‘Out-of-space creature invades the Earth!’
20 Million Miles to Earth is a 1957 American science fiction monster film written by Bob Williams and Christopher Knopf from an original treatment by Charlott Knight. The film was produced by Charles H. Schneer’s for Columbia Pictures and directed by Nathan Juran (The Deadly Mantis; The Brain from Planet Arous; The Boy Who Cried Werewolf).
As with several other Schneer-Columbia collaborations, the film was developed to showcase the stop-motion animation talents of Ray Harryhausen.
Off the coast of a small Sicilian fishing village, two fishermen watch in amazement as a spaceship pierces the skies and crashes into the sea. The men, Mondello and Verrico, row out to the site and pull two space travelers from the capsized craft before it sinks into the sea.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Maj. A. D. McIntosh discovers that the government’s missing spacecraft, piloted by Col. Bob Calder, has been located off the coast of Italy.
As McIntosh flies to Italy, Pepe, a little boy who lives in the fishing village of Gerra, finds a metal capsule that has washed up on the beach. Upon opening the capsule, Pepe finds a jelly-like glob inside and sells it to Doctor Leonardo, a visiting zoologist who is studying sea creatures.
Meanwhile, Leonardo’s medical-student granddaughter Marisa is summoned to town to take care of the injured Calder and his companion, Doctor Sharman. When Calder regains consciousness, he finds Sharman in the last throes of the fatal disease that decimated his crew. That night, after Marisa returns home to the trailer that she shares with her grandfather, a small creature hatches from the glob and Leonardo locks it in a cage. By morning, the creature has tripled in size…
20 Million Miles to Earth went into production in Rome, Italy in September 1956, using only William Hopper of the main cast, and in the United States from October 30 to November 9 of that year. Rome was chosen as the location for filming because Harryhausen wanted to go on vacation there.
The working title of the film was The Giant Ymir, and it has also been released as The Beast from Space. In the final version of the film, the creature is never referred to by name, as Harryhausen was concerned that audiences might confuse “Ymir” with the Arabic title “Emir”.
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Ray Harryhausen wanted the film to be shot in colour, but the filmmakers were not given a budget large enough to accommodate this.
In 2007, he worked with restoration company Legend Films to create a colourized version of the film. That version, along with the original theatrical black-and-white version, was released as part of a 50th Anniversary Edition of the film on July 31, 2007.
“The Ymir is actually an expressive, sympathetic creature, seemingly non-carnivorous and only enraged when provoked, giving it a personality often associated with Harryhausen’s best monsters. Often fans bicker about the pacing and the actors in the film, but Nathan Juran (in familiar territory for certain) does a capable job of mounting the 82-minute opus…” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
“Taken in the context of its place on the evolutionary ladder of special effects, 20 Million Miles to Earth is fun and fascinating watch. Though there’s probably not enough here for the average moviegoer to sink their teeth into, Harryhausen buffs and ‘50s b-movie fans will eat this one up.” Hi-Def Digest
“Needless to say, the Ymir is superbly animated, with Harryhausen already displaying a mastery of his craft, but also a surprisingly bloodthirsty side […] here you got to see a space alien mangle a hapless farmer, crush soldiers under rocks, and most famously beat an elephant to death with its bare hands (claws?) in some bravura sequences, just the kind of thrills which the audiences of the days were delighted to see, and make this endure to this day.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image
“Ray Harryhausen’s effects are highly impressive. These represent the blossoming of him as an animator from the point he was merely creating monsters to where he started to craft them into characters. There are some excellent scenes with The Ymir fighting a dog and battering a farmer – 20 Million Miles to Earth is a surprisingly violent film in some regards.” Moria
“Harryhausen also breathes a lot of heart into Ymir who is mostly a tragic character or animal (unlike King Kong, Ymir feels a bit more animalistic). The battle between Ymir and the elephant in Rome is also quite impressive since Harryhausen had to make a fantasy character and a creature based on living models look real.” Basement Rejects
“Harryhausen’s special effects, plus good use of Rome locations, make this an enjoyable entry in the-thing-from-space stakes.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
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