|Director: William Cameron Menzies|
|Screenplay: Richard Blake|
|Stars: Helena Carter (Dr. Pat Blake), Arthur Franz (Dr. Stuart Kelston / Narrator), Jimmy Hunt (David MacLean), Leif Erickson (Mr. George MacLean), Hillary Brooke (Mrs. Mary MacLean), Morris Ankrum (Col. Fielding), Max Wagner (Sgt. Rinaldi), William Phipps (Sgt. Baker), Milburn Stone (Capt. Roth), Janine Perreau (Kathy Wilson)|
|MPAA Rating: NR|
|Year of Release: 1953|
|Country: U.S. |
William Cameron Menzies’s Invaders From Mars is a warped nightmare of a B-movie. Although it is hindered by wooden acting and some low-grade effects and costumes, it nonetheless embodies so much cleverness and ingenuity in its overall design and effect that you forgive the visible zippers and hammy lines of dialogue. In fact, if one wanted to take the film’s vibe to its logical conclusion, its budgetary limitations actually make it play more like some surreal nightmare, a science fiction opus filtered free of logic and reason.
Like many low-budget science fiction and horror films of the 1950s, Invaders From Mars is told largely from the point of view of a child, which renders the world around him inherently ominous and untrustworthy. We are introduced to bright-eyed, adolescent astronomer David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) looking through his telescope in the middle of the night, much to the bemused consternation of his uber-loving parents, George (Leif Erickson), a scientist, and Mary (Hillary Brooke), one of those ’50s idealized homemaker-mothers whose hair looks perfect even when sleeping. That night David witnesses what appears to be a green-glowing flying saucer land on the other side of a hill behind his house, although the manner in which he is awoken to witness this event immediately suggests a fuzzy gray zone between waking reality and sleeping nightmare. Did he really see it or was he just dreaming?
Nevertheless, David is soon cast into his own unique nightmare, as both of his parents fall victim to some kind of Martian mind-control technology that turns them into automatons whose only emotional register is furrowed-brow anger. As all good adolescents in genre films do, David tries to get the authorities involved, only to find that the police chief has also fallen under alien control, evidenced by the presence of a cross-like mark at the nape of the neck. All is not lost, however, as David does find support from Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter), a local doctor, and Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz), a local astronomer David knows through their shared love of the stars. He also has the military on his side, whose booming tanks and heavy artillery align Invaders From Mars with so many other sci-fi films of its era that found victory through the mutual cooperation of the military (organized violence) and science (the extension of the human mind). The film is an evocative gem of Cold War paranoia, with the invading Martians and their mind-control technologies evoking all manner of real-life terror about communist subversion, mind control, and subliminal messages.
Director William Cameron Menzies had first gained notice as an art director during the silent era, most famously for Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Bagdad (1924). He won an Oscar for The Dove (1927) and Tempest (1928) and was given an honorary Oscar for his monumental work on Gone With the Wind (1939). He started co-directing films in the early 1930s, often paired with another director who could work with the actors while Menzies focused on the design and framing. Menzies was never particularly interested in actors or performances, and it shows in Invaders From Mars, which is filled with wooden line readings, awkward gestures, and Jimmy Hunt’s incessantly wide-eyed “gee-whizzes!” Whatever deficiencies the film has, though, it is hard not to be taken by its visual ingenuity and clever sets. Almost the entirety of the film was shot on soundstages, including the hill behind David’s house (which is, in and of itself, a minor masterpiece of disorienting production design), which creates a consistent sense of vague unreality that is interrupted only by the intrusion of stock footage of military tanks. One of the very few early-’50s science fiction films to be shot in color, Invaders From Mars remains a touchstone, a film that is both fully evocative of its time and place and uniquely removed from the expected.
|Invaders From Mars Blu-ray|
|Audio||English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monauralSpanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural|
|Subtitles||English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean|
|Supplements||“William Cameron Menzies: The Architect of Dreams” featurette“Jimmy Hunt Saves the Planet” featurette“Terror From Above” featurette“Restoring the Invasion” featuretteJohn Sayles’ introduction at Turner Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood, April2022Restored European observatory scene and European ending Gallery with original press book pages and behind-the-scenes photos from therestoration processRestored 4K original 1953 trailer and a newly commissioned trailer 2022“Invaders From Mars: A Nightmare of Restoration” essay by Scott MacQueen|
|Release Date||September 26, 2022|
|As restorationist Scott MacQueen writes in the opening paragraph of his lengthy essay on the complex restoration of Invaders From Mars, the film has been “quietly screaming to be restored” for decades. From bad television broadcasts, to borderline unwatchable VHS copies, to Image’s noble, but deeply flawed laserdisc from 1993, Invaders From Mars has long suffered in its post-theatrical life. And, if you take the time to read MacQueen’s essay (which you should!), you will fully understand why it has taken this long. The restoration work that we see culminated on Ignite Film’s new 4K UHD release actually began back in 2010 when Ignite purchased the original 35mm camera negative. As MacQueen’s essay relates in substantially more detail, the restoration eventually included not just the original negative (which did not have any optical shots or titles and was missing an entire reel), but two different 35mm prints of the film’s foreign version, a 35mm print of the domestic version, and a print of a version created in 1976 that merged the domestic and foreign versions (meaning that Invaders From Mars officially exists in three different versions). What we have here is the original domestic version, with elements from all four prints and the negative used in various places to make the best possible recreation of what the film would have looked like in 1953 (which has not been the case for a long, long time). MacQueen writes about the complexities of the three-color SuperCinecolor process used on the film and what all went into restoring the original vibrant hues that have for so long looked muted and desaturated. The result is quite phenomenal, literally bringing the film back to life, which should please its fans to no end. The image was graded for HDR10, and the primary reds, greens, and blues, which are dramatically emphasized throughout the film with colored lighting, look great. The image as a whole is a bit soft and grainy, with some shots looking slightly darker and muddier than others, but that is inherent to the original materials. Opportunities to artificially enhance sharpness were wisely sidestepped in favor of keeping the film’s original texture. Digital restoration was also used to remove dirt, scratches, jitter, and persistent blue solarization in some of the darker corners of the frame. Much work was also put into restoring the original monaural soundtrack from the 35mm prints used for the images. The resulting DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural track sounded very good to my ears, with only minimal bits of ambient hiss or aural distortion. |
A good deal of work also went into producing new supplementary material to offer some context for the film’s significance, beginning with “William Cameron Menzies: The Architect of Dreams,” a 17-minute featurette about the film’s director that is primarily an interview with biographer James Curtis, who is joined in the final minutes by Menzies’ eldest granddaughter, Pamela Lauesen. “Jimmy Hunt Saves the Planet” is an 11-minute featurette with the film’s star, while “Terror From Above” is a 22-minute retrospective featurette in which filmmakers Joe Dante and John Landis, editor Mark Goldblatt, special effects supervisor Robert Skotak, and preservationist Scott MacQueen discuss the film’s lasting impact and importance. We also get a 7-minute introduction to the film by filmmaker John Sayles at the Turner Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood in April 2022. For those interested in the alternate versions of the film, the disc also includes two fully restored segments that were made exclusively for the foreign version: a tedious 8-minute observatory scene and the silly altered ending in which the Martian saucer explodes. I have to admit, the completist in me wishes the set had included the foreign version in its entirety using seamless branching, but I recognize how fans of the film see it as an illegitimate version. MacQueen also appears in “Restoring the Invasion,” an 8-minute featurette the provides fascinating before-and-after examples of the film’s restoration. There is also an extensive gallery with original press book pages and behind-the-scenes photos from the restoration process, a restored 4K original 1953 trailer, and a newly commissioned trailer. And, as mentioned earlier, the insert booklet includes MacQueen’s deeply informative essay “Invaders From Mars: A Nightmare of Restoration,” which not only chronicles the restoration process, but explains the film’s background and the technical details of the SuperCinecolor process.
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