Thursday, October 21, 2010

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers

Between 9 hour work days, filming excursions and family events at my daughter's school(two in as many weeks!), it's hard to believe that I've been able to watch anything. Truthfully, it's been difficult, and most nights I can only find the energy to read a bit before bed, but I have been making a point of carving room into my schedule to clear out some of the sci-fi or horror films on my DVR and Netflix queue.

The other night I caught up with Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, a fondly remembered, if not entirely beloved, alien invasion flick from the height of the alien invasion fad in the fifties. It's primarily remembered for the special effects by stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, and rightfully so. Although the effects are obviously dated and a bit rickety by modern standards, the animation by Harryhausen gives the generically shaped UFOs a more dynamic feel as the tops of the saucers continually spin, even when the rest of the ship is at rest. It sounds like a small detail, but it actually made the movie feel remarkably different from other UFO movies of the time that I've seen(although, it should be noted, I haven't seen a remarkably large cross section of these films). In fact, most of the joy I gleaned from this movie came from the details, as I found most of the movie to be a bit dull and by-the-numbers. I may be going against the grain a bit, but I found myself fighting to stay awake in any of the scenes that didn't feature the UFOs or their shockingly handicapped passengers. Seriously, these aliens traversed the galaxy and created technology that would allow them to interact with lifeforms on a different plane of existence, and they can't create suits with arms that bend? Watching them try to pick things up was just silly.

But as I said, it's the details I really enjoyed in this film. I loved that the aliens lived at a different temporal frequency, and it took some effort to be seen or heard. I loved that the violence between our species was caused by an initial misunderstand due to not being able to communicate properly(and the American military's shoot-first policy). I loved that the aliens told time based on the position of various planets or stars in the sky(attack when planet X is in the shadow of alpha centauri, stuff like that). All of that was pretty awesome, and I even liked the manner in which they were eventually defeated, through sonic frequencies used to disrupt the alien technology, one of the many things that inspired Mars Attacks.

I am, of course, glad I watched the film. It gave me plenty to think about. During those moments where I wasn't in danger of passing out.


Rik Tod said...

I grew up with this film, and for even two seconds of Harryhausen footage, I will convince myself that wooden acting, massive plot holes, swiped plot points from far superior films, and rote direction are the pinnacle of film achievement.

All I need is Ray. I consider what he did by hand in his garage with his wonderfully detailed models, frame by meticulous frame, to be a thousand times more soulful and worthwhile than any film with CGI today, despite the dated creakiness of everything surrounding his effects.

For me, seeing it again is visiting an old friend you haven't talked to in years... you may not agree on much anymore, but there is still the memory of what you once had. Sometimes, that's enough.

Carl Rudd said...

The movie begins quite like a documentary. Admittedly a 1950's style documentary, but a documentary with some attempts at accuracy or at least a hint of accuracy. WHERE did you get the picture of the alien in the basement? I don't recall that scene in the movie.