A U.S. spaceship returns from a secret mission to Venus and crashes into the sea near the Italian coast. The only survivors of the trip are pilot Colonel Bob Calder (William Hopper) and fellow crew member Dr. Sharman, who soon dies from a disease contracted whilst on Venus. Meanwhile, a small creature washes ashore in a cylinder and is discovered by a young boy called Pepe (Bart Bradley). The kid sells the gel-encased critter to zoologist Dr. Leonardo (Frank Puglia), who is extremely intrigued by this creature, which soon hatches and begins to grow.
The reptilian-looking Venusian beast escapes from Leonardo and the hunt begins: Calder, who explains that the creature was a specimen brought back in his spaceship, wants to capture it alive, whilst the Italian police want to kill it before the continually-growing thing can do any harm to the populace.
Calder’s plan to catch the creature using an electrified net works and the beast is taken to Rome to be studied. Later, an accident allows the creature to escape its restraints and the very large alien goes on the rampage through the streets of Rome.
20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH’s main selling point is the Venusian creature itself, which most people refer to as the Ymir, though it is never called such a name in the film (the original title for the movie was going to be THE GIANT YMIR). The fact that the Ymir is goaded and prodded by humans to begin with in this movie makes him a creature we can sympathise with to a certain extent, stopping him from merely being seen as a monster.
Brought to life by Ray Harryhausen, the Ymir is a reptilian creature with a long tail and human-like torso. Ray’s stop-motion talents mean the beast is agile, expressive and interacts effectively with the people around it, doing things onscreen that many other 50s-era B-movie critters could only dream of. There’s a moment, for instance, where the Ymir scoops up water in its hand and drinks it: it’s a wonderful little gesture that the monsters of flicks like IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST, etc, could never, ever do.
Let’s face it: even a classic like THEM! (1954) had creatures far less mobile and fluid in their movements. But where the giant ant movie scores far higher is in its plot and dialogue, which are superior to 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH’s rather by the numbers script – and it’s the perfunctory plotting and dialogue that means this Harryhausen movie lacks what’s needed to enable it to rub shoulders with the likes of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THEM! in the upper echelon of 50s science fiction cinema.
But this movie is a fun watch nonetheless, with such involving moments as the Ymir attacking a pitchfork-wielding farmer in a barn and the now-giant creature’s rampage through Rome, including its fight with an elephant from the zoo and a showdown atop the Colosseum.
Though I was initially wondering why the Venusian disease (that killed the rest of the spacecraft’s crew) didn’t spread to Calder and others who came into contact with the dying Dr. Sharman, I soon forgot about this quibble as I was too busy enjoying watching the Ymir face-off against Italian cops with flamethrowers, smash through the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge and knock over ancient Roman columns!
The bottom line is that 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH is an enjoyable B&W fifties sci-fi film, boasting a creature that is one of Ray Harryhausen’s best-loved and memorable stop-motion creations.
The Ymir stop-motion models were cannibalised for their armatures for Ray Harryhausen’s next film, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, to be used for two Cyclops models.
The primary 12” Ymir armature was used for the 12″ two-horned Cyclops model that fights the dragon and the armature of the 6” Ymir model (used for long shots) was re-used to make the smallest Cyclops model (seen in the long shot atop the cliff as it stumbles, blinded, to the edge).