Director – Joseph Newman – 1955 – US – Cert. PG – 83m
UK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.
Originally published on London Calling Internet.
Pioneer continue to plunder the Universal vaults for SF gems. I’d never heard of This Island Earth when a print turned up for a revival run at London’s late lamented Scala repertory cinema in the early eighties, but having seen it several times since it’s a film which stands the test of time admirably. Moreover, being an Academy ratio film, it doesn’t suffer either the necessary indignity of widescreening black bars top and bottom or the thoroughly infuriating cropping of picture sides that accompanies too many video releases. The digital remaster on this Pioneer disc looks superb too – This Island Earth may be a good deal more than merely the sum of its special effects, but it IS an effects movie and those effects are impressive by the standards of the day (even if they creak a little now). What’s more, most of them are on side 2 of this disc in glorious CAV.
Warning: (plot) spoilers.
Eschewing obvious alien invasion plot lines, the narrative has nuclear research scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) slowly lured into an alien conspiracy alongside rival in his field of research Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue). Inciting incident occurs as Cal loses control of the jet plane he happens to be flying only for it to emit strange pulsing noises accompanied by the coming and going of a green glow as some outside agency takes control and safely lands the plane. Then, when an electronic part ordered from a supplies depot turns up at his lab, the component is far in advance of anything he’s ever seen. Next, Cal follows instructions to build an Interociter – an advanced communications device through which he is contacted and hired by the slightly large-headed Exeter (Jeff Morrow) to work alongside other scientists (including Adams) on a secret research project “to end all wars.”
The proceedings then move (via a plane flown without pilots whose interior might have later inspired the submarine interiors of Gerry Anderson’s puppet sci-fi TV series Stingray, 1964) to The Club, a remote country house with basement laboratories where Exeter and suspect subordinate Brack (Lance Fuller) are co-ordinating the efforts of scientist recruits. After dipping its toes in some highly effective conspiracy theory material, the film moves into action mode 1955 style as our two heroes plus one other attempt to escape in a car, which is blasted by red death rays from the night sky. Next, Cal and Ruth try a light aircraft…which gets sucked inside Exeter / Brack’s flying saucer. (These albeit brief chase sequences are a little dark, but not so as to detract from one’s enjoyment of the rest of the film.)
These chase scenes and the start of the saucer’s journey to their besieged home planet of Metaluna are on side one, which is a pity, since they’d have been nice on side two in CAV… could not the two trailers have been put on the start of side one in CLV to provide the necessary space? Other than that, all the freeze‑frameable stuff IS on side 2. The rest of the journey to Metaluna (and back) includes dodging guided missile meteorites, which in turn bombard the planet’s surface (another Gerry Anderson precursor, this time in the pyrotechnics model department). Metaluna itself consists of impressive models and matte paintings of the planet’s surface, interior chambers with sliding doors and the definitive man-in-a-suit, bug-eyed monster (a giant mutant insect with an exposed brain). Perhaps the best CAV moment, however, is the conversion tube scene, where flesh vanishes to reveal skeletons and internal human organs of Cal and Ruth.
Carps about the CLV chase sequence aside, this is sensibly (though not exhaustively) chaptered and a great disc – essential for admirers of nineteen fifties SF. One to put on the shelf alongside The War Of The Worlds, Creature From The Black Lagoon and When Worlds Collide. Recommended.
Distributor PIONEER LDCE
Cat No: PLFEB 36061
BBFC Certificate PG
Director Joseph Newman (1955)
Starring Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason
Running Time 83 min
Original Aspect Ratio (Academy 4:3)
CLV (Side 1) / CAV (Side 2)
Trailers (Dragonheart, Timecop)