It’s tragic the mutant aliens of This Island Earth became the film’s calling card. The bulbous brainy head, green skin, goggle-like eyes, and pincher hands came to epitomize ‘50s invaders. In stills, they look goofy. In action, the suit performer looks off-balance, stumbling through rote action scenes in the climax.
Worse, the planet Metaluna’s mutant slaves hardly impact this story. It’s the same without them; they add marquee and poster value. This Island Earth, with a provocative, universe-aware title (that rare western, post-war sci-fi film that considers something other than America), treats the idea of nuclear science with appropriate derision. Before meteor attacks, laser shoot-outs, and intergalactic sights, this is a nervous, even regretful sci-fi offering. Compared to other nuclear exploitation cinema, This Island Earth treats the topic with rare resignation.
The script holds animus for those who failed to stop the Manhattan Project by staging another one. Rex Reason plays a nuclear scientist invited to the home of an odd, eccentric intellectual, looking to “end all war” through the use of radioactive materials. Reason’s character carries continual doubt and mistrust. It’s unclear if World War II happened in the story of This Island Earth – assume it did – further making this an outlier that instead of championing or conquering the bomb, resents it was ever created.
Leo Szilard discovered the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, eventually joining the Manhattan Project but pleading for the experiment to stop. That’s Reason in this movie, a prototypical American screen hero when the fighting starts, if one who questions the truth presented to him before. Nearly all Universal sci-fi and horror genre films thumb their nose at science; it started with Frankenstein and never stopped. This Island Earth isn’t about electrically re-animated dead or the fantastical growth experiments of Tarantula; it’s substantive and relevant (even rational) post-war distrust.
This Island Earth’s key scene comes after Reason and his fellow scientist build an alien device, fueled by curiosity. After activation, it begins melting part of the room. Reason steps in, heroically unplugs the device, and realizes the error in judgment – building the unknown was a mistake. His face shows an instant remorse for what these plans brought into the world.
Afterward, Reason accepts an invite. He flies out to a lab to join other scientists, and while admitting his own curiosity, is immediately taken aback by the secrecy and dishonesty around him. This isn’t a character looking to study. Rather, one determined to shut down any misguided attempts that might inevitably lead to another unimaginable weapon. This Island Earth’s certainty is emphatic and real.
The monsters not so much.
Scream Factory debuts a new 4K master on this Blu-ray release. It’s remarkable. Accepting some things cannot change (the inherent fuzziness of dissolves), this is flawless vintage video. Leave a little room for off-color damage in the third act, notably some red scratches. That’s the extent of the print’s marks. The rest of This Island Earth is pristine.
From a Technicolor source, the vividness is evident immediately on seeing the field of stars. It’s not only black space with white stars. No, reds and blues trail the lights, soon taken over by a dynamic title card. The intensity of that is sublime. Deep flesh tones and brilliant primaries evoke the vintage color process gorgeously. In all the years of seeing the mutant in various forms, this is the purest way of picking up on that suit’s smallest color details.
Sharpness hones in, capturing the beautiful matte painting work and texture even in mid-range shots. At its best, facial definition can rival modern productions. Grain replication looks authentic without devolving into digital grit. One scene looks overly buzzy, but consider the visual effects involved and surreal coloring.
Both the open matte 1.33:1 and widescreen 1.85:1 versions make an appearance. The preference? 1.33:1, and that deserves to be the default (it’s in the extras menu instead). This Island Earth was composed for both to fit any theater set-up, but the 1:85:1 transfer carries thicker grain by way of being zoomed on the Academy ratio framing. Either one is a winner though.
Two choices here too. One is DTS-HD mono. It’s fine, serviceable, and clean. The newcomer though is newly restored mix from the Perspecta Stereo track. Awkward name aside, this is a wild bit of short-lived audio tech, imperfect but certainly unique.
Modern receivers send this out as 3.0. In short, the tech took a mono signal and shifts the audio’s location based on the screen’s action. It’s wide – too wide even – with dialog freely panning around or jumping back and forth to a distracting degree. Accuracy isn’t the focus so much as getting the most out of this configuration. Surely in 1955 this was special.
What matters today is the preservation. Aside from one short sequence suffering from popping and static (the lab escape), it’s pure. Treble barely distorts at the peak, while the low-end is smoothly handled. Obvious dubbing is obvious by way of modern fidelity.
Two commentaries. First is longtime visual effects artist Robert Skotak and the second is a track with historian David Schecter who discusses the score. An interview with Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi speaks on his past with This Island Earth, running 21-minutes. There’s a fine 48-minute documentary titled Two and a Half Years in the Making, tracing the production’s history. Joe Dante speaks in a Trailers from Hell short, and digitized original 8mm and 16mm home releases of This Island Earth are included in full. A text rundown on Perspecta Stereo explains the inner-workings, with a slew of trailers and galleries up last.
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This Island Earth
A ’50s classic filled with allegorical anti-war, anti-nuke perspective, This Island Earth is outspoken from an era of radioactive monsters.
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