Bluray Review – The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen Vol. 1 (1955-1960)

It Came from Beneath the Sea

Horror, Sci-fi | U | USA, 1955 | Dir.Robert Gordon | Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis

This film would be Ray’s first collaboration with producer Charles H Schneer they would go on to make some of Harryhausen’s most famous films together including Jason and the Argonauts and of course Clash of the Titans.

This being their first though, it ends up also being their weakest, but they obviously lived and learned as they also never worked with director Robert Gordon again. Don’t worry about him though, he went on to make Tarzan and the Jungle Boy so his legacy is cemented.

All of Ray’s effects are great fun, how could a giant octopus attacking the Golden Gate Bridge not be? Everything else though is a bit wooden, unimaginative and in some cases just plain weird. There’s this odd love triangle between Kenneth Tobey Faith Domergue and Donald Curtis that plays out less like two men fighting over a woman and more like they’re… well… possibly trying to get her at the same time? I’m not sure what the hell was going on there, but it does add to the weirdness of the film.

20 Million Miles to Earth

Fantasy, Sci-fi | USA, 1957 | PG | Dir.Nathan Juran | William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Thomas Browne Henry

Produced as an excuse for effects wizard Ray Harryhausen to take a Roman vacation, 20 Million Miles to Earth is a fairly standard b-movie elevated above many others thanks to a few interesting touches. The plot involves a team of astronauts who crash off the coast of Sicily on their return flight from Venus. They brought with them a lifeform from the planet in the hopes of studying its biology, however, the crash allows the creature to escape and it quickly grows to monstrous proportions.

The Italian setting makes for a nice change of pace from most monster movies, and provides some exotic locales, however, all of the background characters are walking talking Italian stereotypes which wears thin very quickly. 20 Million Miles’ real strength lies in its monster, dubbed Ymir (though it is never named in the film itself), the creature differs from many of its cinematic cousins by not being a monster at all. What Ymir is is scared, its just an animal, taken from its home and lost on a strange, alien world full of terrifying things like sheep, horses, and dogs. The scene immediately following Ymir’s escape is heartbreaking, as it wanders through a field, bellowing a sad cry and flinching in terror from farm animals.

Once Ymir is on the loose the film picks up a little as we are treated to numerous exciting set-pieces, involving things like flamethrowers, an oddly aggressive elephant, which gives the film its own little monster fight as Ymir tussles with the pachyderm through the streets of Rome, and a showdown in the coliseum. The very sympathetic portrayal of the film’s creature elevates it above most b-movie fair, and the Italian setting and great visuals make for a fun time.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver

Adventure, Fantasy | USA, 1960 | U | Dir.Jack Sher | Kerwin Mathews, Jo Morrow, June Thorburn

When Doctor Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Mathews) is pulled from the arms of his love Elizabeth (June Thorburn) during a violent storm and tossed over the railing of their ship, he is washed up on the shore of Lilliput, a land of tiny people where he is a giant.
Lilliput is presented as a version of DUCK SOUP‘s Fredonia with an Emperor willing to go to war for ridiculous reasons, in this case a disagreement with the neighboring country of Blefuscu over which side of an egg one should hold when the shell is being cracked. The satire in this film is much more gentle then that found in Jonathan Swift’s classic novel, but the script by director Jack Sher and Arthur Ross does express a point of view that makes the film more than a simple fairy tale.

Ross spent a period of his working life on the Hollywood Blacklist, the strong anti-war message, as well the inclusion of a witch trial where Guillver must confess his guilt hardly seems accidental, and gives the movie a interesting political subtext. This was not a project created by Ray Harrryhausen and Charles H. Schneer, consequently Superdynamation effects are very limited to a couple of creatures, but the matte work is extensive and looks quite good. This is very much a children’s movie, but one with enough intelligence to reward an adult viewer.

Special Features
• Original black and white and alternative, authorised colourised versions of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth audio commentaries with Ray Harryhausen
• New interview with filmmaker Joe Dante
• New interview with SFX maestro Dennis Muren
• New interviews with Aardman Animation’s David Sproxton, Peter Lord and Dave Alex Riddett
• Archival documentaries, interviews and featurettes
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated score on The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Box set exclusive 80-page book with new essays by Kim Newman, Dan Whitehead and Charlie Brigden, and film credits

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