Saturday, March 21, 2009

New York, New York: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms(1953)

One of the earliest "giant monster" films in cinematic history also happened to be the first film in which the marvelous "stop motion" effects created by a then an up-and-coming special effects artist named Ray Harryhausen were used, and with great success. I'm referring to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, directed by Eugene Lourie and theatrically released by Warner Brothers in 1953.

The film's story: as part of an Arctic Circle research project an atomic bomb is detonated near the Circle itself, resurrecting a 100 million year old dinosaur that had been entombed, and of course preserved, deep in the ice. The monster, later identified by a kindly old zoologist and his assistant as a "Rhedosaurus", moves southward, attacking and sinking a trawler, as well as destroying a coastal lighthouse during it's transit while authorities try to track and determine just exactly what the hell it is. As part of that very effort a small bathysphere is lowered down into the predicted location of the monster, in this case off the coast of New York. The monster predictably arrives to trash the bathysphere, killing the zoologist and technician inside it.

The enormous Rhedosaurus makes landfall in NYC and all hell breaks loose. The monster takes in the town, so to speak, much to the chagrin of New Yorkers who flee in terror and the local police force which gamely shoots at the monster with sidearms and shotguns, to no effect. Later the creature is wounded by a shell fired from a 3-inch mini-howitzer and a final confrontation between the authorities and the 50 ton monster takes place at the Coney Island amusement park(no spoilers).

Observations: this film was actually the first time that Ray Harryhausen had total control of the special effects, and he sure doesn't disappoint. The score and special effects overall are marvelous. The pacing is brisk and the characters all work well within the story's framework. The story itself, including the conclusion and how the beast is finally brought down,is entirely plausible and believable. The WB R1 DVD of this movie is also very good, including a "Making Of" featurette and giant monsters gallery that includes this film and other movies that showcase Ray Harryhausen "stop motion" monsters. This movie is one of my all-time favorite American giant-monster movies, a true classic that still stands the test of time.

To see the Region DVD of this movie for sale at click the title of this specific blog.

The film's trailer: