It Came from Outer Space
U.S.A. / 1953
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring
Richard Carlson
Barbara Rush
Russell Johnson
B&W / 71 Minutes / G
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Universal Studios
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
7
    10   10 = Highest Rating  
This thoughtful, prototypical film was Universal's initial foray into science fiction during the 1950s. While technically not the first sci-fi movie to explore the theme of benevolent aliens threatened by the ignorant, knee-jerk hostility of humans, it more or less set the standard for those that followed. Most of the credit for this belongs to a story treatment by SF legend Ray Bradbury, the surehanded direction of Jack Arnold (who would go on to helm most of Universal's top drawer genre flicks of the decade), and a fine performance by lead Richard Carlson.
   
Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon) plays John Putnam, an astronomer living in the small town of Sand Rock, Arizona. While stargazing one night with his girlfriend Ellen (Barbara Rush), the couple witnesses the fiery crash of a blazing meteor. The impact gouges a gigantic crater in the desert. First on the scene, Putnam climbs down into the smoldering pit to investigate. At the bottom he's astonished to discover the half-buried hull of a weird, sphere-shaped alien spacecraft. But before anyone else can see it a rockslide buries the exposed portion of the ship under tons of earth.
    Putnam barely escapes becoming entombed himself. When he begins telling people about what he saw the local media label him a publicity-seeking crackpot. No one except Ellen believes him. Then strange things begin happening out in the desert. Residents of Sand Rock start to mysteriously disappear...
    Originally filmed in 3D, It Came from Outer Space has its share of B-movie thrills but is primarily a work of mood and atmosphere. The isolated desert setting is used to good effect in this regard. Certainly more literate than most sci-fi pics of the day, it explores the (then fresh) concept of just how humans would react when confronted by technologically advanced yet physically repulsive beings from another world. In the Putnam character, the human race is ultimately championed by a good, kindhearted soul who places self-examination and intellectual curiosity above suspicion and fear. (Even though at one point he's forced to kill a mistrusting alien in self-defense.) Carlson, who pretty much forged the template for '50s sci-fi movie scientists, conveys this beautifully.
   
Despite some incongruities in the script for supposedly "peaceful" extraterrestrials the visitors do a number of highly suspicious things overexposure of the aliens' appearance remains the film's chief weakness. While not at all bad in comparison to other movie monsters of the period, the creatures' likeness is revealed much too early on. I disagree that the aliens should never have been shown at all (as Bradbury intended), but the first really good glimpse shouldn't come until Putnam meets one of them at the entrance to the mine.
    Even with these flaws It Came from Outer Space remains the real deal, a genuine genre classic. It's easily one of the best science fiction films of the '50s.

The Universal DVD is an exceptional value considering the relatively low price. While it's disappointing that the film isn't presented in 3D (likely impossible now), the "2D" video transfer used looks very good. (That the movie didn't go overboard on a slew of ostentatious 3D effects in the first place renders it effective in any "dimension".) A Dolby 3.0 stereo sound mix is a surprising boon unlike virtually every other film from this period released on DVD, it's not in mono. This greatly enhances It Came's theramin-flavored music score. (Parts of which were cannibalized again and again for a host of the studio's later sci-fi pics, including 1955's Tarantula.)
   
The disc's extras are a real treat. In addition to the theatrical trailer and a substantial still gallery/promotional materials montage, a 30-minute documentary feature, The Universe According To Universal, is included. Produced by David J. Skal, it's very much in the spirit of the terrific documentaries created for the Universal Classic Monsters Collection DVDs. Though the making of It Came From Outer Space is examined, it also looks at other '50s-era science fiction films released by the studio. Given its broader mandate, the doc is by necessity not as focused or detailed as those for the Classic Monsters discs but is highly enjoyable nonetheless, chock full of great film clips.
    By far the best aspect of the DVD is the full-length audio commentary provided by film historian Tom Weaver. As with his exemplary work for the Creature from the Black Lagoon disc, his discussion of It Came is a veritable gold mine of film lore, trivia, and fascinating anecdotes. In his rapid-fire style Weaver covers virtually every aspect of the film no "dead air" here, folks! He recounts the convoluted tale behind Bradbury's screen treatment (explaining how the celebrated author received only a "story by" credit despite penning some 80% of the script), the film's production as a 3D vehicle, the cast, the locations, the score, the special effects, the unusual "double" premiere... everything. As with Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, Weaver never fails to deliver the best possible commentaries one could hope for. 6/25/02
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