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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Monster > Horror > Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers/It Came From Beneath The Sea (Sony DVD Sets)

Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers/It Came From Beneath The Sea (Sony DVD Sets)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: A-     Films: Earth B+/It B



Among the extras included with both of these Ray Harryhausen films (Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers and It Came From Beneath The Sea) is “Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen.”  On paper, this would seem to be every fanboy’s dream interview; unfortunately, Tim Burton, much to his credit as a human being but detriment as a potential interviewer, turns out to be the ultimate fanboy.  His questions are repetitive, non-linear, often non-sequitorial, and he frequently talks over the answers that the ever-gentlemanly Harryhausen is attempting to provide.  Still, there is much to amuse and wonder at.  A low point, however, is struck by both when Burton brings up the ostensible reason for the 2-disc reissues of these ‘50’s fantasy classics: colorization.


At first both Burton and Harryhausen seem a bit sheepish about colorization but then warm up to the topic.  Harryhausen presses the point that these films would have been made in color if the budget had allowed, therefore colorization is natural and, by extension, a great idea.  No matter what you call it - in this case “ChromaChoice” - it is what it is: a gimmick to move units.  That being said, the “Choice” part of “ChromaChoice” is what really makes this fun, something not addressed by either Burton or Harryhausen.  By clicking the perennially under-utilized "angle" button on your DVD remote (didn’t know you had one, you say?), you can instantly switch back and forth from colorized (they were never made in real color) to black and white and back again faster than you can say “pass that thing, will ya?”  The uniqueness of the gimmickry, however, is its own downfall; it takes mere seconds to compare various types of scenes (daylight, day-for-night, back projection, fires/explosions, special effects etc.) to see what works and what doesn’t.


Once the buzz has worn down and you settle comfortably into one or the other (b & w for me, thank you very much), there remain two great stop-motion fantasy films.  Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers is a fantastic piece of work; it manages to pickup the resonance that was 50’s paranoia, rivaled chiefly in B movie cinema by the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which came out the year following Earth.  Admittedly with Earth, there is more subtext than text compared to Invasion, but managing to destroy some of Washington DC’s greatest monuments to capitalistic democracy was no mean trick for the 50’s.  The producers of this set underscore this with an interesting extra, The Hollywood Blacklist and Bernard Gordon.  One of two of the original screenwriters to work Curt Siodmak’s treatment of Donald Keyhoe’s novel, Bernard Gordon was originally credited as “Raymond T. Marcus” because of his blacklisting during the McCarthy era for alleged Communist ties.  What better revenge than to cut the Washington Monument in half and bury a saucer deep in the Capitol Dome?  Of course, besides the genre, there are other, more persuasive reasons this is classed a B Movie; there is both a ludicrous romance and certain head scratching story elements which detract some from the overall effort.  Still, the special effects are center stage, as they should be.  Harryhausen’s stop-motion work is the glue that holds both these films together and not enough can be said about their groundbreaking nature and continuing influence.  In addition, these are the first films in the long creative collaboration of Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer.


The year after Japan's Godzilla (1954) thumped on the scene, another radioactive monster, this time a giant octopus, made its garish debut in It Came From Beneath The Sea.  Slightly less adventurous and a tad less resonant than Earth, It is saddled with a laughably analogous romance and a monster that can threaten the main land only as far as its tentacles can reach.  Yet, as always, there is superior Harryhausen magic here, including the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and a trashing of San Francisco's Embarcadero that rivals the most legendary of 48 hour shore leaves.  The talky plot often gets in the way of the bigger story and the assertion of Professor Lesley Joyce's (Faith Domergue) equal rights in her verbal tussles with Commander Pete (Randy would have been more appropriate) Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) are so backhanded as to be a virtual slap in the face.  Ah, the 50’s: what a time to be alive!  Japan's righteous fear of nuclear consequences gains a giant tentacle-hold in It and would become a commonplace element in cinema and the surrounding culture for many years to come.


Both films share three extras: the aforementioned Burton interview, "A Present-Day Look at Stop-Motion," and "David Schecter On Film Music's Unsung Hero."  Both have video photo galleries, a "Remembering" featurette (“Remembering Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers,” “Remembering It Came from Beneath the Sea”) "Original Ad Artwork" and "Digital Sneak Peaks" at comic books derived from both films.  Both "Remembering" features give us what the Burton interview did not: Harryhausen on Harryhausen.  These are worth the price of the respective discs.  Harryhausen explains how he did many of the special "Dynamation" effects and the viewer is even more amazed after the details are revealed.  He supplies his perspective on how his work merged with the live action director Robert Gordon (It) (he sent his dailies by currier from a rented storefront in Long Beach to Hollywood, where the live action sequences were being filmed), and his praises are sung by some of cinema’s current luminaries, who acknowledge his all-pervasive influence.


Any film buff will want to see the extra "David Schecter On Film Music's Unsung Hero."  This tells the story of how Mischa Bakaleinikoff put together the scores of many of Columbia's B movies, including Earth and It.  Schecter is an expert par excellence; he is at once amusing, encyclopedic and charismatic in a low key way.  The recycling of music from old studio romances, speeded up and slowed down, and even of Bakaleinikoff's own unique compositions, from film to film gives insight into both the process and a bygone era.


The “A Present Day Look at Stop-Motion” is the only extra that falls flat.  Simply put, it is amateurish and out of place on these discs.


That being said, the care given throughout to these two-disc reissues is even evident in the cheesiest of extras, the “Video Photo Galleries.”  The producers simply added music to the stills.  That simple touch makes this perennial unessential interesting; the viewer no longer feeling like s/he is watching Uncle's Ray's budget vacation slides from a generic holiday resort.  


All in all, these two discs are at present the definitive versions of some of the best fantasy B movies ever made.  If you are a fan of the genre, don't hesitate; you won't be disappointed.



-   Don Wentworth


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