The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Blu-ray Review
The late legendary effects master Ray Harryhausen kick-started a magnificent career spanning three decades with this 1953 feature that at least partly inspired Godzilla.Pre-dating the first ever Japanese Godzilla movie in 1954, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms tells a tale which any Godzilla fan would say was extremely familiar, but which was - back in 1953 - one of the first of its time, with atomic weapons testing in the Arctic thawing out and awakening a giant (fictional) prehistoric creature dubbed a Rhedosaurus, which makes its way down the East Coast of America, wreaking havoc in Manhattan as scientists and the military scramble to figure out a way to stop it without any further collateral damage.Although there are late-stage hints of Wells' War of the Worlds that put a spin on the familiar story, this is still proto-Godzilla, (even the poster hinted at the unused concept of the Beast breathing fire) and this was certainly one of the first atomic bomb-generated creature features, with Harryhausen showing some early promise as he blends a towering 30 foot monster with familiar cityscapes and locations. Whilst the directors and stars may have long been forgotten, Harryhausen's trademark Dynamation was borne here and would never be forgotten.
Picture QualityThe Beast from 20,000 Fathoms comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray courtesy of HMV's exclusive Premium Collection, porting over the solid 2015 US release which was already Region Free and available as part of a Harryhausen box set.
The years have not always been kind of Harryhausen, or, more specifically his stop-motion animation style - Dynamation. The trouble with this process was that it involved an elaborate variation of rear-screen projection, re-filming pre-shot live action sequences playing as a background to stop-motion animated creations moving in the foreground, matted out to further blend them in. This means that the background images of these shots simply cannot be restored by any conventional means, leaving the effects sequences that dominate the features boasting Harryhausen's work as looking worse than the rest of the film - as no amount of 2K scanning can retrieve the lost background information through filming a filmed background. Furthermore, Harryhausen's process went way beyond filming animated models, taking time and effort attempting to help viewers further suspend disbelief through integrating the models as best as he could. To this end, he would often use smoke and shadows to blend the creatures in, and favoured diffuse lenses to soften the models to the same effect. All of this would leave the highlights of the films that Harryhausen was most famous for as also being the worst looking, no matter what restoration work was done.
With all this in mind, this 65 year old film looks surprisingly good and perhaps even benefits somewhat from being shot in black and white. It's presented with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of fullscreen 1.33:1, and is delivered complete with a new 2K scan from the fine-grain positive.
This 65 year old film looks surprisingly good considering the film processes used
Lensed by Psycho's John L. Russell, there is a somewhat surprising style to the look of this feature, with characters and settings afforded a decent amount of detail - aforementioned caveats notwithstanding - and strong contrast, impressive black levels and well-rendered greyscale. There's a fairly hefty but healthy sheen of grain pervading the piece, lending it some measure of texture. It's also a largely clean image, free of damage and debris for the most part, excepting those Harryhausen sequences. Given the age, vintage and filming techniques, it's unlikely a film like this could look any better, and with that in mind, most fans should be happy with the shape it's in here.
Sound QualityIt's a strong audio effort, particularly given the film's vintage
Being an exact mirror of the US disc, the HMV-exclusive UK release boasts the same solid lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mono 1.0 track, which remains faithful to the original audio design and is a very natural accompaniment to the movie, admittedly limited by the technical constraints of a mono track, but nonetheless far better than an artificial remix would be for a feature like this. Dialogue remains clearly and coherently delivered, and effects are given some surprising oomph, particularly in respect of the monster's roar, whilst the good background score elevates the film in terms of memorability. It's a strong effort, particularly given the film's vintage.
ExtrasAlthough the back cover incorrectly lists them, HMV's Premium Collection release of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms sports the same extras that adorned the preceding US release, somewhat audaciously called "Documentaries" on the cover. The Rhedosaurus and the Rollercoaster: Making of the Beast is just 6 minutes in length, but thankfully we're in the company of Harryhausen, as he talks about his start in the film business. Harryhausen & Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship is only a little longer, at 17 minutes, with the two lifelong friends heading up a reunion of sorts with a number of their fellow effects and filmmaking workers, recalling the highlights of their times together. It's a great piece. The brief Armatures addition has Harryhausen talking about the armature work (which his father did), and the disc is rounded out by the Theatrical Trailer. The package, in typical Premium Collection style, includes a DVD copy, a Digital Download and some Artcards in a nice release with a slipcase.
Blu-ray VerdictHarryhausen's trademark Dynamation was borne here and would never be forgotten.
As part of a trio of Harryhausen films released in HMV's exclusive Premium Collection, Ray Harryhausen's first film feature, The Beast from 20,000 Leagues reaches UK shores with the same strong disc as its preceding US release, albeit wrapped in a nicer package.
You can buy The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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