The Space Children
Olive Films // Unrated // $29.95 // June 19, 2012
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 26, 2012
Rent It
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Graphical Version
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
Missile Base of the Damned!

The U.S. military machine is on the verge of adding an impossibly powerful new weapon to its arsenal: the Thunderer. This multistage rocket armed with a thermonuclear warhead is about to be launched into orbit, and from there it can be sent screaming towards any enemy of truth, justice, and the American Way. It's the space race equivalent of gunboat diplomacy; the military brass hope the Thunderer will never be unleashed, but perhaps the spectre of nuclear annihilation quite literally looming overhead can keep our foes at bay. Besides, the Reds and company have to be working on the same thing, and we don't wanna have someone else beat us to the punch, right?

The scientists shepherding the Thunderer through these final, critical days have brought their families along for the ride. 'Course, there's not a lot that civilians without any security clearance can do on a missile base. Y'know...goof around with some of the other kids...swim...explore the nearby caves...get possessed by an otherworldly intelligence. The children become automatons controlled by a quickly-growing alien brain. Infused with strange psychokinetic powers, the base's children begin to carry out their master's mission...

Director Jack Arnold spent much of the '50s amassing some particularly impressive genre credentials, having helmed Creature from the Black Lagoon and its sequel, It Came from Outer Space!, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. If The Space Children -- one of the first movies Arnold directed after striking out on his own -- is any indication, maybe he would've been better off staying at Universal after all. On the
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
surface, there's a lot to like. There's the presence of an assured hand like Arnold's, for one, not to mention the unparalleled visual eye of cinematographer Ernest Laszlo. It costars the once and future Uncle Fester, Jackie Coogan, along with Russell Johnson (Gilligan's Island; Attack of the Crab Monsters), Peggy Webber (The Screaming Skull), Sandy Descher (Them!), and Larry Pennell (Bubba Ho-Tep). I respect that a film made by a major American studio in the 1950s would cast the U.S. military as unwitting villains. I'm a sucker for genre films teeming with creepy kids -- this one predates Village of the Damned too! -- and there's always something to be said about ordinary people finding themselves in such extraordinary situations. The problem is...well, everything else.

Even at its scarcely feature-length runtime of 69 minutes, The Space Children is an interminable slog. The movie is basically one scene after another of barely serviceable actors standing around and talking. Few of the characters radiate anything resembling a personality. The children are largely interchangeable, so flat and dead-eyed from the outset that being enslaved by an alien intelligence doesn't make for much of a change. Hardly anything happens. The creature is all but immobile and gets precious little screentime. The performances and dialogue lack any vaguely memorable spark. It sure doesn't help that the production values are so startingly low. The Space Children jarringly shifts from location shoots to cheap, unconvincing sets and awkward rear projection. When Russell Johnson's drunken lout gets zapped by the alien brain, his shadow winds up getting cast on the "night sky" a few inches behind him. The Thunderer itself is introduced as a static painting. There's a promising story here, and if 60% of the film had been gutted out, I'm sure The Space Children would've made for a standout episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. That's not what I'm reviewing, of course. What I have in front of me...? Rent It.

I believe this is the first ever home video release of The Space Children, plucked from obscurity by Olive Films. MST3K fans might remember the movie popping up halfway through the series' run on the Sci-Fi Channel, making this one of just a handful -- geez, if that? -- of MSTied movies to claw their way onto Blu-ray.

See Jackie Coogan sharp!
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
See Jackie Coogan soft!
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

The Space Children can look kind of erratic in high-def. For the most part, though, the image is remarkably crisp and very nicely detailed, outclassing the presentations of quite a few more lavishly budgeted films of a similar vintage. Contrast also varies somewhat but, by and large, remains reasonably robust throughout as well. It's a consistently filmic presentation, not dragged down by any artificial sharpening, excessive filtering, or sputters in the compression. There is some mild speckling, but it's rarely enough to distract, and a few flecks of dust never hurt anyone anyway. It's an uneven but generally terrific presentation.

There's one sequence in particular with some unexpected pillarboxing on the right, and that's reflected in the 'soft' shot above. Can't say I'm sure what the story is there. Otherwise, The Space Children is lightly letterboxed to maintain its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and its AVC encode is dished out on a single layer platter.

The Space Children's original monaural soundtrack has been preserved in 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. The elements must've been in spectacular shape; this ranks among the very best sounding vintage genre films I've
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
had the pleasure of experiencing on Blu-ray. The film's dialogue is wonderfully clean and clear throughout, not sounding even a little bit strained or boxy. At no point do any clicks, pops, background hiss, or dropouts intrude. Van Cleave's sparse, haunting score is reproduced brilliantly as well. This lossless soundtrack far exceeds anything I could've hoped to hear, and I'm left with absolutely no complaints or concerns whatsoever.

There are no alternate soundtracks or subtitle streams.


The Final Word
Part of me's thrilled that this slice of science fiction -- helmed by the director of some of my absolute favorite '50s genre films -- has been rescued from obscurity. It's also a rare treat to see a movie that's been skewered on Mystery Science Theater 3000 find its way onto Blu-ray. The Space Children, with its daringly even-handed criticism of the arms race...its collision of the fantastic with everyday mundanity...likely would've made for a brilliant episode of The Twilight Zone. As a film, though, it's sorely underfunded and struggles to fill its barely feature-length runtime. For vintage sci-fi completists only. Rent It.

Copyright 2020 Inc. All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy is a Trademark of Inc.