DVD Savant reviewed an earlier release of this title in June of 2002; for those wanting to learn more about the movie itself, the review can be found here. 20 Million Miles to Earth is a favorite 50s monster film and the last Ray Harryhausen effort in B&W. Ray's animation talent and special effects compositing skills are shown at their best. Some pedestrian acting drags the film down a bit, along with a lack of storytelling vision. With a little more imagination, the interesting "Ymir" creature could have been developed much more fully, like the still un-topped 1933 King Kong.
Sony's 50th Anniversary Edition is a fancy package that at first flatters Ray Harryhausen's semi-classic, and then becomes a case of celebratory overkill. Despite the big-name contributors most of the extras are shallow and commercially oriented. The release sums up a problem with many studio Special Editions -- the added value features are often not much more than marketing lures. One of the featurettes is geared to break down film fan resistance to the practice of colorization, and watching it is like spending time with used car salesmen.
If you don't own the previous DVD of 20 Million Miles to Earth, this edition is definitely recommended. The transfer is almost the same but the encoding is much improved. On the first disc bad digital grain intruded on a few scenes, especially the crash-landing of the Venus rocket. This version looks sharper throughout. If a flat-frame alternate is preferred, keep the old disc. Both the B&W and colorized encodings on this edition are enhanced 16:9.
I've bought colorized discs before because they also included good alternate B&W versions, as with The Little Shop of Horrors. The color treatment given 20 Million is not bad at all, which is faint praise, because a colorized movie looks nothing like a movie in color. What we get is a very good tinting job of the kind seen in B&W photos turned into color lobby cards. Colors just go grey or black as the image darkens, and the flatness of the hues is distracting. The Ymir, for instance, is almost exactly the same dull green, whether seen in broad daylight or lit by lights at night. Colors also don't alter much with atmospheric 'perspective' haze ... a soldier's outfit is the same one-tone khaki whether he's on top of the camera or 200 yards away. Dressed up in selective, uniform colors -- almost like a paint-by-number picture -- Harryhausen's clever effects look more than ever like little toy dioramas.
Technically, the tinting is well done, as the colors stay where they're supposed to without fail. Giving the effort an artistic grade is more difficult. Old tinted photos often used artificial effects, but colorizing a movie is much like using crayons in a coloring book. A tree is always green and the sky is always the same blue. Faces fare better than the pale pumpkin look of old colorization, but not by much. What this particular process often succeeds in doing is giving individual shots a heightened contrast, especially when something bright white is in the frame. It can be pleasing to the eye.
The disc featurette The Colorization Process plays like an infomercial. We're told that what we're seeing is a perfected art form, and that supremely talented art directors are in charge of the process. Since the company wants to find new customers, we're assured that the tough work of keeping the colors where they're supposed to be is controlled by a computer program that learns how to recognize a shape that's being affected by a certain hue. To most knowledgeable film fans, any kind of colorization is movie vandalism plain and simple. While not that stiff of a purist, I still lean toward non-revisionist thinking.
Ray Harryhausen's name is used as a shield in both the featurette and the overall disc promotion. We're told repeatedly that Ray's all for it, that he wanted the films to be in color when they were made but it wasn't feasible, etc. The Harryhausen Card cancels out the Revisionist Outrage card, you see. If Ray's the true auteur of these movies (agreed) then why shouldn't he be able to alter them, as does George Lucas?
And remember, "whiners" about colorization have no reason to be upset, because the disc comes in the Modern Miracle of Chromachoice™ ... which allows one to toggle between B&W and tinted colorization at any point. I'm glad there are only three Columbia B&W Harryhausens to screw around with in this way. I'm also glad that nobody in Hollywood has yet found a way to reap a huge profit by destroying a film outright. If there were an extra nickel to be made, I think it would already be happening.
Ray Harryhausen lends his blessing to this project by playing a big part in the 2-disc set's copious extras. We love Harryhausen and have been happy to see him finally reaping stellar-grade recognition over the last few years; it couldn't happen to a more deserving artist. His new books are great and the Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection disc was a marvel, but the result of all the publicity is that he's been seriously overexposed of late. The best extra on the 20 Million disc is the Harryhausen commentary with Arnold Kunert and effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett. As the film is packed with effects scenes, there's no let-up in Muren and Tippett's technical questions. Ray gives up a number of nuggets that I've never heard before, like the information that he sometimes used a spinning rear process screen to reduce visible screen texture. Even when Ray dodges a query with, "A magician need to keep his secrets", or, "You shouldn't be concentrating on details like that", Tippett and Muren just keep the questions coming.
Anyone wanting to see Ray being interviewed by Tim Burton won't be disappointed, as the filmmaker looks genuinely charmed to be talking with one of his heroes. Both that extra and the main Remembering ... featurette seem overlong. There is only so much to say about the uncomplicated 20 Million Miles to Earth, and it's a big stretch when spokespeople make exaggerated claims for it as a sensitive move about a misunderstood space alien, equating it with E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. Harryhausen's animation mimetics only hint in that direction, and the rest of the pedestrian monster tale ignores the issue.
The little docus discuss in depth the other two B&W Columbia Harryhausens, It Came From Beneath the Sea and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, making us wonder if there'll be anything left to discuss when special colorized editions of those features are released.
The other extras show commendable special effort. Beautiful Joan Taylor is interviewed for a run-down of her career, which was much broader than 20 Million and will have limited appeal to monster lovers. Music expert David Schecter profiles composer Mischa Bakaleinikoff and explains the B-movie scoring process, which mainly involved re-using old cues and commissioning new ones only when necessary. A photo gallery, a new 20 Million comic book and artwork galleries round out the package. The gallery of posters is actually a nice little show-and-tell session describing the various kinds of Ad Paper distributed to theaters, along with Press Books, etc.
Rumors indicate that Sony may soon be reaching further down into its library of desirable genre films, to bring out more Hammer pictures and maybe even some of its Japanese Toho holdings. This new disc of 20 Million Miles to Earth wasn't essential, but it is somewhat of a visual improvement, the B&W version, that is. Despite the effort spent to promote colorization as a wonderful way to make "old movies" acceptable to new audiences, the process is still a novelty with drawbacks. When we want to see the movie Ray Harryhausen really made in 1957, the B&W will be the way to go.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
20 Million Miles to Earth 50th Anniversary Edition rates:
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