IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE
During the 1950s Hollywood produced some of its greatest science fiction classics. It was during this decade that science fiction films became focused the possibility of visitors from another planet arriving the Earth. In some cases, the aliens were beneficent as was the visitor in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, who came to warn the people of Earth against their destructive warlike ways. However, in many cases the aliens were hostile and bent on taking over the planet, as they were in EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS or WAR OF THE WORLDS. Somewhere between these two extremes we find the film IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE ($20), in which the alien visitors are depicted in a neutral fashion, as travelers making an unexpected stopover on Earth when their spaceship breaks down.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is based upon a Ray Bradbury screen story and the final film benefits from the poetic quality of the author’s writings. Portions of the dialogue that come directly from Bradbury’s screen treatment give the film and its characters greater depth than one would typically find in a 1950s science fiction outing. Of course, Director Jack Arnold infuses the story with the right level of chills, thrills and unexpected jolts. There are some weaknesses in the structure of the story, but I would imagine they were introduced after Bradbury’s work on the project was completed.
The plot of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE centers on a meteor strike in the Arizona desert. Local amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) witness the meteor strike and head out to the desert to investigate. John, Ellen and a local helicopter pilot are the first people on the scene, and John decides to go down alone into the massive impact crater to get a good look at the meteor. What John finds resembles a spaceship, and when he approaches too close to the unknown object, the rim of the crater collapses, completely burying whatever landed in the desert. Of course, no one believes John’s fantastic tale, that is, until some of the locals are abducted and replaced by alien duplicates. Things don’t become any better when John uncovers the aliens’ true intentions and finds himself protecting the aliens from discovery, as a means of insuring the lives of their very human hostages. The cast of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE also includes Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson and Kathleen Hughes.
Universal Studios Home Video has made IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE available on DVD in a nice looking full screen transfer. While the image isn’t missing anything from the sides, I am not entirely sure that the 1.37:1 presentation is the intended aspect ratio for IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. The majority of shots provide extra breathing room that would allow for matting the film to a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and in the course of the film’s commentary, it is mentioned that IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was designed as the first wide screen 3D movie. Still, owing to the fact that IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was released in 1953, it is more than likely the film was presented at 1.37:1 in many venues.
The full screen black and white transfer itself looks good, offering a reasonably sharp and well-defined image. Film grain is noticeable in places throughout the course of the movie, but it is never bothersome. The film element itself displays some blemishes, more in some places than others, but not too bad when one considers that IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is nearly a half a century old. Blacks are solid and deep, while the whites remain stable. Contrast is fairly smooth, plus the look of the day for night photography holds up pretty well in this transfer. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts well hidden.
The Dolby Digital 3.0 channel soundtrack is a nice surprise, giving the movie a bit more atmosphere than a flat monaural presentation. I did notice that a number of the stereo sound effects were inversed, coming from the opposite side of the screen where they are depicted visually. Fidelity is limited by the recording technology available back in 1953, but the film’s theremin intensive score still manages to sound quite good and quite creepy. Dialogue reproduction is pretty clean and the actors’ voices are always completely understandable. Neither background hiss nor any other forms of audible distortion were noticeable at fairly natural listening levels. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English, French and Spanish.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a number of nice supplements. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE includes a running audio commentary with film historian Tom Weaver. This is a truly excellent audio commentary- densely packed with information about the film, its stars, writers and director. Plus, Weaver brings an enthusiastic and entertaining quality to the commentary, which convinces the listener that they are in the room with a fan who is talking about a favorite movie. Also included on the DVD is a thirty-minute documentary entitled The Universe According to Universal. This program looks at a number of the science fiction films produced by Universal, with emphasis on the fifties productions like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and THIS ISLAND EARTH (which deserves a restoration and fully loaded DVD release). Other supplements include a Photograph and Poster Gallery, a Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes and Cast & Crew biographies/filmographies.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is a minor fifties science fiction classic that has been given a pretty solid release by the folks at Universal Studios Home Video. The film could have worked equally as well in a 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation, and I wouldn’t have minded a few scenes shown in 3D thrown in as a supplement. Still, this is an excellent package that is certain to please fans, with a commentary track that is not to be missed. If you are a film or a genre buff, you will want to add IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE to your DVD collection.
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