An Oldie but Goldie

Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Russell L. Johnson. Directed by Joseph Newman. Aspect ratio: 1.33:1. Mono (uncompressed PCM). 86 minutes. 1955. Universal ID4268 USDVD. Not rated. $29.99.

Before Mars Attacks!, before Independence Day, before pretty much anything we think of as a sci-fi classic today, This Island Earth plugged into the mid-'50s mania for flying saucers and insensitive, super-smart aliens and delivered what remains the blueprint for practically every blockbuster in the genre since then.

Its appearance on DVD adds nothing to the movie we remember, beyond a clearer print that makes the special effects look so good you might swear they've been enhanced for this release. However, the economics of releasing a 1955 sci-fi cult film make such enhancements unlikely. But after seeing them full of fingerprints and splices on late-night TV, those effects (which took two and a half years to create) look pretty impressive here.

The plot is bare-bones: A team of scientists is lured into battle with an evil alien race on a far-off planet, then tries to make its way back to Earth through a variety of intergalactic troubles. The real thrills aren't delivered by this breathtaking plot, however. It's the visuals that give us the goods, such as the first glimpse of the interior of the aliens' "club house," which has an incredible, almost 3-D effect---incredible because the room itself is so deliberately mundane.

The aliens spirit away Drs. Meacham (Rex Reason) and Adams (the spectacular Faith Domergue) to their meteor-mashed home planet of Metaluna, there to help rebuild the battered atmosphere. Exeter (Jeff Morrow), the head of the aliens' Earth mission, even has a touch of Dr. Who about him, while the super-high-tech Interociters, around which the aliens' technology revolves, look as dated today as the cars, planes, and hairstyles in the flick. (The workings of the Interociters---big lumps of impressive-looking machinery---are never explained.)

But no matter! The aliens might look like a race cloned from a suntanned Robin Williams (well, Morrow does), but their buttock-brained mutant servants are great, and the flying saucer looks as if it might have just buzzed Roswell. This Island Earth lives on, neither descending into the realms of unintended kitsch that dog other period sci-fi epics, nor appearing particularly silly by any subsequent standard, but emerging as that happiest of cinematic survivors---an oldie, and still a genuine goldie.