20 Million Miles to Earth (DVD)

20 Million Miles to Earth 50th Anniversary Edition DVD (click for larger image)Reviewed by Uncle Creepy

Starring William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, John Zaremba, Thomas Browne Henry

Directed by Nathan Juran

Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Classic: clas·sic — adj.
A. Belonging to the highest rank or class
B. Serving as the established model or standard
C. Having lasting significance or worth; enduring

There ya go. End of review.

What are you still doing here? OK, OK.

Ah, the Fifties! Some of the best monsters of classic cinema came from that decade. Especially the mighty Ymir. After an American spaceship crash lands in the sea near Italy, a lone survivor (Hooper) and his specimen from Venus are rescued by the local townsfolk. The astronaut? He goes to the hospital and is taken care of by a hot nurse complete with trademark Fifties pointy bra. His cargo? Into the hands of a tiny peasant boy who sells it to a local scientist. It’s not long before a rapidly growing biped emerges from its slimy casing. Once loose, the twenty-foot interstellar behemoth ends up tangoing with police, circus wildlife, and of course the military.

That’s the story in a nutshell, and if you haven’t seen this flick yet, do so as soon as humanly possible. 20 Million Miles to Earth stands as one of the greatest examples of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion talents and his “Dynamation” (rear-projection) technique. All manner of monster badassery is employed here to the tenth power! Plain and simple, this movie fucking rocks.

20 Million Miles to Earth 50th Anniversary Edition DVD (click for larger image)Now on to quite possibly the biggest question about this two-disc set, it’s main attraction — this is the first time the film has appeared in color ever. The results of the process of colorizing black and white films have been spotty at best. Turner’s colorization of the Romero classic Night of the Living Dead still haunts me with its lime green zombies. I’m happy to say that with time and advances in technology this technique has gotten a hell of a lot better. 20 Million Miles to Earth looks amazing. The colors are rich and natural and, more importantly, are never distracting. The best part? For you purists out there, and believe me — I hear ya, you can switch to the original black and white print on the fly by pressing your DVD player’s angle button at any time. Finally! A use for it! YAY!

With that out of the way, it’s time to tackle this set’s host of extras, and wow, there are a lot of them. Disc one not only contains the color and black and white versions of the film, but it is also home to a stellar commentary with Harryhausen himself along with visual effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett and film historian Arnold Kunert. Honestly, this feature is worth the price of admission alone, but there’s also an entire other disc’s worth of goodies to be explored.

Things kick off with the twenty-seven-minute featurette Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth. Two words — fucking stellar. In this segment we get to learn about all the things that went into creating this B-movie masterpiece as well as hear from some of our genre’s biggest names such as Rick Baker, Terry Gilliam, Stan Winston, the Chiodo brothers, and of course Harryhausen. Each person shares his affection not only for the film but for Ray’s work and inspiration. It’s funny, enlightening, heartwarming, and essential viewing.

Next up we get a featurette about the technique of colorizing this classic titled, what else?, The Colorization Process. Clocking in at about eleven minutes, this is exactly what you think it is. Legend Films has delivered a great product, and their process does deserve its own bit of spotlight.

20 Million Miles to Earth 50th Anniversary Edition DVD (click for larger image)From there we’re treated to two interviews, each around twenty minutes long, one conducted by Tim Burton with Harryhausen and the other featuring star Joan Taylor. Even though the Burton segment is great, at this point it almost feels like a bit of Ray over-kill. For a bit more fun check out Joan’s. This lady is wonderful! Here she is fifty-two years removed from being in the film, and man, does she have lots to say. Good stuff.

The third featurette included in this cluster of information is one on the film’s score titled David Schecter on the Film Music’s Unsung Hero. And who might that be? Mischa Bakaleinkoff — the monster theme maker! Before you say “who?” know this … You may not recognize the name, but if you’re a fan of the film, you certainly know his four-note monster score masterpiece. In fact, it’s been featured in several films from that era including It Came from Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and of course 20 Million Miles to Earth. At a run time of twenty-two minutes, this is the only featurette about film music I have ever enjoyed.

Also included are an eighteen-minute look at the film’s ad artwork; an interactive comic book titled 20 Million Miles More, which takes place after the events of the flick; and four video photo galleries that focus mainly on more ad art and even some of Harryhausen’s own artwork. Pretty nifty.

All in all, this set is absolutely packing and a worthwhile addition to any horror fanatic’s film library. There are reasons why Ray Harryhausen is considered a legend in this biz. One look at this movie and those reasons become clear. While not the greatest monster movie ever made, 20 Million Miles to Earth is just as much fun today as it was five decades ago. They really just don’t make them like they used to. Well, maybe someone will. I’m looking at YOU, JJ Abrams!!!

Special Features

  • Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen along with visual effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett and film historian Arnold Kunert
  • Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth featurette
  • David Schecter on the Film Music’s Unsung Hero featurette
  • The Colorization Process featurette
  • Original Ad Artwork featurette
  • Tim Burton interviews Ray Harryhausen
  • Interview with Joan Taylor
  • 20 Million Miles More comic book
  • Video photo galleries
  • Film:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:

    4 1/2 out of 5

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    Steve Barton

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