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It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Jack Arnold


81 min, black and white, English

Review © 2004 Branislav L. Slantchev

I demand to see this in 3-D! What a wonderful and refreshing classic sci-fi that stands out both from its 1950s brethren and can still hold its own today amid the CGI-fueled B-movie revolution. While the special effects are of pre-computer garage-quality, solid performances by and sparkling chemistry between the two leads, competent directing, and an excellent script that preserves much of the poetic quality of Bradbury's story, make the film an enjoyable trip back in time and space to an era where aliens could be just as afraid of the humans as humans of them.

Back when astronomy wasn't for nerds The difference between a meteor and...

John Putnam (Richard Carlson) is a writer who has retired from the bustle of the big city to a small town in the Arizona desert (which looks like Mojave, by the way), where he's dating the stunning teacher Ellen (Barbara Rush). One night, a meteorite crashes in the desert, except that it is a spaceship full of Xenomorphs. Why have they come here? What is their purpose?

New dome for World Soccer Cup Richard Carlson: quintessence of hero

As befits any self-respecting sci-fi film, nobody believes Richard when he says that he has seen a spaceship beneath the pile of rubble. Pretty soon, however, strange things start happening as the aliens begin taking over bodies of humans to unknown ends. Things heat up when Ellen is kidnapped and the local hot-head sheriff (Charles Drake) organizes a posse to hunt down the aliens (he seems to have the hots for Ellen and does not like her cavorting with city-slicker Richard). The posse closes in on the aliens as Richard races to uncover their secret and save Ellen.

Convincing desert chemistry Phreaking with Ma Bell employees

Warning: spoilers follow. While ostensibly the film offers just another McCarthy-era paranoia picture, it is nothing of the sort. It is true that the aliens are furtively taking over, and so nobody knows who to trust. But their zombified appearances cannot fool the people who really know the "victims" (who, by the way, remain unharmed). So it is not to infiltrate that the Xenomorphs take human form, but rather to be able to move unmolested while they repair their ship so they can leave. That's right: the purpose of the aliens is no purpose at all. They did not want to come to Earth, they crashed here and they are in a hurry to go. They had a flat tire.

First (and last) ever Xenomorph-cam More chemistry between Barbara and Richard

The subversive message of the film is obvious: it is our paranoia that is most dangerous. It is our fear of the unknown, of the unfamiliar, of the grotesque, that may cause us to kill it before even trying to understand it. The aliens are more afraid of us than we are of them. They are afraid that they might have to kill to survive if humans find out about them. Their fortune is to meet first with Richard, whose intellect triumphs over primal fears and thus enables him to communicate with them.

Invasion of the murky shadows Auditions for Psycho

The film does commit a couple of serious mistakes. First, and most obvious, we see the aliens way too early in the film. This is bad because the special effects are really crappy. (Still, I have to point out the spectacular shot when an ethereal hand reaches out to touch Ellen's shoulder as she walks around in the desert with Richard.) Second, we see the aliens in this film. Bradbury's original leaves them unseen, and the idea of showing the view from the eye of the aliens was inspired, and they should have stuck with that. The aliens are quite pathetic-looking and can neither scare nor repulse, so they are not believable. Leaving them off screen and then using moody lighting to shoot the human zombies (as in the hallway scene) would have been best. Still, one cannot begrudge the effort too much. The awesome American desert is almost an actor by itself, and Bradbury's musings on it, on aging, and on telephone lines, are elegiac.

Gratuitous shot of Barbara Rush Another gratuitous shot of Barbara Rush

The DVD offers a satisfactory transfer in the original Academy ratio. There is some grain and some visible print damage but nothing major or distracting. The stereo soundtrack is enough to bring out the surprisingly good musical score. Extras include audio commentary with Tom Weaver (very entertaining), a documentary about the film (ok), production notes, talent files, trailer, and a photo gallery. Overall, Universal gets a B for the DVD, and a definite A for the film. Highly recommended, not least because Barbara Rush is a sight to behold (many times).

August 1, 2004