Thursday, July 11, 2019

THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) Blu-ray Review

This Island Earth (1955) d. Joseph M. Newman (USA) (86 min)

After a series of unique scientific instruments are delivered to his lab’s doorstep, atomic scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) is invited to take part in a top-secret research experiment in a remote lab, working with the odd-featured inhabitants of the planet Metaluna and an international assembly of renowned scientists such as Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and Dr. Steven Carlson (Russell Johnson).

Though the purpose of the collective, as stated by their Metalunan employer Exeter (Jeff Morrow), is to end war, Meacham’s suspicions that things are not what they seem are soon born out when he, Ruth, and Steven try to leave the facility… with dire consequences. Attempting to escape their fate, they jump aboard a nearby airplane and are promptly whisked away in a flying saucer to Metaluna, where the planet’s energy shield is slowly failing due to attacks by its sworn enemy, the Zahgons.

One of the rare times atomic power is seen in a benevolent light in a 1950s/60s sci-fi flick, this oft-admired adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’ novel (comprised of his serial chapters originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories) was brought to the screen by producer William Alland (Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis) for Universal-International. The resulting feature, his first color sci-fi epic and one of the last films shot in the original three-strip Technicolor process, explodes off the screen thanks to ingenious special effects by David S. Horsley and Clifford Stine (who also served as principal director of photographer) and an intelligent, thoughtful script by Franklin Coen and Edward G. O’Callighan.

While the spectacle of space battles, interplanetary travels, alien monsters, and all manner of flashing lights and gadgetry are its key attractions, Morrow’s sympathetic portrayal of the alien Exeter elevates the proceedings far beyond that of your typical 1950s sci-fi venture. With the exception of the benevolent Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), onscreen extraterrestrial visitors to Earth had been seen primarily as invading marauders looking only to destroy or enslave humanity. Here, Exeter seeks to collaborate with the inhabitants of this new world to save his own, even pushing back against his own kind when the Monitor (played by Douglas Spencer, who also played the inquisitive reporter Scotty in that other groundbreaking 1951 classic, The Thing from Another World) recommends wholesale domination.

The high foreheads on the Metalunans, as well as the iconic Mutant (or “Mute-Ant,” as Exeter pronounces it), were likely designed by Universal makeup wizard Jack Kevan, although department head Bud Westmore hogged all the credit, as per usual. With its exposed brain, bubble eyes, and pincer-like claws, it’s no wonder that Universal chose to plaster the Mutant all over the promotional materials, even though it really only shows up for a few seconds in the final reel. (Alland reportedly resisted the idea of having a monster in the movie, but Universal’s execs prevailed and, for once, I think the suits were right.)

Apparently it was no cake walk being in the Mutant suit for stunt man Regis Parton, especially since his scenes were shot during a heat wave. During his menacing of Domergue, you can see the sweat collecting and sloshing around in his bulging glass eyes. When the beast finally collapses dead on the floor, you can almost sense the relief in Parton’s body language.

The deeply dulcet-toned Reason proves an attractive and serviceable leading man, solid as oak and just as expressive, and Alland pressed him into duty again for the third installment of the Gill Man’s adventures, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). That film saw him again paired opposite a memorably villainous Morrow, who went on to enjoy a robust career in both television and films, though he is most fondly remembered around these parts for his leading roles in two memorable Turkeys, The Giant Claw (1957) and Octaman (1971).

Domergue became an overnight horror/sci-fi legend when she starred in four, count ’em, FOUR memorable genre flicks over the course of 1955: Columbia’s It Came from Beneath the Sea (with giant stop-motion octopus effects by Ray Harryhausen), two Universal efforts (This Island Earth and Cult of the Cobra), and the lesser-known The Atomic Children for Merton Park Studios.

Johnson, soon to be immortalized for his role as The Professor on TV’s Gilligan’s Island, appeared in Alland’s breakout success It Came from Outer Space (1953) and the lesser-celebrated The Space Children (1958) – both directed by Jack Arnold – and provides a fine supporting presence here. (Contrary to popular claims, Arnold did not end up directing reshoots – or anything else – for This Island Earth but might have handled some additional editing details.)

As with Creature from the Black Lagoon, Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, and Herman Stein shared (uncredited) composing duties, though we learn from David Schecter’s half-hour audio essay that Stein handled approximately 75% of the labor. This also marked Virgil Vogel’s last primary editing assignment before shifting to directing full-time, starting with 1956’s The Mole People (although he was lured back into the editing bay one final time to assist on Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil in 1958).

I’m not sure who should be given credit for the creation of the all-purpose “Interociter,” but it is one of those fantastic sci-fi constructs that fans of all ages can enjoy, able to accomplish seemingly any task. (It’s a video conference device! It’s a calculator! It’s a laser beam! It slices! It dices! It can scramble an egg inside its shell and folds up for easy storage!)

Though often best remembered these days as the “cheesy movie” unfairly roasted in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996), This Island Earth remains a classic within the genre and stands as required viewing for all sci-fi aficionados.

Trivia: Raymond F. Jones’ literary agent was none other than Forrest J. Ackerman, creator of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.


NEW 4K scan of the inter-positive – Two Aspect Ratios: 1.85:1 And 1.37:1

NEW original “Perspecta Stereophonic Sound” restored by 3-D Film Archive

NEW audio commentary with author and academy award-winning visual effects artist Robert Skotak

NEW audio essay with film historian David Schecter on the music of This Island Earth (28 min)

NEW “Alien Ideas” with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) (21 min)

NEW “Facts about Perspecta Stereophonic Sound” articles collected by Bob Furmanek (10 min)

This Island Earth – Two And A Half Years In The Making: The Extended Documentary (48 min), produced and directed by Daniel Griffith

WAR OF THE PLANETS: 1958 Castle Films release for the home market including both the 50-foot “Silent Headline” edition (2.5 min) and the 200-foot “Sound Complete” edition (8 min)

Trailers From Hell – This Island Earth with commentary by filmmaker Joe Dante (3 min)

Theatrical Trailer

Still Galleries – poster and lobby cards, publicity stills, and behind-the-scenes photos

This Island Earth is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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