This is one of the great classics of Science Fiction film.
Which doesn’t stop me from taking a moment for a purely personal note:
This marks my Eight-Hundredth review since I published my first (Nothing But The Night) on January 28, 2016. It seemed a fantastic dream at the time and now it just seems like a stepping-stone to the next big goal: 1000.
But it’s still an exciting moment.
And now, on with the review.
It seems that every once in a while all the pieces just come together perfectly.
This is one of those moments.
We have Jack Arnold, fresh from making his first feature film, a Film Noir B-Movie, making the first of the series of movies which would make him one of the greats of SF cinema. We have an original story written by Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest and most unique talents in science fiction, an author who enjoyed a considerable literary reputation even if he got his start writing SF and horror for the pulps. We have a strong, almost classic cast, lead by one of the greatest of all Fifties SF leading men, Richard Carlson. We have a carefully constructed sense of mystery and dread clinging to the entire film. We have beautifully shot but incredibly harsh desert setting which at times seems like a character in the story. And we have some moody black and white cinematography provided by Universal’s master of special effects, Clifford Stine.
The results are stunning, by turns intelligent and poetic, with an interesting (and very Fifties Sci Fi) leap of faith in the name of science. Most of Ray’s marvelous dialogue from his treatments seems to have survived (even if Harry Essex’s name is on the script), particularly when it comes to Richard Carlson’s eccentric Astronomer.
It is also one of the best films ever made about an encounter with creatures from another world, one which avoids the extremes of absurd benevolence or near mindless hostility.
It was also one of the few good films to come from the 3-D craze of the Fifties (along with Jack’s next film, The Creature from the Black Lagoon). I suspect that the minimal effects for the arrival of the alien ship (which are actually used three times, once in reverse) probably reflected the expense of using the process, but are balanced by the iconic shot of Richard Carlson standing before the bulk of the half-buried ship, some clever monster bubble cam effects, and a few moderately impressive shots of the aliens themselves.
But then, by now we should all know that lots of impressive special effects do not make a SF film great.
Unfortunately, there are too many viewers these days who won’t watch even a great SF film if it is in Black and white. Or old. Or not filled with overblown digital effects.
Which is a real shame. Particularly when we are talking about one of the true classics of SF film.
Although it does help to explain all those lame SF films Hollywood keeps turning out.