The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Prehistoric sea-giant rages against city!
Ray Harryhausen. It's a name that a lot of people should know, even though in reality these days it's more than likely that less know it than they should. If your old enough, you grew up on his movies, wondering how such creatures could possibly be brought to life - films such as Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans (the original one), and this one. He was a a special effects master when it came to claymation, and (to my knowledge), this is one of the first movies that he tried a new technique and also got to work with childhood friend Ray Bradbury. Giant monster from back in the days of black and white? Right up my alley, but what about you?
The plot here is nothing unfamiliar to most of the nuclear-age movies. During the atomic bomb tests out in the arctic, a prehistoric beast is awakened, and that beast causes chaos and destruction as it works it's way to it's old living grounds down by New York City. A scientist spends a good deal of the movie trying to convince others that he saw said creature, and when they finally decide to believe him by the end it very well does become rather impossible to pretend he's crazy anymore. Things are grim but the army makes a stand against the beast and manages to wound it (slightly), but then a new problem is discovered - it's very blood carries a very strong disease. The humans are now forced with the difficult task of dealing with a monster that blowing up is just no longer an option!
Presented in black an white, video quality at times will get a bit scratchy (think of old projector films), but it's still very much watchable. Audio comes through remarkably well, and the actors do a pretty good job of acting their parts. The main scientist (played by Paul Hubschmid) has a bit of an exotic accent, adding to the flair that he's some sort of smarty-pants science goer that one would expect to be out in the arctic testing nuclear bombs. It's also a nice way of being able to tell who's talking if you happen to look away for a moment or a bunch of characters are on screen at once (such as the army sections later). Some might argue that there's even a bit of a romance going on in the movie, but to be honest I wasn't really all that sure of it, and it was certainly never shown as preceding over the giant creature on the loose.
Now, much like many nuclear era movies, this one hints at the danger and fears of radiation and the likes. The origin of this tale actually came from a story written by Bradbury with a drawing of the "lighthouse attack" scene, which in turn let to a full on movie. That being said, it's also not simply a rip off of Gojira (as this actually came a year earlier, maybe even inspiring it perhaps), since the creature is also a dinosaur (albeit a fake dinosaur created for the movie). It's a subtle thing really, but it gives the creature a more animal feel - it's not doing this because of rage of nuclear testing, it's simply doing what it's always done. So yes, there is a smattering about the fear of radiation and the likes, but it's also very much a King Kong type movie, where it's just a creature out of place and time acting the animal it is.
Visually, it's a real treat for fans of claymation or classic practical effects. Ray started using a technique during this film in which he would rear-project the recorded live action behind his animation, matting out the table and replacing it with the lower portion of the live projection later, giving a very good way of making it feel as though the beast is actually right there in the thick of it. The animation of the beast is also incredibly smooth in most parts (with only a jump or two throughout the course of the movie), which when it's understood how the animation is done (frame by frame) one can really appreciate it. It's honestly kind of surprising how well everything blended together, and in some scenes your honestly not aware that the beast is just a fake creature added later. As I did mention earlier however, the video quality gets a bit "scratchy" at some points, but considering the size of the screen I was watching it on it really just made me feel like I took a step back in time.
When it comes to sound, the quality and levels are better than some of the other movies I've watched lately. It might not be surround sound with all the bells and whistles, but I could hear everything I needed to from gunshots, actors, screaming creatures, and bomb blasts quite clearly. The music side of things was pretty scarce (at least, I don't actually recall much any music taking place), which tells me it either did it's job very well (as in it just brought me into the movie to the point where it felt natural and I didn't notice it) or it just wasn't there (entirely possible as well).
For a movie that's over 50 years old, I would say that Beast holds up rather well. The majority of video comes through with no issues, the audio is high-quality (even if not the best of formats), and the creature itself is just plain awesome. I guess I could be slightly biased here - I've loved claymation and all the nifty things people do effect wise for a long time. If you like older flicks, you'll enjoy it. If you like dinosaurs causing city damage, you'll like it. If you like Harryhausen, you should like this one.