Long before computers began to provide movie-goers with vivid representations of dinosaurs and alien invasions, Willis O’Brien and a young protégé, Ray Harryhausen, were thrilling audiences with stop motion. O’Brien’s masterpiece, of course, was King Kong. Ray Harryhausen developed that painstaking process for films like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. Jaded audiences of today might find it hard to imagine that the f/x on this film held the fans spellbound in their theatre seats. Now, with digitally remastered prints and the new alchemy of DVD, you can treat yourself to an early craft that has influenced the great pioneers of today’s filmmaking.
Dr. Marvin (Marlowe) and his new wife are in charge of the space program’s “Operation SkyHook”. Something keeps destroying the rockets sent into Earth orbit. When alien invasion craft turn out to be the answer, it is up to Marvin to develop a defense against these flying saucers.
You have to understand that this is a 1956 film, considered to be a minor release at the time. The sound is obviously mono. There hasn’t been much done in the interim years to preserve the original, so what we have here isn’t much, but no small miracle that it sounds as good as it does. The saucer sounds are still as eerie as they were in 1956. The score often flutters, but the dialogue has been well enough preserved to come through loud and clear. Don’t look for any dynamic range, but expect a solid classic film sound.
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film transfer has fared better than the audio. Most of the image has been restored to a near-new brilliance. There’s plenty of evident specking and other film artifact but not as much as the earlier laserdisc version. Grain is inevitable, but never overwhelming. The film is, of course, black and white. I was impressed with the handling of contrast levels. You’ll find them constant throughout. Too many classic black and white films presented with fluttering contrast ruin any attempt to immerse yourself in the experience.
Hands down the best extra is the hour-long documentary “The Harryhausen Chronicles”. This is not a new feature, and if you have some of the old laserdiscs you already have it, but it is a welcome addition to this DVD. It takes you behind the scenes on many of Harryhausen’s projects.
Also included on this disc are a feature entitled “This Is Dynamation” which is really a period advertisement of the “then new” process, and Joe Dante talks with Harryhausen in “The Making of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers”. Other Harryhausen trailers and the typical text-based supplements abound to make this a respectable disc for a film of this nature.
Harryhausen has always been a hero of sorts to me. In recent years I’ve met and become friends with him and his family. He’s an overall generous man, and for his fans DVD’s like this one are a treasure. Earth vs. The Flying Saucers is not as well known perhaps as his Sinbad films or popular monsters like the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth. If you’ve missed this one, now’s the time to treat yourself. The images of Washington crumbling under an alien attack might not measure up to those filmed in Independence Day, but they are equally as memorable. There’s room on my shelf for both. After all, “Since Biblical times man has witnessed and recorded strange manifestations in the sky…”