THIS ISLAND EARTH is a 1950s science-fiction pulp magazine cover brought to life: clunky spacecraft, battling planets, evil aliens, and screaming heroines in distress. The special effects are 1955 state-of-the-art, and they still hold up very well today, for unlike ultra-realistic computer generated graphics they have a fantasy feel that is very, very entertaining--a sort of "Wizard of Oz goes sci-fi" look that is very appealing to the eye.
As already noted, the story concerns several of earth's best minds who are kidnapped by aliens and ordered to create an endless source of energy for a dying planet. The script is laced with 1950s sexism--one line, for example, is "Don't tell me that as woman you're not curious?"--but this is actually less offensive than it is rather amusing, in keeping with the magazine cover sensibility that pervades the piece. The cast plays with great sincerity: Rex Reason is appropriately heroic, Faith Domergue screams the house down, and the aliens all have high foreheads--excepting, of course, that really evil looking one with claws for hands!
Some humorless-type science-fiction fans won't enjoy it, and if you're not the type to get a kick from period visuals you might want to give this one miss. But for pure 1950s matinee fun, you can't do better than THIS ISLAND EARTH.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on August 28, 2006
Here's an interesting bit of trivia (okay, maybe not so much interesting, but worth noting, at least)...seems the film This Island Earth (1955) was one of the first major science fiction features filmed in Technicolor, a process that actually had been around, in various states, since the early twentieth century. Directed by Joseph M. Newman (The Gunfight at Dodge City, Tarzan, the Ape Man), the film stars Rex Reason (The Creature Walks Among Us), Faith Domergue (It Came from Beneath the Sea, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet), and Jeff Morrow (Kronos, The Giant Claw). Also appearing is Lance Fuller (The She-Creature), Robert Nichols (Giant), and Russell Johnson (Attack of the Crab Monsters), probably best known as `The Professor', from the mid 1960s series "Gilligan's Island".
As the film begins we meet a scientist named Dr. Cal Meacham (Reason), preparing to leave Washington D.C. after attending a conference on atomic energy. Anyway, Cal borrows a jet to fly home (must be nice), and upon arriving, his plane conks out due to some showboating (nice play, Shakespeare), but Cal is saved as a mysterious force takes control and lands the vehicle safely, much to the amazement of Cal and his dopey assistant named Joe (Nichols), who I think is supposed to provide a comedic element for the film, failing miserably I might add. But wait, there's more...shortly after Cal's return he receives a catalog featuring advanced electronic components related to assembling something called an `interocitor', which turns out of be a fancy, schmancy triangular television with some pretty amazing and far out capabilities (actually, it looks a bit like the drive-thru order box at a fast food restaurant, but that's neither here nor there). Once constructed, Cal receives a message from a melon headed, white haired nerdlinger type named Mr. Exeter (Morrow), who invites Cal to join a mysterious brain trust whose purpose appears to be development of new forms of atomic energy. His curiosity piqued, Cal hops a plane (one which he isn't piloting, thankfully), and ends up in a remote location somewhere in Georgia where he hooks up with Exeter (apparently he's dropped the `Mr' routine), Dr. Ruth Adams (Domergue), another scientist named Steve Carlson (Johnson), among others...eventually Cal learns Exeter is not of this Earth (well duh) and his motives for assembling Team Brainiac not as altruistic as originally stated, which leads to Cal and Ruth trying to escape, only to get beamed aboard Exeter's spacecraft (commence the probings), complete with swishy doors, and transported to Exeter's home planet called Metaluna (once you reach Neptune, hang a right and go about three billion miles, look for the Stuckeys and you're there). As far as what happens next you'll just have to watch the film, but I will share this, there's aliens, an honest to goodness flying saucer, ookie mutants with huge brains and oversized claws with a penchant for pinching, killer remote-controlled meteors, some dude named The Monitor (sound ominous, doesn't it?), matte paintings of fantastic alien landscapes, and so on...
I really liked this film a lot...sure, the acting leaves something to be desired (Rex Reason probably could have been replaced with a tree and few would have noticed), but there appeared to be a real sense of ambition towards the presentation of the material. The main strength of this film is the special effects, which, in my opinion, come off pretty well. Certainly compared to today's standards they'll seem hokey, but I'm betting when the film was originally released audiences were amazed and I'll doubt few left the theater feeling like they didn't get their money's worth. The bits I thought really odd were how some of these so called scientists, at least the ones who didn't have their minds `toyed' with, at the Georgia facility seemed so slow on the uptake with regards to figuring out their host was an alien (I would have thought the ginormous cranium a dead giveaway). And then once they did figure it out, no one seemed that surprised or shocked. Honestly, had it been me being abducted and taken a bazillion miles into outer space, ending up on some alien planet I would have been seriously freaking out, but neither Cal nor Ruth really seemed all that upset. Perhaps scientists are made of sturdier stuff than us non-brainy types, of which I consider myself one. As far as the characters there was some promising development early on, but it eventually faded as those introduced fell into homogenous roles (Reason the rugged, masculine hero type, Domergue the attractive screaming mimi in peril, etc.). Morrow's character of Exeter did seem to have the most potential, in terms of his altering certain plans based on his developing an understanding of humans after spending time with them, but this sort of petered out a bit, taking a backseat to the visual aspects present in the film, which is a fairly common pitfall in the genre, especially in today's films, in terms of flashy effects superseding the more substantial elements of the story. All in all you can certainly find plenty of fault with this feature, but I'd suggest viewing the film with a slightly less critical eye, as not to miss all the fun.
The picture, presented in fullscreen (1.33:1), does look really good, despite areas that exhibit some minor signs of age (there weren't any frames missing, but there was some specking here and there). As far as the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio, I thought it came through very well and had no complaints. There's not much in the way of extras except for an original theatrical trailer and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. I was a little surprised at the lack of an audio commentary, especially since I've always considered this staple film in the classic science fiction genre, maybe not to the extent of those like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing from Another World (1951), or Forbidden Planet (1956), but one still worthy of attention.
Incidentally, This Island Earth was given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, as it was the flick featured when the show made the leap to the big screen back in 1996.
on March 30, 2000
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.
on July 27, 2006
Save your sci-fi DVD sheckles for the August 22nd, 2006 re-mastered, re-release of one of the finest,'funnest' outer space adventures ever made--"This Island Earth" ("TIE"). You wouldn't try to judge spectacles like Spielberg's phenomenon of "Jaws" up against 2006 CGI-effects standards, nor should you attempt to compare the movie-making standards of 1956 to today's filmaking of sci-fi spectacles. Just trust that "TIE" was the premier effort (along with Forbidden Planet) made by a Hollywood studio at making a state-of-the-art outer space movie in the mid 1950's. "TIE" and "Forbidden Planet"(new DVD Special editions coming on Nov.14th) stood out as the very best films of their small outer space genre, at least until "2001 A Space Odyssey" in 1969 anyway.
"TIE" actually did spend nearly two and one-half years in production(as trumpeted on its outstanding one-sheet poster) and it shows! Phenomenal, never-since-surpasssed matte work on and around the distant planet Metaluna still thrills today. The sense of wonder overall approaches that of "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" as you are whoooshed off into a mysterious journey from dull 'ol earth to help save a dying civilization. Sure the 'science' from those far-off movie-making days doesn't hold up. But there was a majesty (and a sadness) to the performance of Jeff Morrow as Exeter that sure does. Let's also point out the fine performace and incredible beauty of the late Faith Domergue as the lady nuclear scientist. Another actor unjustly never given her due.
The biggest joke of Mystery Science Theater's series was when they chose the classic "TIE" as a film to parody. The joke was on those fools because this film delivers thrills and imagination that have seldom been equaled by other outer space films during any decade. In fact, just why isn't it possible for Hollywood to find still another great story set in outer space to get us all in our movie theater seats once more? A properly budgeted and promoted "Serenity" sequel anyone? A film version of Arthur C.Clarke's "Against The Fall Of Night"?
If you haven't seen this film, then you should be in for a jaw-dropping treat as, along with all of the film's many fans, we can only hope that Universal will finally be releasing a pristine transfer of this classic.
Once more though, the "U studio" totally misses the boat by not providing a smidgeon of bonus features for one of their most requested titles. What, you Universal shmucks couldn't get a commentary from the sorely underrated Rex Reason? He gave a fine performance of a heroic, thinking person's scientist; one for the ages! Once more--shame on you Universal!
Oh, but thanks for the (fingers crossed) re-mastered, re-release anyway. We expect the amazing technicolor color scheme of "TIE" to be amongst the finest ever seen on our home theater screens, this time out. Do not disappoint us, guys!
on June 8, 2006
I'm happy to see a reasonably priced dvd edition of this fun fifties science fiction adventure will be available soon. However, I've noticed some reviewers are decrying that the movie will not be in widescreen. Well, that's because the movie was NEVER filmed in a widescreen format. It was released in a Standard Full Frame screen format in exactly the same dimensions as the 1953 'War of the Worlds' was released. People, please check the facts before spouting off inaccuracies that only incite discord and misinform the public. I attended a science fiction film festival years ago at the American Film Institute in Washington D.C. where they showed all of the major SF films of the fifties in their original formats. 'This Island Earth' was NOT a widescreen feature. 'Forbidden Planet' YES! 'This Island Earth' NO! Examine all of the original advertising for the movie and you will not find any evidence of the film being shot in 'Widescreen', 'Cinemascope', 'VistaVision' or any other popular moniker for widescreen shooting of that era. And, back then, had the movie been shot in widescreen they would have played it up BIG as a further draw to bring into the theatres the fledgling television crowd. Also, consult Philip Riley's excellent treatise on 'This Island Earth' (Magicimage Filmbooks, 1990) and you will find no mention among the author's extensive coverage of the film's production that the movie was ever shot in a widescreen format (nor that it was ever even considered as a widescreen production). So, take heart all you SF fans and dvd aficianados and buy your copy of 'This Island Earth' with confidence knowing that you're not getting cheated out of a WS experience - because there was never one in the first place. Then sit down and enjoy one of the best space adventures of the fifties!
****>IMPORTANT (June 14, 2006 ADDENDUM): One reviewer in this mix keeps insisting that this movie was in widescreen. IMDb is being trotted out as the authority to turn to. Well, IMDb IS QUITE SIMPLY, WRONG!! (No surprise here) 'THIS ISLAND EARTH' WAS NOT, IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE A WIDESCREEN MOVIE (unless it's butchered)! If there is a copy on vhs in a 'Widescreen', 'Cinemascope', 'VistaVision' or 'Ultrawide Scope' (whatever that may be!) format then it's because the vhs/dvd distributors forced it into a widescreen format by cropping the frames to make it look like a WS version - much like the late 1960's re-release of 'Gone with the Wind' which was cropped at the the top and bottom of the frames, transferred to 70mm film stock and released to the theatres as a 'wider' version (to the horror of GWTW fans) . And, as all competent film buffs know, 'Gone with the Wind' was also NOT a widescreen movie (mercifully, it's been restored to its Standard Full Frame format for the dvd release). So, if y'all want Universal to release a 'widescreen' version of 'This Island Earth' they'll have to butcher the film by cropping it to give the illusion that it's a WS feature. I can't think of a more boneheaded approach to releasing a film on dvd just to appease the misguided, misinformed and perpetually ignorant WS crowd.