The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

So here’s history for you: the original atomic monster movie. Kind of a shame that I didn’t feel it was, you know, better… this review sums it up as “another one of those movies with great special effects, a bad story, and too much time spent on the bad story”, and I find it kind of hard to really disagree with that appraisal. Let it be said upfront that the effects are indeed great, remarkably so for an only moderately budgeted independent production; this was Ray Harryhausen’s breakthrough film, and even at this date you can see how impressive it must have been in 1953 (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: CGI effects might look more believable than this sort of modelwork, but that doesn’t make it any less obvious that they are effects, and at least Harryhausen’s models have the decency to actually exist), no wonder it was an epic hit. As for the story, the plot is reasonable enough on the pulp level: nuclear test in the Arctic somehow releases a dinosaur trapped in the ice for a hundred million years, havoc ensues. It’s the business in between—in which a scientist who sees the thing in the Arctic then spends the next half hour or more trying to prove it exists, during which time the beast does, frankly, not an awful lot—that does drag it down… once it hits New York, though, some pretty decent carnage ensues, and the film’s influence upon a certain Japanese film made the following year in which similar carnage erupts is impossible to deny. And yet it wasn’t really enough to save the film for me; evidently just about any modern blockbuster that focuses on the effects to the detriment of everything else has an ancestor in it. I’ll give it points for ambition, though…


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