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11 Deep Facts About The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

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In 1953, horror fans watched with glee as a giant, city-stomping reptile arose from the depths of the ocean. And no, its name wasn’t “Godzilla.” This particular brute was called the Rhedosaurus, and it was introduced to the world in one of the most influential science fiction films ever made: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

The film was a monster at the box office, too, ushering in the “creature feature” craze that gripped the 1950s. Furthermore, the film heralded the arrival of special effects visionary Ray Harryhausen, whose mesmerizing handiwork changed an entire industry forever. Grab your scuba gear and let’s pay tribute to the colossal classic.

1. THE MOVIE WAS PARTLY BASED ON A RAY BRADBURY STORY.

It all started with a roar. One night, while he was living near Santa Monica Bay, legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was awakened from his sleep by a blaring foghorn. Moved by the mournful bellow, he quickly got to work on a short story about a lovelorn sea monster. Called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (later retitled The Foghorn), it was published in The Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1951.

At roughly the same time, Mutual Films was developing a script for a new action-packed monster movie. The finished product would ultimately bear more than a slight resemblance to a certain Saturday Evening Post story. For instance, both of them feature a scene in which a prehistoric titan lays waste to a lighthouse. According to some sources, Mutual had already started working on its marine creature flick when studio co-founder Jack Dietz happened upon Bradbury’s yarn in the Post. Supposedly, he contacted the author without delay and bought the rights to this tale.

But Bradbury’s account of what happened behind the scenes is totally different. The other co-founder of Mutual was one Hal Chester. Late in life, Bradbury claimed that when a preliminary script for what became Beast had been drafted, Chester asked him to read it over. “I pointed out the similarities between it and my short story,” Bradbury said. “Chester’s face paled and his jaw dropped when I told him his monster was my monster. He seemed stunned at my recognition of the fact. He had the look of one caught with his hand in the till.”

In any event, Bradbury received a $2000 check and a shout-out in the movie’s opening credits.

2. JACK DIETZ THOUGHT ABOUT CASTING A LIVE REPTILE.

Coincidentally, the man who handled Beast’s creature effects had been close friends with Bradbury since their teen years. A stop-motion animator by trade, Ray Harryhausen spent most of his early career working on shorts and cartoons. His first taste of feature-length filmmaking came in 1949, when he joined forces with Willis O’Brien—the technical mastermind behind the original King Kong—to animate the simian hero of RKO Pictures’s Mighty Joe Young.

In 1952, Harryhausen caught a life-changing break. Upon learning of Mutual’s plans to release a new sea monster flick, he immediately offered his services to Jack Dietz. Previously, Dietz had thought about using either a man in a costume or a live alligator to portray the creature in Beast. An eager Harryhausen sold him on a different strategy. “I… enthused about the advantages of stop-motion model animation, telling him that anything and everything he wanted could be done in the process,” the effects artist wrote in his autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life. Impressed, Dietz gave him the tremendous job of putting that titular beast from 20,000 fathoms onto the silver screen.

3. THE BEAST ITSELF WENT THROUGH SEVERAL DIFFERENT DESIGNS.

“I had to create a mythical dinosaur,” Harryhausen recalled. In his early concept art, he fitted the reptile with pointy ears, a sharp beak, and webbed, human-like hands. Another design sported what Harryhausen described as “sort of a round head.” Unhappy with this particular noggin, he replaced it with a new skull modeled after that of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The monster was then given a distinctive, four-legged stance to prevent it from looking like a “typical” carnivorous dinosaur.

By the way, there’s a long-standing fan theory about this fictitious animal. In the film, our villain is dubbed the “Rhedosaurus.” You may notice that the first two letters in its name spell out the animator’s initials. Was this a deliberate homage? Harryhausen thought not. “I don’t know where his name came from,” he told Empire in 2012. “People say it’s based on my initials, but I don’t think it is.”

4. STOCK FOOTAGE FROM SHE (1935) WAS USED DURING THE AVALANCHE SCENE.

The movie opens with an H-Bomb test conducted above the Arctic circle. This experiment has the unfortunate side effect of releasing the Rhedosaurus from a glacier in which it’s been entombed for millions of years. After the blast, the newly awakened beast manages to trigger an avalanche while wandering around in the snow. A few clips from this sequence can be viewed in the trailer posted above. These shots were lifted directly from She, a classic, cold-weather fantasy produced by Merian C. Cooper, the creator of King Kong. An avid fan of the film, Harryhausen later included subtle She references in a pair of his own movies: First Men in the Moon (1964) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).

5. THE CRUMBLING BUILDINGS WERE HARD TO ANIMATE.

Like its literary counterpart, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms features a lighthouse destruction scene, but Dietz’s movie later abandons its source material by having the monster terrorize New York City. Perhaps the highlight of that sequence comes when our Rhedosaurus plows straight through a tower in lower Manhattan. Both of these buildings were miniature models constructed by Harryhausen, and each one was composed of jigsaw-like pieces connected to wires. While animating their destruction, Harryhausen slowly moved every individual chunk of debris down its wire and towards the ground.

6. THE LEADING LADY WAS RELATED TO ONE OF BRADBURY’S ASSOCIATES.

Paula Raymond stars as Lee Hunter, a paleontologist who falls in love with our main hero, nuclear physicist Tom Nesbitt (played by Paul Christian). Interestingly, Raymond was the niece of Farnsworth Wright. A significant figure in the history of modern science fiction and fantasy, he’s best remembered for having spent 15 years editing the popular short story magazine Weird Tales. During his tenure, pieces written by such greats as H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith often graced the publication. Shortly before Wright’s retirement in 1940, Bradbury had approached him with some ideas for new yarns. Although the editor respectfully turned these pitches down, his successor, Dorothy McIlwraith, would help Bradbury become one of Weird Tales’s regular contributors.

7. RAY HARRYHAUSEN DEVISED THE FILM’S CLIMAX.

In the grand finale, the Rhedosaurus starts attacking a roller coaster on Coney Island. Armed with a special gun capable of firing dangerous radioactive isotopes, Professor Nesbitt ascends to the top of this ride. Accompanying him is a brave NYPD officer played by The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’s Lee van Cleef. Using their weapon, the duo slays the beast, which dies as the amusement park goes up in a blazing inferno. While the film was still in pre-production, it was Harryhausen who came up with this spectacular ending. He then helped flesh out the scene along with director Eugene Lourie and the screenwriters. “Eugene… said that I always made my monsters die like a tenor in an opera,” Harryhausen remarks in The Rhedosaurus and the Rollercoaster, a 2003 DVD documentary. “Hollywood is noted for glamourizing the actors and I tried to glamourize the dinosaur as well.”

8. THE ORIGINAL SCORE WAS DELETED.

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Warner Bros. bought Beast from Mutual for the competitive sum of $400,000. Before releasing it, though, the big studio decided to overhaul the film’s musical accompaniment. The original soundtrack was penned by veteran composer Michael Michelet, who used what Harryhausen described as “light classical music” throughout the movie. Feeling that this wouldn’t do, Warner Bros. scrapped his material entirely. David Buttolph, who’d later write the catchy Lone Ranger theme, was hired to create 39 minutes of replacement music. Using a 50-piece orchestra, Buttolph conjured up a brassier and more bombastic score that garnered widespread critical praise, although Harryhausen himself preferred Michelet’s offering. In the animator’s view, Buttolph’s work, while passable, “slowed the picture down.”

9. NO PART OF ANY OCEAN IS 20,000 FATHOMS DEEP IN REAL LIFE.

The deepest locale on the surface of planet Earth is known as the Challenger Deep. Located inside the Pacific Mariana Trench, this spot sits an incredible 6033 fathoms (or 36,201 feet) beneath the waves. Incidentally, Harryhausen’s breakout movie was originally going to be called The Monster From Beneath the Sea, but when Warner Bros. purchased the film, it was renamed The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms after Bradbury’s original story.

10. THE DIRECTOR’S KID ABSOLUTELY HATED THE ENDING.

Released on June 13, 1953, Beast grossed more than $5 million, enough to make it one of the year’s biggest hits. However, the surprise smash was not without its critics. One day, Lourie took his 6-year-old daughter to a matinee screening. To his shock, she broke down in tears after they left the theater. “You are bad, Daddy!” she sobbed. “You killed the big nice Beast!” Little did the girl know that her feelings would have a big impact on one of Lourie’s future projects. In the wake left by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the filmmaker was pigeonholed into directing more monster movies. Beast, he once lamented, became “an albatross around my neck.” Lourie’s next picture, 1959’s The Giant Behemoth, more or less recycled the same plot.

Subsequently, producers Frank and Maurice King asked if he could create another sea monster film. Along with Daniel Hyatt, Lourie wrote a script that became 1961’s Gorgo. Set in the British Isles, it tells the story of a big-eared leviathan who’s captured near Ireland and taken to a London circus. Unlike Beast or Behemoth, however, this movie came with a happy ending in which the creature is rescued by its 200-foot mother and escorted back into the sea. Lourie’s daughter must’ve been delighted

11. IT INSPIRED THE GODZILLA SERIES.

Japan’s saurian superstar made his cinematic debut one year after The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms hit the silver screen. On November 3, 1954, Toho Studios unleashed Gojira, a dark, gritty picture that serves as an allegory about the horrors of nuclear warfare. Later called Godzilla in the U.S., the movie did surprisingly well and ended up giving birth to some 29 sequels (so far). The original Godzilla film was produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was heavily influenced by a certain Ray Harryhausen movie. In fact, for a time, the picture’s working title was Big Monster From 20,000 Miles Beneath The Sea. Moreover, one scene that was conceived but never filmed would’ve called for Godzilla attacking … wait for it … a lighthouse

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said, “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

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Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes?” Hanson said “Dean Martin.”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

Warner Bros.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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