Ymir, a Venusian deposited on Earth in Italy as an American space probe crashes onto the surface, is disoriented on Earth. Bewildered, the creature is hatched from a gooey encasing, wiping his eyes from the blinding light. Ray Harryhausen was adamant about character. Maybe that is why he chosen to craft the only known vegetarian monster; Ymir only eats grain, his attacks elicited by confusion.
His (her?) species has evolved on a super heated planet, basked in clouds, pressure, and unrelenting heat. No wonder the planetary outlaw lashes out in Rome, drawing the ire of local civilians and aggressive military when science can no longer contain the unwilling beast. Explosive growth causes Ymir to topple elephants days after its impressively detailed, animated birth.
William Hopper and Joan Taylor combine to drop exposition and share a bulk romance, an interested third party in convenient zoologist Dr. Leonardo (Fran Puglia) spewing the not-so-hard science. 20 Million Miles stocks up on effects, a richer, fuller affair from the dazzling Harryhuasen’s repertoire, budgets already expanding – if still insufficient – in 1957 with his early acknowledged skill set. That dries up the techno babble in an exchange for sympathy as the beast is on screen, relentlessly pursued or even tortured. Antagonistic humans carry a burden of responsibility as the Ymir topples the Roman Coliseum. Besides, Rome had it coming: New York, Japan, and Europe had enough of their giant intruders.
Cinematography of the naturalistic Roman countryside, stock footage or not, lays out pathways as the unearthly being wanders around, stalking our clearly confusing surface, teeming with life. Stop motion captures a disconcerted characterization, levels above the usual urge to run the monster onto the screen for a full-out attack. 20 Million Miles will push for militaristic might, yet is adept enough to settle on something that is naturally out of its evolved elements in a persistent defensive stance.
Bustling with activity and zealous energy, the waning days of the ’50s monster picture were ending with an enormous punch as Harryhausen’s dedication clamped down on his craft. His beings would become mythological, dinosaurs, or fantasy derived, leaving the Ymir as an astute testament to the masters genre prowess. From its carefully designed, nonthreatening motion to its unspecific danging jowls, few monsters were driven by such sympathetic heart. Ymir just wanted to survive.
Egregious banding and visible compression impact this AVC encode from Sony, the thick smoke from the opening scene’s crash a burden on the blocky grain. This is hardly seamless material, although generally clean in respect to print damage. Stray evidence on stock footage or plate materials are never damning.
20 Million Miles is bit with noise reduction, odd considering how heavy the grain is. Flattened faces and glossy skin are remnants of an always controversial colorization process. Stray halos will collide via contrasting edges leaving light edge enhancement as another possible source of complaints.
Gray scale pushes limits, contrast overly aggressive with its brightness, resulting in lost information on portions of the material. Some black crush is less of a inherent concern, although part of it. Mastering on this 1957 sci-fi effort never feels careful, pushing for extremes and bowling over the visuals.
Resolution is still afforded to the Harryhausen effects showcase, upped from any DVD edition. Close-ups of the Ymir are strikingly sharp, and sporadic actor shots will push for definition. Detail levels are merely held in place by a need to ease up on the still false looking color application (accessed via the menu or angle button), which for reference, is rather pleasing in spots outside of the brassy flesh tones. Supervision by Harryhausen himself does mean something.
Mixed from a mono source into slim 5.1 TrueHD tech, end results spread out the material with occasional positioning, but often mere space filling. As the Venusian space rocket hurtles towards the surface, its screeching engines flood the speakers without being determined about which channel should play host. Action will split up Ymir roars and occasional gunfire, the center channel harnessing most of the work.
Clean restorative work preserves fidelity and richness along with elimination of hiss or pops. Dialogue is resolved, and the spooky, haunting (and stock) Mischa Bakaleinikoff score is captured keenly. Much needed is a respectful, clear mono mix, included here only in Spanish.
All extras are pulled from the 50th anniversary DVD edition and remain in standard definition. An over-crowded commentary begins the extras with Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Arnold Kunert, and of course Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen speaks the majority of the time, and the others act as moderators asking him questions. It’s highly informative in terms of how the industry was run at the time and how the effects were completed with each individual shot.
Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth is the making-of feature, running near a half hour. Harryhausen is featured extensively, with interviews and comments from people around the film industry. The Colorization Process is a look at how the restored edition came about, though it feels like an extended infomercial at times.
Tim Burton Sits with Ray Harryhausen is a face-to-face meeting between the two men. Their chat is fun to watch for die-hard fans, including the showcasing of props from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It runs quite long at 27 minutes.
A Joan Taylor interview catches up with the lead actress today, and she discusses her full career. There is little mention until the end of this 17-minute talking head piece about the two Harryhausen films she was in, and can’t even recall the term stop motion animation.
Film Music’s Unsung Hero is a retrospective hosted by David Schechter. This is another long one, looking at the stock or only slightly altered stock tracks crafted by Mischa Bakalenikoff. His familiar themes would be used in countless films.
A digital comic serves as a sequel to the film, and is filled with solid art, though it’s a shame the physical version wasn’t in the case. Instead, they provide the first few pages which limit interesting content, and turn it into an advertisement for the series.
Four photo galleries contain enough pieces of material for any fan. Finally, an 18-minute featurette looks at advertising from the era, from lobby cards to detailed press kits. This is tons of material for a movie of this age.