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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

Last summer, my son, James, and I compiled a list of kaiju and kaiju-inspired movies to watch before the new Godzilla opens on May 16.  By the end, THE BIG LIST was nearly ninety films long.  Here, in the final days, we've rewound a bit to watch the films that influenced the original Gojira, and we're watching a few documentaries to better inform us of their mindset (we're calling that the "Inspiration List").

Today's movie is The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).

My eleven-year-old son will go first:
This is the first monster that was created/waken by radiation, the second is Godzilla. The name of the dinosaur in the movie is Rhedosaurus, the parts I like is when he destroys stuff. The reason this inspired Godzilla is because giant fire-breathing invincible Dino-lizards are very cool, but Godzilla is the coolest. 
So. rating wise, i'll say 4.5 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness!!
My turn:
Ah, Ray Harryhausen.  That's a name I've known all of my life.  It's a name I've made sure my son knew, too. 
As we were watching the movie and the atomic testing scenes unfolded in the opening scenes, James asked, "Is this the first movie that had the atom bomb wake up or make a monster?"  I thought for a few and then looked it up.  As far as I can tell, the answer is "yes." 
With that in mind, Beast is even more remarkable.  It sets up the structure and tropes for almost every atomic-age monster movie to follow: atomic detonation, monster awakens, rampage, radiation effects on people, military fights futilely, search for a solution (possibly also radiation related), monster stopped by science. 
The story is simple enough, and nearly outlined in the last paragraph.  The only thing to add is that our main character is a scientist who spotted the titular dinosaur after an arctic detonation and was deemed crazy by everyone around him.  Only after consulting with a paleontologist's lovely assistant and finding another of the animal's victims does anyone believe him. 
The dinosaur in question is the fictional Rhedosaurus, one of Harryhausen's most famous creations.  There are some truly iconic scenes in this film, including the police officer's demise above, the beast's demise in the burning roller coaster and, of course, the toppling of a lighthouse: 
The effects work is impeccable, as one would expect.  Use of the monster, though, is fairly sparse in the first two-thirds of the film.  The actors aren't so bad, either.  Certainly not the overly false style that taints King Kong (1933) in my mind.   
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms ... obviously VERY influential on Gojira.  3.75 out of five Atomic Breath Blasts.
Here's the original trailer:

Up next, Hiroshima (documentary; 2005).

(GIFs from televandalist)

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