Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Micro Review [Film]: It Came from Outer Space

The Meat

Ever wonder what would happen if aliens en route to some other planet got a flat tire and had to stop on Earth to fix it? Welp, apparently Ray Bradbury did, so in 1953 Universal threw almost a million dollars at that idea and made It Came from Outer Space in 3D. Watching it now, you get the feeling it was the Avatar of its day -- and not just because a million dollars in 1953 was absolutely in the realm of "James Cameron Money" (although back then they called it "Von Stroheim Money." Look it up.) Director Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man, High School Confidential!) used the 3D in a restrained, artistic way that, if you do see the movie in 3D, is probably really immersive and avoids the bang-the-paddle-ball-directly-at-the-camera-lens technique of its contemporaries like House of Wax. Too bad it's not readily available in 3D these days, though, because without that effect, the whole movie is kinda...flat.

But I know how it is -- it's Friday night, you feel like watching a 50s sci-fi movie, and you want to know if It Came from Outer Space is going to scratch that itch. Let's check:
  • Theremin? Check
  • Memorable alien? Check
  • Skeptical townsfolk/angry mob in waiting? Check
  • Flying saucer? Sadly, no.
So there you have it. It's no The Day the Earth Stood Still, but it'll do in a pinch. There's good production value, but little narrative momentum, and not much pay-off.

The Math

Objective Quality: 6/10

Bonuses: +1, Early appearance by Russell "The Professor on Gilligan's Island" Johnson; +1, uncredited score contributions by Henry Mancini; +1, appearance by character actor Charles Drake (Harvey, Winchester '73); +1, for being originally shot in 3D and remaining watchable without glasses

Penalties: -1, ham-fisted presentation of standard "man is the real monster" sci-fi theme; -1, the aliens' mastery of interstellar travel, but inability to sweep up their glitter trails when leaving a room; -1, random townspeople's lemming-like willingness, with no explanation whatsoever, to grab rifles and follow the sheriff to go murder Frank, local telephone repairman

Cult Value Coefficient: 7/10