Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: Earth vs. The Flying Saucers

I go into most movies with high hopes, good ratings or no.  I already turned off one movie this week (Godzilla:  All Monsters Attack, because it was just kind of stupid, even for a Godzilla movie), and I wasn't going to give up on another.  I hate giving up on a movie.

I had never seen Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), but it's a seminal bit of sci-fi filmdom and a Ray Harryhausen FX work of note.  The problem is, I'll be blunt, the movie kind of blows.  And let this be a bit of forewarning to our friends in the Hollywood dream factory.  I'm not saying you have to make a movie with staying power - you can make your money and go on to your next project, but people might actually see your movies later, James Cameron and Avatar, and when the FX get dated, you better hope there's something else going on in front of the camera that isn't "the most realistic spinning saucer money can buy in 1956".

Released in the same era as The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and War of the Worlds (1953), Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (henceforth, EvtFS) is not what I'd call "a thinking man's flying saucer movie".  The first half of the movie is more or less a meet-cute with the aliens bumble-@#$%ing their way around Earth, blowing up our satellites they think might be weapons and sending weird sounds at people which are actually high speed sounds that, when slowed on a tape, are the aliens' polite request for a meeting.

Why the aliens want to meet with the Primary Investigator on a rocket project never makes sense when their goal is to meet with world leaders and tell them they're taking over.  The aliens keep getting attacked by humans every time they show up (the Army guys also leap immediately into the poses of those bags of Army Men you can get at the grocery store).  The people are generally stupid and belligerent and refuse to just talk to the damn aliens who keep making sort of drunk guy overtures at humanity.

At some point I got bored/ irritated with the movie and would just look up when I could hear the awful/ annoying sound of the saucers in order to take in some high quality Harryhausen work.  The aliens' outfits were kind of kooky, lacked joints, made as little sense as their plan, and, in the end, they were totally taken out by really obvious "sound cannons" that, for some reason, they didn't just shoot at with their lasers.  S'weird.

The cast is kind of boring.  Hugh Marlowe plays our pipe-smoking scientist inclined for action, and taking a page from the Patricia Neal book of WASPy 50's boringness, Joan Taylor plays his wife who gets half a scene to be sad that her dad was thrown from a UFO and killed before returning to duty as Marlowe's perky and dutiful wife.

I feel like I've checked off some box on the "classic sci-fi" chart, but I didn't enjoy it very much.  There's no compelling story in front of the camera, and it doesn't particularly make sense.  If you told me the whole thing was written by am 11-year old, I'd just say "well, yeah, that actually explains a lot...".

I mean... maybe I'm tired (I am).  Maybe I'm in a mood (absolutely).  But I watch a LOT of classic sci-fi for a guy born 15-20 years after this stuff peaked, and I think I'm okay at watching it and understanding it for what it is.  But this movie, short of the flying saucer scenes, which are probably on YouTube, is pretty skippable.  Go find This Island Earth instead.  A much better film.

In short:

God bless you, James Kolchaka

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