Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Ah the old nuclear bomb testing plot idea, a stable diet for vintage sci-fi flicks of the past. Those silly darn Americans up to their misjudged tests that end up wreaking havoc on the world...well normally their native country actually. This film helped kick start the huge monster craze including the seminal Godzilla and the use of nuclear weapons testing for plot ideas that cause these monster riots.

This time they inadvertently disturb a prehistoric reptile that was trapped/hibernating in the deep ice of Antarctica. The huge scaly creature makes it way down the east coast of the US to New York where it decides to set up camp and munch on various things.

This is where the Harryhausen stuff of legend really kicks off, giant reptilian monsters roaming around and eating people. The big lizard looks really good, kinda like a four legged Godzilla but surprisingly quite decent and not as cheesy. What is also so cool is the way Harryhausen has animated this fella, he moves really well, seems a bit like a young puppy behaviour wise at times (sinking the first fishing ship) but its still good. Bit jerky of course but its nicely done. Should I be surprised? yeah I think so, this is an old film and an early one for Harryhausen so you would expect it to look hokey...but it doesn't.

Can't lie here but like other monster flicks its all about the rampage isn't it, yeah come on it is. The plot building with the stereotypical characters...the good looking hero, the old bald scientist and his attractive female assistant is all well and good but you're really wanting building/vehicle stomping. Everything is much better than his previous main creature flick ('Mighty Joe Young'), acting, sets, props, costumes and additional models are all tighter and sharper, it does look like they had more money to use for this film. The whole film looks really good bottom line, even the underwater sequence is enjoyable if quaint.

This really is one of the pinnacles of charming sci-fi that anyone can sit down and enjoy. I love how the acting is so straight laced in militaristic fashion, how everyone looks smart in their lovely suits and fedoras of the time, how they fade out each sequence in that traditional way and the funny way they squeeze in stock footage, some of which works, some stands out badly.

Easily one of the best creature features from Harryhausen's portfolio with a tremendously good monster, some nice acting from Cecil Kellaway as the clever old 'Dr Elson' and some lovely cute moments of ham...when the good 'Dr Elson' decides to stake his career on the beast story being true simply because a sailor identified a random drawing that looked kinda like the monster he thinks he saw.