Monday, February 18, 2008

Dinosaur Movies: Part 4

There's a great story behind The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Ray Harryhausen was doing the special effects. When science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (a friend of Harryhausen) was visiting the set one day, someone asked him if he could take a look at the script and rewrite it.



Bradbury mentioned that the script seemed to be a lot like a story he'd written for the "Saturday Evening Post" a few years earlier. The next day, he recieved a telegram from Warner Brothers, asking to buy the rights to the story. Apparently, sometime during production, the crew had lost track of where they'd gotten the original story idea from.

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The finished movie really doesn't resemble Bradbury's story that closely. The original story is about a dinosaur--probably the last of his kind-- who mistakes a light house fog horn for a mating call.

The movie does include an atmospheric scene in which the dinosaur smashes a lighthouse, but mostly it follows the standard monster movie conceits of the 1950s. The dinosaur is frozen in the artic ice. A nuclear explosion thaws it out. It eventually makes its way to New York City, where it goes on a rampage before the puny humans figure out how to kill it.


In terms of plot and characters, there's nothing original here. (It may, though, be the first movie that uses a nuclear blast to revive/mutate a monster. Godzilla wouldn't put in his first appearance for another three years.)

In terms of special effects, it's still fun to watch. Ray Harryhausen is a true artist, able to give life and personality to the creatures he brought to the screen. The Rhedasaurus (a fictional species created for the movie) is fun to watch in every scene in which it appears. Its death scene at the movie's climax is particularly good.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms isn't the best dinosaur movie ever made. It's not the best Harryhausen film by far either. But it's a fun way to spend 80 minutes.

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