Radiation-mutated ants - 12 feet long and capable of lifting tons - become giant problems for James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, James Arness and all of Los Angeles. They're big. They're bad. They've got a serious attitude problem. You won't find a can of bug spray big enough to stop 'em! Starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, and Onslow Stevens.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
An A-bomb test in the Arctic awakens The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), and it makes New York City its stomping ground in the movie (based on a story by Ray Bradbury) that launched a string of Atomic Age creature features. Starring Paul Hubschmid, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods, and Ross Elliott.
Mighty Joe Young
Lightning struck again when the team behind King Kong reunited to create another towering ape: Mr. Joseph Young. This time the simian is shorter and the jokes tongue-in-cheekier, but the OscarÂ®-winning Best Special Effects are just as Kong-sized. A slick nightclub owner (King Kong veteran Robert Armstrong) discovers the giant ape frolicking in Africa as the beloved pet of a young girl (Terry Moore). He brings both to Hollywood as a floor-show sensation, until some no-goods ply Joe with booze and the blitzed behemoth goes bonkers. Highlights such as Armstrong's henchmen trying to lasso Joe cowpoke style, Joe playing tug-of-war with musclemen and plenty of Joe-to-the-rescue action make Mighty Joe Young mighty fine entertainment. Starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, and Douglas Fowley.
Son of Kong
Carl Denham, the showman who brought Kong to New York, returns to Skull Island in search of a rumored treasure. He finds diamonds, all right. And something even more remarkable - Kong's son, a spunky 12-footer with a winning personality and his dad's awesome strength. The filmmakers who created King Kong kept the king-sized excitement going with this sequel, released the same year as the original. Robert Armstrong reprises the role of Denham, paired with a new damsel in distress, played by Helen Mack. The two rescue Kong Jr. from a quicksand pit and get in return a devoted protector who defends them from fierce prehistoric monsters, including a giant cave bear. But when a mighty earthquake strikes Skull Island, even the son of Kong may not be powerful enough to save them.
In the world of filmmaking, movie magic and special effects date back to the very earliest days. French director Georges Méliés' films were special effects extravaganzas that wowed audiences. As film technologies improved and the ability to control in-camera effects and improved ability to create post-production visual effects were developed, the visual splendor of films only increased. As each film's effects work became more and more intricate, the pressure was put onto the next film in production to outdo what has come before. Warner Brothers has seen fit to group together four of their best visual effects driven films from before 1955 into the 'Special Effects Collection.' From 'Son of Kong' to 'Mighty Joe Young,' to 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,' to 'Them!' you can see and appreciate these visual technological advancements while also enjoying some great science fiction adventure filmmaking.
Son of Kong (1933)
After the escape and death of King Kong, showman and Kong captor Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a marked man. Everyone in the city of New York is out to drop a big lawsuit on his desk and through a friend, he's just learned that he's about to get indicted by a Grand Jury. Facing some serious prison time, Denham and Capt. Englehorn (Frank Reicher) decide it's time to get out of dodge and go into the freight business. As their travels take them closer and closer to Skull Island, they pick up Helstrom (John Marston) - the man who gave Denham the map - as well as Hilda (Helen Mack) a beautiful performing girl who just lost her father. When the crew mutinies and leaves Denham, Hilda, Englehorn, and Helstrom stranded on Skull Island, they're shocked to learn that Kong had a son! Still young and impressionable, the young Son of Kong is actually quite friendly saving the group from a giant cave bear. But is the heroics of Kong's son enough to save them from the other ravages of Skull Island?
Made and released in the same year as 'King Kong,' 'Son of Kong' has the unfortunate vibe of being a quick cash-in job. While the adventure is fun and I enjoyed seeing Willis O'Brien's stop-motion creatures again, this film lacks the immediacy and the wild inventiveness of the original. So much of this film feels like leftover scenes that didn't make the final cut of the original, it quickly starts to feel like the writers and filmmakers are saying to the audience, "Wow, look at that! Remember that thing you've already seen?" That isn't to say that this movie is bad, not at all, it's actually quite a good bit of fun, it's just very familiar.
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Little Jill Young is up to no good while her father John (Regis Toomey) is working his farm in Africa. A couple of natives have come by with a basket to trade. Even though Jill doesn't have any money of her own, she's ready and willing to trade what isn't hers for the basket's contents. As John soon discovers, that basket held a baby gorilla. He tries to dissuade his daughter from keeping it, but the little girl is smitten. It doesn't take long for little Joe to become one of the family. Years later, grown up Jill Young (Terry Moore) and Joe are talked into joining a traveling show organized by Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) and the cowboy roper Gregg (Ben Johnson) to join their troop. The only problem is Joe doesn't exactly get along well with strangers and when three people give Joe alcohol, Jill and Gregg may not be able to save the great ape from a tragic fate.
15 years is a long time between gigantic stop-motion ape films, but the wait was worth it. 'Mighty Joe Young' directed by Ernest B Schoedsack and written by Ruth Rose from a story by Merian C. Cooper is an absolute delight. From the first frame to the last, this film exudes a child-like innocence that is both playful and endearing. The effects work from Willis O'Brien and his team -as well as the legendary Ray Harryhausen in one of his first roles as a special effects technician - are first rate. Joe fits the scenes better than Kong or his Son ever did, and the interactions with live elements blend cleaner - especially during the scene where Gregg tries to rope Joe. The movie is a joy to watch and after nearly 70 years, it still holds up remarkably well and still manages to pull at the heartstrings after countless viewings.
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Nukes in the arctic are never a good idea - especially when they manage to awaken a flying turtle or in this case, a dinosaur that has been asleep for over 150,000,000 years! After a nuke test cracked the beast out of the ice, poor Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid) is the only witness of the creature's rise from the ice. Since no one will believe him, he's treated as a madman, even when sightings of the creature start popping up. The only person to take Tom's claim seriously is Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) who is able to convince esteemed Professor Elson (Cecil Kellaway) that Tom wasn't imagining things. But can they convince the rest of the world before it's too late and the creature strikes again?
'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' really is the coming of the great beast, only the beast in question happens to be the incredible work of Ray Harryhausen. Acting as lead special effects technician for the first time, this early work of the great visual effects master breathes real life into its creature. Even though the film goes a long stretch of time between the initial sighting and the grand battle, the time is well spent to set up the dread and suspense of what this creature can do. This is one of my favorite monster movies from when I was a kid and it's glorious to see this creature in high-definition! For some more fun, keep an eye out for steely-eyed Lee Van Cleef and 'The Thing From Another World' star Kenneth Tobey!
When you've got nukes that aren't being used, I guess it just makes sense to start detonating them out in the desert where no one will get hurt. Well, that is of course until the radiation causes some ants to grow to abnormal sizes and they become hungry for the sparse local human population! For Police Sargent Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness), the idea of gigantic insects would be silly, but when people start disappearing and the big ants start attacking major metropolitan areas, they're going to have to come to grips with reality and get some help. Help comes by land, by sea, and by air as the army does what they can to root out the killer ants, but the best help Robert is going to get comes from myrmecologists Dr. Harold Medford (Ed Gwenn) and his beautiful daughter Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon) who know the best ways to fight the ants.
From that moment when the little girl is found wandering the highway to the moment she screams "THEM!" to the film's climactic battle, 'Them!' is one of those movies that grabs you and doesn't let go. Directed by Gordon Douglas, this is science fiction horror picture that knows how to pace itself perfectly. It could have been turned into some silly monster film, but by taking the contemplative extinction of the species aspect, as well as tying into the Red Scare fever of the era, 'Them!' becomes a frightening allegory for world destruction. On top of the incredible practical visual effects work, this film boasts an impressive cast that are 100% committed to their parts. An appearance from Davy Crockett actor Fess Parker as a crazed pilot also provides a lot of fun! I still remember watching this movie for the first time when I was a little kid on TV and it still creeps me out and makes me smile with joy in all of the best ways. I especially love that they used the sounds of frogs for the ants!
Ever since I was a little kid watching reruns of 'Star Trek' with my Dad, I've loved the wonder that well-executed visual effects can bring. Special effects were the major aspects that needed to be satisfied if I was going to watch a movie at all when I was a little kid. I grew up watching movies like 'Star Wars' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Alien' in addition to dozens of classics including the films featured in this set simply because they offered good visual effects. It's because of movies like these that my Dad introduced me to 'Blade Runner' and '2001: A Space Odyssey' on the same night! While a film's special effects may not make a movie great, but they can certainly keep a good movie from being great. Warner Brother's 'Special Effects Collection' is a visual feast featuring four incredibly entertaining and endearing films.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Special Effects Collection' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Warner Brothers. Each film is given a BD25 disc. Similar to the 'Hammer Horror Collection,' this set is housed in a book where each disc gets to occupy an individual sleeve. The discs are able to slide out of their respective sleeves with just a little bit of pressure from the top and bottom of the page. The inside of each of the sleeves is smooth allowing the individual discs to slide out without any kind damage. Each film gets a page of description and artwork. All discs open directly to their main menus.
Son of Kong
Making its Blu-ray debut, 'Son Of Kong' boasts an impressive and striking 1.37:1 1080p transfer. All of this film's technical achievements are on display here and serves as a wonderful companion release to the original 'King Kong.' The transfer's impressive detail levels are probably what is most noticeable and easy to appreciate. Every little hair on Son is clearly visible, and the cave bear, for example, is just as impressive. While it's now easier to spot the matting lines in each scene dividing a special effect and the real-life actors, but it isn't really all that distracting since you'll be too busy taking in all of the visual splendor this transfer has to offer. Film grain has been retained throughout and is never overly intrusive. The film's grayscale appears accurate leading to some inky blacks and appropriate whites that don't have any notable white blooms.
Mighty Joe Young
Of this entire set, I think I was the most impressed with the stunning 1.37:1 1080p transfer for 'Mighty Joe Young.' Whenever you're working with stop motion effects elements there is an expected amount of wear and tear on the print simply because the process is so intricate. In the case of 'Mighty Joe Young,' this film looks practically flawless. Film grain leads to some incredible detail levels that allow you to appreciate the facial features of the cast as well as the intricate creature work of Joe. It's especially impressive when you see how well the effects and film elements blend together for this film. Sure, some shots look more convincing than others, but overall this is a marked improvement over any standard definition presentation I've seen. The grayscale is just right and creates a rich and beautiful black and white presentation and then the film's red tinting during the climax looks impressive without losing any of the film's best aspects.
The Beast From 20,000,000 Fathoms
This is a movie that has always looked pretty great throughout various runs on home video so I wasn't expecting all that much from it, but it sure is a real eye-opener! The 1.37:1 1080p transfer shows that a lot of care and work went into preserving this amazing film. Detail levels are outstanding allowing you to see every wonderful detail of the creature. The separate special effects and live film elements don't quite blend as cleanly when both are on screen at the same time, but all around the film looks fantastic. The film's grayscale is very strong, some of the creature shots appear a bit dark in places, but not so bad as to be worth complaining about. It's a joy to see this film in such detail, be prepared to pause every now and again just to look at the creature work!
You've gotta love a movie featuring large scale models and miniatures to create some creepy creatures and this 1.85:1 1080p transfer shows off the incredible work that went into creating 'Them!' to great visual glory. Since so little of this film relied on stop motion creatures and instead relies on practical effects and live elements, the image quality for this film is far more consistent. Film grain has been retained throughout allowing you to appreciate the costuming work, facial features, as well as the gigantic ant creatures on display. The film's grayscale dips a bit dark at times and straddles some slight crush issues here and there, but nothing very serious. All around this film looks fantastic on Blu-ray and offers a notable improvement over previous home video presentations.
Each film in the 'Special Effects Collection' enjoys a wonderful and resonant DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio track. Each film offers their own special aspects but for the most part, they're consistent across the board with only slight variations.
Son of Kong
The film sounds better than ever in my opinion as dialogue is a lot cleaner and clearer sounding. Sound effects have plenty of punch and presence to them and the track is well balanced. The only real problem here is there is still some noticeable hiss associated with the track. Voices also tend to sound a bit tinny at times, but that's more of an issue of the sound recording equipment of the era.
Mighty Joe Young
One of the most noticeable improvements I was able to pick up on with this track is the improved element separation allowing you to cleanly appreciate the dialogue, sound effects, as well as the film's score by Roy Webb. There isn't much in the way of imaging as the track's audio elements keep things front and center. The effects have a lot of power behind them, especially Joe's roar. All around this is a clean and beautiful track.
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
Like 'Mighty Joe Young,' 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' sounds fantastic and cleaner and crisper than ever. The creature's signature roar is a major highlight but the film's fantastic score by David Burton gets a lot of extra punch and presence, especially when the action picks up and the creature starts destroying things. Dialogue is clean and resonant and there is plenty of space around the elements to give this mono track a little better feel of directionality.
From the crackling dialogue to the film's wonderfully dramatic score from Bronislau Kaper to the amazing sound effects of the army of ants, 'Them!' enjoys an impressive audio track. Even though the film is still presented in mono, the element separation gives the film a creepy and fun sense of dimensionality. It's really a great kick when the ants are just about to attack and that sound of frogs croaking increases in intensity. Without any age-related hiss or dropouts, 'Them!' gets the best audio score of the set.
Son of Kong
Trailer: (SD 1:47) A fine trailer that does a great job of selling the film while also playing up its relationship to the previous film.
Mighty Joe Young
Audio Commentary: Special Effects legend Ray Harryhausen, Terry Moore, and Ken Ralston talk about the incredible effects work that went into bringing 'Mighty Joe Young' to life. It's a heck of a track and the three of them keep things flowing and interesting. Absolutely well worth the listen.
A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and The Chiodo Brothers: (SD 22:52) It's a fun interview and informative as Ray Harryhausen loves to talk about creating these effects and what inspired him to get into visual effects work.
Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young: (SD 11:57) Ray Harryhausen and the Chiodo brothers take an up close look at the original Joe Young armature! It's not fully dressed, but it's impressive to see the little armature and its impressive articulation.
Trailer: (SD 1:41) Such a fun trailer. I love the old school narration with "See!" over and over again showcasing the film's spectacle.
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
The Rhedosaurus and the Rollercoaster: The Making of the Beast: (SD 6:12) Ray Harryhausen discusses how he became involved with the film, the creature's creation and how this is the film that launched his special effects career.
Armatures: (SD 0:59) This extra is from the same interview footage but focuses specifically on the creature and its design and function.
Harryhausen & Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship: (SD 16:51) There is something wonderful about seeing Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen in the same room together talking about the good old days. The two Rays clearly have a strong friendship and it's easy to see how these two were able to work so well together on this film in order to bring the creature to life. A great little extra feature.
Ants: (SD 3:06) This is a great little collection of outtakes involving the giant ant puppets and their puppeteers. I just wish it had some material associated with it regarding the creation of the creatures.
Theatrical Trailer: (SD 1.37) I love classic trailers, especially one that pushes the drama and immediacy like this one does!
If you love classic science fiction and adventure movies, it doesn't get much better than Warner Brothers' 'Special Effects Collection.' Each film in the set is highly entertaining and boasts an impressive audio and video presentation in their respective Blu-ray debuts. Even if you're enticed by only one or two of these films, this set is the best way to go for the money. Enjoy big gorillas, killer ants, and a prehistoric beast like never before. This set is highly recommended!