by Jay Seaver
SCREENED IN ANAGLYPH 3-D: "It Came from Outer Space" is a movie that certain critics will say transcends its genre because even though it starts out as a basic "Body Snatchers" clone, it eventually focusing on the hero having to stop the military and/or law enforcement from attacking the aliens. Yes, one can see them say, this must be a superior motion picture, for it agrees with my attitude toward the people in authority. Which can be well and good, but not when, as happens in "It Came from Outer Space", coming to that conclusion involves overlooking what the aliens have been up to for the rest of the movie.Which, at first, is crashing in the Arizona desert. Local photographer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) sees this crash, and along with his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush), charters a helicopter to investigate. He finds signs that it wasn't just a meteor, but no-one believes him. Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) starts to change his mind, though, when a local road crew starts acting just as erratically as Putnam seems to be.
"... and outer space can have it back."
From there on, standard if not particularly reasonable things happen. The sheriff is still the new sheriff, young and uncomfortable with being compared to his predecessor and probably kind of resenting how much time the pretty schoolteacher is spending with Putnam, so he's loath to believe him (and in fact grumbles about Miss Fields missing work, which sometimes seems to be a rare occurence in this type of movie). When more people go missing, of course, he starts to investigate diligently, but by that point the aliens have told Putnam to keep everyone away or, you know, bad things could happen to the hostages. And don't tell anyone, by the way, or else. We want you to act like a loon, because on our planet, that's how we get results.
Seriously, someone needs to teach these aliens a thing or two about dealing with people. Not just about not having your doppelgangers act like robots, but some of the things they do, it's hard to see how it could possibly help. And what were they going to do with the people they duplicated? There's no reason to keep them alive, especially if they want to conceal evidence of their time on Earth. Of course, it's not as though all the humans exactly act reasonably, either. What kind of geologist only stays around a new impact crater for just a day or so, even if it's "only" a meteor. A meteor big enough to make that kid of crater would get attention.
But, that's what's necessary to roll Harry Essex's silly screenplay along. Hard to believe it came from a story by Ray Bradbury, one of the few of his generation of speculative fiction writers to be respected outside the genre. Still, other elements aren't so bad - the effects are very good for the time. Good enough to use twice, even - the crash is used both as part of the opening credits and within the movie, and I seem to recall two distinct rockslides which used the same footage. The aliens'-eye-view looks appropriately creepy. 3-D enhances the experience of a lot of the set pieces; it's unfortunate Universal only provided the Coolidge Corner Theater with a red-blue print, despite the fact that the theater is able to use the polarized, two-projector system.
Drake is the actor who comes off the best, never being asked to do anything outright unbelievable and stuck with the least peculiar dialog. No-one else in the cast can really say the same, and in fact a scene between Carlson and Rush toward the end, with one of them actually an alien duplicate, is really out and out painful to watch, with its slow and precise exposition."It Came from Outer Space" has one of the all time great sci-fi B-movie titles; it's too bad it can't be one of the all-time great sci-fi B-movies.
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originally posted: 07/04/05 08:55:02