Legend Films, in recent years, has proven a respectable - and reliable - distributor of cult and genre titles here in the United States. They've also become quite prolific in their colorization of old black and white films, especially those in the public domain. What you think of this last point obviously depends upon where you stand in the old colorization debate. For the record, I don't like colorization and always prefer to see films in their original black and white form (if, of course, they were filmed in black and white). Despite Legend's insistence upon presenting awkwardly colored versions of old films, I give the company a lot of credit for always providing a black and white version as well, and having that version be of comparatively high technical quality.
This high quality is in evidence with their recent release of Phantom From Space, a 1953 science fiction potboiler that's seen quite a few substandard home video editions over the years. Phantom From Space, to the best of my knowledge, has never looked as sharp and as clear as it does here! Kudos to Legend for their work on this DVD.
Phantom From Space was directed by W. Lee Wilder, who was no stranger to low budget nonsense in the 1950s having helmed other cult pseudo-classics like Killers From Space and The Snow Creature. Phantom From Space is not a good movie, but it has an odd charm to it that I find compelling. And it's also the best Wilder film I've seen - though that's not much of a horse race.
The story follows a group of stock 1950s characters who team together to track down an invisible alien in a spacesuit running amuck in Santa Monica, California after crash-landing. The rather large group of characters includes a smug police lieutenant, a stocky army major, a nosy reporter, an elderly scientist, and his beautiful young female assistant. Like a lot of movies of its era, everyone is dressed in formal attire and chain-smokes. It's even got day-for-night scenes and Theremin music. What more could you want in a 1950s alien flick?
Well, more action, I suppose. This is admittedly a talk-heavy film for its genre and time period. Characters stand - or sit - around with their cigarettes discussing the goings-on and their import for long periods of time. The film's opening sequence is a lengthy hodgepodge of stock film footage narrated by an omniscient voice too. But, I like this aspect of the movie; it gives it a casual and contemplative feel unusual in similar films of the time period. The dialogue isn't insightful or thought provoking per se, but I appreciated the attempt at exploring what would normally be cardboard characters in a swifter, more action-oriented alien film.
Phantom From Space also has a curious ending - with the homicidal alien turning out unexpectedly sympathetic. Fans of old science fiction films might appreciate owning this low budget runaround, especially given its strong video quality compared to previous atrocious releases. If you absolutely must watch a black and white film colorized, then this is certainly the one to get. For any other interested moviegoer, however, I'll go with a Rent It recommendation given the lack of significant extras on this disc.
As mentioned above, Legend Films offers two versions of Phantom From Space: the original black and white, and a colorized effort. Both are in a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The black and white version is certainly better by leaps and bounds over every other public domain edition of this movie I've ever come across. Details are much sharper. There's a few awkward time jumps, though, and dirt and other minor imperfections are noticeable. And, of course, stock footage used primarily in the opening sequence varies wildly in video quality.
A random sampling of the colorized version suggests it's about what one expects from such an endeavor. Colors don't look quite real, though the palette here seems more extensive than in Legend's concurrently released colorization of The Devil Bat. Hues look duller than they should. It appears competently done, though, and about in line with previous colorized films I've experienced.
Both versions of Phantom From Space sport a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track. The sound is obviously limited by contemporary standards, but still strong. No noticeable hiss and scratchiness are evident to impede the dialogue and music. Given the dubious quality of previous public domain releases of Phantom From Space, I found that the audio here was comparatively satisfactory and clear.
No subtitle options appear available.
The only extra on this disc is a Legend Films Trailers gallery sporting ads for the colorized versions of Plan 9 From Outer Space, House on Haunted Hill, Night of the Living Dead, She, and Reefer Madness. Yawn.
Despite my antipathy toward colorization, I think it would have been nice to have a featurette on the colorization process utilized here. It's something that would be interesting to learn about.
Phantom From Space is a talk-heavy story of a collection of stereotypical 1950s stock characters teaming together to track down an invisible alien in a space suit running around California after his space ship crashes. It's cheesy but has a certain dated charm to it. I actually like the movie and its pacing, but only hardcore sci-fi enthusiasts would probably find this of interest. Without extras of significance, Legend's release of Phantom From Space warrants an enthusiastic Rent It recommendation. The movie certainly has never looked better on home video.