Sunday, July 24, 2011
I cranked up the DVR last week and took a ride through a sea of memories on the back of man-eating dinosaur.
I had recorded The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, an old time monster flick from 1953 that I watched scores of times when I was a kid.
I remember sitting with my family in the glow of the old Motorola and enjoying this classic that starts with an A-bomb blast in the North Pole and comes to a fiery climax at the Cyclone in Coney Island. (It was actually shot an amusement park in Long Beach, CA, but it's still pretty cool.)
There were no DVRs or DVDs back then, just plain old TV with commercials and everything. But we seemed to enjoy ourselves.
The plot? Well, let’s see. A nuclear test in the frozen north accidentally defrosts a prehistoric predator who does the backstroke down to the Big Apple, climbs out of the water and promptly does more damage to my hometown than Donald Trump.
The Seventh Seal it ain’t, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Named as the first movie to star a nuclear-awakened monster, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms was supposedly inspired by a re-release of King Kong. The film, in turn, helped spark the birth of Gojira , or Godzilla as he's known in the States.
Beast features the work of two of my favorite Rays—author Ray Bradbury who wrote the short story credited with being the source for the screenplay and special effects wiz Ray Harryhausen, whose stop motion work brought the monster to life.
The creature is called the Rhedasaurus, which sounds like some kind of reference book, but it looks like no dinosaur known to man, something for which we can all be eternally grateful. Some observers say the “Rh” in the monster’s name is a reference to Ray Harryhausen’s initials.
The story goes that Bradbury looked over the script for a possible rewriting gig and mentioned that there was scene in the movie that was very similar to a short story he had written for the Saturday Night Post. (The monster pulls the plug on a lighthouse, one of my favorite scenes in the picture.)
The next day Bradbury received a telegram offering to the film rights to the story.
The Bronx is Up and the Battery is...Down!
“Are We Delving into Mysteries We Weren’t Meant to Know?” The trailer asks. I hope so, or otherwise there would be no monster movies.
“Is mankind challenging powers beyond the cosmic barriers?” What else is new?
“Will science unleash the fearsome forces of unknown worlds?”
Hey, enough with the questions already. Just shut up and watch the damn movie.
As with most of my favorite childhood films, I picked up on things in this movie now that I had missed entirely when I was a kid. For example, I noticed the flick has some rather outdated attitudes about atomic weapons.
“You know every time one of those things goes off,” one scientist says after detonating the nuke of the North, “I feel as if I was helping to write the first chapter of a new Genesis.”
Watching that scene in the comfort of my living room, I heard something crash to the floor and it took me a few seconds to realize it was my jaw. He said what? And with a straight face to boot?
I doubt seriously if the survivors if Hiroshima and Nagasaki would share that sentiment. They would probably think of something like The Book of Revelation and the whole Lake of Fire thing.
That particular scientist becomes the monster’s first victim but he soon has lots of company, as the beast sinks a ship, chomps on a bathysphere, knocks out that lighthouse and then goes on to New York.
Once on land, the Beast tears through the financial district like Bernie Madoff with a tail. To make matters worse, the monster’s blood is so toxic that soldiers and civilians alike keel over when they get near it.
Only one thing can save us:—Spoiler Alert—radiation!
The hero declares that the only way to kill the beast is to shoot it with a radioactive isotope. It has something to do with purifying his tainted blood though I’m a little dubious.
I don’t know much about isotopes and I suspect the people who made this movie didn’t either. No matter. Just remember radiation is your friend.
It was fun re-connecting with this old movie and recalling how we all enjoyed it so much.
I’m tempted to ask what the Sanitation Department did with that big monster carcass, but I don’t want to challenge powers beyond the cosmic barriers. I got enough problems.