THIS ISLAND EARTH
Review by Ed Nguyen
Stars: Rex Reason, Jeff
Morrow, Faith Domergue, Lance Fuller
Director: Joseph Newman
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Video: Color, full-frame
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: August 22, 2006
"It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own."
Before the mid-1950's, the sci-fi film genre was rarely ever taken seriously. Most sci-fi flicks of the time were rightfully relegated to B-film status. That changed with MGM's spectacular The Forbidden Planet (1956), a big-budget Cinemascope production that bravely tackled some heavy themes such as hubris and the Freudian ego. Another popular offering at the time was Universal's This Island Earth (1955).
Although decidedly inferior to The Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth still boasts some spectacular special effects for its time. Also, like a typical Star Trek episode, this outer space film touches all the usual bases - a race to save Earth from utter destruction, a damsel in distress, a plethora of extraterrestrials including some bug-eyed, bubble-brained clawed horrors, and a brainy scientist or two. Did I forget to mention an alien planet and a fight between spacecrafts? For good measure, the film also harbors the usual 50's-era warning regarding the dangers of atomic energy.
This Island Earth certainly retains some nostalgic value, particularly for children of the 1950's. Unfortunately, the film's plot is strictly right out of a boys' adventure comic. The dialogue is corny, the action is wooden, and the general premise of the film is utterly ludicrous. Judged by today's standards, This Island Earth is clearly one of those so-bad-it's-good films.
The film centers upon the daring adventures of Dr. Meacham (Rex Reason), modern-day Renaissance Man. He is a research scientist, an engineer, a ladies' man, and a jet pilot, too. The odds are quite good that by the end of the film, Meacham will be a bona fide astronaut as well.
As the film opens, Dr. Meacham has a near-death experience and close encounter during a flight to work (let us just overlook the obvious absurdity of a scientist who flies combat jets). Meacham survives, but at his lab, the good doctor receives a mysterious manual for an interocitor. Is there a link between his near-accident and this manual? Curious about the nature of such a strange device, Meacham places an order for one interocitor. Soon the parts, numbering in the thousands, begin to arrive from an unknown source. Undaunted, Dr. Meacham has little difficulty assembling this alien machine, in the process constructing something that bears a resemblance to a gigantic, prehistoric web-cam. The interocitor sets up a video conference between the doctor and Exeter (Jeff Morrow), a weird-looking humanoid with shocked white hair and an overwhelming forehead. Exeter invites Dr. Meacham to join an international group of elite scientists, assembled to participate in an important research experiment.
His scientific curiosity stirred, Dr. Meacham decides to accept the offer. So begins an adventure that will not only take Dr. Meacham off-planet but will place him ultimately in the unique position of being the only man able to save the Earth from utter destruction. Wow, what a hero!
Exeter is from the planet Metaluna, and while he seems to be an earnest fellow, his fellow Metalunans are decidedly not so. The secret experiment may potentially be a prelude to invasion, and once Dr. Meacham begins to suspect this possibility, he persuades the other scientists to join him in foiling this diabolical scheme. Among the scientists is Dr. Adams (Faith Domergue), the usual love interest whose basic function in the film is to wear form-fitting dresses, to scream a lot, and to place herself in peril from which our hero Dr. Meacham may rescue her.
The film's third act, encompassing the fateful journey to Metaluna and back, is where all the truly cool stuff is. The special effects in this final act include spaceships and space combat, flaming meteors, and a dying planet smothered under a smog-like ionization. In fact, the entire Metaluna sequence, with its eerie alien landscape and a world in ruins, remains quite effective even today. Best of all, the climax introduces the insect-like Mutant, a big-brained alien creature (see the DVD cover art) as iconic a symbol of 1950's sci-fi as was The Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot.
Overall though, This Island Earth is no great masterpiece. The plot is weak and cheesy, and the acting is laughable. However, the special effects are rather decent, and the film is certainly no worse than any number of action flicks today. For its age, This Island Earth still retains solid entertainment value, so take a trip down memory lane and experience sci-fi from the days when spaceships still went Zoom!, lasers still went Zap!, and the only good alien was a dead alien!
Video ** ½
This Island Earth offers a full-frame presentation that is an open matte version of the film's original aspect ratio (possibly 2:1). While the colors in this print are generally well-preserved, the image quality is occasionally a tad bit soft, and the print retains a lot of scuff marks, scratches, and dust specks. The bit transfer rate averages around 5-6 Mbps.
Audio ** ½
The sound quality is acceptable for a monaural film but nothing remarkable. The music is teeming with cliffhanger moments underscoring the general Buck Rogers-feel of the film.
Clearly, this DVD is a budget release. To reinforce that fact, the only bonus feature is a vintage trailer for the film.
This Island Earth is pure camp. It's fun but not particularly great, which makes the film perfect fodder for a midnight movie marathon. For an additional hoot, try catching This Island Earth's installment on Mystery Science Theater 3000!