KLAATU YOU (29)
July 15, 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.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | d. JACK ARNOLD | 1953
The lasting attraction to It Came from Outer Space is the story by Ray Bradbury — but how much is him? Fans say Bradbury wrote a 90-page treatment and screenwriter Harry Essex was little more than a transcriber; Essex insisted that Bradbury only wrote 3 pages.
The film is appropriately schizophrenic, veering from poetic to paranoid. Telephone lineman on a pole talking about us listening to aliens and them listening to us? Bradbury. Sheriff screaming about how he can’t tell if someone is one of us or them? Essex.
The basics: A writer, John, and his teacher girlfriend, Ellen, watch a meteor smash into the desert. (They say it’s Arizona but it’s clearly Joshua Tree, as it’s full of Joshua Trees and John has a totally Instagrammable midcentury cabin.) John finds a glowing spaceship with aliens inside, which is immediately buried in an avalanche. For a while, no one believes his story, not academics, news guys, law enforcement — who eventually decide they do exist, and must be stopped.
The aliens — Xenomorphs — wander the desert, leaving trails of glitter. They need to go to the hardware store to fix their broken spaceship and fly away. Luckily, they can take the form of humans — including the lineman, his hot young assistant who will grow up to be The Professor on Gilligan’s Island, and Ellen, who when Xenomorphed turns into a femme fatale in a black strapless dress and flowing scarf. This is not good desert-wear, sweetie! Stay clear of the chollas!
Before all that there’s a luxurious amount of screen-time when John and Ellen contemplate what he might have seen. They drive around the desert (and the Universal back lot) in a world entirely their own. They don’t try to find a phone to share the news. They don’t worry that the military might be coming to investigate. They are not Tweeting or livestreaming. They just talk to each other, with the vast desert landscape as backdrop.
The way that they are present in that space and with each other is so impossibly different from our internet-connected moment that it seems like it was before electricity.
This was a 3D film, but it feels, um, flat to me. It’s said that at the premiere, during the avalanche scene, director Jack Arnold chucked fake rocks into the audience. Which is fitting — there isn’t that kind of hilarity within the film. Instead it is full of serious ideas, wedged next to monster-movie tropes.
Bradbury wanted the Xenomorphs to only appear fleetingly on screen, but Universal did late reshoots of a big scary alien with a single glowing eye. And then stuck it on the poster. Sorry, Ray.
In an apocryphal story, Steven Spielberg told Bradbury that It Came from Outer Space inspired Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Indeed, John tries to convince people who won’t believe him that he’s seen something brilliant come to earth. But there’s also a lot of ET: the aliens just want to go home.
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 | J.C. Gabel on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS | Alison Fensterstock on ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW | Wayne Chambliss on THEM! and PHASE IV | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Kevin Obsatz on DEATHSPORT | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Seth Mnookin on NUDE ON THE MOON | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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