Sunday, July 25, 2010

August 8, 2009: Psychobabble recommends ‘20 Million Miles to Earth’

Like Svengali, which I only so for the first time a month ago, 20 Million Miles to Earth is another movie I can’t believe I’ve never seen before. Obviously it doesn’t hold the same slot in the cultural lexicon that Svengali does; it’s just that 20 Million Miles to Earth represents so many of the things I personally love about classic monster movies. Unlike every single other “giant monster” picture of the ‘50s, Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir actually has a personality. The beast is part King Kong, part Creature from the Black Lagoon, yet it’s even more sympathetic than either of those far more famous fiends. The Ymir does not indulge in the kind of wanton destruction that Kong did during his trip to New York City, nor does he play the kinds of head games the Gill Man so enjoyed (no underwater shenanigans with bathing beauties; no attempts at trapping sailors in his abode with driftwood). Like both monsters, he is abducted from his home world by men who would exploit him (the world: Venus; the exploitation: to figure out how he’s able to survive in the harsh Venusian atmosphere so that men might do the same). While on Earth, the poor guy is attacked by a rabid dog, a territorial zoo elephant, and a bunch of military assholes, yet he never strikes first. The final showdown atop the Acropolis may be even more heartbreaking than Kong’s last waltz on the Empire State Building (an obvious inspiration). Harryhausen’s creation is one of his most remarkably articulated, and it’s clear the Ymir was a blueprint for his considerably less sympathetic Kraken in Clash of the Titans.

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