Plot: What’s it about?
An isolated stretch of land near the Arctic Circle has been chosen as a test site, a location where atomic bombs will be detonated. As the area is far removed from highly populated places, the site seems like a natural choice. The risk seems minimal also, as the location is in the middle of nowhere and no real danger is evident. But beneath the surface, a destructive force is locked in the ice and awaits freedom. This creature has been frozen for over one-hundred million years and no signs of thaw are apparent. The bomb blasts rock the ice covered area and in the process, a lot of cracks and gaps are created. One such crack leads to the melting of the ice that holds the beast, which then escapes from its frozen tomb. Only one witness is able to warn others about the creature and much to his dismay, Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) is laughed at for his concern. He alerts the others around him, but even paleontologist Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kallaway) refuses to believe his claims, until he is eaten by the beast, that is. Now the creature is headed toward more populated regions, including New York. All efforts to stop or even slow the beast prove to be futile and widespread destruction is imminent. Nesbitt has a plan that could end the beast’s path of chaos, but will it work?
This film is a landmark motion picture, if just because it was the first time Ray Harryhausen was given total control over a special effects unit. Of course, Harryhausen’s immense talents were obvious even before The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, but this was the first time he was handed the reins on a production. And when Harryhausen’s imagination and skill is put to work on a script from fantasy scribe Ray Bradbury, you know the result is going to be a lot of fun and of course, that is just what happens here. This film was made in the 50s, which was a goldmine era for sci/fi schlock and that meant ample “monster on the rampage” type pictures. But thanks to Harryhausen and Bradbury, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms isn’t just another “so bad its good” piece of 50s cinema, instead it is a well crafted monster movie. Harryhausen’s creation is superb, especially for the time of production and the destruction sequences are a blast to watch. The monster doesn’t trample the storyline either, as the premise here is good and Bradbury’s source material supplies ample memorable moments. As with all of these kind of flicks, there’s a lot of dialogue and exposition, but it is well handled and rest assured, the payoff is well worth the wait. I am thrilled to see this film on DVD and in a solid release, so The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms is well recommended.
Video: How does it look?
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is presented in full frame, as intended. I knew this wouldn’t be a pristine visual effort, but I hoped for a solid presentation. As it happens, Warner has issued a terrific looking version of the film, which should please fans. This is a 50s flick, some the print has some worn spots, grain, and nicks, but not as many flaws as expected and in the end, this is quite a clean treatment. The visuals have a crisper than anticipated presence, which means detail is good and softness isn’t an issue. The black & white image looks superb in terms of contrast, as black levels remain refined throughout. All in all, a great looking effort that should delight fans and does Harryhausen’s work justice.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original mono track is found here and while it isn’t too memorable, it sounds clean and provides a solid experience. I heard minimal age related flaws such as harshness or hiss, which was a pleasant surprise. The sound effects are clear and well handled, so they never drown out the other elements and remain effective. The dialogue is crisp and never falters in the least, always at the proper volume balance throughout. This track is much cleaner and less dated than I expected, terrific work indeed. This disc also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A pair of brief featurettes can be found here, one on Harryhausen’s special effects work and the other on the partnership of Harryhausen & Bradbury. Any behind the scenes stuff on Harryhausen’s work is great, while the second piece also proves to be quite worthwhile. This disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.