There was a golden period for science fiction cinema in the nineteen fifties and sixties. The reasons for so many of these genre films being made were mainly two-fold. Firstly they were reasonably cheap. With a straightforward story and a few special effects a film could be made for a reasonable sum. The other reason for their success was the masked subject matter. With the cold war in full effect film makers used the Sci-Fi genre to explore people’s fears and prejudices about the unknown. Rather than the red peril they brought us creatures from another planet. A prime example of the best of the genre is the nineteen fifty-seven film 20 Million miles to Earth.
Off the coast of a small Sicilian fishing village an enormous rocket ship crashes into the sea. Some local fishermen clamber aboard and are able to rescue two of the crew. Once on shore the injured men are treated at the local hospital while the child of one of the fishermen finds a strange capsule that has been washed ashore. The boy sells the canister to a local travelling zoologist (handy eh!). The contents of the canister are soon revealed as a small reptile creature is hatched. It’s not long before the creature is growing and the authorities are getting worried.
The film starts off really well. The initial scenes are handled with style considering the age of the film. The effects are impressive with a mixture of miniatures and live action to the fore. This type of effect is used time and again, always working well. For a film with a run time over just over eighty minutes it manages to keep the suspense going until over thirty minutes into it. Usually with these type of films the set up is quite short and it made a pleasant change to have a bit of development prior to the inevitable monster hunt.
The creature effects were provided by the SFX genius Ray Harryhausen. The creatures movements and growth are handled with care and a great attention to detail. The effects show their age but the way the creature interacts with the actors is well thought out and executed with style. It raises the film above some of it contemporaries and lends a unique feel to the film.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the acting on display. For a film set in Sicily there are a number of strange accents on the go. Some of the actors clearly didn’t get the memo and came prepared with mexican accents. The film is filled with the usual stock characters. Along with them we get the normal sub plots. The zoologist has a grand-daughter who naturally has to fall in love with the square-jawed military hero. The romance feels tacked on and in reality is unnecessary.
There is a point about forty-five minute in where certain elements of the plot seem to have been resolved. In order to provide a dramatic climax the film shamelessly steals a major idea from King Kong. As soon as it happens you can almost hear the audience groan.
In a way the acting and the dialogue are secondary to the spectacle. If, as in this case, the film engages you then you a liable to overlook any small flaws. It is only when the attention of the viewer is drawn away from the monster elements that the shortcomings become apparent.
Overall an entertaining Sci-Fi spectacle that doesn’t out stay its welcome. Recommended.
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