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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Invaders From Mars (1953)
Invaders From Mars (1953)
Image // Unrated // December 3, 2002
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 23, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Though he's prone to scouring the heavens in the wee hours of the morning, young David Maclean (Jimmy Hunt, the only member of the cast to put in an appearance in Tobe Hooper's 1986 remake) spotted something a little more unusual than a falling star the last time he peeked out the window. He immediately tells his father (Leif Erickson; I Saw What You Did), an engineer working on hush-hush projects for the government, that he saw an unusual light land just outside. Not thinking much of it, George decides to put on his slippers and investigate anyway. He doesn't return, and his concerned wife Mary (Hillary Brooke; Lost Continent) has a couple of local cops scour the area. While the flatfoots poke around some sandy hills, George strolls in, demanding coffee. The usually cheerful George is abrasive and abusive, and David notices similar changes in (and nasty nicks on the necks of) some of the other local townsfolk that wander too close to the landing site. Not everyone thinks David's story is so implausible, and he finds allies in friendly physician Pat Blake (the lovely Helena Carter) and astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz). Stu theorizes that alien mu-TANTs are fearful of America's budding space program, and they're manipulating those in power to eliminate any threat that might stand in their way. As the lives of Davey's parents lie in the balance, the military's called in for an assault on the martians' subterranean stronghold.

Along with It Came From Outer Space and The War of the Worlds, Invaders From Mars has long been one of the movies that instantly springs to mind whenever I think of fifties sci-fi. Although its age and paltry budget are difficult to ignore as cast members cartoonishly plummet off-screen and the same couple of minutes of footage are recycled for the eight thousandth time, there's plenty to like about Invaders From Mars aside from whatever camp value it may have. Some of its success is owed to the visual sensibilities of director William Cameron Menzies, who had been nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Art Design, taking home the statuette in 1929 as well as an honorary award for his work on Gone With the Wind. Invaders From Mars' shoestring buget wasn't sufficient for any Oscar-worthy work, but some of it is visually remarkable. One of the most frequently visited sets is that of the landing site, which I was convinced at first was some sort of matte painting.

The paranoia so prevalent in fifties sci-fi in the wake of Communism is featured front and center, as our enemies skulk about among us. Along those same lines, the movie puts great faith in the military, who, with the help of the movie's plucky young lead, are able to repel the martian menace and dash out of harm's way before it's too late. Invaders From Mars, at least in its untainted American cut, also boasts a particularly memorable epilogue that I won't spoil here for the handful of readers who haven't caught the movie in one form or another. Admittedly, the premise is thin and the acting questionable. The unconvincing green velour costumes of the mu-TANTs and seemingly endless repetition of a number of scattered shots are laughable. Still, there's something I find indescribably endearing about the movie, retaining the fear and innocence of an era gone by and still holding up reasonably well as a paranoid thriller.

Invaders From Mars is quintessential fifties sci-fi, encapsulating the thoughts and beliefs of the era as well as helping to define a formula that would be rehashed incessantly throughout the decade. By some happy coincidence, Invaders From Mars alphabetically falls on my DVD shelf immediately next to The Iron Giant and It! The Terror From Beyond Space. Owners of these and other genre/genre-inspired entries will find Invaders From Mars to be a near-essential purchase.

Both the original American and British versions of Invaders From Mars are provided on this DVD release. The British version dispenses with the lengthy montage at the end of the film and tacks on an entirely different and substantially weaker epilogue. For filler, a sequence featuring Professor Kelston prattling on endlessly about flying saucers is tacked on.

Video: According to the disc's liner notes, this fiftieth anniversary release of Invaders From Mars was transferred from the original 35mm Cinecolor release print master. The color 1.37:1 source material doesn't exhibit excessive wear, though a fair amount of dust, vertical lines, and assorted specks present a mild nuisance. The most jarring flaw is a second or two of vertical jitter around the 24:10 mark. None of this is entirely unexpected for unrestored elements of a film lensed a half century ago. This isn't an excellent presentation, but it is more than an acceptable one. Judging from reviews of the now out-of-print United American discs, this release from Image Entertainment offers a substantial improvement over previous releases.

The British version is, with the obvious exception of the several minutes of additional footage, built around the same elements as the American release. Kelston's flying saucer ramblings are roughly comparable in appearance to the remainder of the movie. The source material for the modified ending is considerably more battered, and colors in particular suffer.

Audio: The monaural audio is surprisingly robust. Dialogue is rendered cleanly and crisply, and a number of the effects sound rich and full. No underlying hiss or distortion were audible from my usual seating distance. I did notice some pops and crackles when I journeyed uncomfortably close to my center speaker, but I wouldn't have been aware of its presence otherwise. Very nice.

Supplements: Along with the inclusion of two versions of Invaders From Mars, a handful of other extras have been added to this release.

A full-frame color theatrical trailer (2:16) boldly proclaims that Invaders From Mars is "fantastic but possible! It could happen tomorrow!" A comprehensive still gallery cycles through a variety of images, including promotional photos, poster art, and newspaper articles, for well over five minutes. Many appear to have been poorly resized for use on this DVD, and individual higher resolution images are unfortunately not available on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. An Easter Egg on the Extras menu serves up full-frame black and white trailers for Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, She Demons, Monster From Green Hell, The Flying Saucer, and The Crawling Eye.

The insert is more thorough than most of the liner notes accompanying releases in the Wade Williams Collection. Five pages of text, interspersed with various stills of the cast, offer a detailed run-through of the film's background and production. I'm not sure how to best describe the Williams-penned "Negative History", which is overflowing with talk of Cinecolor masters and color reduction negatives.

Both versions of Invaders From Mars have been divided into twenty chapter stops. The disc's animated menus feature a snippet of music from the film and spiffy radial blur transitions.

Conclusion: Following a DVD release from United American that's dreadful by all accounts, one of the most preeminent flying saucer flicks of the fifties has finally been given the treatment it deserves. Despite (or maybe, at least in part, because of) its corny, hopelessly dated moments, Invaders From Mars is still a lot of fun. Recommended.

For Further Reading: DVD Savant, along with his own detailed review of this disc, has written an impressive two-part article on Invaders From Mars. The set of liner notes included with this release is good, but Savant's musings are even better.
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