Do You Remember When..,

.., The Beast Destroyed a Lighthouse in ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms‘ (1953)

Normally the ‘do you remember when..‘ column would focus on those brief moments of stupidness or eccentricity that thankfully plague genre movies (they wouldn’t be what they are without such moments). This time however, I think it only right and proper to pick out a glorious moment instead, in honor of Ray Harryhausen who celebrated his 90th birthday this week. ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms‘ is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, Harryhausen film (here credited with ‘animation effects’). Although not quite at the height of his stop motion genius, there’s a real sence romance and adventure that comes from the monster moving through the black and white scenery. Harryhausen, better than anyone in his industry, knew how to use lighting, shadow, and silhouettes to lift moments of creature attacks up from the level of pop trash and onto a higher plane of atmosphere and beautiful fantasy. You could pick numerous scenes from ‘The Beast’ that fit such lavish description: The blizzard shrouded reveal, the ocean attack on a ship, or the infamous climactic roller coaster fire. But it’s the attack on the lighthouse that does it for me.

Coming ashore on its way down the Eastern Seaboard, The Beast attacks and destroys a lighthouse. There’s a seemless mixture of live footage and stop motion here, the kind of composition that makes for great fantasy. The live action is the rough sea and rugged shoreline. Harryhausen stamps his authority all over this scene is the integration of his stop motion effects with this live action footage. As The Beast first appears its arched back rises, camouflaged against the angled rocks behind it, then silhouetted against the night sky it moves with a cat-like curiosity, standing on its haunches and rearing up against the lighthouse. Only Harryhausen could manage to inject such nuances into stop motion creatures. When The Beast smashes down the lighthouse under the force of its own weight we’re left with a great cinematic scene; The rubble and the monster silhouetted against the night sky, its held held high roaring its fierce threat. A pose many-a-future Hollywood monster would covert.

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2 thoughts on “Do You Remember When..,

  1. Arnold Kunert says:

    “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” is also my favorite Harryhausen film. My great affection and admiration for Ray Harryhausen (and, indirectly, Ray Bradbury) began with this film when I saw it in June of 1953 in a downtown Chicago theater. Almost 40 years later, I was able to show my great appreciation for Harryhausen’s films and career by successfully campaigning to get him a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, which he received on March 7, 1992. A little over a decade after that glorious evening, I was with Ray on Hollywood Boulevard when he was presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I had spent more than four years trying to convince the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce that Ray was entitled to the honor, but the wait was definitely worth it. You might be interested in knowing that the late Stan Winston, who loved dinosaurs almost as much as Harryhausen, also considered “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” his personal favorite Harryhausen film.

  2. bmj2k says:

    In this day of cgi, it is wonderful to go back and marvel at the stop-motion genius of Harryhausen.

    And this blog gets added to my blgoroll.

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