Director: Nathan Juran
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Previously available as a virtually barebones DVD release in 2002, Sony is now revisiting this monster movie classic as a much deserved two-disc deluxe edition on the event of its 50th anniversary. Representing the earlier part of legendary stop motion effects icon Ray Harryhausen's career, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH showcases some of his finest work and certainly one of the most memorable creatures in fantasy film history. His effects have stood the test of time and have remained appealing for decades, despite the controversial rise of CGI in the modern cinema world.

A U.S. spacecraft headed back from a trip to Venus is thwarted by an asteroid, thus crashing into the waters of a Sicilian fishing village. Local fishermen discover the ship and are able to rescue its two sole survivors (one who soon perishes in a hospital bed), but a local boy confiscates a strange cylinder holding a gelatin-like substance that the ship carried. The boy sells the cylinder’s mysterious contents to a traveling zoologist, but it soon hatches to unleash a foot-tall being from another world. The military attempts to track down the creature, now growing at a rapid rate, and it's finally captured in Rome, only to escape and go on a rampage in and around the historic Colosseum.

The lizard-like, upright-walking creature (known as the Ymir but never described as such in the actual film) was Harryhausen’s first creation in which he had total creative control over, and it’s definitely one of his best, with the overall stop-motion effects also being exemplary of their kind. The Ymir is actually an expressive, sympathetic creature, seemingly non-carnivorous and only enraged when provoked, giving it a personality often associated with Harryhausen’s best monsters. Often fans bicker about the pacing and the actors in the film, but Nathan Juran (in familiar territory for certain) does a capable job of mounting the 82-minute opus, which commences with familiar sci-fi themes of space exploration gone astray, followed by the familiar yet reliable “King Kong” storyline. Highlights include the Ymir battling a 15-foot elephant (also created and animated by Harryhausen) which leads up to the exciting climax on top of the Colosseum, in which the military does everything in its power to stop the rampant alien creature. The film has a solid cast of familiar faces from 1950s sci-fi programmers, including William Hopper (CONQUEST OF SPACE, THE DEADLY MANTIS), Joan Taylor (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS), Thomas Browne Henry (BEGINNING OF THE END, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and so many others) and John Zaremba (FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER). As young Pepe, Bart Bradley would later act under his real name, Bart Braverman, and was a regular on the TV series “Vega$” and was a frequent panelist on “Match Game.”

Sony’s new transfer for 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH is a definite facelift from the prior 2002 release. Remastered in High Definition, the black and white image has been cleaned up considerably, with very little in the way of grain and rich contrasts that boast strong black levels. Framing on the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks appropriate, and all in all, the picture looks pristine and outstanding. A colorized version (done by Legend Films) is also included, and a special feature lets you toggle back and forth between the two. Since colorization is a very touchy subject, there’s no use into going into the pluses and minuses of it here, but Harryhausen gave his approval, as he states he always wanted the film to be in color, but they had to shoot black & white for budgetary reasons (Special Edition DVDs of Harryhausen’s EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA with alternate colorized versions, are on the horizon). The mono audio is presented in a strong, serviceable track, and optional English and French subtitles are also included.

The main extras on the first disc is the feature audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen himself, with visual effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett and documentary producer Arnold Kunert (who is also Harryhausen’s agent), obviously a big fan of the maestro’s work. The commentary between the participants was done by satellite from different locations (you would never know, as they appear to be together in the same room) and is well done, as it usually stays on the topic of the film and is never plagued by filler or dead air. Harryhausen is asked a number of specific questions about the effects and specifically the mechanics of the Ymir model, and he reveals a lot of interesting details, remembering a lot considering the film is now 50 years old.

Disc Two is adorned with a number of featurettes, the first being “Remembering 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, which has Harryhausen discussing the film’s production, that he wanted the opening set in Italy so he could get a vacation out of the deal, the design of the monster and more. Other participants (including Rick Baker, John Landis, Terry Gilliam, Stan Winston and others) talk about the influence that this film, and Harryhausen’s work in general, had on their lives and careers. “The Colorization Process” interviews the people behind Legend Films, and also includes participation from Harryhausen, who sits in on some of the computer-colorizing process. “Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen” has the popular Hollywood director sitting down at the dining room table of his idol, and you could see the starstruck gleam in his eyes as they talk mainly about his 1950s black & white films. “The Joan Taylor Interview” has the actress recalling her career from her early films, to TV work and her marriage to the late “Hawaii Five-O” creator Leonard Freeman. She of course touches upon the two Harryhausen films she appeared in, and gives him a special thanks at the end of the interview. “David Schechter on Film Music's Unsung Hero” has Schechter discussing in great detail the soundtrack music of Mischa Bakaleinikoff, with the fascinating angle that many of the cues were culled from a number of other Columbia productions, and recycled again again. The last featurette, and one that will surely delight movie memorabilia collectors, has Arnold Kunert talking about the film’s (as well as the other black & white Columbia Harryhausen film’s) advertising, showing off some original pressbooks and lobby card sets. Rounding out the extras are a preview of a graphic comic book sequel to 20 MILLION MILES, as well as an extensive still and poster art gallery. Missing from this fine collection is the original theatrical trailer, but trailers for several unrelated Sony fantasy film DVDs are included. (George R. Reis)