KLAATU YOU (10)
March 4, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
THIS ISLAND EARTH | d. JOSEPH M. NEWMAN | 1955
I’ve been revisiting a lot of pre-1970s science fiction movies for an art project, Bigfoot Island, which I’ve been working on for the last few years. The project is an exploration of images and practical effects from these movies that have stayed with me ever since I saw them as a child.
This Island Earth, in particular, offers so many weird images: blonde aliens with pronounced foreheads (that nobody seems to notice); vivid technicolor explosions; an insectoid alien with a giant brain and bug eyes wearing pants (the special effects department at Universal couldn’t get the legs to work); and a futuristic machine called the Interocitor, which is not only a weapon and a communicator but an energy source. On re-watching the movie, I’m struck by the scene in which the lead human characters, Cal (Rex Reason) and Ruth (Faith Domergue), are prepared for a trip to the planet Metaluna. In order to safeguard them against the increased gravity of his home world, Exeter (Jeff Morrow) encases them in a transparent tube filled with smoke; their bodies slowly dissolve and reappear, the process exposing their muscles, veins, and bones!
However, what I’ve remembered most vividly about This Island Earth, since childhood, is a short scene near the end of the picture. The alien spaceship lands on Metaluna, which has been devastated by a war with the Zagons, who have been bombarding the planet with meteors. When the three characters exit the spaceship, we see their tiny figures contrasted with the rubble of what was once Metaluna’s futuristic capital city. The effect was created by inserting matte paintings — painted representations of a landscape, set, or distant location — optically with the movie’s live-action footage.
Although obviously fake, these matte paintings are for me much more powerful than today’s CGI. We are so used to movies that are visually packed by a computer-generated camera that never stops moving; the simplicity of this 1950s effect is very charming. Old-school special effects like this had to be filmed with a static camera. This stillness enables us to focus, and focusing gives our brains time to create a memory. Certainly my brain remains full of images from these movies; they’ll never fade away.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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