..

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake
Director:  Jack Arnold
Audio:  Dolby Digital 3.0
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  81 Minutes
Release Date:  May 21, 2002

“This could be the most significant thing that’s ever happened!”

Film ***

It Came From Outer Space, and it apparently came hanging by a string, if you look closely at the famous opening shot of the meteor/ship zooming right at you as it crashes to earth.  Once upon a time it was a 3-D effect, but sadly, not anymore.

If that’s the bad news, the good news is that Universal has delivered their first ever alien science fiction film to modern audiences on an outstanding and fun DVD.  More on that further down.

Starting in the early 1950s, a new breed of science fiction film was coming into the mainstream, as movie makers began to imagine that we were not alone in the universe.  The resulting films about alien visitors could usually be lumped into one of two categories:  they’re here to destroy us, or they’re here to help us.

It Came From Outer Space was Universal’s first offering along in the blossoming genre, and some half a century later, it tends to stand apart from most of them, simply because it didn’t fall into either category.  The aliens in this film were not here to hinder or help humanity…the fact was, they crashed here by mistake, have no interest in us, and simply want to get back on their way.  The irony is that they DO have the power to destroy us, and our own foolishness could very well force them to use it!

The film also stands out for its story, which was written by Ray Bradbury.  His often poetic sense of science fiction lends an air of respectability to an era where these kinds of pictures were mostly made for popcorn chomping fun.  The dialogue has quality, and it helps make the picture more memorable.

The aforementioned crashing object is first spotted by amateur astronomer John Putnam (Carlson) and his lovely fiancée Ellen Fields (Rush).  They go to investigate, as any plucky 50s heroes would do, and John discovers something startling:  the meteor actually appears to be a ship, and something seems to be alive in it!  Unfortunately, a sudden rockslide covers all the evidence, and as you might expect, no one believes John’s story, especially the local sheriff (Drake).

But strange occurrences begin to happen.  People John and Ellen know are starting to behave strangely.  Electrical trucks and hardware supplies are going missing.  Clothes are disappearing from closets.  What does it all mean?

Simply that the alien beings want to repair their ship and get underway.  They are xenomoprhs, and can take on the appearance of other beings, which they do in order to avoid suspicion (it doesn’t work).  They mean us no harm, but will an increasingly paranoid people force them to use drastic measures to defend themselves?

Interestingly enough, the original concept of the picture included not ever seeing the xenomorphs in their true form.  It was going to be left up to our imaginations, as the filmmakers instead employed lots of cool, watery-looking point of view shots for the aliens, and actor reaction to them.  But this was going to be a 3-D film, and ultimately, it was decided you couldn’t do that without having some sort of creature to scare the audience.  The final concept, which was created and put into the film at the thirteenth hour, was quite cool, but who knows which version of the film might actually have been the more effective one?

That controversy aside, It Came From Outer Space remains a solidly entertaining offering from a genre that usually inspires more giggles than awe.  Fans of classic sci-fi will definitely enjoy this offering, and frankly, I must add that as a critic, I don’t get to write the word “xenomorph” nearly enough.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for Russell Johnson, aka The Professor on “Gilligan’s Island”, as one of the telephone line workers.

Video ***1/2

For a film this old and of this genre, Universal has delivered a near pristine quality disc presentation.  The black and white photography renders remarkably well, with good levels of detail and contrast and no visible grain.  The print is in terrific shape overall…only a few mildly noticeable instances of spots or scratches exist, and a touch of flicker now and then caused by aging.  For a fifty year old film, I consider that beyond exemplary.  High marks.

Audio ***1/2

The interesting audio track is a three channel stereo mix…in other words, separate signals to your right, left and center channels on the front stage.  The resulting sound is quite remarkable.  From the opening crashing effect onward, there are plenty of uses of panning, ranging from full out effects sequences to simple dialogue.  The extra channel makes it sound more wide open than a standard stereo mix might have.  The dynamic range is fairly strong, and the soundtrack is quite free of any distracting noise.  The music sounds quite good, too…and what would one of these films be without its creepy electronic sounding score?  

Features ****

Only Universal could package a disc so well without giving it a special edition moniker!  As with many of their classic horror films, indications are they are welcoming their alien visitors to DVD with a red carpet treatment.  The commentary track by historian Tom Weaver is one of the most informative I’ve heard for any movie…the man simply knows everything there is to know about this picture!  He discusses in great detail the concepts, the shooting, the studio discussions over the eventual appearance of the alien, the actors and their backgrounds, and more…it’s extremely interesting and insightful, and Mr. Weaver has a pleasant voice to match.

But that’s just the beginning.  Also featured is a new documentary, “The Universe According to Universal”.  This half hour piece is hosted by Rudy Behlmer, who also hosted many of the documentaries on the monster film DVDs.  This is a look at Universal Studios’ foray into science fiction, with particular emphasis on It Came From Outer Space.  It’s a good piece.  There is also an original trailer, a poster and photo gallery, production notes, talent files, and some extras for your DVD ROM.  A terrific package overall!

Summary:

It Came From Outer Space is a fun diversion of a picture, and one that remains a standout in a genre that produced some of the most hysterically awful movies ever shown on a screen.  The Ray Bradbury story makes this one a little more original, and therefore a little more memorable.  With this fantastically produced DVD from Universal, fans from every corner of the galaxy should be extremely pleased.