beast movie review #1 – the beast from 20,000 fathoms

The other day I watched the Godzilla film from the other year. It was pretty terrible but it reminded me that I’ve never seen the original Godzilla. I’m going to watch it but first I thought I’d better check out a non-King Kong pre-Godzilla monster movie so I could compare.

The movie I chose was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms from 1953 – the year before Godzilla – because it was the first monster movie with nuclear bombs in it and the first movie Ray Harryhausen provided all the animation for.

the beast

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms begins with some good font and draining plughole footage then underwater footage with fish. After the credits there is footage of an aeroplane in the snow and a stern voiceover describing that the plane is part of a mysterious operation called “Operation Experiment” which turns out to be the experiment of nuclear bombing the North Pole. There is footage of a nuclear bomb going off and snow moving.


After that we start seeing stuff that was actually recorded by the film makers. A radar operator working on Operation Experiment looks at a radar and says that he sees a foreign object. When the colonel comes to check it out the object has vanished. Neither of them suggest that it might be the giant nuclear bomb that they just exploded.


Then scientist types that are black and white so they all look the same to me chat about how the world is much older than people so people don’t know much about the world so it’s important to regularly explode nuclear weapons in environmentally sensitive areas. Then they go out in a snow jeep to check instruments and a guy hears a dinosaur, then sees a dinosaur, then falls bum-first off a snow ledge and is hurt. This is less than 10 minutes into the film.


Another guy comes to rescue the guy but the dinosaur kicks the whole snow cliff down on top of the first guy. The second guy is now hurt. Mercifully the scene ends after that.

The second guy is stretchered back to base and he is in a semi-concious state and raving about a monster so they fly him to the big city where he can be in the hospital. In the hospital everyone thinks he is nuts, even the psychiatrist!


On the ocean somewhere the dinosaur has a great time smashing up a boat


while in the hospital the nurse makes the guy read the comics instead of the grown up bit of the newspaper and in the comics bit, because it’s silly news for crazy people, is the story about the dinosaur smashing up the boat. The guy is relieved because he was beginning to think that he might really be nuts.

The guy runs straight to the nearest dinosaur scientist – an old man with his very own captive pretty lady.

captive lady

The guy says that bears can hibernate so dinosaurs can live in the North Pole. The scientist thinks this guy is beyond redemption but then the lady says that the guy might be right because there were mammoths with hair found in some snow. The scientist says he is sorry but this guy is crazy and the guy leaves. Then the lady says she’s seen that guy talk about nuclear and he is a brilliant man. The scientist says maybe but whatever.

The lady goes to the guy’s office and says look, I think science is rad, and also the captain of another boat says his boat got done over by a dinosaur. Then they go to her house to look at pictures of dinosaurs. The guy is like woah there were loads of dinosaurs and the lady is like totally. Then they break for sandwiches and light flirting.


After that the guy sees the correct dinosaur picture and they get excited.


The guy tries to call the boat captain to get confirmation that it’s the right dinosaur, but the captain is fake-French so he is belligerent and hangs up. So then the guy goes to find the survivor from the first boat, who recognises the picture and is convinced into going to see the scientist.


Now that two crazy people recognise a drawing of a dinosaur the scientist is convinced that it is real and says let’s do an expedition!

A lighthouse is trashed by the dinosaur.


The scientist plots all of the sightings on a map and sees that the dinosaur is travelling down what is normally referred to in these kinds of movies as “the eastern sea board” from the North Pole to New York, where these people live.

new york

An expedition onto the sea is mounted and the scientist and some other person go down in a bathysphere type thing. It takes about five minutes for the scientist to get impatient but then he sees a shark fighting an octopus and finds it hilarious.


The animals have clearly been put in a tank by the film makers to force them to fight. It is terrible. Fortunately the dinosaur comes and eats the scientist.


The lady is very sad that the scientist is dead but it’s okay because the dinosaur attacks New York almost immediately and there is a cool shot of the dinosaur scaring some dock workers. I don’t know what the technique was for putting stop motion animation in between the foreground and background of a frame of film but I guarantee it was tedious.


Then there’s a bunch of scenes of people running away and the dinosaur trashing stuff and they all look great. A policeman tries to shoot the dinosaur and straight up gets eaten alive.


Then the dinosaur disappears and there’s a radio announcer saying that the dinosaur has vanished and then it turns out the dinosaur is sitting in the road.


The army shoot the dinosaur with a bazooka and try to track it via its blood but it turns out the blood carries a harmful virus and the army gets sick and collapses.


I think this bit must be Second World War imagery. I think the whole film is a metaphor for how the Second World War was started by nuclear bombs and finished by dinosaurs.

The guy says that they’re going to have to fill the dinosaur full of nuclear and irradiate its guts from the inside out to knacker the virus. Then the dinosaur shows up at the funfair to eat a rollercoaster


so the army goes to the fair and then the guy and another person dress up in protective dressing gowns for handling the nuclear


and they run and get on the rollercoaster to see the dinosaur.


They shoot the nuclear into the dinosaur’s bazooka hole and the dinosaur flails around and bumps the rollercoaster which makes the coaster car roll down the hill and fall off the track and crash into some cans and set them on fire.


Now the whole rollercoaster is on fire and the guy and other person run away. The guy and lady hug. The dinosaur smashes the rollercoaster and falls over and dies.


So story wise the film is pretty wack, just a shelf for putting a dinosaur on, but the animation and models are very good and they blend with the live action stuff very satisfyingly. I liked the funfair part the best. The worst part was when real animals were forced to kill each other.

Godzilla next!

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