OOM #16 – The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Still one day behind and lots of work to do, I’m the worst guys, but bear with me, I’ll make up for it… someway. In the meantime try to enjoy these reviews as if they were written the day they were supposed to… just like the date in which it says it was published, and not a day later or something… Whatever, let’s go ahead.

Today’s film is one that was talked about a lot in many books, articles and videos, among them those by James Rolfe, specially because of Ray Harryhousen’s work in the special effects department, but ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953) is something that needs to be seen because it’s influential to the monster movies that we get to this day, so I’m glad I finally have a reason to watch this time. You can watch James Rolfe’s video here.

Will the dinosaur from yesteryear trump Godzilla or any of its successors as the best monster from the 50’s, or will it just stale, or will it become the worst? The worst? Don’t think so, it’s Harryhousen! Let’s see what this movie is about!

Well, I can say that this movie is influential and that it carries some of the best stop motion effects from the Harryhausen house, this was his first movie as the sole effect creator and he managed to pull off a monster that felt alive, something that was frightening, massive, that had a sense of physical presence, something that is actually there and moves, breathes, lives, destroys and maims people left and right. The experience of that sequence of the dinosaur monster appearing out of the water and starting to attack the city, only to later take refuge in a roller-coaster, of all places, and then be shut off by the diligent heroes, is maybe one of the greatest moments in cinema, one that may have influenced so many filmmakers that we wouldn’t even kn0w today by watching those minutes.

What’s wrong with this film is that the moment is so brief and almost over sixty minutes into it (and the movie is only 82 minutes long) that the whole thing that came before (brief appearances of the monster included) is maybe not the most clever nor exciting way to present the genre. The film suffers from many of the ticks of its time, the nuclear experiment that goes wrong (something that didn’t happen before, but right now still feels like the easy way down), the man who sees the monster and one one believes, the sexy woman with an unworthy profession that suddenly becomes useful… for a moment it even turns into a screwball comedy, a genre that I’m not a fan of if there’s no Cary Grant and Katerine Hepburn. The whole thing stalls, with scientists and not enough good acting, so that whenever there’s no monster there is a tension, but the whole movie is saved by the presence of the dinosaur that wrecks everything.

The film finally ends with the destruction of the monster, and the film itself knows that there’s not much else to do. While it might’ve been an influence on a classic like ‘Gojira’ (1954), I think that this movie lacks the social presence of the Japanese film, the deep understanding of the pain or loss of a country, a city, of something that is loved. It’s impressive to realize that most of the disaster or monster pictures made in the United States only make sense after 9/11 or similar attacks, hearing in this movie “This is the worst attack ever on New York City” puts a chill down your spine and you can’t seem to shake it off.



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