Ray Harryhausen in Color
20 Million Miles to Earth - the 50th Anniversary Edition, IT Came from Beneath the Sea and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers on DVD
Harryhausen fans won't be able to live without these early classics from the man whose work inspired so many. And now they're being presented with a brand new suit of clothes via a new colorization process that, instead of making the films look tired and washed out, makes it almost appear is if it were shot in color back when they were made.
They weren't, of course, or there'd have been no reason to colorize, but the great Ray Harryhausen himself remarks on more than one occasion during the commentaries and supplementary tracks that the movies do look as if shot in color - and that he'd wanted to shoot them in color fifty years ago but they didn't have the budget.
But more about the remarkable colorization later.
Long Distance Voyager
20 Million Miles to Earth is another telling of the "King Kong" story, this time featuring a returned US exploratory voyage to Venus that falls to earth (well, sea) near Sicily. Why Sicily? Harryhausen will tell you on the commentary track, and it just may make you chuckle.
A single crew member (William Hopper) survives the effects of the deadly Venerian atmosphere; he's the one person who knows what's up on the alien world - and who's familiar with the special cargo they've brought back with them. Hey, we need a monster - this is a Harryhausen movie!
That cargo washes up on shore when the space ship sinks in the Mediterranean and is discovered by an entrepreneurial little boy - who then sells it to a zoologist (Frank Puglia) who just happens to be doing research in the area.
Naturally, his purchase turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for: it's an alien being called a Ymir that the crew had brought back to earth in egg form. But our atmosphere, which is so much different than that of Venus, causes its metabolism to speed up, and once the creature is released from its egg it grows from doll-sized to gigantic - much to the chagrin of the humans who, in typical Hollywood tradition, are ultimately bent on its destruction.
Alas, the poor creature isn't really bad, but it's confused and frightened and when it gets attacked it defends itself, which sets off further attacks and the destructive rampage for which we paid the price of admission.
The story is pretty good; Kong is better overall, though even it has its hokey parts, but as usual it's Harryhausen's great work that stands out. His treats for our eyes this time include space ship effects and the creature, the latter of which exhibits the classic Harryhausen Dynamation flourishes - and we get to see it running amok through the streets of Rome as well as the famed Coliseum, which suffers greatly, though not so much at the hands of the Ymir as by the military ordnance brought to bear on it.
In the end, this doesn't go down in movie history as one of Ray's best, but it's still eminently watchable and enjoyable, and definitely belongs in the DVD collection of all Harryhausen fans.
The two disc DVD is exquisite, though for some reason the first disc refused to play on our $1500 U.S. reference DVD player and exhibited some problems on a more mainstream one as well. The picture is digitally mastered in High Definition and is offered in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and in both the original black and white and the new colorized version.
IT Came from Beneath the Sea is a better sci-fi film than it is a Harryhausen movie - chiefly because there isn't nearly enough Harryhausen in it to satisfy us. The movie is kind of a Godzilla-like story in which a giant octopus - zapped by evil nuclear radiation - turns up and starts wreaking havoc on shipping and, finally San Francisco.
Kenneth Tobey (star of the original The Thing) stars with Faith Domergue (of This Island Earth fame). He's a naval officer and she's a comely scientist who work together to solve the mystery after Tobey's sub is nearly sunk by the big critter.
It's an intelligent script and a good yarn, but there isn't nearly enough destruction. And the colorization, while welcome, seems to make skin tones look pasty and the octopus look a tad rubbery. That said, we still liked the color version better than the black-and-white (and, as with all three movies here, you can run either version and even switch back and forth using the "angle" button on your DVD player's remote).
Extras on the disc are mostly the same extras that are on the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers disc, which is a shame, though you also get an audio commentary featuring Mr. Harryhausen and others. Disc two features a "remembering" featurette that's pretty cool, and a repeated sit down interview with Tim Burton and Harryhausen, a featurette on the film's music, a "present day" look at stop motion that's pretty lame for anyone who's been following Harryhausen at all, a "digital sneak peek" of a new comic book based on the movie and more.
Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers
"People of Earth-attention!" Harryhausen's flying saucers in this movie have become so famous that millions undoubtedly know them even if they've never heard of the film. That's because it seems as if just about every movie or TV show that deals with UFO's uses footage of Harryhausen's animated saucers clobbering Washington, D.C. to illustrate their points.
They could do worse. Harryhausen's saucers look great and his special effects in this movie are typically first rate, whether you watch them in the original black and white or the new colorized versions. The only place it really falls down is with the look of the aliens themselves, as they appear in their GORT-like space suits. At least the script rationalizes this acceptably....
The story's better than average, too. A government task force called Operation Skyhook is sending rockets into the upper atmosphere as part of Mankind's first steps toward the exploration of space. Alas, every rocket has somehow disappeared after it has been blasted off, much to the scientists' chagrin. While investigating, Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his assistant/brand new wife Carol Marvin (Joan Taylor) are first buzzed by and later abducted by a flying saucer, at which time the aliens demand a meeting with certain global movers and shakers in order to negotiate their takeover of the planet.
It's an invasion, all right, and if Russell and his main squeeze can't find a way stop the aliens, it could spell the end of humanity.
It's a neat yarn, well written and with good performances. As usual, Harryhausen is the real star and it's a treat to see his UFO's in all the glory again.
As with "IT", the colorization is quite stunning, with the exception of the flesh tones, and we found ourselves reluctantly preferring the color version to the original black-and-white.
We object to colorization on principle, looking upon it as painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, but we have to admit that we loved it here. We wouldn't want to see them do this to Citizen Kane, Casablanca and other true giants of the silver screen, but here it seems to work well, bringing a new dimension of enjoyment to the experience. It probably doesn't hurt that the color was added with consultation by Mr. Harryhausen, and that he himself is thrilled with how it came out - and, let's face it, in the grand scheme of things these movies are no Citizen Kanes no matter how much we enjoy them on their own merits.
And it isn't as if they destroyed the original black and white version: they're here in all their remastered glory as well, and they look great (just not as great as the new color version).
The audio of all three films is Dolby Digital and they've even found some nice surround effects to throw at us, which was quite unexpected..
Each film includes a running commentary with Mr. Harryhausen, accompanied by new generation FX masters.
Disc two of each feature includes some shared material, though you also get some unique stuff. But the movies are worth seeing for their own sake, and to hell with the extras.
20 Million Miles to Earth - the 50th Anniversary Edition, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment,
IT Came From Beneath the Sea, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment,
Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment,
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
We welcome your comments!