Forgotten Film: 20 Million Miles To Earth

Released in 1957 and produced by Morningside Productions for Columbia Pictures, this film is a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion showcase, featuring the Venusian lizard creature, the “Ymir”, as well as an elephant (the Ymir-Elephant fight scene is one of the highlights of this film). Directed by Nathan Juran who won an Oscar for Art Direction (for How Green Was My Valley) and directed numerous westerns in the early 50s, progressing to Science Fiction with The Deadly Mantis, following with this film and also directing The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (more Harryhausen goodness), The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman and The Brain From Planet Arous.

Starring William Hopper (The Return of Dr. X, The Maltese Falcon, Yankee Doodle Dandy), Joan Taylor (Men Into Space, Earth Versus the Flying Saucers) and Frank Puglia (The Mark of Zorro, Casablanca, Phantom of the Opera) and Bart Braverman as “Pepe”, the Italian boy who finds the Ymir’s egg on the beach. Braverman has appeared on Castle, Dexter, The West Wing, From the Earth to the Moon, I Love Lucy and numerous other television shows.

Ray Harryhausen hardly needs an introduction.  The creator of a stop motion technique named Dynamation, Harryhausen also developed numerous techniques for merging live action with animation.

Originally inspired by 1933’s King Kong, he met and was mentored by that film’s special effects director Willis O’Brien.  Ray would also become friends with another Ray – Bradbury.  Both of them were early members of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (LASFS).

20 Million Miles to Earth (the average distance between Earth and Venus is actually a bit more than 25 million miles – which really means the film could have been titled anything from 23.6 Million Miles to Earth to 162 Million Miles to Earth) is one of the few science fiction films that deals with a planet other than Mars, and, though we only meet one creature from that planet, various hints and clues strongly suggest that the planet envisaged is ye olde swamp covered Venus, inhabited, no doubt, by man-eating vines and quasi-dinosaur-like lizard creatures.

Venus itself was not explored via anything other than optical astronomy until 1961, and, although the myth of swampy-Venus had pretty much been put to bed before the film was made, the contrast of desert Mars and water-covered Venus still prevailed in a lot of literary Science Fiction.

Highlights of the film are its opening scene in which a spaceship crash lands in the seas of Italy, the previously mentioned fight between a circus elephant and the Venusian creature, the steady growth of the Ymir throughout the film and the creature itself.

This is not your typical invading alien monster:  the creature is presented with sympathy, a fish out of water.  It is not bent on destruction so much as on survival.

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