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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/1/02



Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
1956 (2002) - Columbia Pictures (Columbia TriStar)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B

Specs and Features

83 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, B&W, single-layered, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, The Harryhausen Chronicles documentary (58 mins), This is Dynamation featurette (3 mins), The Making of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers featurette (9 mins), photo gallery, 3 theatrical trailers (for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, First Men on the Moon and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver), film-themed menus with music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai, Closed Captioned

You know... there's just nothing like a classic 1950's saucer movie. Inspired by the "red scare" paranoia of the emerging Cold War and a rash of actual UFO sightings at the time, Hollywood took the fun to the big screen with a wave of similar movies... War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World, Invaders from Mars, It Came from Outer Space and the like. As good as any of these is Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Dr. Russell Marvin is a rocket scientist, in charge of the Air Force's Project Skyhook, which is sending observation satellites into Earth orbit in an effort to pave the way for the human exploration of outer space. With his wife Carol and her father, General Hanley, Dr. Marvin soon learns that all of the satellites he's launched have been shot down by a mysterious force. Not long before, Dr. Marvin and Carol saw a flying saucer over their car when they were driving to the base. He quickly puts two and two together... and then another saucer actually lands on the base and wipes out Project Skyhook. Dr. Marvin eventually learns that the aliens come from a dying planet... and have decided to take the Earth for themselves. Can science save the day, or will these invaders enslave Humanity?

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers benefits chiefly from the fact that it takes itself seriously, making its campy feel that much more entertaining and effective. There's a moment in this film where the aliens brainwash General Hanley... and you see his brain become visible through his skull. I can easily imagine how scary this film might have seemed if I'd been a teenager watching in theaters during its initial run. Of course, this film also benefits from the "Dynamation" wizardry of special effects master Ray Harryhausen. His iconic vision of spinning saucers crashing into beloved national landmarks is legendary in annals of science fiction film history.

One thing I'll say about this DVD... Earth vs. the Flying Saucers has never looked better than it does on this disc. The 1.85:1, black and while film image has been presented in anamorphic widescreen video and it's a real treat to see. Contrast is stunning and the film image exhibits wonderful clarity. There's the expected grain and the occasional nicks on the print, but while Columbia TriStar has cleaned up much of the dust and dirt, they've wisely left enough print artifacts to remain true to the original film experience. There's just something about watching black and white films in anamorphic widescreen. Gotta love it.

The audio is also quite good. It's a much better sounding mix that one would expect from Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, which can often sound flat or lifeless. In this case, dialogue is nicely audible and all of the effects and music are well balanced. This track is the perfect accompaniment to the visuals.

To make things even better, Columbia TriStar has included a nice batch of extras on this DVD. To start with, you get a really wonderful 58-minute documentary on Ray Harryhausen, The Harryhausen Chronicles. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, it's a retrospective look back at his career and his imaginative creations. There's plenty of interview material with Harryhausen and lots of stock footage, photos and artwork. Next up, you get a classic (and frankly hilarious) promo featurette called This is Dynamation. It runs about 3 minutes and was clearly designed to titillate moviegoers with what were then state-of-the-art special effects. The Making of The Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a 9-minute conversation between Harryhausen and another filmmaker, Joe Dante (who is also an obvious fan). Joe interviews Ray about the film and his techniques, all the while handling the actual effects models and sitting surrounded by a treasure trove of memorabilia and artwork from the film. A 17-image gallery of production photos and poster artwork is also included, as are trio of classic theatrical trailers (for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, First Men on the Moon and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver - Harryhausen classics all) in anamorphic widescreen. It's much more material that I would have expected and it's all good fun.

I'm not sure what makes this film better... the fact that the humans assume the aliens are hostile and so they shoot first and ask questions later... or the fact that they're right. In any case, this is great Saturday afternoon, B-movie fun. And the film has been given kid-glove treatment on DVD by Columbia TriStar. Just add a bag of popcorn and you've got a great time at the movies. For fans of classic films, this disc is not to be missed.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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