The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms DVD Review

Everything has a starting point. In the case of monster on the loose epics, their father is "King Kong." Leave it to Ray Harryhausen to blow the roof off of it. "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" began the cycle of 1950's monster epics and 51 years later ranks as one of the top three films in the genre. An artic atomic bomb test frees a prehistoric Rhedosaurus from what should have been its tomb. After causing a massive avalanche and taking down two small fishing vessels, the leading professor of paleontology in the world, Thurgood Elson (played by Cecil Kellaway), convinces the military to do something about it. After a tragic dive to search for the creature, Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) figures out a way to destroy the creature, but not before it rampages through New York and tears up Coney Island. Eugene Lourie directs this masterpiece of the genre (he would also give us "Gorgo") a few years later) and Ray Harryhausen unleashes one his most spectacular creations loose with some of his best work. Only one special effect shot goes slightly wrong (a timing problem when a building collapses) and the final rampage on New York is far more convincing than the recent American Godzilla film. The attack on the lighthouse (a scene based on the short story by Ray Bradbury that inspired the film) is eerie and arguably the films most effective moment. The rest of the cast is effective and set up almost every creature film to follow. The usual array of military and scientific types is represented along with the budding romance. Cecil Kellaway is wonderful as the head professor and genre veteran Kenneth Tobey has a decent role as well. The two leads, Paula Raymond and Paul Hubschmid, also do a fine job until the final frame. Of course, regardless of the actors, everyone is here to see "The Beast," and his (her?) performance is one of the best of all time. (***** out of *****) Warner Bros. presents the film in standard full frame, which is its original ratio. Ignoring the few short sequences of extremely heavy and annoying grain, this is a nearly flawless transfer. The print used here has obviously been restored for this edition, eliminating the majority of the scratches down to acceptable levels. The contrast is set flawlessly and the clarity is stunning. I mentioned this disc in another article as one of the best-looking DVD's ever produced. I stand by that. (*****) Listening to the film in standard mono, but a remix here would be appreciated. The roar of the creature sounds a bit muffled at times and the classic 4-note theme of the monster really strains the speakers. All of the dialogue comes through cleanly, but even a simple stereo mix might have eliminated some of the problems. (***) To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic, Warner has included a few extras, but nothing earth shattering. Ray Harryhausen himself tells the story of the film in the 5-minute documentary "The Rhedosaurus and the Roller Coaster: Making the Beast." Though short, the information presented here is exciting and you'll even see the model used in the film itself. Next is a 10-minute conversation that took place on the Warner Bros. lot entitled "Harryhausen & Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship." They will exchange some great stories (though not always about the movie) and fans of either man need to watch. You can also view some trailers for other Harryhausen movies. (***) "The Beast" is easily one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time. The creators of the Godzilla series claimed it was their influence, the entire radioactive monster genre was spawned by it, and it still creates new fans to this day. This is a film that should be regarded as one of the best 50's movies if not of all time. Giant monsters have never been better than in "The Beast."

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