Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 83 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Black & White and Colorized
Languages: English 5.1, English Mono, Spanish, Portuguese, French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
It is not often that you find a film which combines flying saucers with quotes from Shakespeare, but Earth vs. The Flying Saucers is no ordinary science fiction movie. It combines the talents of prolific B-movie director Fred Sears (The Giant Claw, The Werewolf, etc.), special effects innovator Ray Harryhausen (20 Million Miles to Earth, Jason and the Argonauts, etc.), writer Curt Siodmak (“Donovan’s Brain”), and a blacklisted screenwriter (Bernard Gordon). The result is one of the more intriguing films of this genre to come out of the fifties.
Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) has just gotten married to Carol (Joan Taylor), but there is no time for a honeymoon. Russell is the head of a secret U.S. government project called Operation Skyhook. The program involves sending experimental rocket ships into orbit, a prelude to actual space exploration. The only problem is that while there have been multiple successful launches, each rocket ship has subsequently disappeared with wreckage turning up in various locations. While driving their car across the desert, Russell and Carol have a close encounter with a flying saucer. Naturally, when they report the incident no one believes them. That is, no one believes them until a flying saucer visits the Operation Skyhook launching site and destroys everything in sight. In the process, the aliens occupying the saucer abduct Carol’s father, General Hanley (Morris Ankrum).
Was the attack on the launching site a sign of sinister intentions or the result of a misunderstanding? The aliens make contact with Russell and convince him that he must meet with them immediately. Carol does not want him to go, so with the help of military liaison Major Huglin (Donald Curtis) she follows Russell to the meeting site at Chesapeake Bay. A flying saucer is waiting for them and the aliens beckon them to come aboard.
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers was the second collaboration between Ray Harryhausen and producers Charles Schneer and Sam Katzman (the first was It Came From Beneath the Sea, a year earlier). It has a look which belies its low-budget origins. Harryhausen’s special effects are astounding, particularly when you consider the limited resources which were available to him. One of his most inspired innovations was to make the flying saucers spin while they fly through the air. Just as his giant octopus in It Came From Beneath the Sea attacked the Golden Gate Bridge, in this film Harryhausen has the flying saucers wreaking havoc upon familiar landmarks in Washington, D.C.
The film is surprisingly literate. At one point, after a device has been developed which allows English to be translated into the language of the aliens, Carol is asked to say something into the microphone. She then recites from Shakespeare:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
This DVD contains two versions of the film – the original black and white presentation which was released in 1956, and a new colorized edition. My comments on the colorized version can be found in the Video section of this review.
This film is recommended for fans of fifties science fiction. Although the action bogs down a bit at times, it is reasonably fast-paced and there is always another scene featuring Harryhausen’s stop animation just around the corner.
I am no fan of colorization, but I have no real objection to colorized DVDs as long as the original black and white version of the film is included. Happily, that is the case here.
That said, the colorized version looks pretty good. Colorization technology has come a long way since Topper was colorized more than twenty years ago. This particular transformation was done at Legend Films with the guidance and approval of Ray Harryhausen.
The black and white version, which is my preferred version, looks very good. The picture is consistently sharp, the contrasts are excellent, and the image is free of dirt, splices or other damage. Even the stock footage shows no wear and is seamlessly integrated into the film. There is minimal grain here, far less than I observed in It Came From Beneath the Sea.
Both versions of the film are on disc one, and viewers can toggle between the black and white version and the colorized version via the angle button on your DVD’s remote control.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounds very good to my ears, and there is even some realistic separation and dimensionality in the scenes where the flying saucers whiz by. The dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. Nevertheless, it is understandable that many fans will prefer to hear the film’s original mono soundtrack, which Sony has included on this DVD. The mono sound is rendered without objectionable noise or distortion.
This DVD of It Came From Beneath the Sea has plenty of extras, although some of them are featurettes which also appear on the DVDs of 20 Million Miles to Earth and It Came From Beneath the Sea. The repeats are an interview with Ray Harryhausen by Tim Burton, a tribute to Columbia music director Mischa Bakaleinikoff, an interview with Joan Taylor, a featurette called “A Present Day Look at Stop Motion,” and an examination of today’s colorization process. The interview with Joan Taylor is quite interesting, as she expresses astonishment that anyone would be talking to her about her films more than fifty years after they were made.
The new material includes an audio commentary featuring Ray Harryhausen, visual effects artists Jeffrey Okun and Ken Ralston, and documentary producer Arnold Kunert.
Disc Two is completely dedicated to extras. A featurette entitled “Remembering Earth vs. The Flying Saucers” discusses how the idea of making a film about flying saucers was turned into a reality. There is a photo gallery with lobby cards, posters, still photos and Harryhausen’s sketches, and another section which looks at the film’s advertising artwork. There is also a “sneak peek” at a digital comic book called “Flying Saucers vs. The Earth.”
The other new featurette is a discussion of the career of blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon. Because the blacklist was in effect in 1956, the screenwriting credit for the film was given to Raymond T. Marcus and Gordon’s co-writer, George Worthing Yates. Marcus, who was not a screenwriter, was a friend of Gordon and allowed Gordon to use his name. The opening credits of the film have been changed (with the approval and encouragement of the Writer’s Guild) and now include Gordon’s name. The original credits containing Marcus’ name can be seen as one of the supplements on Disc Two.
The main menu on Disc One allows the viewer to select either the black and white or colorized version of the film. The angle button on the DVD’s remote control allows viewers to toggle between the two versions. The audio commentary also can be turned on and off from the main menu. Disc Two starts up with a similarly-designed menu which provides access to all of the extras except the audio commentary.
This two-disc set comes in a keepcase which has original promotional artwork on the cover. The label for Disc One contains an illustration of four flying saucers and the label for Disc Two shows a group of aliens
The Final Analysis
Fans of fifties sci-fi in general and Ray Harryhausen in particular should have no hesitation about picking up this DVD. At a street price of under $20, it is a bargain.
However, Blu-ray owners may want to wait. Although a Blu-ray version of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers has not been announced, Sony issued a Blu-ray version of 20 Million Miles to Earth six months after the standard DVD was released.
Equipment used for this review:
Topshiba HD-XA2 DVD Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: January 15, 2008