Ray Harryhausen’s talents are typically saved for a genuine thrill-ride of the finale. Earth vs. Flying Saucers uses them 30 seconds in as a fighter pilot ducks the incoming alien craft, as unothodox a request for stop motion as you’ll find. Given the skill base of their craftsman, Flying Saucers becomes quintessential destruction cinema with dazzling invaders juking and diving at armed forces.
Crafty as they are at keeping themselves a pulp magazine mystery, these suspicious newcomers to Earth’s atmosphere eventually begin tackling the heart of our nation. The Washington Monument tumbles in genius miniature fashion, each piece collapsing in a stunningly violent parade of death. Fifties era sci-fi traditionally kept the body count off screen; Flying Saucers crushes citizens under the weight of notable landmarks.
Joan Taylor and Hugh Marlow star as the scientific ‘50s couple, their rocket technology a centralized part the invasion. Performances are above pay grade for the era, giving potency to the stock human drama. A shred of family involvement will bulk up the stakes as stumbling invaders (wearing “solidified electricity” suits) dance with an unsteady gait outside of their ship, firing lasers from their spherical arms. Dim budgets wouldn’t allow for Harryhausen to stock up on animated planetary immigrants, whose ultimate goal is enslave Earth’s populace.
Short lived action is spaced well enough to give the material an affectionate pass, beings zapping American soldiers and stock footage plates, staged as opening wartime salvos. Explosions are explosions after all, and the score culled from It Came from Beneath the Sea has enough weight to carry anything.
Flying Saucers clamps down on its story, trapping its cast and sending one of them into space before political posturing can issue full scale military conflict. Scripting gibberish spouts off scientific kookiness along with foreboding narration until a solution can be discovered to solve the impending doom. That gives the film time to bulk up on glorious destruction, and characterized saucers who are elevated above the stereotypical, string-driven flying ships. They spin, they move, and constantly feel in motion whether set over plates or miniatures.
Design work is elegant to match Harryhausen’s hard drive to perfection, and a sleekness bested only by the shimmering copper of George Pal’s Martian invaders in War of the Worlds. What Flying Saucers may lack in dramatic weight, it makes up for with dominating spirit and heart. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Colorization processing lends extensive banding qualities, a quite unfortunate artifact of the process. Mastering causes the side effect even in the black & white version, shared on the same disc, swapped with the angle button. Early AVC encoding does not help either, grain overly heavy with a digital haze that mars image fidelity.
Restoration has been successful, running damage out of the frame. Specks of dirt or scratches are relegated to stock footage. Even plate shots play nice with limited intrusions on the special effects. Longs takes can be a detriment however, the dissolve process one that thickens the image until the edit, sapping the otherwise sterling sharpness of the other footage. It creates unavoidable inconsistency.
All of that aside, this looks to come from a relatively high resolution source, the master capable enough for the format with some grandiose texture on the saucer models and facial close-ups, at least the ones where the banding does not get the better of it. The effect is similar to noise reduction at its peak, although lacking the usual aggression of that process
Gray scale affords the images depth, color or otherwise. Blacks are superb, and contrast vivid without blotching sections of the video. Shadow detail is preserved. As for the color – leaving debate aside – saturation is clean (if restrictive) with the usual pastel quality to the flesh tones. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
Hums of spaceship technology pan overhead in this wholly unnecessary 5.1 TrueHD mix. Lacking a traditional mono track, the fun of this remaster is still enjoyable. Alien machines are all over the soundfield, spreading into the stereos. Explosions strain to breach the high-end, although the slightest hint of muffled LFE activity is noted to give them a modern splash. Laser blasts sweep through the newly mixed channels without hiding the origins of a mono affair.
Static, hiss, and pops are cleaned from the aging material, dialogue preserved from its low-budget roots. All of it stays in the center without the mixers breaking from the frontal nature of the camera work. This is never overdone to be offensive, although some respect for the source material would have been appreciated. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
Most of the extras are carried from other Harryhausen Blu-rays. An interview with Joan Taylor is copied from 20 Million Miles to Earth. The Colorization Process is a great look at how the new version came to be, though it feels like an extended infomercial. A feature on Bernard Gordon, who was mistakenly blacklisted in Hollywood, sets the record straight.
A 21-minute featurette entitled Remembering Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a fun look back, and a nice complement to the four-person commentary track that includes Harryhausen. A comic, and the original screenplay credits as they should have been years ago are included, too. The disc also uses BD-Live, although it’s all promotional and nothing to do with the movie itself. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]