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Flying Disc Man From Mars
Olive Films // Unrated // October 27, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Olive Films is giving serial fans an early Christmas present with their release of Flying Disc Man from Mars on Blu-ray. The second talking serial to be released in HD (the first, also put out by Olive, was The Invisible Monster) this chapter-play form 1950 isn't the best example of the genre, but it's still a lot of fun and the great picture make it a must-own for any serial collection.
Flying Disc Man from Mars is a good example of how Republic managed to cut corners any yet still turn out a fairly decent product. This serial used a lot of footage from earlier adventures, most notably The Purple Monster Strikes (1945), G-Men vs. the Black Dragon (1943), and King of the Mounties (1942). They relied on scenes from these older shows so much that they dug out the Japanese Falcon plane from King of the Mounties out of the mothballs (I'm surprised they still had it). They apparently didn't think anyone would notice, but the rising sun on the tail is a dead giveaway. The also dressed the titular villain in the same outfit as the baddie from The Purple Monster Strikes. (It's often stated that this serial is either a remake or Purple Monster or a sequel. I really don't buy either theory. There are some similarities, but they plots are different enough that it's clearly not a remake, and there really isn't anything to tie the two together aside from the fact that both villains are from Mars and wear the same costume, and actor James Craven appears in both. But, if you want to think they're a pair, be my guest.)
Hampered as the writers were with having to create a story around existing special effects footage, they do a decent job crafting a fun and entertaining tale. Dr. Bryant (James Craven), a scientist and inventor, is worried about a strange aircraft that has been hovering over his factory. So he contacts Kent Fowler (Walter Reed), the owner of a company that provides 'air patrols' for private concerns. He agrees to install Bryant's new atomic ray in his plane and starts to circle the factory at night. Sooner than you can say 'shoot first and ask questions later' Kent spots a flying saucer and shoots it down. The vehicle crashes, but the pilot survives. Bryant is the first to the scene of the wreck and discovers Mota (that's 'atom' spelled backwards... played by Gregory Gay) who confides that he's from Mars. Mota has been studying Earth for quite a while and knows that Bryant was a Nazi, so he makes his pitch: if Bryant will help Mota construct some Martian atomic weapons, they can conquer the Earth in the name of the Martian emperor and Bryant can rule it. All Bryant will need to do is get some materials... like Uranium. The scientist thinks that's a fair deal, control of the planet for a pile of metal, and so they create a 'semi-disc' plane that can fly vertically and set Mota's lab up in an active volcano.
While Mota and Bryant think that they Earth will be easy pickings, they don't count on Kent Fowler and his sidekick Steve (stuntman Sandy Sanders) along with their secretary, Helen (Lois Collier). Those three aren't going to let any dirty Martian steal Uranium and use it to take over their planet. Hell no!
Once the plot is set in motion, the rest of the serial plays out in typical fashion. There's a fist fight in every chapter (sometimes two), a chase scene, and it all ends with something horrible just about to happen to one of the good guys. The plot, such as it is, moves slowly by having Bryant and his two henchmen attempt to steal some Uranium or even just some money (they're really short on cash) but always crossing Kent's path.
The cliffhangers are, unfortunately, pretty standard. Some serials would come up with creative and outlandish ways to end and begin each chapter, but that doesn't happen here. The end of most installments has Kent's car or plane blow up, and the next week we discover that he jumped out just in the nick of time. (Kent really needs to learn to use the breaks. If he sees a bomb on a bridge, he just leaps out of his car, rather than stopping. He's tough though... he stands up and brushes off his suit and he's ready to tackle Mota again.) They did come close to a good cliffhanger in one chapter, where Kent is woozy from a fight, gets hit by a 2 X 4 and falls right into an incinerator that's going full blast... you can see the flames and everything. The next week, after showing him clearly falling in again, he stands up outside the blazing incinerator, earning it a place on my list of worst cliffhanger resolutions ever.
Having said all that, this disc is really a fun time especially if you enjoy chapterplays and their sometimes twisted logic. There are enough chases and explosions too keep anyone glued to their set. It's nice that the chapters only run about 15 each too. Each one is a bite size chuck of old-time movie fun.
This 12-chapter serial arrives on a single Blu-ray disc.
Like their previous serial release in HD, Olive Films AVC 1080p transfer preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and looks amazing... with some caveats. The first thing that will strike viewers who have seen a good number of chapter plays on DVD is that this HD release looks much better than any other serial that I can recall. The contrast is great, the image is clear, and the detail is very good. There is a bit of natural grain, which there should be. Those who have been burned when purchasing serials released by public domain companies and getting washed out marred video will be very happy with this.
Having said that, this serial does reuse a lot of footage (as was the case in the 50's) from earlier Republic productions and those sections aren't as crisp and clear. It's understandable; they just chopped out a scene from some dup of a serial and spliced it in. There's a slight shift in video quality when they splice in older material, but it's never distracting and it undoubtedly looked that way back when this was first making the rounds back in 1950.
Like the video, the DTS-HD two channel mono track is excellent when compared to other serials that have been released. The dialog is clean and clear, the audio effects come out well. No complaints here.
Unfortunately, there are no extras at all on this release. A series of trailers from this and other serials would have been good, and a commentary track over the first episode would have been wonderful. All we get is a menu with the choice between playing the whole serial and selecting a chapter.
I have to admit that I enjoyed The Invisible Monster a bit more, but this was still an enjoyable serial. I've found that these play better if you watch them one chapter at a time rather than binging, and if you do that you should have a great time. With this serial looking and sounding so great, it's easy to give this a strong recommendation.