Random Film of the Day*: 20 Million Miles to Earth

*For the next week or so plus, I’m going to add a random film the great Ray Harryhausen worked on. The legendary special effects MASTER passed away on May 7 at age 92 in London and yes, the film world owes him more than they can ever repay.

20000000_MilesWhile it has some great creature and scenic effects, some terrifically lousy acting and ridiculous dialog plus a few plot elements nearly sink 20,000,000 Miles to Earth like the doomed spacecraft that brings the Ymir into movie monster history.

That said, there are some iconic images in this 1957 sci-fi flick that linger in the memory, all masterfully animated by Harryhausen’s steady hands. His Ymir is at first “cute” and tiny, but as it increases in height and gets poked and pushed into an uncontrollable rage by a cast of idiots who misunderstand the poor creature until the army is called in to blow it off Rome’s Colosseum, you actually feel more sympathy for it by the time the film ends. Of course, if you just hate monsters in general, you’ll be cheering along with the fist-pumping crowd when the creature gets its due. But I’ll bet you a nickel that you’ll still think that Ymir was pretty damn cool…

Of course, all that relies on you as a viewer getting over the woeful poor Sicilian fisherman stereotypes (face-palm worthy accents and all!) that make you almost think you’re watching a bad comedy edited into a much better sci-fi film. When the first manned flight to Venus crashes in the sea near Sicily, most of the crew is found inside dead, but a few fishermen rescue two astronauts, one of whom dies shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, an annoying little boy finds a specimen capsule that’s washed up on shore and like any kid who gets a free toy in the surf, he hides it away from the adults for his own. Of course, by the time the clueless space agency back in the US gets wind that their big, expensive rocket is underwater and get around to sending people to see what’s what, the specimen has changed hands and is on the way to becoming a movie legend.

We find out that Ymir was brought back intentionally (eek!), eats sulfur (which would make it a smelly house pet even if it stayed a foot or so tall) and hates being poked with a pitchfork or transported in the back of a rickety truck. Also, elephants? Not on its “Like” list either. Neither are army vehicles, trigger happy troops and crumbly ancient architecture. The plot and its diversions into explaining things and hopping around to a few locations tend to drag the film down a bit that even at a mere hour and twenty-two minutes, it seems longer. Well, at least until the final portion where the Ymir roams Rome and cuts a nice path of destruction with the military closing in.

While I don’t hate this one, I’ve always found it to be hard to watch thanks to the acting. When your stop-motion animated monster (as well as the other animals Harryhausen created for the film) has more personality than the entire cast, there’s a wee bit of a problem. Amusingly enough, I’ve always wondered how this would have turned out if Federico Fellini were to direct the acting (and choose an actual Italian-speaking cast) and Harryhausen the effects, but I’m crazy like that. Then again, according to what I’ve read over the years, one reason this flick was made was because the animation master wanted to take a holiday in Italy and hey, how could Columbia Pictures refuse if they knew they were going to get another great box office hit out of the deal? Well, I’ll have to save that dream team mash-up for my own dreams, it seems…

Oh, I picked that particular poster at the beginning because it almost looks the the monster is peeing on that rocket launcher! That’s good enough for a laugh and makes up for the bad accents in the film (well, a little)…

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