might be right about that, but my point is that I think the film was shot flat at 1.33:1 then cropped for widescreen display. I'll shut up now and let the experts chime in.

I wonder what they'll do w/ the Blu-Ray release? Will it be both widescreen and 1.33:1?

Doug

#14 of 19 John Sparks

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Posted August 01 2007 - 05:39 AM

That will be what dreams are made of...
...retired at last...and Ray Harryhausen at my side!!!

 

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#15 of 19 Doug Otte

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Posted August 01 2007 - 07:59 AM

Hmm. Amazon's preorder of the Blu-Ray says it's 319 minutes. If the film is about 82 minutes, and there are 4 versions (B&W 1.33:1, B&W 1.66:1, color 1.33:1, color 1.66:1), then we get everything just like the SD version.

Interesting....I've been leaning toward breaking into HD w/ a Blu-Ray player, and all the announcements like this one are pushing me closer to it.

Doug

#16 of 19 Johnny Angell

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Posted August 02 2007 - 10:17 AM

When you look at the cover for "She" on Amazon it says "Deluxe Two Disc Edition Conceived by Ray Harryhausen". Now what the heck does that mean? It also says both a B&W and colorized version are included.

What's the reputation of this film? I don't believe I've ever seen it.

At the risk of writing blasphemy, I'm going to say I don't think Ray H. is a very good commentator. I don't think this commentary was that good and I wasn't impressed with him on King Kong. He comes across as very "gee whiz" much of the time and there's a lot he doesn't remember. Hey, there's a lot I've forgotten too, I know what the years do to you.

For older films like this, its an opportunity to get a film historian to do the commentary. My favorites are the ones along the lines of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and It Came from Outer Space. You can tell much preparation has been done as there is hardly a moment of silence and the information is always relevant and not repeated.

From this commentary I got the impression there are some more Ray H's B&W films that are going to get this treatment, is that true?

Lest I be too negative, I love this film, and am very happy to have this DVD. That scene were the female lead enters the trailer with the newly hatched ymir(sp?) just gives me goose bumps. Isn't Ray just fantastic when he dimly lights a scene?
Johnny
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#17 of 19 MikeGale

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Posted August 07 2007 - 05:30 AM

The colorized version is indeed well done...after toggling between the two versions, I actually found myself enjoying the color version more.

The only thing I found disappointing about this edition is that the original trailer is NOT included. I believe the trailer can be found on other Harryhausen DVDs, but it's hard to believe that this intended definitive special edition left it out.

#18 of 19 Gunnar Syren

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Posted August 11 2007 - 07:50 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Angell
From this commentary I got the impression there are some more Ray H's B&W films that are going to get this treatment, is that true?

That's the impression I got, and one of the extras on this release had a colorized excerpt from It Came From Beneath the Sea, so...

#19 of 19 Jari K

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Posted August 15 2007 - 06:11 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Otte
You might be right about that, but my point is that I think the film was shot flat at 1.33:1 then cropped for widescreen display.

Most of the films with the OAR of 1.66:1/1.85:1 in the theatres were shot in a way, that you can (if you like) "remove the mattes" and release the "Open matte 4:3" on home video/TV.

"20 Million Miles to Earth" is not "cropped for widescreen display". It´s shot in 4:3 negative (not sure is this the correct term?), with the intention to show it in 1.85:1 in the theatres. Most of the 4:3-versions of 1.85:1-films are "open matte" and they all reveal something extra on the top and on the bottom. That still doesn´t make them (4:3-versons) OAR..

Back in e.g. the 80s (golden days of VHS), many films were shot in 1.85:1, so that you can easily remove the mattes later on and release the film in 4:3 (Open matte) in home video/TV. Director/DOP composed the shots in 1.85:1, but they also kept the 4:3 "safe area" clean from the mikes and other stuff that doesn´t belong there. These "alternate 4:3-vesions" often looked quite decent, but many times there are too much head room, etc.





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