on February 14, 2003
Here is a list - for people jaded by "Star Wars"-type digital special effects and Bruce Willis-type smart-aleck dialogue - of what the classic science fiction film "Earth versus the Flying Saucers" (1956) does not boast: it is not processed in Technicolor but only in (glorious) black-and-white; it does not show whole cities sprung sky-high by death-rays or fleets of numberless star cruisers nuking it out among the nebulae; its aliens do not look like the dripping unsought-for results of recombinant DNA experimentation, nor are they invulnerable so that stopping them depends on a hasty "deus ex machina" tacked on by the screenwriters; its scientist hero and his wife are mature people, not teenagers or "twenty-somethings" escaped from prime-time television; they act with deliberation and do not pump air or dance a jig when their efforts prove effective; when people die in the film, they die without bravado. People who insist on such things should know in advance that their particular adrenaline-addiction will not be fixed by this film. Intelligent and discriminating viewers, on the other hand, can expect the superb model-work of Ray Harryhausen deployed economically but satisfyingly throughout the film. They can also expect thoughtful, jargon-free dialogue from screenwriters George Worthington Yates and Raymond T. Marcus, working from a story by Kurt ("Donovan's Brain") Siodmak, and taught direction from Fred F. Sears. "EVFS" gratifyingly violates one of the formulas of 1950s sci-fi cinema: it does not make the audience wait to see the alien nemesis, continually postponing a disappointing appearance, but exposes its first saucer within two minutes of the opening segment. As Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his newlywed wife (Joan Taylor) drive down a California desert highway toward the rocket test-site where Marvin directs his earth satellite program, an enormous craft swoops down on them, maneuvering around the speeding car. Both are fazed by the experience and don't quite believe their senses. When Marvin tries to launch another one of his "artificial moons," a saucer lands on the grounds; soldiers fire on the robot-like aliens, whereupon the craft takes to the air again and uses its ray to blast the installation. It is while waiting to be rescued from the bunker where they have been caught that Marvin and his wife discover that their tape-recorder contains a message from aliens, beamed at them during their close encounter on the highway. The message is apparently friendly, but the aliens turn out to be intent on taking the earth by force. Marvin and his scientist cronies race to develop a weapon to neutralize the saucer-fleet, which makes its attack on Washington D.C. in the film's brilliant finale. Supporting performances come from the ubiquitous Morris Ankrum and from Donald Curtis. Ankrum appears in nine out of ten 1950s sci-fi "B" movies, or so it seems. (See "Flight to Mars" or "Kronos.") Midway through the film, Marvin and his wife, in company with his wife's father, an Air Force general played by Ankrum, board a saucer that has landed on the beach, ostensibly on the Virginia shore. The location is actually Westward Beach, in Malibu, about a thousand feet from where I lived as a teenager, looking as deserted an alien as it is possible to imagine. It is a remarkably stark scene. The interior of the saucer is sparsely and therefore effectively conceived. The aliens regard themselves as supermen, classically "beyond good and evil." In the assault on D.C., Ray Harryhausen contrives to destroy every major national monument in the city. That the alien hardware is not indestructible lends the story credibility: the implication is that humanity is equal to the battle, provided that it does not panic. The DVD of "EVFS" includes two featurettes, "This is Dynamation," about Harryhausen's signature technique, and the more specialized "The Making of Earth versus the Flying Saucers." Presentation is in wide-screen, a real boon. (The VHS was in pan-and-scan television format.) This is a terrifically entertaining item from the black-and-white "alien invasion" genre. Highly recommended.
on January 6, 2008
This is a 2 disk set. The main film is, like "20 Million Miles to Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition", on 1 disk in both a digitally-restored black & white original version and newly colorized version. This is made possible by a process Sony calls "Chromachoice". This allows you to switch between the color and b/w versions of the film at any time by simply pressing the "angle" button on your remote. It's a good idea but some would argue that it's flawed in execution. I'm one of those. On my player the "angle" icon comes up every time there is a chapter stop and will NOT go away until I press the "clear" button. This is very annoying but at least I can get it off the screen! Based on reports on "20 Million..." other players will display this icon the entire film. There may or may not be a way of disabling this on your player. Frankly, I would rather choose from a menu which version to watch as the novelty of switching wears off after a while and the annoyance of the constantly appearing icon does not. While this is possible you still get the icon "popup" at chapter stops.
Special features on a 2nd disk are:
Audio Commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Other Visual Effects Specialists
Featurette: Harryhausen on Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
Featurette: A Present Day Look at Stop Motion
Featurette: Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen
Featurette: Interview with Joan Taylor
Featurette: David Schecter on Film Music's Unsung Hero
Featurette: The Hollywood Blacklist and Bernard Gordon
Video Photo Galleries
Advertising Artwork video montage of film's ad materials by Producer Arnold Kunert
Sneak Peek of Digital Comic Book Flying Saucers vs. the Earth
All-in-all a good package for a classic Harryhausen film marred only by "Chromachoice" which reduces the score from 5 to 4 stars.
If you are concerned about possible problems with "Chromachoice" on your player, I recommend that you borrow/rent a copy of the newly remastered versions of "20 Million Miles to Earth" , "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers", or "It Came from Beneath the Sea" first to check your player for compatibility issues.
on April 21, 2004
Released in 1956, "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" was the second film visual effects genius Ray Harryhausen did with producer Charles Schneer. They had previously worked together on the gigantic octopus vs. San Francisco film "It Came from beneath the Sea," and would go on to craft a long series of color fantasy movies that remain favorites with all ages today. "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (or "E v. FS" if you prefer) arose from Schneer's interest in the flying saucer-sighting craze of the day. Curt Siodmak, author of many of Universal's classic monster films, hatched the original story of a full-scale invasion by alien craft, but the final script is credited to George Worthing Yates and Raymond T. Marcus. Harryhausen found himself animating not monsters, but futuristic spacecraft. Thus, the film is quite a departure from his usual fare, but nevertheless Harryhausen infuses the movie with his genius and personality. "E v. FS" is the ESSENTIAL alien invasion flick of the decade, far more entertaining than George Pal's stuffy "The War of the Worlds." Everything you want from 50s science-fiction flick is here, and with Harryhausen's visual effects, it all looks damn cool too!
The husband and wife science team of Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor (both fun performances) investigate a rash of saucer sighting. The aliens have come to Earth to seek aid, but when they land the trigger-happy military opens fire and the aliens retaliate with a ruthless war of destruction. But don't fear, our peppy scientist couple have come up with a wild invention that may stop the destructive alien visitors. It all concludes in a wild scene over Washington D.C., and not all the monuments end up in good shape.
Ironically, Harryhausen doesn't have very positive feelings about the film: "It remains for me the least favourite of all our pictures. There is a dividing line between science fiction and fantasy, although they can occasionally overlap.... Fantasy has a poetic appeal radiating romance and warmth, whereas science fiction, with all its preoccupations with machines, politics and scientific apparatus, has a tendency to reflect coldness and indifference."
Well, Ray is certainly entitled to his own opinions about his work and his preferece for fantasy, but I think "E v. FS" works amazingly. There's a general giddiness about it, and a sense of invention, that speaks directly to modern viewers tired of the overblown and grim action and science fiction films of today. Harryhausen's flying saucers astonish, moving with jittery speed and very animated motions. The aliens themselves wield awesome technology, like death rays, brain probing beams, and vibrating shields that protect their ships (stunning effects, all of them). The budget limitations resulted in alien suits that are bit simplistic, but they still work. And the finale in Washington is a humdinger. Harryhausen's models and the intricate portrayal of the destruction still look astonishing. He even manages to make creative use of stock footage, instead of merely relying on it for a cheap shortcut as so many other 50s science fiction pictures did.
This excellent DVD presents the film in its original 1.85:1 format (I'll bet you didn't know it was a widescreen film) enhanced for widescreen TVs. Also included is "The Harryhausen Chronicles," a feature-length documentary on Harryhausen's work; it appears on all of Columbia's Harryhausen DVDs, so you might have seen it before. New for this DVD is an interview between Harryhausen and director Joe Dante ("Gremlins"). It's short, but you learn some great secrets about the film straight from its creator's mouth, and you also and get to see the original saucer models. Dante also shares his personal memories about seeing the film as a child.
This is a must for any Harryhausen fan or anybody who loves the 1950s Golden Age of alien invaders.
on January 18, 2008
First they digitally remastered the movie then colorized it VIA computer and then finished it off by adding DOLBY 5.1 SURROUND SOUND. The resulting quality compares favorably with high definition DVDs. Even though I've seen this in BLACK & WHITE over 20 times, watching the COLORIZED version with the 5.1 surround sound is like watching a new movie! RAY HARRYHAUSEN, you've outdone yourself with this production!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
on October 13, 2005
This movie has stood the test of time, and still shines as a prime example of classic 1950's Sci-Fi. Some people disagree with the film-making techniques of the day, but hey, George Lucas wasn't making movies yet. The story is what carries it, not the effects, which by 1950's standards, were top-notch. You can't review a 50 year old movie by comparing it to today's standards.
on March 17, 2003
_Earth vs. the Flying Saucers_ is vintage sci-fi from 1950s cold-war America. Plotwise, the title says it all.
The film's acknowledged highlights are the impressive special-effects sequences by stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen manages the difficult task of giving these flying saucers a personality of their own. In fact, these spinning machines display more nuance and character than any of the film's human actors. But perhaps that's as it should be. After all, if you plan to watch a film called _Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, you're not really looking for taut psychological drama.
The extras on this DVD are adequate, but no better. Two of the disc's three featurettes have been featured on other Harryhausen discs, so if you already own a title in the "Harryhausen Collection," you'll discover quite a bit of overlap. A photo gallery and some trailers round out the package.
P.S. The flying saucers (along with a good deal of the plot) in Tim Burton's hilarious _Mars Attacks!_ were lifted from this film. See the original first, and you'll get most of the jokes.
on December 25, 2002
Many of the science fiction movies of the 1950s had an effective combination of surprisingly good acting and swift pacing that runs competitively with the big budgeted but far less interesting counterparts of today. In EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS, director Fred Sears manages to use the superlative special effects of slow-motion master Ray Harryhausen as a backdrop for a tale that points the way for such future and similar movies as STAR WARS and STAR TREK.
By the the time this movie was filmed (1956), the Second World War had been over for more than ten years, but the movies of this next decade still retained the harsh, documentary film style that demanded a ubiquitous use of soldiers, tanks, and warplanes. Typically, monster films of the 50s required a military type solution to an alien invasion, usually resulting in a reverse storming of the beachhead of Tarawa, with the defenders as the valiant but overmatched earth soldiers. It was just three years earlier that earth's stalwart defenders failed to repel invading Martians in WAR OF THE WORLDS. In EVFS, earth's initial defense is led by a face familiar to science fiction movies of the period--Hugh Marlowe, who had similar such roles in WORLD WITHOUT END and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Here he plays a scientist whose technical wizardry forms the basis for a defense against an aggressive race of aliens who look like pint sized versions of the robot Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. The aliens wobble along stiff legged, blasting into smithereens all opposition. One of the most interesting parts had nothing to do with combat but everything to do with what happens when alien and human finally talk face to face. Morris Ankrum, another well-known second banana type of the 50s, plays an army general who is kidnapped so that the aliens can pick his mind apart with a brain scanner. The scene in the saucer in which Ankrum stands before his daughter as a modified zombie is chilling in its intensity. Up til this point, the confrontation between human and alien which had been strictly business morphed to brutally personal. The battle scenes that culminate in the Armegeddon type destruction that lays waste the national capital at Washington still resonate even with a generation that expects the latest cutting edge in computer-assisted special effects. Finally, there is the believable interaction in the love interest relation between Marlowe and the lovely Joan Taylor, who plays his wife-science partner.
In judging the relative merit of any movie, the critic ought to focus on how succesfully and seamlessly that movie accomplishes its implied goals. In EVFS, director Sears promised to deliver a thrilling movie that featured terrific special effects, a competent script and acting, and a subtext that suggests that human beings had better co-operate in the face of a common danger. He delivered, and that is why I give it five stars.
So far as story goes, the title says it all, and you won't find any brilliant performances, acclaimed writing, high-concept storylines, or big budgets here. But you will find Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion special effects, and that counts for a lot.
This is not among Harryhausen's more elaborate works--those would come a bit later in his career--but even so he creates some very interesting effects. Unlike most sci-fi efforts, including recent ones with computer-graphic effects, Harryhausen's flying saucers actually move in a way completely unlike anything you've seen anywhere, suggesting completely alien intelligence and machinery. In fact, the saucers are so interesting to watch they assume the role of the film's main character!
Kids weaned on Star Wars-style special effects will probably be bored by the film, and the even more forgiving fans of 1950s science-fiction flicks will find the over-all movie tepid. But the Harryhausen fun-factor cannot be denied, and fans of his work won't want to miss this one.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on September 27, 2002
Very good movie. Of course most of the acting is cheesy, but that's one of the reasons I love all those old 50's sci-fi movies. The transfer is very good. If I happen to have a video copy of a movie that I've just bought on DVD, I like to play them at the same time to compare picture quality. It always amazes me how much cleaner and crisper the DVD version is. BUT...as I've noticed on many, many DVDs, this appears to be the common full-screen version--but with black bars superimposed on top of it. Am I missing something in movie-making? I always thought (and you can see it in truly widescreen presentations) that a full-screen cut simply is the widescreen with both ends chopped off to fit the squareness of a TV screen. On a lot of DVDs that I've bought over the past couple of years, the so-called widescreen (compared to a full-screen version) is actually missing portions of the film (the top and bottom). This DVD is the same. The sides of the screen did not yield any extra picture than the full-screen, but images at the top and bottom of the full-screen were now covered by the black bars. If someone can explain this to me other than to say that the studio is leading you into believing that it's widescreen when it actually isn't, please let me know. If not, the only reason I can think of why they do this is to save money. It must be a lot cheaper to take the more common full-screen version and digitally impose black bars on it than it is to dig up the original widescreen and digitally animorph it. I don't know. Otherwise, this is a good movie to add to your sci-fi collection, just don't think that you're seeing it in it's original version.
on November 13, 2000
Ray Harryhausen did well with his special effects despite the obvious limited budget. The script and setting are typical mid-50s look, but the movie goes along well, particularly in the latter half.
I love these old classics from the 40s, 50s and 60s, and considering all of the blood, gore and shoot-em-up they show today, if I had children, I would much rather have them watch these old movies in the days before Hollywood deemed it necessary to throw about 100 gallons of ketchup per film.
This movie won't win any awards, but it wasn't intended to. It was intended to be entertaining and to make you think "what if," and it does just that.
With all of the corruption going on in Washington today, what happened to it in this movie has probably entered the thoughts of a lot of people in this country.