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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look: 6.67%
Just Average53.33%
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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
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by Jay Seaver

"I love Ray Harryhausen, but not blindly."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON SCIENCE FICTION FILM FESTIVAL: Part of the reason many people come to Boston's sci-fi marathon is for bad movies. Talking back to the screen is tolerated, to a certain extent, so there's the desire to see who can mock the hardest. Many of the old-timers first got into sci-fi by seeing midnight movies that seemed awesome to kids who didn't know any better. So, every year, the schedule makers make sure to toss in one piece of stinky cheese; this year, it was Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

I admit, it is kind of reassuring to see that movies like this were made fifty years ago. Today, when a movie that doesn't make a lick of sense but has some spiffy visual effects comes out, and people are falling all over themselves to proclaim that CGI is destroying the movies, it's good to be able to point at crap like this and say, hey, it's just the tools that have changed. It doesn't make the newer movies any better, but deflating nostalgia is generally good in and of itself.

So, anyway, a civilian research scientist working for the Air Force and his new secretary-cum-bride are returning to work, and just as he's delivering some exposition about UFOs into a dictaphone while she drives, golly, one of them flies right by. The dictaphone captures an eerie noise. The Air Force later surmises that the aliens are hostile, and when one lands, open fire. This pisses the aliens off, there are abductions, superweapons designed and built on the sort of accelerated schedule that the real Pentagon would kill for, massive property damage, and a wacky coda.

That could be a description of Independence Day or any number of direct-to-video/cable movies; what makes this one stand out is Ray Harryhausen doing the special effects. I like Ray Harryhausen movies, but I must admit to not being terribly impressed here. Just like today, animating machines and vehicles isn't as impressive as creating a believable creature out of nothing, and the keenest flying saucers still are simply machines. Also, even for 1956, a simple saucer shape seems kind of unimaginative. Maybe I'm wrong, and a disc-like spaceship still seemed exciting and new fifty years ago, but now...

Director Fred F. Sears does a decent enough job with a mess of a script. The story is like an outline, containing the necessary events for an alien-invasion story but no real logic in how they're connected. Doctor Marvin's psychological make-up seems to change on a dime, and there's never a sense that the Pentagon decision makers are really considering their next moves, but are instead simply doing what is necessary to get to the next scene and set piece. As to why the aliens are acting as they do, well, you might as well go with "who can understand alien thought processes? They're alien!"

The cast is made up of standard parts. Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) is a healthy-looking sort, the kind of guy who can mouth the techno-speak without getting the Keanu Reeves/Denise Richards "this is obviously spelled out phonetically on cue cards just out of camera range" look on his face. This being the 1950s, the military is filled with competent, if blustery people who all just have the best interests of the country at heart and only need to be supplied the right kind of weaponry. Russell's wife Carol (Joan Taylor) is in the top half of girl sidekicks just by not screaming or slowing the lead down. She's blonde and pretty, of course, but her best quality is being ready with a mildly sarcastic (though never close to disrespectful) remark, occasionally tinged with a bit of sexual innuendo.

Really, when I get right down to it, I think I lament the passing of the "innocent remark stressed JUST SO" much more than the "cheesy, but produced with enough love to have a heart and soul" special effects. It's a small pleasure, but when you get right down to it, trying to figure out if Ms. Taylor meant anything salacious is a whole lot more fun than trying to make any sense of the rest of the movie.

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originally posted: 03/20/05 18:51:15
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell a cool classic IMHO 4 stars
3/25/09 Dr.Lao A bit dated, but can be watched without provoking peels of scornful laughter 3 stars
4/05/07 action movie fan great f/x by harryhausen but formula story 3 stars
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  DVD: 13-Dec-2005



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