Sunday, 20 December 2015

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

An entertaining, fast-paced, well-made, and intelligently crafted sci-fi film

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Charlotte Knight, Ray Harryhausen.
Screenplay by Bob Williams, Christopher Knopf
Narrated by William Woodson
Music by Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cinematography: Irving Lippman, Carlo Ventimiglia
Edited by Edwin Bryant
Production company: Morningside Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 82 minutes


William Hopper as Robert Calder
Joan Taylor as Marisa Leonardo
Frank Puglia as Dr. Leonardo
John Zaremba as Dr. Judson Uhl
Thomas Browne Henry as Maj. Gen. A.D. McIntosh

Tito Vuolo as Police Commissioner Unte
Jan Arvan as Contino
Arthur Space as Dr. Sharman
Bart Bradley as Pepe
Ray Harryhausen cameo (zoo)

Colourised Clip

What if........ 

Nocrus & Eliosh are beings from a civilization many light years distant from Earth. Their planet is part of a confederation of planets, each of whose dominant, intelligent and advanced forms of life have managed to achieve varying degrees of interplanetary space travel.

Nocrus & Eliosh are now engaged in their final series of observations that will be incorporated in their report on the small blue planet which is the third planet of the unremarkable yellow sun’s system of planets in an equally unremarkable sector of the galaxy.

Nocrus & Eliosh have been tasked with observing the little planet’s dominant and technologically developed sentient bipedal life form which has given itself the label, 'Homo Sapiens.' They have faithfully performed this task for the last 5000 years. It is the only fair way for them to gain a true sense of human progress and development as opposed to their ability to engage in brief insertions into humanity's time periods.

Their own species’ life-span and concept of time is vastly different to our own, as is their chemical and molecular composition and structure. Unlike our own linear perception of time, Nocrus and Eliosh's civilization as a matter of course, view the past, present and future as existing simultaneously and they generally live their lives accordingly. If they wish, they can insert themselves into any point in time. Nocrus and Eliosh, like the rest of their species, have a fluid and viscous molecular composition which they can reconstitute into a variety of shapes and forms, including our own if they wish to.

What is of prime interest to Nocrus & Eliosh at this point in time is the fact that the intelligent primates of earth have finally managed to look upward, imagine the possibilities, reach out beyond the confines of their home world and venture out into the void that separates one world from another.

Spoilers Follow.....

Nocrus: The humans’ primitive ship is entering the planet’s atmosphere. Our bio-drones are observing it as it breaks though the cloud cover and crashes into the sea near a fishing village in a place they call Sicily. So much for our little ape’s attempt to move out of his orbit to a point little more than 20 million miles to earth!

Eliosh: See how those fisherman are beginning leave the area, but as soon as they realize that there might be people trapped inside the wrecked vessel, they now decide to go back to investigate. Our remote sensors picked up the words of one of the fisherman: “What are we, children or men of the sea? We go back!”

See their courage as they locate a hole in the hull and enter to search for survivors. See how they descend through a tangle of pipes and steam into what must be for them a form of hell as they make their way to the control room. They have at least managed to find two badly injured men alive.

Notice the crossing sign one of the humans is making? It signifies a form of religious worship of which we never managed to achieve the status of deities as we did with those religions of the Egyptians and Greeks millennia ago.

Nocrus: Yes, since the good old days, the adoption of that damn monotheism took away all the fun. Still, no need to mention that little episode in our final report!

Eliosh: Perhaps this form of faith - “Christianity” I believe they call it - acts to sustain them and gives them the necessary courage to face danger and rescue the injured crew men just before those explosions rock the vessel and cause it to sink.

Nocrus: More likely a superstitious appeal for protection in the face of perceived evil. How do these beings cope with all these different faiths; different sects within each religion; different regions defined by boarders; multiple languages and customs and each one believing that it has right on its side! And we’re contemplating admitting this divided and backward species to the Galactic Confederation?

Nocrus: One of our hybrid clone operatives stationed close to the seat of power in this planet’s major tribe, has sent me a neuro-telepathic message from the capital city called Washington DC. Tap into this and you’ll see that at a meeting with a military man by the name of Major General McIntosh and a Doctor Uhl it had been assumed the human space craft was lost with all hands. A report has subsequently arrived identifying the location of the crash as being in Sicily. It seems that McIntosh and Uhl will be on their way to Sicily to investigate. Let the game begin!

Eliosh: Indeed! Let’s see how this investigation transpires and how these humans will handle what it is come (literally!) from their first foray to another world…..


Eliosh: One of our operatives has informed me that a Commissar Charra - apparently some kind of official - is collecting information from the rescuers about what they saw inside the ship. It is surmised that the crew had to be bigger than just the three men due to (for them) the sheer size of the ship.

Nocrus: Oh yes! Officialdom and bureacracy. The one thing to spoil anyone’s day and foul up whatever is working just fine. That’s something we have in common with humans!

Eliosh: One of our bio-drones has spotted one of the immature humans, who the others in the village call Pepe and who we saw during the rescue attempt. Ah, he’s located the canister on the nearby beach and is now burying it. But why? He doesn’t even know what’s inside it!

Ah, it looks like he’s been called away now to answer some questions about an American doctor who is visiting the area. What do they call him: “The old man with a house on the wheels?” Ha! Ha! Apparently this man is called Dr Leonardo and is a doctor of zoology. He is also accompanied by his granddaughter who has been described as being ….”almost a doctor!” Ha! Ha! Ha! It looks like Pepe has been told to go and fetch the American doctor to treat the injured human crew men.

Nocrus: Now, here’s something interesting. On the way to the doctor, our friend Pepe is making straight for the canister. Now he opens it up and removes its precious gelatinous contents which he proceeds to wrap in a blanket. Now why would he do that, do you suppose?

Eliosh: Well, let’s see as Pepe has managed to locate our good Doctor Leonardo. It appears that he being a zoologist, it would be better that his “almost a doctor” granddaughter would be more suited to the task of caring for the injured humans. She is called Marisa and is what’s termed a “medical student.”

Nocrus: I don’t know how these humans can be so used to having their skills and knowledge subjected to such degrees of specialization and fragmentation. Our own development and understanding of the universe has sprung from a unified and holistic approach instead of being the result of the sprouting of individual branches of knowledge. How I miss those humans from the historical period they call 'The Renaissance!'

Eliosh: Especially our good friend, Leonardo Da Vinci. What a mind for a human! So open to new ideas…..

Nocrus: We’d better leave that out of the report too! Speaking of Leonardo, it seems as if our good Doctor Leonardo has been paying Pepe to recover specimens for his own studies. So now we know why Pepe has been doing what he has been doing. See how he shows the doctor the contents of the canister and negotiates to sell it for “200 lire” which we have often witnessed is how these humans engage in commercial transactions.

So, let’s recap. The earth’s first contact with a life form from another planet has resulted in that life form being ripped from its home world; secured in a container; washed ashore from a wrecked space vehicle; half buried in sand and bartered by a child who wishes to buy an over-sized hat from a place called “Texas” and who by the way also idolizes weapon-wielding thugs whom he refers to as “cowboys!” And all this before the little Venusian “Ymir” has had a chance to hatch from its gelatinous sac and ask to be taken to their leader! Potential members of the Galactic Confederation – Really!

Eliosh: Never mind that right now. One of our insect bio-drones is transmitting from the village hospital where we can see Marisa trying to make the injured humans as comfortable as possible. One of the males is called Col Robert Calder and the other survivor is a Dr. Sharman whose condition is “critical.” Not surprising considerating how primitive their medical treatments are, not to mention their own pitiful capacity for self-repair and maintenance. It seems that 8 crew members have previously perished from a fatal disease and Sharman has now become the 9th. victim.

Eliosh: Our arachnid drone is providing us with a marvelous view of the miracle of the hatching of our little Ymir from the gelatinous mass. Let's listen to the humans' reactions;

Dr Leonardo: “No scientific record of such a creature.”

Nocrus: Seems like the older human is more fascinated by the anatomy of the beast and sees it more as being a scientific curiosity or discovery.

Eliosh: Yes, but listen to his granddaughter;

Marisa: “So very ugly and yet it seems so frightened.”

Eliosh: Evidence of a capacity for empathy despite repulsion based on physical appearances?

Nocrus: At any rate, Leonardo is moving the Ymir to a cage where it will be left overnight until further examination can be made of it. How many creatures of their own planet have these humans locked up, caged, confined, tied up and conducted their experiments on!


Next Day 

Eliosh: Welcome back Nocrus. While you were on the other side of the planet, I was observing Dr Leonardo examining the cage and you should have seen his expression when he discovered how much the creature had grown in just a few hours. I made a recording of it for you.

Nocrus: Think how surprised they'll be to learn that there are beings on planets who live their whole life cycle (growth included) in the space of less than one earth day. Remember that planet whose evolution proceeded at an extremely rapid pace with species developing and becoming extinct in months and with even civilizations rising and falling in a matter of weeks? Our old human friend Shakespeare summed it up well when he wrote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” He certainly loved our conversations and derived a great deal of inspiration from them! Perhaps we should have asked him about humanity's suitability seeing as he seemed to have had such insight into the human condition.

Eliosh: Dr Leonardo has now gone off to locate Pepe to learn exactly where the creature was found.

Nocrus: Eliosh, plug into this report from the local human clone operative. It seems that McIntosh and Uhl from Washington have arrived and have met with Col Calder. The representative of the Italian government, Commissario Charra has been briefed on events, including the fact that a biological specimen has gone missing and that it is an unborn life form from the planet Venus.

It appears that Pepe has admitted that he was the one who found the cylinder and that he sold the specimen to Doctor Leonardo who is now on route to Rome with the creature. A nocturnal bio drone should be transmitting about now.....

Eliosh: Ah, there's Leonardo. He seems to have come to a halt on the side of the road and is refastening one of the ropes on the cage which has come loose. So, he theorizes that the creature is a mutation or a throwback to something prehistoric.

Nocrus: It's amazing how many blunders these humans have made and will no doubt continue to make as they persist in making conclusions about the rest of the universe (let alone any other universe) based on their limited experience on this speck of a planet!

Eliosh: Look! Our intelligent but not so little Ymir is using the opportunity to break free and escape! Leonardo is just checking on Marisa who was injured by the creature. Here comes Calder who is having the latest episode explained to him. Off he now goes in search of the creature through the nearby farmlands.

Nocrus: Now we should see just how these humans respond to a life form from beyond their own planet. I bet I can guess.....

Eliosh: Perhaps, but take note of what Marisa just said: “I guess I frightened it as much as it frightened me.” Surely an indication of some capacity to empathize with and understand another creature's point of view?

Let's watch the Ymir as it makes its way toward a farm. See how the horses and sheep, I believe they're called, flee from it whereas a solitary little lamb appears unafraid. It is innocent and has not had time to learn fear. The Ymir must instinctively know this and will not harm the inoffensive little creature.

Nocrus: The Ymir appears to be confused and now finds itself in a barn causing the other animals to become agitated. It is now moving towards what appears to be a storage area where it has located a bag of.....(obtaining remote analysis....) sulfur. It's beginning to consume the contents, so now we know what its nutritional requirements are.

Oh, here we go! One of those noisy unpredictable quadrupeds favored by the humans as pets is attacking the Ymir. All I can see now is a shadow on the barn wall which suggests that the Ymir has fought back and has either killed or injured the ….”canine” I think they call them.

Eliosh: Then why is that farmer who has been drawn by the noise of the two animals fighting calling it a “Carlo?”

Nocrus: Sometimes you can be a real idiot, Eliosh! It's the canine's name! Speaking of idiots, the farmer is attempting to shoot the creature. But wait! Here comes Calder on the scene. Let's hear what he is saying;

Calder: “The creature has to be taken alive.......They're not ferocious unless provoked.”

An attempt at capturing the creature is now underway and they appear to be poking and prodding the Ymir in order to maneuver it into a cage on a cart. And this an example of not provoking it?

Of course the ignorant farmer has decided to get in on the act and has just now plunged a pitchfork into the creature, causing it to attack him. How did they expect it to react?

Oh look at that, they now decide it would be a good idea to belt the Ymir over the head with a farm implement to save their fallen comrade! How often have we witnessed wars erupt on this planet in a similar manner throughout the last 5000 years!

After distracting the beast with gunfire, Calder has managed to rescue the farmer and they now all flee the barn, locking the Ymir inside. Welcome to the planet Earth. Hope you enjoy your stay......


Eliosh: That's it, run little Ymir! See Nocrus, he's managed to escape during the night. The humans have learned from Dr Sharman's notes that the creature lives on sulfur and they have surmised that it is probably heading for sulfur deposits around a place called Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the continent of Europe.

Nocrus: Hardly worthy of the term “volcano” when compared to volcanic activity elsewhere in this solar system and throughout the galaxy. Well, what a surprise! Charra has informed Calder that the Italian government will not allow any further attempts to capture the creature. It is felt that the creature is far too dangerous. Can you believe that? Only the Ymir knows what it must think of the strange human creatures shooting, prodding and poking at it, not to mention chasing and trying to capture it.

Well, there's some hope as Calder has made a deal that if he can locate the creature first, he can attempt to capture it before Charra's forces set about destroying it. If I understand Calder's plan correctly, it involves the use of two primitive and ungainly aerial vehicles called 'helicopters.' One will be loaded with sulfur as bait in order to entice the creature. The second craft will have a net that will be dropped onto the creature once it is distracted.

Nocrus: Yes, it appears that the Ymir is susceptible to the force of an electric shock and that the nets will be electrically charged. What a choice: death or electrocution followed by capture. Don't we want species in the Confederation that have the capacity to communicate, cooperate and befriend those from other civilizations in the galaxy? Upon their first contact with the inhabitants of another planet, this lot will probably try to – how does that saying go? “Shoot first and ask questions later.”

Well, the shooting has well and truly started with the arrival of Charra's forces. One of our drones has been inadvertently destroyed by gunfire. Their primitive percussion weapons, however are not sufficient to vanquish the creature.

Calder's group has now arrived and the sulfur bait is having its desired effect. There goes the net. The Ymir is struggling but not for long as the electric shock running through the net has paralysed it.

Nocrus: You know, with a few tweaks we could redesign that method of immobilizing and incorporate it into a device much like a hand gun. We could have the plans for its construction implanted in one of our hybrid science operative's mind and the humans could use it as part of their non-lethal law enforcement arsenal.

Eliosh: You know we can't – er not supposed to do things like that. Besides, they'll eventually figure it out for themselves over time.


Eliosh: Where has Nocrus disappeared to now? I can't seem to establish a neural telepathic link with him. He has switched off access to that portion of his mind for now. I hope he isn't working on that stun-gun idea of his. We've made enough unauthorized “contributions” to human progress over the last 5000 years! I'll just upload my observations to our shared neural information & communication repository. Nocrus can access it when he is ready.

Upload Commencing.......

A hybrid clone operative posing as a media representative is now reporting from the US embassy in Rome where General McIntosh is briefing the press on the whole situation. I can see and hear events as they occur via the hybrid's ocular and aural implants. What luck! The operative has been selected as one of the press representatives permitted to visit the zoo where the Ymir is being held.

Oh my! Perhaps you were right about these humans after all, Nocrus. It sickens me to see the poor creature being chained down and kept unconscious with a continuous electrical current while tests are being performed on it.

Calder is now introducing the press to the scientists who are examining and experimenting on the creature. The scientists have established that the creature's metabolic rate has been upset by the Earth's atmosphere; that it has a highly developed olfactory sense; that its respiratory system blocks out poisons and that it possesses a network of tubes instead of heart and lungs.

Nocrus, I know that you would be disgusted to learn that these barbaric creatures have attached a wire to the Ymir's wrist, allowing 1800 volts of electricity to course through its body in order to keep it immobile.

Another experiment is being performed on the hapless creature and...Wait a moment,......some mishap has caused the equipment producing the paralyzing electrical current to be destroyed. The Ymir is beginning to revive and is breaking free of its bonds and …......

Back On Earth

A Special Report From Radiotelevisione Italiana

We are sorry for this interruption to normal programming, but an incredible event has occurred at the zoo in our capital city of Roma! We now cross over to our live broadcast unit and our reporter on the scene, Liberto Canzano.

Liberto: Thank you Giuseppe. A strange and terrifying creature has apparently broken out of the Zoo here in Roma and is engaged in a titanic battle with one of the zoo's enraged elephants.

There is absolute pandemonium as zoo patrons panic as the battle between the elephant and the creature continues.

Word has just come to me that an Americano general by the name of McIntosh who has been working in conjunction with the armed forces of Italia has authorized the use of tanks and artillery to destroy the creature.

As you can see the elephant has been fatally wounded by this monstrous creature which seems to have fled somewhere into the city.

It now appears that the creature has disappeared into the Tiber River and troops can be seen blasting the river in an attempt to force the beast to the surface. Yes, I believe this measure has worked! The creature is now emerging from the river and is pushing up though the bridge. It is now making its way toward the Coliseum.

We are now at the Coliseum and can see infantry together with a flame throwing tank attacking the creature. Two Americano officers appear to have taken charge of the operation and the troops are attempting to locate the creature which has for now disappeared.

We can now see the beast as tries to escape by climbing higher up the Coliseum's structure. There is nowhere for it go and it has become a target for the barrage of bazooka and tank fire. Mama Mia! The noise is deafening. The creature appears to be wounded, but wait! The creature is now toppling from its last refuge as it appears that it has received a direct hit from a shell..........

Eliosh: Nocrus, you're back! Have you downloaded all the information I supplied? Where and when were you? Why did you cut off access to your neural telepathic link? What were you doing while this disgraceful atrocity was being performed? Are you alright?

Nocrus: See how quiet and subdued the onlookers seem to be as a blanket of silence wraps the ghastly scene on the very spot where cruel games of combat and sacrifices of innocents were performed. Do you think these spectators have been sufficiently entertained?

Where was I? Fortunate that a stray projectile that wound up in just the right place and the right time managed to strike the creature. Better that the Ymir face the peace of eternity than the possibility of a life in confinement on this primitive backwater of a planet as just a specimen for these alien creatures to use for their own ends.

Eliosh: We do have to complete the report on the humans' potential for membership of the Galactic Confederation. But I think the words of Dr. Judson Uhl somehow best sum up what can generally be concluded from our observations of 5000 years' worth of human progress and specifically from their first contact with an extraterrestrial life form;

Dr. Judson Uhl: Why is change so costly for man to move from the present to the future?

Nocrus: I feel that the cost to the universe itself would be too much to bare should we permit these humans to interact with other species beyond their own planet.....

Points Of Interest

  • The city of Rome was chosen as the location for the filming of 20 Million Miles to Earth because Ray Harryhausen wanted to vacation there. 

  • 20 Million Miles to Earth had been released under the title of The Beast from Space. 

  • The working title of the film was The Giant Ymir, but in the film version that was released, the creature is never called a Ymir. It was felt that the word "Ymir" sounded too much like the Arabic title of "Emir" and that this might cause some confusion. 

  • Ray Harryhausen wanted the film to be shot in color, but the film's budget would not have made this possible. 

  • 20 Million Miles To Earth stands as a showcase for the work of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation. Ray Harryhausen trained under Willis O'Brian (The Lost World 1925 & King Kong 1933) who pioneered the stop-motion process. 

  • In many respects 20 Million Miles To Earth stands as a homage to King Kong and nowhere is this more evident than in the battle scene between the Ymir and the elephant and the final battle scene between the Ymir and the military at the Coliseum. We also wind feeling sympathy for both King Kong and the Ymir who are characters in their own right and cease to be merely special effects stop motion models. 

  • The Ymir is also similar to the creature in the film, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. You can't help but empathize with the Ymir as it is evident that the real monsters are the human beings. It is this stranger within our society that is essentially harmless unless provoked and is humanity's conduct and attitudes towards this stranger that are being commented on. 

  • The young character Pepe aspires to a kind of capitalist ideal of accumulating wealth in order to buy symbols of status which in his eyes is a big Texas hat. Pepe looks up to a symbol, an idealized vision of self in relation to the rest of the world: an American cowboy straight off the silver screen blasting away with his guns at the bad guys. Little boys, however grow into big boys and become politicians and military leaders who come to believe that the problem of the big bad Ymirs of the world can be solved by recourse to force of arms. And while being mired in conflicts far from home in foreign lands, is any thought given as to who might have been responsible for causing the problem of the big bad Ymir turning into a fully-fledged monster in the first place?........


  • Venus (the goddess of love and beauty) known as Aphrodite by the ancient Greeks and as Ishtar by the Babylonians
  • Regarded as Earth's sister planet but is certainly no identical twin 
  • One of the least hospitable places for life in the solar system 
  • Second planet from the Sun 
  • Sixth largest planet in the solar system 
  • Brightest object in the sky except for the Sun and the Moon 
  • Most circular orbit of any planet 
  • Geologically quiet for the past few hundred million years, but still volcanically active in some places

  • Like Earth, contains an iron core about 3000 km in radius and a molten rocky mantle 
  • Shows phases when viewed using a telescope 
  • Distance: 108,200,000 km from the Sun 
  • 95% of Earth's diameter: 12,103.6 km
  • 80% of Earth's mass 
  • Similar density and chemical composition to Earth

  • Atmosphere: Dense with pressure at the surface being 90 atmospheres which is equivalent to the pressure at a depth of 1 km in Earth's oceans. Composed primarily of carbon dioxide with cloud layers many kilometers thick composed of sulfuric acid which obscure our view of the surface. 
  • Surface temperature: Over 740 K which is hot enough to melt lead. Produced by run-away greenhouse effect

  • Surface conditions: Dry but once may have had large amounts of water that boiled away. Surface consists of gently rolling plains with little relief and few craters due to earlier extensive volcanic activity. Much of the surface of Venus is covered by lava flows with the oldest terrains being about 800 million years old. 
  • No magnetic field (Why?) 
  • No satellites (Why?) 
  • Rotation: 243 Earth days per Venus day, slightly longer than its year
  • Always presents the same face toward Earth when the two planets are at their closest approach

  • Mariner 2 (US) was the first spacecraft to visit Venus in 1962. Venera 9 (USSR) returned the first photographs of the surface.

  • "Transit of Venus": when Venus passes directly between the Earth and the Sun and is seen as a black dot moving across the Sun's disk. The last one was in 2012 but if you missed it, you'll have to wait until 2117! Who knows? By then we might be permitted to join the Galactic Confederation! 

©Chris Christopoulos 2015

No comments:

Post a comment