The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Blu-ray Review

Ray Harryhausen’s first solo animation act is still gorgeous

The Beast is one of few movie monsters deserving to be labeled majestic, a 100-foot long fictional Rhedrosaurus, ransacking New York while displaying a genuine curiosity for his existence. Ray Harryhausen’s animation grants this man-snacking dinosaur personality – no one has matched this 1953 icon to date.

Beast birthed a cycle of films into a cozy formula: Shipping disasters, puzzled men of science, a mild romance, and the action climax concerning the title creature’s destructiveness. Most golden age sci-fi can be set to a clock. Each closely adheres to Beast. They’re to the minute.

Quaint as the narrative processes are, Beast is their king, superseded internationally only by Godzilla for its unwavering dedication to its personal allegory. Beast is gorgeous pop entertainment, with a sharp lead in Paul Hubschmid and scene taking, squat, and jovial British paleontologist played by Cecil Kellaway. No other on-screen monster spotter would have his spirit.

As per the norm for these films, the star commands attention. Under the stable hands of Ray Harryhausen – his first solo outing as stop motion’s greatest contributor – Beast is as effective at $200,000 as any $100 million contemporary monster bash. As a creature, it’s enthralling to watch, appearing lost, agitated, and pursuing anything instinct tells him (her?) to. Every effects shot is seamless, and decorated by an enormous four note trumpet cue by David Buttolph.

The film reads like unsanctioned propaganda – Nukes spawn monsters, but they also stop them.

Beast from 20,000 Fathoms preys on nuclear fear, then uses bogus radioactive science as a solution. It’s thoroughly American in approach, scientists banding together to study nuclear weapons harmlessly in the Arctic. Hubshmid’s militaristic role as a probe for nuclear answers and solutions solidifies the film’s approval for government armament. The film reads like unsanctioned propaganda – Nukes spawn monsters, but they also stop them. They’re necessary. If Beast were anything other than a quickie B-offering soaked up by Warner, there may have been some strength in the parable.

The American films in the monster period which followed – some genuine classics like Them! and Tarantula – exploited the nuclear age. They profited from a social fear, dressing up actors as military men so they can save the world with their weapons. World War II had ended only eight years prior; the pride is evident. Harryhausen’s prehistoric baddie may send a cop to his death in the literal belly of the beast, but it’s military minds who stand by and find the means of extermination.

Director Eugene Lourie would do this two more times despite lensing only eight films – once in the splendid Gorgo, and again in the meandering Giant Behemoth. Harryhuasen’s visual effects career is too sizable to mention and outright flawless. But, despite existing under a timeline of cyclops, krakens, oversized sea turtles, Venusian aliens, and moon people, this Beast has the charisma to conquer them all.

Movie ★★★★★ 

The march begins @ 58:37

While it has taken far too long, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms comes to Blu-ray as an individual release or packed in Warner’s Special Effects Collection. The discs are identical no matter which you choose, and that means it’s beautiful either way. Resolution pulls details from the frame which were never visible prior, especially pin-striped suits. Texture in this presentation is incredible.

There are struggles. The opening scenes which are covered by a blizzard reveal some damning compression. Between the grain and whipped up snow, there was little chance. Even Warner’s bitrates raise into the high 30s to compensate, but it doesn’t work. The sequence looks messy and digital.

As per the norm, chemical fades between scenes leave some shots ragged. No amount of restoration will fix it. When Hubschmid first wakes up at the Antarctic base, Beast is at the low point of the issue. Then it’s recovery back to near perfection.

Beast is 65 years old, and yet there exists not a single scratch or speck to mention. A single dropped frame at 32:07 is minor. The print used is in ridiculously great condition, made so well, even the various matte shots are free of debris or scratches.

And gray scale… a stunner. Blacks deliver superlative depth and contrast is pure. Beast has stronger dimensionality than many modern offerings. Supposedly, the underwater sequence was tinted green during the initial release, but remains here in B&W. Note that no home video edition has tinted Beast.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Despite audible age, any fault in the DTS-HD mono track is on the original recording processes. Challenged by the score, each blaring instrument from the horn section is held without distortion. Clarity is unusual considering other discs of films of the same vintage.

Dialog is precise and firm. There is no static or pop. Audio condition matches the video, albeit without compression bothers.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Extras are mirrored from the early 2000s DVD release. That means the rapid six minute making-of, The Rhedrosaurus and the Rollercoaster, is brought back with Harryhausen detailing the process. Harryhausen and Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship, shows a 2003 chat with the pair as they discuss their lives and obsessions with fantasy. The plainly named Armatures makes it only to a minute as Ray reveals the process of model making.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.