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DVD Review: 20 Million Miles to Earth 50th Anniversary Edition

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Hitting at the peak of the giant monster craze of the 1950s, 20 Million Miles to Earth is definitive classic. It’s one of the core reasons these films have the following they have today, and it’s hardly for their campy or kitsch value. It’s 20 Million’s overwhelming level of quality that stand out in era where cheap exploitation of the genre was enough to get by.

If you’ve never understood what separates one ‘50s giant monster epic from another, it’s the care and talent from those involved. In this case, it’s the unparalleled work of Ray Harryhausen. No one, either then or now, had the uncanny ability to bring a small model to life with such personality and detail, and the Ymir featured here is amongst his best work.

Take for instance the hatching sequence, in which the monster is born after being brought to Earth on a botched space mission from Venus. A light is turned on in the room, and the baby Ymir is stunned, rubbing is eyes and shaking his head. As the scientist looks at the creature (in perfect sync with the animated model), the Ymir investigates, looking up and down at this unfamiliar sight that is a human being. He’s confused and scared, yet still inquisitive. It’s personality, animated one frame at a time.

Harryhausen also builds sympathy by letting the monster develop a demeanor of being friendly. Only after being attacked by a dog, shot at, poked at, and stabbed by a pitchfork does it turn mean. By the Ymir’s actions, you can physically see the turn in emotion. It’s stunning work on every level.

William Hopper leads the cast in the typical military role, and Joan Taylor takes the leading lady spot. The human story is relatively mundane, hitting many of the general clichés the genre is known for. For a film with a meager budget though, this one moves fast, with the creature on screen for a staggering amount of time once past the half hour point. It never drags or runs long.

The highlight of this new DVD release is the first colorization of this film. The process has been radically changed since the botched efforts of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s still far from perfect, as skin tends to look bronzed and somewhat creepy. However, it really brings this film to life. At times, it looks as if it was shot in color originally.

With the approval of Harryhausen himself, this is an acceptable excuse to run through the film again. The black and white version has also undergone a restoration, so if you’re still against the process, it has led to an aftereffect that has benefited the original colorless version as well.

Regardless of how you choose to view it, this is an absolute classic. It may not receive the full attention as other films from the era, yet it should. It’s a standout special effects romp, almost flawless from the start to the creatures extended and emotional demise.

This is an amazing transfer, and differences between this double dip and the first DVD release are noticeable. It’s far cleaner, sharper, and crisper. Details are more apparent, and all moments of edge enhancement have been fixed. Grain and dirt varies depending on the shot. It’s still clean and sharp – amazingly so, given the age. The color and black and white versions are on equal terms.

A small update to the audio seems to be present, coming through in dual speaker stereo as opposed to the mono presentation in the first. It sounds roughly the same, if slightly higher in terms of overall volume. It has no issues with pops or cracking.

A crowded commentary begins the features set on disc one with Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Arnold Kunert, and of course Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen speaks most of the time, as the others ask questions as to how things were done. It’s highly informative in terms of the industry at the time and how the effects were done on a shot by shot basis.
Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth begins the second disc. It runs close to a half hour, with interviews and comments from people around the film industry. Harryhausen is featured extensively. The Colorization Process is a great look at how the new version came to be, though it feels like an extended infomercial. It also addresses why it was done, and how Harryhausen feels about this new edition.

Tim Burton Sits with Ray Harryhausen is an extended face-to-face meeting between the two men. Their chat is informative and fun, including some showcasing of props from Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. It runs quite long at 27 minutes.

A Joan Taylor interview catches up with the lead actress today, and she discusses at length her career. There is very little mention until the end of this 17-minute talking head piece about the Harryhausen films she was in, and even bobbles recalling the term stop motion animation.

Film Music’s Unsung Hero is a retrospective hosted by David Schechter. This is another long one, looking at the stock or only slightly altered stock tracks crafted by Mischa Bakalenikoff. His familiar themes would be used in countless films.

A digital comic serves as a sequel to the film, and is filled with solid art, though it’s a shame the physical version wasn’t in the case. Instead, they provide the first few pages which don’t do much to make the content interesting, and turn it into an advertisement for the series.

Four photo galleries contain enough pieces of material for any fan. Finally, an 18-minute featurette looks as the advertising from the era, from lobby cards to detailed press kits.

If the color is appealing, two more Harryhausen features are in the works. It Came from Beneath the Sea, in which a giant octopus takes out San Francisco, is next on the list. Following that, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is due, and it stands as one of the best man-versus-flying alien ships ever crafted. It’s simply stunning to see these films receive this treatment and the respect that goes along with it.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    Never been a fan of colorizing films, no matter how good the process gets, it will still be unnatural. I listened to an interview with Harryhausen prior to this release where he spoke of supervising the colorizing. I had the natural action of recoiling in disgust. If a film was shot in black and white, regardless of original intent, that is how it should be seen. Shooting for the two formats is vastly different, and slapping colors on the B&W is not going to improve it.

    Still, the extras look good, and I’d like the remastered B&W, so I may have to pick this up.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    I can’t blame you. I remember seeing Kong for the first time in color and just looking at it dumbfounded. It was so unnatural, ugly, and limited.

    I can understand the disdain for changing these films, but if it was intended to be in color, Harryhausen okay’d it, and it’s done tastefully, it can be a positive aspect.

    For films like this, it can really benefit them. The sequence in the barn where the Ymir is lured into the cage is more impactful here. The Ymir stands out more, and you’re able to see his slightest movements that were somewhat lost in prior black and white.

    And besides, if this forces them to go back and restore the original negative, it’s still worthwhile even if you’re against the color. It’s a dramatic difference, and it’s also scheduled to be on Blu-Ray by Christmas which will be absolutely stunning to see.