Million Miles to Earth
= Highest Rating
Man vs. Monster action in glorious black and white!
In between his groundbreaking work on Earth
vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and the
classic 7th Voyage
of Sinbad (1958), Ray Harryhausen also provided
the stop-motion effects for 20
Million Miles to Earth, a sci-fi spin on
the old King Kong/"fish out of water" story. It's
pure B-movie hokum but Harryhausen's wonderfully
articulated creature steals the show — the "Ymir",
as the effects wizard dubbed it (the monster's
never given a name in the actual film), far outshines
the human actors onscreen.
The sunny calm of a rural Sicilian coastal
village is shattered when a giant rocket drops
from the clouds, plunging into the sea. Local
fishermen reach the craft before it sinks, removing
two injured crewmen to safety. These "visitors
from the sky" aren't alien beings but actually
members of a secret U.S. space mission to the
planet Venus, launched months earlier. Rocketship
XY21 was in the final stage of its return voyage
when struck by a meteor and knocked off course.
Of an initial crew of 17 only the mission's commander,
air force officer Col. Bob Calder (The
Deadly Mantis' William Hopper), and chief
scientist, Dr. Sharman (Arthur Space), have survived.
Soon only Calder is left. Afflicted with some
strange Venusian disease, Sharman dies in the
village clinic not long afterwards.
Alerted by the XY21's re-entry, the Pentagon
quickly dispatches General McIntosh (Beginning
of the End's Thomas B. Henry) to take charge
at the scene. He arrives to find Calder recovering
from the crash under the care of Marisa (Joan
Taylor), American med student and granddaughter
of Dr. Leonardo, a prominent Italian zoologist.
The general's relief that there's at least one
survivor of the ill-fated expedition quickly gives
way to concern over a certain specimen brought
back from Venus aboard the XY21. Did it go down
with the ship? Could it have drifted ashore somehow?
McIntosh and Calder begin urgent inquiries among
the fisherman to determine its fate. The Italian
authorities aren't told exactly what they're looking
for. The specimen in question did survive the
crash, of course. One of the local kids stumbles
upon a cylinder washed up on the beach. Opening
it, the boy discovers a weird gelatinous mass
inside — the stuff looks like a giant booger with
something dark and fetus-like within. Hoping to
earn some cash for his find he takes the thing
to Dr. Leonardo (Frank Puglia). The zoologist
is fascinated; all his experience can't tell him
what it is.
Fascination becomes astonishment when a small
Venusian creature emerges from the jello-like
cocoon. A sort of human-dinosaur hybrid with the
torso of a man, the legs of a bipedal lizard,
and a forked tail, the "Ymir" is born
on a strange world millions of miles from its
As it stands only 8 or so inches tall, the
creature doesn't seem in any way threatening.
The doc puts it in a cage for the night, planning
to drive to Messina next day and take the ferry
to the mainland; his incredible discovery must
be presented to the university in Rome as soon
as possible. In the morning he's stunned to see
that, overnight, the Ymir has grown to a height
of four feet.
Accompanied by Marisa, Leonardo heads out
with the creature in tow. Before they can be reached
by Calder and McIntosh, the Ymir breaks out of
its cage and disappears into the countryside...
20 Million Miles to
Earth succeeds as exciting science fiction
despite wooden acting, pedestrian direction and
a contrived script. (You'll want to slap the irritating
kid from the fishing village every time he mentions
"Texas".) This is entirely due to Harryhausen's
creature, which is one of the more memorable rampaging
beasties of 1950s Atomic Age cinema. Like the
best of the giant monsters — King Kong and Godzilla
— the Venusian Ymir evokes sympathy from the audience.
When born it rubs its eyes just like a child waking
up from a long nap. Mixed in with its bellicose
roars are almost plaintive-sounding wails of what
could be confusion and fear. As Calder informs
us, "It's only hostile when provoked."
Man does his damnedest to do just that, as the
bewildered beast never threatens or attacks anyone
until poked with a pitchfork (by a very dumb Italian
farmer) or shot at with rifles and flame-throwers.
Once the Ymir breaks loose from the Rome Zoo and
kills an elephant — plus a few people — you just
know he's doomed to share Kong's fate. But it's
not his fault. The poor fella didn't ask to be
latest entry in Columbia-TriStar's Ray Harryhausen
Signature Collection, the colorfully packaged
20 Million Miles to Earth
DVD boasts a fine-looking transfer. It's by no means
perfect but for a film almost 50 years old I'm not
complaining. Visual elements are sharp, with the
various shades of black, white and gray quite well
defined. Some sequences featuring the creature look
grainier than the non-effects portions of the film
but this has always been the case with Harryhausen's
stop-motion epics... the "nature of the beast",
if you will. The opportunity to view the flick in
either full-screen (1:33.1) or letterbox (1:85.1)
formats is a nice touch. As for audio quality, the
mono track is quite crisp, free of any noticeable
distortion or hiss. Sound effects comes off particularly
Those who've already purchased earlier Columbia-Harryhausen
DVD releases will be disappointed with the extras
provided. The same documentary featured on a number
of them, The Harryhausen Chronicles, is offered
here. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, it's a worthwhile
retrospective of the effects maestro's career, but
I've already seen it before — a couple of times.
Ditto for the This Is Dynamation featurette,
a short promo reel for 7th
Voyage of Sinbad. Two theatrical trailers
are also included, for the main feature and The
3 Worlds of Gulliver. (EC's 7 rating for
the disc is conditional on not owning any
of the other Harryhausen DVDs from Columbia-TriStar.
Otherwise, it's a "6".) 7/05/02
On July 31, 2007 Columbia is releasing a 2-disc
"50th Anniversary Edition", which includes
both B&W and colorized versions of the film
plus new special features (an audio commentary with
Ray Harryhausen, featurettes, and more).