It Came For Our People
Three years before Invasion of the Body Snatchers amplified the Red Scare panic, Universal’s It Came From Outer Space gave us a parable of immigration – space immigration, but the point remains.
It Came From Outer Space isn’t a classic, a somewhat staid observation of UFO fears with timid character plotting. A film unmistakably of its time and certain period, the rote science and mocking attitude toward a “little green men” theory dots the piece.
And yet, it’s arguably a more relevant film than the more prominent Body Snatchers. Although embedded anxiety toward outsiders never subsided in American culture, It Came From Outer Space’s plea, less than a decade from the war’s end, is stellar. Aliens crash into an American desert town where sweeping paranoia and distrust continue to seed themselves, post WWII. Richard Carlson debates passionately with an aggressive small town sheriff, pleading for the sheriff to understand this foreign presence. It’s not a speech about atomic age whimsy, rather an attempt to placate lingering fears concerning foreigners, a penetrating message.
Without saying, the same speech carries contemporary bite in era where immigration flocked back into the political consciousness. Ray Bradbury’s original story treatment aimed at his own time, yet the passive aliens, merely wishing to be left to work, is remarkable in its modern relevance. It Came From Outer Space depicts Americans as little more than leery idiots with guns, a staunch anti-American stance, paralyzing in its allegorical gusto.
It Came from Outer Space doesn’t shy from its thematic power…
It Came from Outer Space doesn’t shy from its thematic power…
Jack Arnold’s direction isn’t subtle – actors throw accusatory glances, staring into the camera in close-up, and Carlson argues for reason doing the same. It Came from Outer Space makes itself uncomfortable to watch, refusing to give the audience leeway or visual escape.
Arnold went on to express primal sexuality in Creature from the Black Lagoon and then helm the sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man. During this period when the genre presented hokey nuclear theories (even Arnold spit out the so-so radioactive bug picture Tarantula), Arnold found a uniquely spirited approach.
More to the surface, Richard Carlson leads a small crew (primarily just extras with speaking roles), chased down by a shape-shifting, bug-eyed critter. He must save his wife and prevent an intergalactic calamity while a theremin blares in the background. Luckily, It Came from Outer Space doesn’t shy from its thematic power. Instead, it drenches itself in paranoia to reflect a near-sighted anxiety still powering policy decisions today.
While it’s difficult to use the word without being certain, “upscale” fits. Either It Came From Outer Space uses an unacceptably ancient master or Universal re-encoded the DVD. Either way, this Blu-ray presentation does dramatic disservice to a film which deserves better.
Immediately apparent, the clumpy, thick grain structure leaves the feeling of digital processing with minor halos confirming it. Heavy artifacting swarms the image, introducing extreme banding. Inconsistent gray scale blots out highlights and rarely does the image reach true black leaving additional space for noise to seep into shadows.
Print damage shows the occasional speck of dirt or scratch, acceptable until a persistent scratch near the center of the frame keeps reappearing. For nearly the full runtime, this scratch comes and goes, sometimes faint, sometimes not. Random interlacing artifacts and sporadic aliasing compound the problems. It Came From Outer Space was in no condition to see Blu-ray release.
Carry over most of these problems for the 3D, although contrast feels more in control than in 2D. Probably the dimming of the glasses, but it works. Anyway, most shots perform admirably in terms of depth, the desert surroundings naturally placing stray grass or tree limbs to act as the foreground. Superb shots looking deep into the scenery from up on a hill rank highly, as does another looking down into a pool of water inside a mine. Interiors play host to well considered composition. Instantly, It Came From Outer Space goes to work utilizing the format, shooting from behind a fireplace to show off numerous layers.
Other shots don’t work, including an early pan up from some rocks where images suffer misalignment. This occurs infrequently elsewhere, but mars the 3D presentation. Scenes where 3D turns too aggressive work against the format too. When Carlson kneels to check a disappearing footprint on the floor, the visual effects elevate their depth in an awkward way. A fluctuating 3D offering, but not without merit.
An interesting 3.0 DTS-HD track offers surprising range for something this vintage. At times, the score sounds modern in its clarity, whether on the low or high end. The few moments of strained treble are that – moments. Dialog, ignoring some obvious dubbing of unfortunate sonic quality, follows the same course.
Stereos engage throughout, likely quite the novelty in 1953. Car horns wail from the left, a snapping branch is sent to the right. Coupled with the 3D, it’s a clever sense of depth for the time. When dealing with dialog, this stereo split forces itself. Characters at either edge of the frame speak their lines from a specific positional channel, not the center. This effect wavers, sweeping from the side to the center jarringly mid-sentence, or even just for a word. Again, dated, but almost in a quaint way.
Tom Weaver delivers a great commentary as the first bonus, followed by the ancient (in home media terms) The Universe According to Universal, detailing the studio’s history of space sci-fi. Trailers, both for 2D and 3D versions of It Came From Outer Space, round out the extras.
It Came From Outer Space tries to make sense of the Red Scare and in doing so, nicely complements current fears over immigration.
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