It Came from Beneath the Sea AKA Monster from Beneath the Sea (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (18th October 2017).
The Film

These spectacular films, each featuring pioneering special effects by filmmaking legend Ray Harryhausen, are presented on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including exclusive new interviews with director Joe Dante, SFX maestro Dennis Muren, and Aardman Animation co-founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord – this stunning Limited Dual Format Edition Box Set is strictly limited to 6,000 units.

Video

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, 1080/24p, 1.85:1, 79:06)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957, 1080/24p, 1.85:1, 82:32)
The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960, 1080/24p, 1.66:1, 98:37)

This set collects together three of Ray Harryhausen’s and Charles Schneer’s early efforts.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (Indicator #041) was their first collaboration and remains one of their better films; a tense, very modern sci-fi thriller that opens with a knockout sequence involving Kenneth Tobey’s submarine crew being chased by a massive, radioactive something. Despite the cheesy narration and opening scrawl this is actually a well written, acted and directed piece with a giant 6-armed octopus wrecking havoc on San Francisco. Prior to this Harryhausen had worked with his mentor Willis O’Brien (King Kong, 1933) on Mighty Joe Young (1949) before going solo with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953); here he met lifelong producing partner Schneer.

20 Million Miles to Earth (Indicator Series #042) is an well remembered film featuring one of Harryhausen’s most iconic creations; The Ymir, a being from outer space who is found as a baby on a rocket that crashes off the Italian coast. Not as well written as the first film and plagued by some very bad Italian accents and middling performances. Harryhausen’s SPFX are well up to his usual high standard

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (Indicator #043) is a delightful adaptation of the Jonathan Swift’s classic novel (1726) about Lemuel Gulliver and his adventures. It’s less set piece driven and more of a traditional adaptation of of a literary classic. Harryhausen’s stop motion SPFX are limited to two sequences and it was his second film in colour.

Stunning transfers that had previously appeared on Sony’s Blu-ray releases of these three films. The first two are in B&W and I’ll deal with them first.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) / 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The two B&W features have splendid grain structure which is enhanced considerably by another David Mackenzie encode so there are no holes in the grain and the images look great in motion. Black levels are rich and deep with good detail and no signs of crush. Contrast is low key allowing detail and grain to shine through even in bright patches. Optical shots are obviously softer, especially the live action elements due to generational loss during the shooting of the SPFX. Detail is very pleasing across the board and both discs have high bitrates. There are some typical of the period moments if dodgy back projection

The colourised versions:

Much has been made of the fact that Harryhausen liked the colour versions and stated that the only reason his early films were made in B&W was because of budgetary constraints. Alas, when films are designed and shot for B&W the contrast levels are different so I’ve yet to see one that is satisfactory. The process is best used on material made in colour but now existing only in B&W; see the early Jon Pertwee Doctor Who episodes for examples. In fact, Legend Films helped in restoring colour to part 3 of the 1973 serial Planet of the Daleks very successfully, but that was a production originally designed and lit for colour.

Colourisation has come along in leaps and bounds since the ‘80s so these versions from 2007 done by Legend are about as good as can be. However, they just don’t look quite right with all fleshtones tending to be the same and the it’s all a trifle pallid; if you compare with a genuine colour film from the period they are wanting. In my humble view these are best ignored as they look far too much like the old front of house movie stills that were printed in B&W and then hand coloured. Harryhausen's enthusiasm for these versions is mystifying to me.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver is the only colour film in this set and it was Harryhuasen’s second colour film after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Typical of the 1950s it has a glossy, richly coloured appearance and if you’ve got the Sinbad Trilogy set from Indicator you know what to expect. If anyone has the Twilight time release then you know what to expect in terms of the overall transfer but here Indicator have applied a Mackenzie encode which means no problems.

Also, no space is wasted on having the alternate 1.78:1 version; we get the definitive 1.66:1 aspect ratio and that is all you need. I could detect no artefacts or issues beyond what you'd expect of a film of this age and era that would've been normal. Blacks are deep with fine detail where appropriate and no crush; contrast and brightness levels are just so and colours are well handled and consist. The addition of colour to Harryhausen's palette meant that he had an even harder time dealing with the rear projection versus foreground miniature work. The can have a tendency to be softer and paler that the miniatures but that has been well compensated for by those who handled the restoration.

In terms of image these three releases have their definitive home video iterations here .. thus far. Only to be improved by a 4K release with HDR.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English HoH

The mono tracks are the default options are very good indeed as they’re the originals made at the time. Well balanced with dialogue, music and effects all coming through nicely.

The 5.1 tracks are perfectly respectable but they largely channel background effects and occasionally music to the rear channels; dialogue remains front and centre. It’s fairly obvious that they’ve been created from mono originals. That said these are fun and open up the sound field nicely, but the purists have the mono so both camps are catered for.

Extras

It Came from Beneath the Sea

2007 Audio commentary with Arnold Kunert, Ray Harryhausen, Randall William Cook and John Bruno

Brisk, occasionally warmly reminiscent commentary in which Harryhausen is joined by DVD producer Kunert and two other more contemporary SPFX artists. As you’d expect the emphasis on the effects and other technical aspects of the production. Topics covered: The use of stock footage; the reason the octopus only had six tentacles; similarities between this film and Beast from 20,000 Fathoms; nuclear testing and the attitude towards nuclear weapons at the time of production; the colourisation (the yak trak defaults to the colour version) amongst many other interesting anecdotes about the cast.

Tidal Wave of Terror! (7:40)

An excellent new (2017) interview with Joe Dante who talks warmly about his admiration as a kid for It Came from Beneath the Sea and if his later friendship with Ray Harryhausen. Star Kenneth Tobey gets a mention as well with some great anecdotes. The only flaw with this piece is that it ends.

Remembering ‘It Came from Beneath the Sea’ (21:45)

Retrospective piece from 2007 that appeared on the previous DVD and BD editions of the film. Featuring interviews with Ray Harryhausen, John Bruno (SPFX creator), John Canemaker (filmmaker, author and historian) discussing the film and it’s influence as well as the techniques used in production. Sadly, all of the clips from the film are from the colourised version.

Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen (27:09)

Another excellent vintage piece also from 2007 which covers plenty of ground with the director of Beetle Juice (1988) and many other popular films conducts a warm and chatty - not to say informative - interview with the maestro. Topics covered: the flying saucers in Earth Versus the Flying Saucers (1956); the emotional nature of the creatures in the films like the Ymir being based on a human torso; CGI SPFX being not as warm as a physical effect; the fact that the art of stop motion was ignored for years; and many other reminiscences with Burton having great enthusiasm.

A Present Day Look at Stop Motion Animation (11:38)

Another new (2017) featurette this time with Kyle Anderson a student at the New
York University School of the Arts studying animation. Anderson’s main focus is stop motion animation and the piece goes into the process and his techniques; how to make the puppets, storyboards etc.

Original Add Artwork (17:52)

Arnold Kunert (DVD producer) discusses in this 2007 short the promotional material he has for the Harryhausen fifties films from his collection.

It Came from Beneath the Sea .... Again! (15 comic book pages)

A 2007 promo piece for the 2008 comic book.

Theatrical Trailer (2:03)
Trailers from Hell with Ernest Dickerson (2:31)
Dickerson does a good job of summing up this film’s charms in two and half minutes and why the film is important to him (it was the first film he ever saw).

Image Gallery (23 images)

Stills, lobby cards and posters.

20 Million Miles to Earth

2007 Audio commentary with Arnold Kunert and Ray Harryhausen in London and (by satellite linkup) and Dennis Muran and Phil Tippet in Berkley California

A detailed yaktrak that kicks off praising the colourisation process and why Harryhausen is so chuffed at the end result; he wanted to make the film in colour but the budget wouldn’t stretch. The process apparently would take about six months for each film colourised. Harryhausen sat down with Legend Films and DVD producer Kunert and determined what the colours should be. Lots of information regarding the models used in the stop motion and their complex structures. Having two other SPFX artists helped because they all speak the same language and make it easy fir the layman to follow.

“Finding Harryhausen with Dennis Muren” featurette (11:29)

Muren reminisces about his first experience of seeing a Harryhausen film at the cinema which was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 in this new 2017 piece. The best story is where as a precocious thirteen year old he phoned up Harryhausen and got his mom to drive him over and he got to meet his hero. He talks at great length about Harryhuasen’s love of the material.

“Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth” featurette (27:03)

Legacy documentary from 2007 with interviews with Harryhuasen, John Canemaker, Terry Gilliam, Rick Baker, the Chiodo Brothers Stan Winston. A pleasing mixture of reminiscences from Harryhausen discussing the making of the film coupled with anecdotes by SPFX guru’s / fans and their first experiences of watching the movie. I was particularly fascinated with the comments Harryhausen made about adding blinking eyes and breathing to his models which was extremely tricky to achieve.

“Interview with Actor Joan Taylor” featurette (17:29)

The late veteran actress recalls working on the films Earth Versus the Flying Saucers (1956) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) in this 2007 featurette. Having passed away in 2012 this is an important record of the actress’ views on her long career.

“Mischa Balaleinikoff: Movie Music’s Unsung Hero” featurette (22:33)

Soundtrack Producer david Schecter discusses the career of Mischa Balaleinikoff and Columbia’s approach to scoring by using a roster of chosen composers. The Harryhausen films were made as part of a B-unit. Whilst other studios used lots of library tracks, Balaleinikoff ended up composing Columbia’s library tracks for monster movies mainly using four note themes. Another legacy extra from the 2007 DVD releases.

“The Colourisation Process” featurette (11:02)

Harryhausen waxing lyrical about the Legend Film’s colourisation process. Also interviewed from Legend Films: Barry Sandrew, David G. Martin and Rosemary Horvath.

“20 Million Miles More” (17 comic pages)

Another promo piece for a then forthcoming comic book.

Super 8 version (8:39)

A silent digest of the film with onscreen text explaining the plot.

Theatrical Trailer (2:00)

A trailer typical of the period with plenty of screen hyperbole.

Still Gallery (36 images)

B&W production and publicity stills and some very colourful poster designs.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver

Audio commentary with Steven C. Smith, Randall William Cook and Courtney Joyner.

This is the 2016 commentary done for the Twilight Time release. A great track with plenty of detail kicking off with discussion of the career of June Thornburn who died tragically, pregnant in a 1967 air-crash. Obviously discussed are Kerwin Matthews, Bernard Herman who loved the score he did for this feeling it was his best work for Harryhausen and Schneer. The films superb SPFX involving mattes, travelling mattes, the use of sodium for those mattes which allowed the use of any colours on set, forced perspective shots and back projection. This was also a project where Harryhausen and Schneer were for hire as opposed to originating the script etc.

“The Making of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver” featurette (5:22)

A vintage piece that seems to date from the ‘80s-‘90s as it’s video produced and in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. A pleasant little interview with Harryhausen that doesn’t really enlighten the viewer all that much.

“Peter Lord on Ray Harryhausen” featurette (10:14)
“David Sproxton on Ray Harryhausen” featurette (9:29)
“Dave Alex Riddett on Ray Harryhausen” featurette (8:38)

Three newly made featurettes featuring interviews with members of Aardman animation taking about the films of Ray Harryhausen and what they mean to them.

Isolated Score

Bernard Herman’s excellent score isolated and in LPCM 2.0 Mono.

Theatrical Trailer (3:21)

Another greatly melodramatic highlights with overblown narration.

Still Gallery (44 images)

B&W production and publicity stills and posters. The colour promotional stills are those bizarre B&W and hand coloured versions.

41-page liner notes booklet featuring writing by Kim Newman on It Came from Beneath the Sea, Dan Whitehead on 20 Million Miles to Earth and Charles Brigden on The 3 Worlds of Gulliver. This also has cast & crew pages and three Oral History articles edited by Jeff Billington which collate Q&A interview sections together from different sources done with the participants over the hears.

Typically detailed and meticulous articles by three respected genre / film writers that impart warmly plenty of additional information should the disc based extras have not sated the viewer’s interest. The Oral History features are also well worth reading as they’re the words of those who made the films.

Overall

A stunning triptych of Ray Harryhausen films given the deluxe treatment by Powerhouse films as part of their Indicator Series and hot on the heels of their equally superb Sinbad Trilogy set. Great presentations of picture and sound on all three are as good as can be.

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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