Rated: Not Rated
Length: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Black & White and Colorized
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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