Starring Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason
Studio: Universal 20136
Video: 4:3, color
Audio: Dolby Digital mono, English
Subtitles: English SOH, Spanish, French
Extras: Theatrical trailer
Length: 1 hour 26 minutes
At No. 66 on the list of the Top 100 Sci-Fi Films, This Island Earth may not be in the company of sci-fi classics of the same period such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and the original War of the Worlds, but it’s really not so bad. The special effects – except for one blue-screen that goes awry – are fairly effective, and at least one of the alien invaders turns out to be on our side, when most such films during the Cold War period had them all totally bent on destroying the earth.
The story has the aliens – from the distant planet Metaluna – coming secretly to earth to find scientists to help them develop more uranium to power their planet’s protective layer and ward off meteor-like weapons inflicted on them by an enemy planet. All their scientists had been killed and few of them were left due to the continual attacks. Three scientists working with various aspects of atomic energy are recruited to an isolated laboratory by a Metalunan team masquerading (and not very well) as humans. The evil leader of Metaluna calls their team back to their planet because it is rapidly dying. They blow up their estate as they leave. Two of the human scientists trying to escape are killed by one of the team but its leader Exeter – who has been influenced by the the better side of humans during his stay – kidnaps two of the scientists who are trying to escape in a small plane and takes them back to Metaluna in a flying saucer. They find the situation there hopeless and the evil leader is killed during an attack. Exeter saves the two scientists and returns them to earth, witnessing on the way Metaluna blowing up and turning into a sun. During the flight the female scientist (of course) is threatened by an ugly mutant slave who has stowed away, but he luckily dies before any real harm is done. (This bit was obviously influenced by the dictum to illustrators of sci-fi magazines of the mid 20th century to have plenty of BBBs & BEMs (brass bra babes & bug-eyed monsters.)
The story is based on a novel by Raymond F. Jones which actually has self-sacrifice as a central theme. The earth scientist from the beginning of the story, who encounters unexpected assistance from Exeter with his experiments, is the last one recruited to the remote laboratories and suspicious of the operation but very curious to learn more about the advanced technology put at his disposal. While driving away the other two scientists (who make the later saucer trip), their car is attacked with deadly rays by one of the Metalunans. He tells the other two to get out and drives on away from them, taking a deadly ray himself. After Exeter returns the pair of scientists back to earth his saucer has lost all its power and his planet is gone, so he crashes into the ocean rather than joining the two humans.
The image transfer is good, and the original, being Technicolor, has not lost any of its original snappy colors. It stretches well to 16:9 too, which seems to be a must for such sci-fi epics. The mono soundtrack is crisp and clean, though why bother with Dolby Digital? There’s plenty of room left for PCM mono.
– John Sunier