Jesse Marinoff Reyes:
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms*
Warner Brothers, 1953 (poster art/design uncredited)
Directed by Eugène Lourié (1903-1991)
Visual Effects by Ray Harryhausen (b. 1920)
Farewell to Sci Fi Master, Ray Bradbury (1920-2012).
I’m very pleased to say that the first actual science fiction story I ever read—that was not in a comic book—was Ray Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder” (originally published in a 1952 issue of Colliers), about time traveling “big game” hunters sent back to the Cretaceous to bag a Tyrannosaur. Despite its exquisite craftsmanship, it betrayed a smart-assed cynicism on the limitations of man that I found very truthful about the human condition—and a story worthy of an EC Comics issue of Weird Fantasy with artwork by Al Williamson or Wally Wood (for whom Bradbury would contribute on numerous occasions).
Bradbury’s influence on the comics, on other science fiction novels, and on the movies and television (and radio!) is everywhere. He contributed to all of those disciplines certainly, and spawned numerous imitators, homages, and “children of his thinking” that endures to this day. Episodes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, or issues of Jim Warren’s Creepy, or the (sci fi) films of Steven Spielberg all owe a debt of gratitude to Bradbury. But whether you come to Bradbury indirectly, or via his many signature story collections or novels—the very foundation of American science fiction—Dark Carnival (Arkham House, 1947, his first), The Martian Chronicles (Doubleday, 1950), The Illustrated Man (Doubleday, 1951), Fahrenheit 451 (Ballantine, 1953), or Something Wicked This Way Comes (Simon & Schuster, 1962), and many, many more, you came to the right place.
Since Bradbury’s short stories (many commissioned as magazine stories during the Magazine Golden Age) were what attracted me first to Bradbury, it comes as no surprise that another favorite of mine from Bradbury’s oeuvre would be director Eugène Lourié’s adaptation of “The Fog Horn” from the short story collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, from 1953 (*published as “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” in the June 1951 issue of The Saturday Evening Post). Bradbury’s idea of a gigantic dinosaur emerging from the sea to wreck havoc before returning to the deep from whence it came was fleshed out with a typically 1950s atomic storyline: a (gigantic) dinosaur is aroused from some sort of freak hibernation by nuclear testing, to wreck havoc as he makes sporadic appearances from the arctic down to New England, ultimately to rise in New York Harbor to trash Manhattan—before being defeated and sent to its overdue extinction.
The film was a sensation—it’s tight storytelling and appealing characters, being slightly less-wooden than most of the Atomic Age “giant bug movies” and other monster fare at the drive-in—fueled by the spectacular work of Bradbury’s childhood friend, stop-motion effects innovator Ray Harryhausen, made for one of the classic monster films of the decade of the 1950s. Yet Harryhausen’s take on Bradbury’s dinosaur, the “Rhedosaurus” and the film would spawn a famous imitator, and by extension, another child of Bradbury’s influence: Japan and Toho Studio’s 1954 atomic dinosaur, “Gojira,” AKA Godzilla.