Summary: Silly, heedless, jingoistic and naïve, this classic invasion flick is great throwback fun.
Review: I grew up on the B’s. I adored — and still do — the mostly unintentional laughs and geeky excitement conjured up by the sci-fi kitsch of yore, those pictures which defied common sense and budgetary limits with heedless abandon. My special love was for Toho Ltd.’s ‘Godzilla’ series, but I’d devour anything else. Recently I’ve had a bit of a B-movie reawakening. In pursuit of my next cheesy sci-fi meal, I queued up ‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers‘ in Netflix on DVD, having admired a creepy edit of the trailer on an overplayed VHS tape in my youth.
Made at the height of UFO hysteria with the substantial plus of effects wizard Ray Harryhausen’s iconic touch, the film arrived at just the right time, capitalizing on public fears while affirming the official faith in the U.S. Military and science at large. This was the era when space travel was a wild, exciting frontier that most people didn’t know a lick about and promised variants of the sort of phantom dangers that had terrified explorers sailing off the map centuries before. Nowadays, it seems the American public has grown terribly cynical about the enterprise, and there isn’t that juvenile mix of fear and enthusiasm that accompanied those tentative steps beyond our sphere.
‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers’ totally lacks the cynicism and self-awareness that marks today’s cream-of-the-crop science fiction, in part due to its exploitive nature and otherwise attributable to naiveté. The film’s attitude, in essence, is: “Gee, aren’t rockets cool? And America, too, God bless her? And her fine fighting men and those brilliant scientists! Why, even the flying saucers are cool, and I kind of pity those poor aliens and their burned-out world. It’s a shame we have to quickly abandon diplomacy and annihilate the last of their race without visible remorse… Gee, isn’t Joan Taylor pretty? And those American monuments, too? But I sure did like seeing them built in miniature and blown up! Hurray for Hollywood!” You can see why I love this stuff.
Its many humorous philosophical, narrative, and cinematographical flaws aside, ‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers’ has lots of great little moments. Harryhausen’s effects are wonderful and fun, setting the standard for Hollywood spaceships and aliens for years to come, and some of his shots are so nice, they show them twice. The leads do their best with a silly script and, despite not being terribly memorable on their own, keep the movie watchable when there isn’t an expensive effect or stock footage on-screen. The most hilarious aspect of the film is the black comedy inherit in how the script treats the aliens, who are actually pretty reasonable and sympathetic before they start trying to destroy the world, which, by the way, they promised not to do and explained in detail why it would be monumentally stupid. The aliens are just there to get blown up, however, and to prove how damned resourceful America is. The rest of the world doesn’t visibly contribute at all to the effort to, you know, save the world. They just trust the States, I guess. Anyway, the aliens are refugees, and sure they try to take the planet, but at least they want to talk about it first. When they are soundly defeated, Joan Taylor’s character hilariously wonders if they will ever return, even though the aliens made it quite clear they were the last of their entire species. So despite the massive loss for humanity’s collective conscience (not to mention science), the nameless aliens die en masse, everybody shrugs and goes to the beach.
‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers’ is among the very best in B-movie buttered popcorn guilty pleasures. For the classic sci-fi fan, this is essential viewing. Bring your savvy friends.