Saturday, March 1, 2014

This Island Earth (1955)

Of all the Sci-Fi landmarks to have come from the 1950's, Joseph Newman's 'This Island Earth' is probably the most original. In terms of plot, this film is more complex than any of its contemporaries and demands more from its viewers than the stereotypical B-movie of the era. It also utilises suspense mechanisms at a higher level than its brethren apparent.
Luckily, every part of the movie's fabric is strong enough to act as a support beam to hold the immense weight of its storyline. For 1955, the special effects are state of the art and heavily invested in. These hold up impeccably today because the team had crafted something miles beyond sticking sparklers in the tail pipes of die-cast models or messing about with thirty-nine cent wire devices.
Makeup is first rate also, even that of the much-assailed crustaceoid guard. Interestingly (but hardly surprisingly), Jack Arnold (the Godfather of monster makeup) was the one who directed the climactic scenes involving this hostile being. Comprised of the fruits of some very hard work (SFX were two years in the making), 'This Island Earth' looks almost too good to be true. Consequently, it shouldn't take much to appreciate that there is no fair way to make fun of this film or any aspect of its appearance without seriously scrutinising the work in very fine detail.

PLOT - Essentially friendly aliens make contact with top notch Earth scientists to aid in the defence of their home planet Metaluna. However, by the time Exeter (the alien Earth expedition leader) manages to transport two of these nuclear boffins back to Metaluna, it's too late: Metaluna is being destroyed by an enemy civilisation. Exeter and his superiors formulate a last ditch plan - to colonise Earth and make Mankind docile to their orders. The two human scientist-prisoners make good their escape from Exeter's damaged spacecraft on the haphazard journey back from the chaos, leaving him to smash into the ocean.
This film has suffered much battering over the years. Ironically, it's the most thought provoking of the genre. The messages in 'This Island Earth' are certainly subtle, so unlike those to be found in 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' or 'Forbidden Planet'. It's refreshing to cast an eye back at this release and acknowledge it for its complexity at a time when wafer thin ideas were given substance by special effects and quaint models only. Having said that, there are a few things in here that one can be forgiven for laughing at. The benevolent aliens with their huge foreheads doubtlessly inspired Saturday Night Live's hugely popular Coneheads feature sketches. Also, the actors seem a little leaden at times, surprising given the awkwardness of their predicament.
Watching this movie in Twenty Hundred isn't difficult at all, though. As a matter of fact, it's all too easy to enjoy it no matter how high or low your expectations run. 'This Island Earth' has, admittedly like cheese, aged extremely well and that's the big secret. As a video, the transfer is pure and clean and it makes for terrific weekend entertainment thanks to its standing as the best science fiction film for its time.

No comments: