||50th Anniversary Edition
||Chinese; English; French; Korean; Portuguese; Spanish
||ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1 [CC]
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Mono [CC]
SPANISH: Dolby Digital Mono
||Single Side, Dual Layer
|No. of Discs/Tapes
|Feature Available in Original B&W and Color (Chromachoise to Toggle Between B&W and Color)
Audio Commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Visual Effects Artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett, and Arnold Kunert
Remembering 20 Million Miles To Earth
The Colorization Process
Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen
Interview with Joan Taylor
20 Million Miles More Comic Book
Original Ad Artwork
David Schechter on Film Music's Unsung Hero
Video Photo Galleries
Hi-Def Digest Reviewed
|Digital Copy Claimed
20 Million Miles to Earth (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / 1957 / 82 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: December 04, 2007
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon or DVD Empire ]
Bottom Line Worth a Look
Reviewed by Kenneth S. Brown
Friday, April 04, 2008
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Before CGI raptors, green-screened bullet-cams, and morphing liquid-metal killing machines, there was Ray Harryhausen. A pioneer in stop-motion animation, Harryhausen held generations of wide-eyed kids within the grasp of his imagination, while his landmark visual effects inspired many of today’s most visionary filmmakers including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Terry Gilliam, George Lucas, and Tim Burton. Even an '80s kid like me remembers countless Saturday mornings spent soaking up 'Jason and the Argonauts,' 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,' and 'Clash of the Titans.'
Harryhausen’s seminal 1957 film '20 Million Miles to Earth' tells a rather simple story about an American spacecraft that crashes off the coast of Sicily after completing an expedition to Venus. The sole survivor is Colonel Robert Calder (William Hooper), an astronaut who's anxious to recover a strange, Venusian egg that was on board the ship. But before he can locate the specimen, a bipedal creature hatches from the egg and begins growing at an alarming rate. With the help of a zoologist named Dr. Leonardo (Frank Puglia) and a young woman named Marisa (Joan Taylor), Calder rushes to capture the alien before it can do too much damage.
Harryhausen fans are used to settling. Though his visual effects are consistently dazzling, more often than not the work that surrounds them is not. As such, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that '20 Million Miles to Earth' has some major problems. First and foremost, the actors are dreadful. Watching their performances, it's easy to forget they're running from a menacing space beast -- they may as well be running from a giant paper bag. Second of all, the cinematography is flat and unexciting. Finally, the story itself is essentially a tired rehash of every misunderstood monster tale since 'King Kong.'
Still, the amazing thing about Harryhausen's creations is that even fifty years after the fact, they make a film like this worth seeing. Despite its dated stop-motion roots, I marveled at how convincing Harryhausen's monster actually is -- its eyes register genuine emotion, its lips curl in legitimate anger, and its fingers curl in familiar frustration. It even interacts with its surroundings in a more convincing manner than the rest of the cast. '20 Million Miles to Earth' may suffer from terrible performances and stilted filmmaking, but Harryhausen's expressive animation helps to take the sting out of the film's shortcomings.
Taken in the context of its place on the evolutionary ladder of special effects, '20 Million Miles to Earth' is fun and fascinating watch. Though there's probably not enough here for the average moviegoer to sink their teeth into, Harryhausen buffs and ‘50s b-movie fans will eat this one up.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
In his audio commentary, Harryhausen reveals that '20 Million Miles to Earth' was originally meant to be shot in color. After budgetary limitations forced the film to be shot in black and white, he says he spent his career wondering what could have been. But in 2007, the technicians at Legend Films set about remastering and colorizing the film under his supervision. While I generally don’t welcome this sort of risky dabbling, at least the set-up in this case is intriguing.
The colorized version of '20 Million Miles to Earth' is presented in 1080p with a commendable AVC MPEG-4 transfer. To my great relief, the colorization process results in a surprisingly natural look. The muted palette isn't garish or overcooked, shadows aren't splotchy, and textures haven't been compromised. I was initially surprised to see how green the creature’s skin appeared, but then who am I to argue with Harryhausen? Skintones come on a little strong and the stop-motion models tend to look plasticized, but generally the image is a good match with other color films of the era. Even better, the source is spotless and stable -- contrast doesn't waver, grain is unobtrusive, and there isn't any noise or edge enhancement to be found.
Purists will be relieved to learn that this Blu-ray edition of '20 Million Miles to Earth' also includes a black and white version of the film encoded in a separate 1080p/AVC transfer. This version is actually the result of the first step in Legend's colorization process and it too handles Harryhausen's creation with respect. The print looks better than it ever has -- the only downsides are that detail can be sketchy at times and the picture's contrast isn't quite as bold as I hoped it would be. Still, the image is clean and stable, a feat that shouldn't go unappreciated.
(Note that as a nifty bonus, you can switch back and forth between the two versions of the film at any point during playback using your player's multi-angle controls.)
The Audio: Rating the Sound
A solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/ 16-Bit/ 3.0 Mbps) ensures that '20 Million Miles to Earth' sounds a lot better than you’d expect for a film of its age and budget. Dialogue is clear, sound effects are crisp, and dynamics have been enhanced to introduce clean, low-end rumbles into the mix. I normally don't toss much praise around when it comes to surround tracks that have been remixed from an original mono source, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear a convincing level of rear support during many of the stop-motion sequences. Best of all, the hissing and humming noises of the original recording have been miraculously exorcised from this mix.
All of this is not to say that this track will ever be confused with a more modern mix -- dialogue is generally shallow and sound effects aren't spread across multiple channels at any given time. Of course, anyone expecting the audible power of a modern sci-fi flick probably won't enjoy '20 Million Miles to Earth' in the first place. Overall, while the impact of the audio remix isn't quite as remarkable as the video remastering, the outcome is impressive nonetheless.
(Note that while this Blu-ray edition includes the original mono track in Spanish, it does not feature such a track in English.)
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
This Blu-ray edition of '20 Million Miles to Earth' includes all of the extensive extras from the 2-disc 50th Anniversary Edition standard DVD, released in July of 2007. Although the material is presented here in standard definition only, the package features a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the film's creation and preservation.
Audio Commentary -- Easily the most rewarding feature on this disc, Ray Harryhausen (still very much alive and kicking) and producer Arnold Kunert are joined by ILM special effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett for a fascinating discussion of '20 Million Miles to Earth' and Harryhausen’s influential career. Harryhausen discusses the special effects, the actors, the shoot, and the difficulties he encountered during the production. Muren and Tippett are clearly in awe of the man who single-handedly laid the foundation for their work -- their comments and questions are thoughtful and keep the spotlight on Harryhausen at all times. The track never falls into silence and will be a particular treat for Harryhausen fans.
Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth (SD, 27 minutes) -- This reflective featurette includes interviews with Rick Baker, John Landis, and Terry Gilliam (among others) as it explores the genesis of the film. Early production art, archived FX tests, and fresh information from Harryhausen make this one a must-watch for fans.
The Colorization Process (SD, 11 minutes) -- I really enjoyed this featurette, which is saying a lot for someone who loathes colorization. It follows Harryhausen as he meets the technicians from Legend Films and sees their work first hand. The filmmaker is so relieved by the results that his excitement is contagious. The folks at Legend are clearly passionate about old films and I was really impressed with their desire to help Harryhausen achieve his original vision (rather than to leave their own thumbprint on the production).
Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen (SD, 27 minutes) -- The sole disappointment in this package is this awkward chat between Burton and Harryhausen. Don't get me wrong, Harryhausen isn't the problem here -- it’s Burton. He fidgets, rambles, and struck me as being generally unprepared. He may simply have been starstruck being in the presence of one of his idols, but he bumbles his way through the interview and really wastes the opportunity given to him. Die-hard fans should still give this one a look, but be prepared to wince at the results.
Interview with Joan Taylor (SD, 17 minutes) – Given the film’s lackluster performances, I can’t say I was initially looking forward to watching this chat with one of the film’s stars, but in the end I found myself enjoying this one just as much as the other featurettes. Although Taylor’s comments aren't limited to '20 Million Miles to Earth,' she provides a fascinating glimpse at ‘50s Hollywood.
Mischa Bakaleinikoff: Movie Music's Unsung Hero (SD, 22 minute) -- Finally, a lengthy featurette that covers a film's score! While Bakaleinikoff isn't a composer, this is still an interesting piece that explores the relationship between musical mood and the established tone of a film. It runs a little long, but I had a good time nonetheless.
Original Ad Artwork (SD, 17 minutes) -- This video montage shuffles through artwork, sketches, photographs, and trailers from the film's original release.
20 Million Miles More -- This quick feature previews the first pages of a comicbook tie-in to the film.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
No easter eggs reported for '20 Million Miles to Earth' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
A stop-motion extravaganza from 1957 may not be everyone's cup of tea, but fans of ‘50s cinema and the legendary work of Ray Harryhausen are sure to appreciate this Blu-ray edition of '20 Million Miles to Earth.' The fifty-year-old film has been given new life with a great transfer, an impressive TrueHD audio track, and an extensive collection of supplements that are incredibly interesting.