GODFATHERS OF SCI FI #2: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Geek Syndicate heads back into the 1950’s to look at the Godfathers of Sci Fi.  The 1950’s were considered by some as the greatest decade of science fiction and it spawned many films that were the key inspirations to many of the modern classics including some direct remakes.

This time we take a stab at the 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

The film opens with underwater shots of the ocean bed accompanied by some haunting music to establish that we are entering areas of the unknown. Directed by Eugene Lourie and visual effects the great Ray Harryhausen this film did not have the higher budget that its peers did at the time but never the less it had its heart in the right place.

After an atomic explosion in the Arctic Circle a scientist sees what he believes to be a prehistoric dinosaur. This is the Rhedosaurus waking up after hibernating for 100 million years and pretty hungry if you ask me. Our head scientist and leading man makes his way back to New York City where it soon emerges that the beast is also making its way there after destroying a few ships out at sea and also a lighthouse.

Once in the city we get monster mayhem of madness as the beast starts to destroy buildings cars and people everywhere it goes. The army is called into action and soon a plan is devised to stop the beast using a radioactive isotope shot into its chest.

After a tense finale our heroes are victorious defeating the beast and saving New York from certain doom. Hurray!
From the go we get sense that this film had to make do with what it could find lying around in terms of stock footage.

While this works as part of the storytelling it does show a certain lack of funds but somehow that just adds to the charm. Part of this stock footage is the atomic cloud that is very impressive and interspersed with shots of giant icebergs breaking and avalanches which works really well here.

The plot is pacey due to the just over 80 minute run time and it is no surprise that we see the creature very early on. There are some real cool ideas here including the fact that the blood of the beast can cause people to do due to infection. This is genius and maybe a certain xenomorph owes a debt of gratitude to this beast.

The effects are good for its time showcasing all the magic that Ray Harryhausen has to offer. Some of these scenes are quite impressive including the beast destroying a boat and attacking a lighthouse and also smashing cars in the street. Another clever sequence is a fight between a giant octopus and a shark.

I still have no idea how they did this as the shark looks real and so does the octopus. The final showdown is set at a strange location, the Coney Island amusement park and good use is made of the roller coaster there.

I could not help notice that the film has so many similarities to the American Godzilla movie that in some scenes it was like looking at a black and white versions of that film. Once again you can feel the effect this movie has had on later generations.

The cast all play their characters to expected perfection with the normal staple of required types included. We have the scientists, the army and also the love interests which here is better than normal. This is good to see the female in a stronger role as a Paleontology assistant rather than a secretary.

Overall this film is not one of the greats but a must see for the key reasons that you can identify the genesis of many of our current monsters movies.

GS Rating 3.5/5
GS Reporter: Montoya

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