Super technologically advanced aliens from a far off planet seek help from hapless human scientists with winning an intergalactic war in This Island Earth! The 50s classic sci-fi flick that was prominently featured in E.T. and thoroughly sliced, diced and skewered by MST3K arrives on Blu-ray in beautiful form from Scream Factory. Sourced from a fresh 4K scan and featuring a restored Stereophonic audio mix with tons of bonus features. The film may be a bit schlocky at times but it's a true classic of the genre and hasn't looked or sounded better! Highly Recommended.
Nuclear scientist Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) has been invited to join a team by a strange man called Exeter (Jeff Morrow). Together with colleagues Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and Dr. Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson), Cal is supposed to be doing important research with the aim of ending all war, but something is strange about Exeter and his staff. When Cal and Ruth learn the truth, they're kidnapped on a flying saucer and whisked off to the far off planet of Metaluna - whose rulers aim to make Earth their new home and subjugate humanity through mind-control!
Is This Island Earth a true classic, or is it a schlocky over-budgeted B-movie? The answer to that question depends entirely on who you ask. Get enough people in the right room and you'll find some pretty split reactions. The people who likely saw it when they were kids in the 50s and 60s will have the fondest and most forgiving memories. Later generations have enjoyed bigger and better entries in the genre and will likely only remember the film because of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie and the clip featured in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
I fall someplace in the middle of the pack. I had the joy of watching this when I was so little I couldn't remember the name of the movie. Even with that E.T. prompt I couldn't place how I knew it for years. Then I sat with my friend in a darkened theater to watch MST3K: The Movie and all the memories came flooding back! While MST3K certainly slashed and hacked the film to bits - like many of the show's episodes - they also reinserted a forgotten gem into the cultural zeitgeist. A number of films owe their renewed lifespan to MST3K and I would argue This Island Earth is one of them. If you hold MST to task for going after this movie, you should read up on the behind the scenes drama and how their hands were tied into using this movie.
Free of riffing by three captives in a spaceship, This Island Earth may be a bit uneven, but the film is still an exciting adventure. As one of the last major-budget science fiction films to come out of Universal, you can see where they spent their money in every frame. Elaborate sets, makeup effects, an iconic creature, and all in glorious color. The film came together in that eerie post-war period where we weren't quite in a full-out space race with the Russians and sightings of UFO's were just starting to percolate. It was a timely cinematic jump for Universal to take.
The principal issue with This Island Earth is that it just takes way too long to get going for an 86-minute movie. While the intro material is great, with mysterious elements unraveling slowly, it helps set the mood but it doesn't move the story. We don't need to see every experiment Cal performs in his laboratory! For a film marketed on its 2 1/2 year production time and the creation of an advanced alien civilization and a really cool bug monster - it takes way too long to get to the good stuff. By the time the first act is actually over, little more than half an hour is left for all the cool stuff sci-fi fans came to see. But what we get is quite the sight to see! If being uneven is the worst thing you can say about a 50s sci-fi movie, there's really very little to complain about.
What it does have going for it is a first-rate cast giving it their all. Rex Reason proves to be a game lead as Faith Domergue offers a smart and attractive character with Jeff Morrow delivering an otherworldly alien with a voice of reason. The film also makes incredible use of special effects with often seamlessly blended optical tricks to make the impossible possible. On top of that, you get the Metaluna Mutant which - even though it's just a guy with a rubber head, arms, and kicky blue slacks - it's a creepy iconic creature that steals the show!
As scream factory has slowly worked through the back catalog of Universal International classics and upgrading them to Blu-ray, it's awesome to see This Island Earth get the deluxe treatment. Sure it may be a little schlocky but its heart is in the right place. It aims big with lots of spectacle and effects but grounds itself with a strong humane moral center. So kick back, dial-up your interocitor, turn the control panel 18 degrees to your left and enjoy the show!
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Shout/Scream Factory upgrades This Island Earth to Blu-ray in a single disc set. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy case. The inside of the artwork reprints the film's marketing - it's not quite alternate reversible artwork but if you flip it, it looks pretty snazzy. The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. The film's restored DTS-HD MA 3.0 Stereophonic audio mix is not the default, you have to select it in the audio menu. The film can also be viewed in the more familiar 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but that's accessed in the bonus features.
Sourced from a new 4K scan from the interpositive, it's honestly kind of weird to see This Island Earth looking this good in 1.85:1 1080p! I'm used to seeing it with scratches and faded colors on DVD or with a rough print projected for countless viewings of MST3k: The Movie. From the first moments of the movie, you can see the massive leaps in quality. Film grain is apparent throughout, but never overly noisy for a film of this vintage. It gives the image a nicely textured film-like appearance. Details also enjoy a massive improvement. Facial features, clothing, the film's impressive set design, and of course the Mutant looks amazing! What's really impressive for this film was the production design work to bring the sets to life. The laboratories may be confined but there's a lot of stuff thrown in there and it's all on the screen. Optical effects and model miniatures also hold up amazingly well. There is some slight extra scratches and speckling given the process of making those shots, but there's plenty of detail without any real quality loss.
Colors also look great with some bright bold primaries and very healthy skin tones. One of the best goofs of the film is Jeff Morrow's constantly changing tan because they were trying to color correct for how hot white his wig was. So that's just a fun goof that's even more apparent now. Black levels are all around solid, but this is a pretty bright movie so there's never really any truly dark scenes, but a sense of scale and three-dimensional depth remains. The condition of the elements is in pretty good shape overall. There are a few scratches, some very light speckling, and occasionally a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stain but that's the worst of it and most of the time you can't even notice it.
Presented as a "Bonus Feature" is the film in 1.33:1. While it was a widescreen feature theatrically, more people remember this open-matte appearance from television showings. Since it's just an open-matte, there isn't any side image loss, just more top and bottom information, and it looks pretty damn good. Because it's been pulled back, film grain isn't as apparent as in 1.85:1, but it still showcases a nicely detailed image with bright bold colors and solid image depth.
This Island Earth enjoys a pair of audio tracks a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix and a DTS-HD MA 3.0 Stereophonic mix that has been fully restored by 3-D Film Archive. To be honest and upfront, that 2.0 mono mix is pretty damn good. It does the job well, handles dialogue, sound effects and the score nicely - but it feels awful cramped. On the flip side, the 3.0 stereophonic track really opens up the mix and lets the wild sound design come alive. Sounds of science equipment, explosions, the rush of spaceship engines, and the blasts of the interocitor land with extra impact.
This is especially the case when Cal's jet flames out and loses control or when Cal and Ruth try to make their escape in the airplane and the Metalunans use the interociter to save them. During these sequences, there is a low hum with a really loud howl that is so shrill it's practically deafening in all the best ways! I had the volume up pretty high so when these scenes hit my cats went nuts! One shot up like a prairie dog trying to find the source while the other hunched in with his ears flat back angrily chattering at the screen. The second time it happened they just looked at me with complete disdain in their faces. It was a pretty damn hilarious side effect of a solid audio restoration. Levels are solid for this mix, but I kept it a bit louder than normal to get the full impact. Free of any hiss or pops, both the mono and Stereophonic mix are clean and in great shape.
NOTE: The 1.33:1 framed version of the film only has the 2.0 mono mix.
While not billed as a "Collector's Edition" it gets the full treatment with a galaxy of great new bonus features. It's listed in the menu here, so I'm including the 1.33:1 as a "bonus feature." On top of that, you get two new commentary tracks which are pretty cool listens. The interview with Luigi Cozzi is a good bit of fun. The extended version of Two and a Half Years in the Making runs about 15 minutes longer than the one on the MST3k: The Movie disc and offers up a lot more production detail about the movie. Also really cool to see are the old Castle Films 8mm and 16mm cut downs of the movie that had been retitled War of the Planets. Lots of awesome stuff to pick through here!
This Island Earth - 1.33:1 Presentation with DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono.
NEW Audio Commentary featuring author and visual effects artist Robert Skotak.
NEW Audio Commentary featuring Film Historian David Schect.
NEW Alien Ideas - Interview with Starcrash Filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (HD 21:11)
NEW-ish Two and a Half Years in the Making: The Extended Documentary (HD 47:55) Ballyhoo
Trailers from Hell - This Island Earth with Joe Dante (SD 2:45)
War of the Planets 8mm and 16mm Films (HD 11:45) Abreviated Castle Films
Facts about Perspects Stereophonic Sound with Bob Furmanek (HD 9:39) Text only but a great read!
Behind the Scenes Gallery
Poster and Lobby Card Gallery
Publicity Stills Gallery
This Island Earth may not be the greatest example of classic science fiction but it's a heck of a lot of fun. Looking at it today, its notions are a tad dated but the film itself is still very effective. Great performances from the committed cast, some awesome production design and special effects with one of the most famous monsters committed to the screen make this a worthwhile venture. It's a fun show and a great showcase of Universal International's best efforts in the genre.
In keeping with their previous Universal International releases, Scream Factory delivers a first-rate Blu-ray experience. With a fresh new 4K scan plus a restored Stereophonic audio track, the disc also is smashed with new and updated bonus features. If classic sci-fi is your game, you're not going to want to miss this one. Highly Recommended.