DIRECTOR: Jack Arnold
This may not have been the first Sci-Fi film of this era by any stretch of imagination, as the genre has been a staple from the very beginnings of film, the most famous example being Georges Méliès Le voyage dans la lune way back in 1902, but many of the stereotypical tropes of the modern era were born here.
Set in the expansive and somewhat alien looking Californian desert, amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) witnesses what he at first believes to be meteor crash in the distance. But he soon discovers that it is in fact an alien space craft which is subsequently buried in a land slide, leaving the man with no proof of what he has discovered.
Facing opposition and ridicule, he persisted only to discover that the benevolent aliens only wish to repair their downed vessel, but are prepared to kill several hostages, whose appearance they have also assumed in order to blend in, if they are not given the time to complete their task.
This is also Universal’s and indeed Science Fiction’s first three dimensional movie and one which director, Jack Arnold, handled tastefully. Granted, there are plenty of screen popping moments, but there is also a lot of subtlety and plot driven uses of the medium. Depth is favoured over foreground action, the mid- ground is often the focus and at times, the effect is used to emphasis the plot, such as the reluctance Sheriff drawing his gun from his gun belt which is hung up on a rack in the right foreground.
It is hard to explain and needs to be seen to be appreciated but this is 3-D applied properly. But I often take issue with Jack Arnold’s direction, mainly his pacing. Suspense can become slow very quickly and this is one of those cases. It does feel like it is talking its time too much but the plot, the pay offs and Ray Bradbury’s story make up for it.
His writing is smart and the direction plays well with it, though I am not so sure about Bradbury’s poetic flourishes, as characters despite their role, class or attitudes all seem to be musing about the world, universe and their existence in very similar ways, clearly all serving as vessels for Bradbury’s own musings without it necessarily gelling with characters themselves.
But overall, this is an important Science Fiction film, whether looked at narratively or technically. Innovation is stamped all over this project from start to finish and for that it deserved top marks, but innovation only carries this so far. The pace is too slow for me and the clean cut middle class Americana tone as expressed through the characters and the charming Western town date this irrevocably, eroding its power. But as a movie of its time, it works really well and is defiantly one of the best Sci-Fi movies of the era.
BLU-RAY 3D RESTORATION
The Blu-ray which has been restored by the 3-D Archive is astonishing. Restoring the original stereophonic soundtrack which is very dynamic for the era as well as presenting a crisp image, both 2D and 3D, this is one of the best 3-D restorations of a film this old to date and for the bargain price, I only paid £7.99 for a copy here in the U.K., this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.