A few years after Harryhausen created The Beast from 20000 Fathoms, the film that arguable launched the Kaiju genre, he was asked to turn his eyes skyward and animate a monster that came Twenty Million Miles to Earth. The film celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year with a special release.
Cast and Crew
Director: Nathan Juran
Writers: Charlotte Knight, Christopher Knopf, and Robert Creighton Williams
Effects by Ray Harryhausen
William Hopper as Col. Robert Calder
Joan Taylor as Marisa Leonardo
Frank Pulgia as Dr. Leonardo
Tito Vuolo as Commissoner Charra
Jan Arven as Cantino
Bart Bravernman as Pepe
Full credits available at the imdb.
The 50th Anniversary Edition is available in Blu-Ray and Standard DVD. This edition includes the original and a new, approved colorized version. The filmmakers originally planned to shoot in color; their limited budget prohibited it. Other features include a conversation between Harryhausen and Tim Burton.
An earth ship returns from Venus with a specimen that becomes a growing concern.
The Ymir makes an impressive alien creature. Sure, it’s a glorified bipedal dinosaur with a unique head, but it’s far more alien than most SF beasties of the 1950s, and Harryhausen brought it to life with state-of-the-art stop motion.
Critics of the effects have to keep in mind that these were state-of-the-art for 1957. The Ymir, as I’ve noted, rampages impressively even now. The other models, the damaged building portions and the spaceship, look incredibly cheesy fifty years later.
However, some elements look wrong, and would have even in 1957. The very large spaceship crashes into the ocean and makes nary a ripple, much less waves big enough to disturb the small fishing boats nearby. The elephant changes sizes noticeably during its battle with the Ymir. We’re told the Ymir has no lungs and does not breathe, and yet Harryhausen has given its chest a clear rising and falling while it rests. Artillery does surprisingly little damage to the surrounding buildings.
Originality: The Ymir may be original looking, but this is by-the-numbers 50s giant monster stuff. Harryhausen had already visited the basic plot with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and both owe a significant debt to King Kong. Humans take a beast from its natural habitat; beast escapes and rampages; beast dies and has the audience’s sympathies. 3/6
Effects: 4/6 Harryhausen’s model animation is excellent; other effects have dated badly.
Story 4/6 Very little happens that you won’t see coming, and some of it is very contrived. Dr. Leonardo remains unaware that a ship has crashed a short distance away and become major news, because he has to be unable to connect the mysterious egg to that event. The facility where authorities later hold the Ymir has an all-too-convenient power failure.
Acting: 4/6 The actors do passably well, especially given some stilted and clichéd dialogue.
Production 5/6 The movie accomplishes what it intended to do on a somewhat limited budget. It also includes some great shots of 1950s Italy.
Emotional Response: 5/6 The original audience would have been teenagers at the drive-in theater and kids at the Saturday matinee. The filmmakers knew this and took the film comparatively seriously anyway, and they produced an entertaining little movie. Fifties Sci-Fi cinema did a whole lot worse than 20 Million Miles to Earth.
In total, 20 Million Miles to Earth receives 29 out of 42.
One of the scientists working with the captured Ymir has come from Japan. One imagines that 50s-SF-Japan had most of the leading experts on Highly Unusual Megafauna, particularly their predilection for rampaging through human cities.
The Ymir’s actual last stand occurred when Harryhausen, facing budget limitations, cannibalized it to make the cyclops creature for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.