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‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ On the Big Screen

By James M Heather, on 28 March 2012

What better way to round off the end of term than with a nice movie night? How about a nice, free movie night?

I’m a recent convert to the ‘On the Big Screen’ events, but the three I’ve been to have all been fantastic. Organised by Jack Ashby from the UCL Grant Museum, and introduced by Dr. Joe Cain from UCL Science & Technology Studies, these film nights draw in a big crowd of regulars, who pack out one of the lecture theatres to enjoy some retro cinema.

This last instalment brought the 1953 Harryhausen classic ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ to Bloomsbury.

As per usual, the ever-knowledgable Dr Cain provided an entertaining breakdown of the film to come, giving the audience pointers to look out for and generally fleshing out some details required for deeper appreciation.

Considering some of his previous introductions, this night’s selection seems to have made his job a little easier, as by his own admission the answer to his first two criteria are the same answer; none.

The film references very little, being a short-story adaptation (filmography), and the majority of the actors are bit players, with the few leads played by no-one remarkable.

He did divulge a few morsels of interesting trivia, though. The better known fact is what this film was the inspiration for, namely the Godzilla franchise, along with most other atomic-monster flicks; although, Joe was keen to point out that the monster in this film is not atomic!

Moreover, if we’re splitting hairs, it’s not a monster; it’s a Rhedosaurus.

Perhaps the lesser known interesting fact is that the lighthouse scene is an homage to the short story The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury – which served as the inspiration for the film.

The film is admittedly a slow burner. There’s a good half an hour before anyone gets eaten, and the film’s almost over before there’s even a trace of a rampage.

That said, the audience were having a lot of fun all the while, enjoying the stilted dialogue and ridiculous place-holders that made it through the edit – such as the secret experiment that the movie opens on, cleverly dubbed ‘Operation Experiment’.

I had never seen this film before, but I loved it. Ray Harryhausen’s work is always magical, and this is a particularly excellent technical example of his marvellous ‘dynamation’ style monster-effects, showing stop-motion monsters interacting with (and invariable eating) live-action people and sets.

To a modern audience, the animation must seem, at best, a bit dated, but more than 60 years ago it must have been terrifying. Truthfully, there were moments when it was now.

Another entertaining discussion, another excellent film, another glass of wine over the jar of moles at the Grant Museum – another excellent evening.

James Heather is a PhD student in UCL Division of Infection and Immunity.

One Response to “‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ On the Big Screen”

  • 1
    Chloe wrote on 2 April 2012:

    Another great night – a real UCL and London treasure. Was anyone else craving Chewitts for much of the film though?

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