20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 22 min.

Release Date: June 1st, 1957 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Nathan Juran Actors: William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, John Zaremba, Thomas B. Henry, Arthur Space, Bart Bradley

 


 

B

eginning with a serious narration as if a nature documentary, the film ominously explains the significance of the title’s extensive mileage – but without any real specifics. On Earth in a fishing village in Sicily, several men aboard boats watch as a rocket descends from the heavens to crash into the expansive waters. It’s quite a sight, since the aircraft – clearly a spaceship – is of colossal proportions, sticking out of the sea as if the body of water was little more than a puddle. When the fishermen clamor aboard through a hole in the side of the wreckage, they’re greeted by steam, plenty of mechanical structures, and numerous human corpses.

It’s soon revealed that this cavernous rocket belongs to the U.S. Air Force, and that only two survivors, Colonel Robert Calder (William Hopper) and the critical Dr. Sharman (Arthur Space), can be safely retrieved from the exploding, sinking behemoth. Later, at the Pentagon, a general (Thomas B. Henry) bemoans the loss of their vessel (the XY-21), whose communications have been lost. But when word reaches him about the crash in Italy, he prepares for an immediate departure. As the southern Sicilian village scrambles to find a doctor to help Calder – suggesting zoologist Professor Leonardo (Frank Puglia) but settling upon his granddaughter, doctor-in-training Marisa (Joan Taylor) – a young boy named Pepe (Bart Bradley) finds a canister of something marked Project 5, having washed up on shore. He sells the contents – a translucent, gelatinous blob with a dark center – to Leonardo for 200 lira (the child remains unusually greedy and cutthroat as the film progresses), which could spell doom for humankind.

In one of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen’s early productions, a monstrosity is crafted that would become quite iconic (its design clearly lends to the Kraken from “Clash of the Titans”). Even though it’s one of his simpler creations (clearly this effort is less ambitious than its precursors from the mid-‘50s) – only having two legs, two arms, and a tail – the stop-motion technique is excellent, nicely blending into the human environments. The Venusian abomination starts small, but quickly grows to enormous proportions, eventually exploding out of its cage, pacing in front of the professor and his granddaughter like the chest-bursting slug from “Alien” (a spectacular moment that may have contributed to the ’79 masterpiece), before scurrying off into a field. Coincidentally, several subsequent sequences also resemble moments from “Alien,” paired with familiar themes. “The creature has to be taken alive.”

The plot is simple and the characters are few, which leaves the bipedal beast as the primary source of amusement, screaming and clawing its way across the screen. Curiously, when the monster is approximately man-sized, it could have been represented by a person in a costume – yet for consistency and Harryhausen’s mastery, it remains an animated entity. Also impressive is a stop-motion human victim, who is shown close enough to be identified as a clay figure – something generally shot from far away to minimize the unrealistic qualities. Additionally, Robert and Marisa bicker continuously, but in a way that soon segues into flirtation; they provide decent interactions uncommon in these types of pictures.

Smartly, the Italian soldiers and police behave with some grasp of realism, recognizing the dangers of the animal and insisting upon its destruction. It’s the U.S. scientists who want to salvage their expensive – and potentially invaluable – extraterrestrial find by capturing it, studying it, and possibly exploiting it. By the end, the picture disappointingly starts to mirror “King Kong,” not only with the creature’s gargantuan size but also with a vertiginous ascent (and an inevitable fall) and restraints that fail, though this results in much-awaited, old-fashioned titan chaos – involving a very convincing stop-motion elephant, plenty of panicking bystanders, crushed vehicles, and military might that returns to the dependable landmark destruction (here, specifically the Coliseum in Rome) of Harryhausen’s previous sci-fi works “It Came from Beneath the Sea” and “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.” “We’ll need artillery and tanks immediately!”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10


The Complete Ray Harryhausen


The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)

Mysterious Island (1961)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

First Men in the Moon (1964)

One Million Years B.C. (1967)

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Clash of the Titans (1981)