Thursday, October 26, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Film: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Format: Streaming video from Crackle on rockin’ flatscreen.

So let’s talk about what you think about when it comes to science fiction movies in the 1950s. There are two basic varieties. The first is humans somewhere out in space. Forbidden Planet is a good archetype for that sort of science fiction, humans encountering aliens out in the reaches of space. The other is The Day the Earth Stood Still, where the aliens have come here. Yes, there’s also the “Science!” version with giant radioactive creatures, but those are more horror first, sci-fi second. Regardless, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, it’s not going to be surprising, is a prime example of the second kind of science fiction. The aliens have come to Earth, they’re not coming in peace, and only weird science can save us.

Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his new bride Carol (Joan Taylor), who was also his secretary (yeah, I know…I didn’t write this; I’m just writing about it) are involved in a project to put 12 monitoring satellites around the Earth. They’ve gotten married between the 10th and 11th launches, and just before the penultimate launch, they are contacted by Carol’s father, Brigadier General John Hanley (Morris Ankrum). He tells them that the previous 10 satellites have all come crashing back to Earth, and soon after the 11th launch, it crashes as well.

Also, and I can’t believe I didn’t fit this into the previous paragraph, Russell and Carol are buzzed by a flying saucer. This is not a “it zooms by and they don’t get a good look at it” fly-by, but a saucer plunks itself in front of them on the road and flies in front of them before zooming off. No one believes them, but it doesn’t matter because soon enough there are going to be saucers all the hell over the place.

Saucers actually start landing, and much like in The Day the Earth Stood Still, a trigger-happy idiot takes a shot and kills one of the aliens. They retaliate, and again, like the previous movie on which this was clearly based in part, the aliens (who look like miniature versions of Gort) retaliate by zapping a bunch of humans, who vanish much like in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The aliens manage to communicate with Dr. Marvin and eventually meet with him. Here they reveal that they have turned Carol’s dad into a zombie by more or less transferring his mind to their own computers (they claim to be able to put him right). The main thing they want is for Marvin to arrange for a meeting with all of the world leaders in Washington D.C. so that the aliens can talk terms about them occupying the planet. Since they are using violent means (sinking a destroyer, for instance) to demonstrate their seriousness, it’s clear that Marvin and the people of Earth are going to fight back.

A good portion of the rest of the movie is watching Marvin and other scientists try to figure out a way of fighting back against the superior technology of the aliens while on the clock, since they have only 56 days (essentially two times through a lunar month) to get things going. We’re going to rely a great deal on Science! and on good ol’ American grit and determination to beat the bad aliens. Ultimately, in a very large sense, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is what you would get if The Day the Earth Stood Still was populated by evil aliens rather than the space version of Jesus.

The main draw here is that this is one of the first films that Ray Harryhausen worked on. It’s clear that a lot of the flying saucer stuff is stop-motion, but it’s really good stop-motion work, and Harryhausen only got better. It’s fun to see him working with something that isn’t explicitly fantasy creatures or giant dinosaurs, and for that reason alone, this is worth seeing.

But, honestly, that’s pretty much it. Just about everything else in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers plays like a darker and dumber version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The fact that Marvin’s conversations with the aliens feel very much akin to those of Lee Van Cleef talking to the giant Venusian carrot in It Conquered the World is not a good thing. This is a hard movie to dislike completely because of what it is, but it’s also a hard movie to take very seriously.

Why to watch Earth vs. the Flying Saucers: This is honestly what you’re thinking of when you’re thinking of 1950s science fiction.
Why not to watch: The Day the Earth Stood Still is better in very respect.