Invaders From Mars
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In the 1950s, science fiction traded on paranoia. No one was who you thought they were — as evidenced in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I Married a Monster From Outer Space. And Invaders From Mars brought the threat into the American family. Mom and Dad became suspects.

Designed and directed by William Cameron Menzies (whose credits include Gone With the Wind and Things to Come), Invaders From Mars is one of the great '50s science-fiction movies. It doesn't have the overwhelming despair of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; it's a more playful and fanciful movie. Photographed to reflect the mind of a boy, Invaders From Mars plays out as a nightmare come to life. The ground swallows up people, tunnels honeycomb the land, and bug-eyed aliens run through these tunnels, using a disintegrator gun to blast more tunnels. The alien leader consists of a disembodied head encased in a clear bubble. Tiny tentacles wave beside its face. Invaders From Mars is filled with amazing visions — as you might find in a boy's fantasy.

A boy named David (Jimmy Hunt) looks out his bedroom window one stormy night and sees a flying saucer descend on the other side of a hill. He tells his father (Leif Erickson), but his father convinces him it was just a dream. Nonetheless, his father decides to investigate; however, once he heads over the hill, he disappears. When he finally returns home, his demeanor has changed. He is now gruff and cold. David spots a small scar on the back of his father's neck, at which point his father smacks him across the room. Clearly, something's terribly wrong.

David runs to the local police station for help and promptly gets locked in a cell. A doctor (Helena Carter) is called to talk to David, and he tells her what he has seen. She can't believe his outlandish story, but when David's parents show up, she's taken aback by their sullen demeanor and intercedes on David's behalf, insisting she can't release him yet. She takes David to meet her friend, Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz), and together they start to unravel the mystery. They even call in the military to investigate and provide the needed fire power.

If you need convincing that the movie was filmed to depict a boy's fantasy, pay attention to David's close relationship to Col. Fielding (Morris Ankrum) of the U.S. Army. David becomes his constant companion, even showing the infantry soldiers how to use an alien weapon. Some people might consider this just campy nonsense. But it's more than that: it's a wonderful depiction of a child's fanciful imagination (in the tradition of The Wizard of Oz). The science-fiction elements on display in Invaders From Mars are largely silly stuff — but that's because it's a boy who's imagining everything that's happening. And in that context Invaders From Mars is a wonderful movie.

Strangely enough, the movie's original (uncredited) screenwriter, John Tucker Battle, envisioned the story as a real event — not a boy's dream. He was enraged when he discovered the filmmakers had changed his story and insisted his name be removed from the credits. The producers complied. Blake reportedly never saw the finished film.

Filmed on a relatively small budget — for just $290,000 at Republic Studios — Invaders From Mars features numerous cost-cutting measures. For example, the aliens' costumes are simply green velour. But other aspects of the movie are remarkable, such as the tentacled disembodied head encased in a clear globe that serves as the intelligence behind the invasion. (This vision was provided by a midget, Luce Potter. During the filming, she sat on a box with the bubble around her head.)

Republic Studios' special effects experts Howard and Theodore Lydecker devised the sand pit that opens up and sucks victims into the earth (using a vacuum and funnel), and Gene Hibbs devised the bug eyes for the aliens. Cinematographer John Seitz (of Sunset Boulevard fame) worked closely with Menzies to create the film's look.

Image Entertainment has now released Invaders From Mars on DVD in a new transfer from the Wade Williams collection. The transfer isn't perfect. The print shows wear, with slight fuzziness and noticeable grain. By no means is this a pristine copy of Invaders From Mars. But it's also the best copy currently available of this movie. The original negative was lost when the IRS foreclosed on Cinecolor Labs and sold the lab assets for salvage. So if you're searching for a copy of this movie, Image Entertainment's version is likely the best choice available — but at the same time you have to hope that someone someday unearths a better looking print: the colors have becomes somewhat garish and the soft image is somewhat distracting.

This DVD package includes a huge bonus for sci-fi aficionados — both the American and British versions of Invaders From Mars. For many years reports persisted that the two versions were different, but until now the British version has not been available in America. Now sci-fi fans in America can see what the fuss was about.

The movie's British distributor thought the tone of the ending was too downbeat, so they requested a new ending in which David would be reunited with his parents. In addition, the distributor wanted to drop the stinger ending entirely, as well as the lengthy montage of images that rush through David's mind as he runs from the flying saucer. To pad out the movie's running time, they also requested that additional footage be shot for the scene where Dr. Kelston gives David a short lesson on a variety of subjects. However, because this new footage was shot nearly a year after the principal photography was completed, Hunt had grown several inches. In addition, the clothing he wears in the new footage doesn't match the clothing he wore in the original footage — so suddenly in the middle of the scene, David acquires a vest. The footage for the British version isn't in particularly good shape. Color is drained and the footage exhibits more wear than the American footage. You'll find no great revelations in the additional British footage. It exists mainly as a curiosity.

Image Entertainment has put together this DVD presentation of Invaders From Mars in cooperation with Wade Williams, who now owns the movie's copyright. In addition to providing both the American and British versions of Invaders From Mars, this disc also includes a nice selection of stills (although unfortunately many of the stills appear to be low resolution and hardly worth viewing). Even with its shortcomings, this disc is essential viewing for all fans of '50s science fiction.

Invaders From Mars is now available on DVD from Image Entertainment in a new digital transfer. Special features: both U.S. and alternative British versions of the film; a theatrical trailer; and a stills gallery. Suggested retail price: $19.95 each. For more information, check out the Image Entertainment Web site.