= Highest Rating
film marked stop-motion effects maestro Ray Harryhausen's first
solo gig on a motion picture. It was the beginning of a career
that would produce some of the most beloved science fiction
and fantasy films in cinema history, responsible for inspiring
generations of filmmakers and effects artists to come. With
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,
Harryhausen created one of the classic 'giant monster
on a rampage' sequences of all time, when his 50-ton "Rhedosaurus"
goes for an afternoon stroll through the streets of Manhattan.
Every second, every single frame of the effects work was crafted
by hand, by Harryhausen himself. He wouldn't have it any other
In the arctic wastes near the North Pole,
an atomic bomb test (what else?) accidentally frees a gigantic
dinosaur from its millennia-long slumber trapped in the ice.
A scientist on hand for the test, Prof. Tom Nesbitt (Swiss actor
Paul Christian), catches a fleeting glimpse of the monster during
a blizzard but is thought by everyone else to have been hallucinating.
Sure of his faculties, Nesbitt hypothesizes that a prehistoric
creature has been released from suspended animation and is now
on the loose. The mysterious sinking of a fishing trawler in
Baffin Bay spurs him to contact the world's foremost paleontologist,
kindly Dr. Elson (Cecil Kellaway), who humors Nesbitt out of
professional courtesy but ain't buying his theory. Elson's attractive
female assistant (Paula Raymond) is more receptive, however,
and when another ship is sunk off Nova Scotia she helps Nesbitt
gather evidence that his idea isn't such an outlandish one.
The lone survivor of the first sinking identifies the sea monster
that wrecked his boat from a sketch the same drawing Nesbitt
picked out earlier as the prehistoric leviathan he saw in the
arctic. Elson is now convinced and lends his prestige to an
effort to alert the military of the danger. He believes that
the beast, a dinosaur of the rare (and fictitious) "Rhedosaurus"
species, is making its way to its ancestral breeding grounds
in the submarine canyons off the coast of New York City...
ultimately leads to ol' Rhedo's aforementioned Manhattan stroll.
It's a bravura sequence, a genuine touchstone of classic monster
movie cinema and one which makes us forget about the somewhat
tedious (though well-acted and nicely photographed) build-up
to this point. Until the Beast hits the streets he only appears
in the film very briefly, when Nesbitt first observes him in
the arctic, with the sinking of the first ship, and in the terrific
lighthouse sequence (in which the creature is seen almost completely
in silhouette, a simple yet highly effective technique). Even
the Beast's famous rampage through New York isn't that long
just a few minutes of footage but can anyone who ever saw
this as a kid forget the World's Dumbest Cop... the foolhardy
patrolman who tries to fend off the behemoth with his .38 police
special? (And who miraculously shows up again in the
very next scene, part of a squad
of shotgun-armed cops, despite having been swallowed whole!)
within the constraints of a very small budget, Harryhausen achieved
a milestone of motion picture special affects. By making clever
use of light sources, as when the Beast moves in and out of
the "shadows" between buildings, he camouflaged the
weaknesses of his stop-motion model; by injecting a sense of
character into his creation, he gave it more life than most
modern CG artists, with millions of dollars to play with, have
yet to master.
Of course, a cool monster
requires a cool customer to deal with it,
and Beast gives us that Most Manly
Military Monster Masher of 'em all, Kenneth Tobey (The
Thing, It Came from
Beneath the Sea), to take charge in the crisis. He plays
Nesbitt's Army pal Colonel Evans, put in command of New York's
defenses when the monster attacks. Nobody could say lines like
"It'd take a 3-inch shell to penetrate that skull!"
with more authenticity. And who's that playing the marksman
on whose shoulders rests the ultimate fate of the city? A young
Lee Van Cleef, the corporal who claims he "picks his teeth"
with grenade rifles. Don't worry, though... if you can load
it, he can fire it. (It'd take another future spaghetti western
icon, Clint Eastwood, to kill the monster spider in the 1955
giant bug classic, Tarantula.)
2003, Warner Home Video lagged woefully behind the other major
labels when it came to DVD releases of genre titles. Happily the
last year or so has seen a turnaround in this policy; we've finally
gotten some great films from the Warner library on disc as a result.
Even so, more often than not these releases have been bare-bones
affairs with only a trailer as an extra. Yet the company made
an exception in the case of its Harryhausen titles, which is particularly
fortuitous in the regards to Beast from
looks great here, better than I've ever seen it. Presented in
its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio, the picture is sharp
and crisp, with only the stock footage sequences looking worn.
(Always the case in these situations, though.) The disc's mono
audio track is clear as a bell. In terms of extras, four stop-motion
monster movie trailers are provided (for Beast,
Willis O'Brien's The Black Scorpion,
Harryhausen's 1969 cowboys 'n' dinosaurs fantasy The
Valley of Gwangi, and Clash of the Titans,
1981) along with two featurettes. The first piece, The Rhedosaurus
and the Rollercoaster: Making the Beast, sees Harryhausen
briefly discuss how he was tapped to do the effects for Beast
and some of the decisions involved in the monster's design and
implementation on the screen. This featurette runs only 6
minutes and seems rushed.
The effects master has time for more detail
in the disc's second featurette, Harryhausen & Bradbury: An
Unfathomable Friendship (17 minutes), which is a delight.
On a stage before a small audience, Harryhausen has a chat with
Ray Bradbury, the esteemed science fiction/fantasy author whose
short story, The Foghorn, served as the inspiration for
screenplay. Good friends since the early 1930s, the two Rays describe
how their mutual love of dinosaurs and the 1925 silent film The
Lost World first brought them together, and how a quirk
of fate saw both their careers intersect (and really begin to
take off) with Beast.
An ebullient Bradbury, still recovering from a stroke at the time
of taping, doesn't let age and infirmity dampen his enthusiasm
for pal Harryhausen or the movie one little bit.
The story of these two men, whose talents and
imagination were a true gift to the world, is certainly worthy
of a full-fledged documentary, not just a featurette. But it'll