Harryhausen's Venus de Monster
When "20 Million Miles to Earth" was released back in 1957 it was science fiction fantasy, delivering the horror of monsters from such far flung places as Venus. Watching "20 Million Miles to Earth" now it's more science fiction fun because not only is all the stuff which once played on audiences minds now quite funny but so is all the science fiction of a manned flight to Venus. Adding to the fun is a storyline which is corny, dialogue which is cheesy and acting which well it's shaky, remembering that I am on about this movie now. But the thing which still stands up, which still is seriously impressive is the stop motion work of Ray Harryhausen and it is Harryhausen's work which is the real reason why you should still watch "20 Million Miles to Earth".
When a spaceship crashes into the sea off of the coast of Sicily the only human survivor is Col. Robert Calder (William Hopper) who is rescued from the wreckage by some fishermen. But something else survives the crash, an alien cocoon which entrepreneurial young Pepe (Bart Braverman) sneaks away and sells to a zoologist. But when that cocoon hatches it releases a monster known as Ymir, a monster which grows remarkably quickly and begins terrorizing the city of Rome where it is taken.
So "20 Million Miles to Earth" takes place in Italy, you may wonder why and it leads to one of the fun stories about the movie because Ray Harryhausen always wanted to holiday in Italy but couldn't afford it so some how had the movie made there. I don't know how much truth there is to that story but if it is true good on Harryhausen. Anyway as to the actual story well to be honest it feels like a "King Kong" rip off and by that I mean once we actually have the monster on earth it is a case that it gets loose, escapes to the Coliseum and goes to the highest point. There is some fun before we get there; we have the space craft crashing to sea, young Pepe selling the Alien cocoon to a zoologist and a few other little things but the over all story ends up quite routine.
And routine is how the performances end up with William Hopper being upright and heroic as Col. Robert Calder the sole survivor of the trip to Venus. Joan Taylor is attractive and sufficient enough at screaming when it comes to Doctor in training Marisa Leonardo and I could go on because there is not really one stand out performance or character from the main ones. In fact the most entertaining performance comes from Bart Braverman who plays Texas hat obsessed Pepe who mischievously sells the cocoon to Dr. Leonardo.
But the thing is that the only real reason to still watch "20 Million Miles to Earth" is to be amazed at Harryhausen's model and stop motion work which is fantastic. The irony is that as a kid I would have mocked the stop motion work of the monster but watching it now you can really appreciate the effort which went in to it. From the visual look of the monster to the way it moves, the noises it makes it is simply great, maybe not Harryhausen's greatest work but most certainly the best thing about this movie.
The thing is that whilst the stop motion special effects for the most still impress the rest of the movie is now quite laughable especially when it comes to the actual science fiction. The minute we discover the crashed space rocket has been to Venus you feel a smile creeping across your face and when ever Col. Calder mentions something he learned from being on Venus you find that smile turning to a laugh. In the end it is a case that what is now wrong with "20 Million Miles to Earth" ends up being a reason as to why it entertains but in a different way than originally intended.
What this all boils down to is that "20 Million Miles to Earth" is not a great piece of science fiction, it's not to be honest a great 50s movie but it does feature the talents of Ray Harryhausen and it is his work with the special effects, the modelling and the stop motion which makes it worth watching now.