The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
By: Devon B. on October 22, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Warner (Australia). Region 2, 4, 5, PAL. 4:3. English DD 1.0, French DD 1.0, German DD 1.0, Spanish DD 1.0. English, French, German, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch, Icelandic, Swedish, Croation, Slovenian, Greek, Hungarian, Romanian, Turkish, Arabic, English (FHI) Subtitles. 76 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Eugène Lourié
Starring: Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway
Screenplay: Louis Morheim, Robert Smith, Fred Freiberger, Eugène Lourié
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB YouTube
I'm pretty sure I had to read the Ray Bradbury short story that inspired Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in school, but I don't remember anything other than there was a dinosaur. I'm also having trouble figuring out why this would've been a required text.

Anyway, in the movie some scientists are in the North Pole working with atomic bombs and probably looking for Santa, but instead of finding Santa they accidentally unleash the beast. One professor sees it in a few tantalizing glimpses, but his sighting is put down as a hallucination. When ships start getting attacked while out at sea, the professor decides to go on the hunt for this creature. He gets help from some palaeontologists who are very easily convinced the creature must be real. The problem is that far before Matthew Broderick faced a giant lizard in the Big Apple, this beast had a hankering to take a bite out of New York City and its working its way there.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms predates Gojira, and was clearly an inspiration for that film. This is particularly noticeable in scenes where the beast rises up out of the water. However, while both films feature a big monster connected to atomic testing, the tone between the two is very different, and it's hard not to view the two movies as flip sides to the same coin, with atomic weaponry still ultimately being a tool for good in Beast. This difference of perspective may just be because for Japan the atomic bomb was a devastating force that killed over 200,000 people and in the US it was a demonstration of the power of America that helped end World War II. I'm not sure if this is anything either sets of filmmakers were considering, but it's certainly something I'm reminded of while watching either movie.

Possibly revisionist history aside, Beast is a 50s creature feature through and through. The acting is mostly lame, the story is ass, and it has a plot that lumbers more than Michael Palin when he's OK. However, the stop motion by Ray Harryhausen is fantastic; the effects still holding up today in many places. Some of the model shots are less effective, and some stock footage of an octopus fighting a shark (I think they're meant to look large, but are clearly small specimens) are dodgy, but when ever Harryhausen's creation is on screen, all the other flaws melt away.

Peter Jackson must also be a fan of this film; watch for a cameo from Beast's daybill in Braindead.
Video
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is presented fullscreen, slightly cropped from its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. There's grain and a few spots, but the film looks quite good, especially for a lower budget 50s movie. There is some stock footage used which shows quite a bit more wear.
Audio
All four tracks are presented mono, but I assume these are the original mixes for the film in the respective territories, so I'm fine with that. The English track is a bit quiet with some light distortion, but is completely adequate. The German track is similar to the English in terms of quality. The French track has a bit more distorting, and sounded a bit muffled to me at times. The Spanish track is the least of the four, with the overall mix not being blended as well as on the other three. The score's by a man named David Buttolph. I didn't make that up.
Extra Features
The DVD comes with a few extras. There's a making of, which is actually more of an interview with Harryhausen about the film, that runs about six minutes. Something to delight sci-fi fans worldwide is Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury talking together in what I assume is a panel discussion that's been edited so it's just them talking. They talk about their friendship and their common interests, but the most relevant thing here is they discuss Beast and the short story behind it. Lastly are trailers for Beast and some other stop motion classics: The Black Scorpion, The Valley of Gwangi, and The Clash of the Titans.

There's also an egg. From the special feature menu, press left from "Harryhausen and Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship" to highlight the man's collar. Press enter for a short clip of Harryhausen discussing armatures and how his differed from those of Willis O'Brien's while working on Beast.
The Verdict
The bits without the beast are a bit boring, but in the end watching a movie like this for anything other than the monster would be like watching a porno for the set design. The beast is what's designed to make you blow your load, and he's awesome.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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