Friday, July 12, 2013

Seeing Is Believing Movie Reviews: "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (1953)


Dear god, I did not like this movie. And the weird thing is, I should like it.

Many film historians and critics say that “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” is the biggest inspirations for one of my favorite movies of all time: “Godzilla” (not to be confused with the 1956 American version with Raymond Burr). 

While I certainly see the similarities for plot elements and the (slight) theme of the horrors of atomic bombs, both films go about their presentation and characters in an entirely different manner. Any similarities between the two can be written off as a coincidence as far as I can see.

Not to mention, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” in particular manages to screw up so many things on the side of plot, characters, pacing and even the theme of nuclear weapons. There were several points in the movie where I found myself rolling my eyes and saying how much better “Godzilla” was able to do it.

The movie begins in the arctic, where a group of scientists are setting up the area to test an atomic bomb, while the narrator explains every little detail in jargon that most audiences won’t understand. After the successful test, two researchers go out to look the area over, only to find that the bomb woke up a giant prehistoric dinosaur from its icy slumber.

Only one of these scientists survives the encounter with the monster, Thomas Nesbitt (Paul Christian). He wakes up in New York, convinced that he saw a dinosaur that has been extinct for over 100 million years. Of course, no one believes him. 

Nesbitt is determined to find out the truth. Thus, he spends what feels like the entire remaining run time of the movie, trying to tell everyone that the monster is real, with limited success. 

Here’s the problem with this kind of plot in a movie: When the main character spends what feels like an eternity trying to tell people who won’t believe him about a creature that the audiences knows is real, it really comes off like a waste of time. We already know that this dinosaur exists, so all this is doing is delaying the inevitable reveal. Call it a pet peeve if you want, but this kind of story has never worked for me.

It would be interesting if we didn’t see the monster in the first few minutes of the film, then it could be a mystery. Is this once trusted scientist telling the truth? Or did he suffer a blow to the head and all of this is in his imagination? 

But no, we had to have the monster in the beginning to ruin all the suspense and mystery of that plot point.

Also, something that also distracted me was Paul Christian’s accent and how it reminded me so much of Jean Claude Van Damme. I know that’s really not a fair comparison, but the whole movie I expected Christian to roundhouse kick all the doctors in the face.

Speaking of doctors, let’s talk about the biggest problem with this film: It falls into the same rut as films like “The Killer Shrews” or “Bride Of The Monster,” of too many scenes with scientists making long boring speeches about sciencey stuff. 

I swear, there are no fewer than three scenes in this 80 minute movie with nothing but science lingo. They go no where, they disrupt the pacing and tension of the monster scenes and they just keep going on way longer than they need to. There is more focus on these scenes than there is on monster scenes, and that just frustrates me. 

When you have someone like Ray Harryhausen working on the special effects in your movie, that’s where you should spend the majority of the movie on. Not some scientists with no personality or apparent lives outside of their jobs. 

If there is one great thing about “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” though, it is Harryhausen’s fantastic stop-motion special effects on the monster and ensuing destruction. Harryhausen never disappoints. It always felt seamless during big action scenes and the sound helped to compliment the impact of many cars or buildings getting destroyed.

It’s a pity though that there’s so little of these well-done moments in the movie. Apart from the monster’s big rampage on New York City, there are about four scenes that involve the dinosaur and only last long enough to get in one thing getting blown up. 

Rather disappointing, actually.

In all, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” mostly helped to remind me how “Godzilla” (1954) is such a fantastic movie. I know that I said earlier that the two had next to nothing in common, but now I see that this movie serves as the framework for “Godzilla.” They might have some elements in common, but both films go about those elements in entirely different ways. 

Final Grade: D

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