Saturday, October 9, 2010

Invaders from Mars (1953)

Invaders from Mars (1953) is a science fiction film, directed by William Cameron Menzies from a scenario by Richard Blake, based on a story treatment by John Tucker Battle, who was inspired by a dream recounted by his wife. It was produced independently by Edward L. Alperson Jr. and starred Jimmy Hunt, Helena Carter and Arthur Franz. After it was completed, it was distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. It is notable for being told from the point of view of an older child in an adult's world in crisis, vivid color cinematography (color by Color Corporation of America), subtly surreal set designs and unique use of outre sound effects, including a choral background consisting of an ethereal, rhythmically wavering syllable sung in unison. Although some sources state that the film was designed for the 3-D process (unlikely, since the project was in production before the breakthrough 3-D film, Bwana Devil, was released), it was neither filmed nor released in 3-D.

One night, a small boy, David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt), sees a flying saucer land near his home. His scientist father (Leif Erickson) goes to investigate. When he returns, there is an unusual mark on the back of his neck and he behaves in a different, cold and hostile manner. Gradually, David realizes that there is a conspiracy in which the people of the town are one by one becoming cold and inhuman. With the help of a local astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz) and health-department physician Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter), he learns that the flying saucer, that has buried itself in a sandpit just behind his home, is the vanguard of an invasion from Mars. The Army is contacted and convinced to investigate, leading to a military penetration of the underground hideout established by the Martians. The troops enter the saucer. Inside they find a Martian, mostly a large head with strange tentacles, encased in a glassy sphere. The Martian mastermind is served by tall, green, silent humanoid "mutants", who use cerebral implants to control the townsfolk in order to sabotage nuclear rocket experiments at a facility just outside of town. In the film's climax, the Army, scientists, and David flee from the sandpit as explosives hidden aboard the flying saucer count down their last remaining seconds. An excessively long sequence montage's David running downhill, with flashbacks of the events of the film, supposedly running through David's mind. This includes some sequences played backwards, as well as scenes and events at which David was not present, of which he thus, could have had no knowledge. This is inter-cut with shots of the explosive timer counting down. Following the explosion, David is back in his bed, awakened by thunder, as he was at the beginning of the film. His parents reassure him by telling him the whole thing was just a nightmare, sending him back to bed. As thunder wakes him again, he witnesses the same UFO slowly land at the sandpit near his house. Is this another dream, or was the first a premonition of a now real event?

The film was shot from the point of view of a child. Camera angles are lower than usual. The set design of the police station consists of stark, elongated structures stretching high above the boy's head, much as it would appear to a child shorter than an adult. Although the action ends with the flying saucer being blown up as it attempts to flee back to Mars, the plot is left unresolved, and rather morally ambiguous. Dr. Kelston explains early on to David that due to its hot dry surface, the Martians live underground, or in spaceships hovering above the surface, having created mutants to labour for them as slaves. He notes that Earth has been under systematic observation by the Martians for 200 years and reasons that the top-secret military atomic rocket facility at which he (and David's father) work has brought about anxiety in the Martians, as humanity's (or more specifically the United States') recent developments in rocketry and atomic physics are now a threat to the Martians living in ships above their planet. Thus, the Martian 'invader' is simply trying to disable or destroy the rocket facility. This is confirmed by the facts that the 'invaders' are actually one Martian on a single ship instead of a fleet, and that the Humans over whom the Martian gains control act simply to eliminate only those scientists or the rocket facility where they work. There is no mass slaughter, terrorism or attack on the government itself or on major cities. Nevertheless, the forces of the US military is brought to bear (in a ridiculously rapid response using stock footage of a military train loading and carrying tanks and other military vehicles). Rather than negotiate with the Martian, the army kills him. Dr. Kelston does not question the motives of Human overreaction, but instead becomes a part of it. The moral ambiguity is raised further when the Martian-controlled sergeant tells the captured David and Dr. Blake that the Martian is a highly-evolved Human and, thus not an alien species. The reaction of the Terran Humans against the Martian-Human is thus the flight of primitives with a more civilised version of themselves, who are only trying to protect themselves from the primitives who threaten them with destruction. While the viewer is left believing the Earth-Humans victorious when the Martian ship is destroyed, the question of Human morality in reaction to the Martian's self-defensive pinpoint attack on Earth, and the potential for a much larger and deadlier response by the Martians, is left unresolved. Humanity may have won this battle but would likely lose the war against a more advanced Martian civilisation with spacefaring capabilities.

Special effects
The effect of the melting walls of the tunnels was created by filming a large tub of boiling oatmeal, colored with red food coloring and red lights, and shooting from above the tub. The bubble effect on the walls was originally created by using balloons pinned to the walls of the tunnels. However, on film it looked like balloons stuck to the wall. The effects team came up with the idea of using inflated condoms. They purchased 30,000 latex condoms, inflated them, tied them closed and pinned them to the walls. They looked much better on film than did the balloons. Scenes showing the holes in the sand closing up were created by running the collapse sequences in reverse (watch for rocks climbing back up out of the "holes" as they close).

77 MIN

1 comment:

  1. There is really no question that the film was planned to be shot in 3D. This was verified by the films cinematographer, John Seitz (who later invented and patented his own 3D system). You're confusing Release Dates with Production Dates. People in the industry knew about Bwana Devil LONG before it was released. It's in all the production charts in the trade magazines of 1952 / 53. It was shot AFTER Bwana Devil, not before.

    Further, Alperson took ads in a few west coast markets (San Francisco) announcing the film as 3D during the summer preceding the release of the film. This was a variant version of the Sunday Comics type of ad that appeared in Sunday Funnies sections across the country (but without the 3D). It has proved extremely difficult to locate the published version of this ad which was withdrawn once it became clear that the it would not be filmed that way.

    The problem was undoubtedly the availability of the NaturalVision camera(s). There were purportedly only two of them, and they were quickly snapped up for A list films. Alperson simply didn't have the budget for the cameras and had to drop the idea, especially since 20th Century Fox (which was co-distributing Invaders) had passed on an option for the 3D camera when it was offered to them because they were so committed to Cinemascope.

    The design of the film clearly shows the intention to shoot in 3D. The sets are remarkable and with modern 3D conversion techniques, there's no reason why it couldn't be seen today as it was intended.