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20 Million Miles to Earth
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by Jay Seaver

"Pretty good for a movie about a sulfur-eating Venusian."
3 stars

Ray Harryhausen, it is said, set "20 Million Miles to Earth" in Sicily because he could not afford an Italian vacation, and that's as good a reason as any. It's a pretty disposable B-movie, so why not get a few fringe benefits out of making it?

It starts off at sea, where a group of fishermen are plying their trade as a spaceship crash-lands. The occupants, it turns out, are human, though only two of the men are rescued, and of them, only one survives. Of course, something else gets loose, a sample that U.S. Air Force Colonel Robert Calder (William Hopper) and his crew retrieved from Venus, which winds up in the hands of Roman zoologist Dr. Leonardo (Frank Puglia) and his American granddaughter Marisa (Joan Taylor), leaving Calder and a pair of American experts to chase them down as the hatched creature grows much larger.

20 Million Miles to Earth is a fairly basic 1950s sci-fi monster movie; it benefits from having Harryhausen's better-than-the-competition creature work but otherwise hits a lot of items on checklists: The gruff, manly astronaut and the lady doctor who pair off because the movie needs someone to kiss at the end, the hyper-capable military (it's kind of strange to see them as the ones who are sensible and incorruptible half a century later), the clipped dialogue and very simple characters. That extends to a lot of broad Italian accents, and situations where someone being more identifiable for their function than personality is occasionally the lesser of two evils.

But it does have Harryhausen, and while this isn't necessarily among his best work - it lacks the variety and practiced expertise of his later fantasies - he still makes Venusian creature "Ymir" (though he's never named in the film) come alive, pacing in its captivity and lashing out when chased down. Ymir doesn't quite have enough personality to be a great creature, in that we can see it as mainly being lost and confused but may not quite feel it, but it's got just enough to be more than a monster. Of course, many of its most noteworthy moments come in the action scenes, when it wrestles an elephant or knocks stones from Roman buildings onto soldiers.

Of course, one of its most memorable scenes is hatching from a gelatinous "egg" that feels like an unusually imaginative bit of science fiction detail. In fact, as sci-fi goes, 20 Million Miles actually feels far less dated than many of its peers: As pulp-cover as the crashing rocket looks from the outside, the interior looks realistically functional while still still being cinematic (same goes for the laboratory where Ymir is studied), and Ymir's sulfur-based metabolism makes some sense for a Venusian creature. The movie is silly in a lot of places, but holds together a bit better than one might expect.

And in some ways, that almost hurts it a bit; you can see where it could maybe evolve into something a little smarter and more sophisticated. It's not bad for what it is, though, a capable creature feature with some nice scenery.

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originally posted: 07/11/13 14:02:10
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User Comments

3/21/07 action movie fan very good harryhausen stop motion monster film-many memorable scenes 4 stars
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  02-Jun-1957 (NR)
  DVD: 13-Dec-2005

  N/A (PG)

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