"This Island Earth"
Joseph M Newman, 1955, USA
One of my fondest film-watching memories is when I was about eleven and living at my grandparent’s house after my parents split and getting to watch the b-movie season playing over months and months on television. I was about eleven or twelve and I loved getting into my pyjamas and watching these films on a Sunday evening before bed. I saw so many of the black-and-white creature features this way; my private education to the drive-in horror and science-fiction era, as if I had been born decades earlier. I know for sure that I saw “The Beast from 50,000 Fathoms” and “King Kong” and “It Came From Outer Space” that way, as well as “It! The Terror Beyond Space”, “Earth versus the Flying Saucers” and “This Island Earth”.
“This Island Earth” is kind of an honorary classic: it’s not a classic due to story and execution, but the whole is definitely greater than the parts. It looks and sounds like a tacky Fifties sci-fi, but it is much more if you play into it. It has decent and decidedly adult characters; it has a nice air of menace and mystery and a fascinatingly ambiguous relationship with its aliens. The aliens are the kind you are likely to meet in “Star Trek” – intelligent and humanoid with over-sized foreheads, but can seemingly pass for human. They are a threat in that they are a civilisation – from Metaluna – on the brink of being wiped out by their enemies and both need Earth’s help and intend on moving their population to Earth too. The film’s classic status is surely down to the fact that it is quintessential Fifties-era pulp sci-fi, and that’s a lot of fun and no bad thing. It also has a slow build-up that is rewarded with a fantastic if brief visit to Metaluna itself, a gorgeous cosmic vision with comic-book colours and mutants, one which rivals anything from “Forbidden Planet”.
“This Island Earth” is full of green rays, flying saucers, manipulative but super-smart aliens, unlikely square-jawed scientists (Rex Reason) and equally unlikely science. It looks and acts like something out of “Astounding Science Fiction” magazine, and that is no bad thing. The worries about other cultures being smarter, manipulative and colonialist, but trusts its square-jaws and female vulnerability to get an Earthman through an extraterrestrial encounter. It is dated, but that doesn’t seem to do it any harm. It gets better and balmier as it goes on and has the good sense to throw in some alien mutants too to spice up things.
It remains a delightful slice of pulp hokum with an odd charm all its own. It doesn’t have the resonance and deep chills of, say, “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”, but it is old school fun and possessed of enough intelligence and gorgeous alien scenery to more than hold its own.