I’m on The Online Movie Show With Phil Hall

Check it out!  Phil Hall is one of the few people to write anything about Phil Tucker’s Space Jockey and I quoted him thusly in my book.  Recently I’ve been happy to make his acquaintance and was interviewed for his wide-ranging cinema podcast, The Online Movie Show With Phil Hall.  It’s a fun little chat, and Phil asks all the right questions about Robot Monster, Phil Tucker, and related subjects.  Many thanks to Phil for having me on!

The Motorcycle Boy Reigns

I saw Rumble Fish back in 1994, was stunned, and was also stunned that hardly anyone had seen it or written about it in the decade after its release.  It’s a real love-it-or-hate-it experience, but it definitely clicked for me.  Amazing visuals and sounds, and some outright surrealism in what was ostensibly a Hollywood movie.  There’s nothing quite like it, and Criterion is bringing it to Blu-Ray in April.

It Came from Best Buy

“After you’ve been working out on the desert fifteen years like I have, you hear a lot of things.  See a lot of things too.  Sun in the sky, and the heat.  All that sand out there with the rivers and lakes that aren’t real at all.  And sometimes you think that the wind gets in the wires and hums and listens and talks.”

icfos_3-d_b-r

So saith Ray Bradbury, my favorite writer.

Because I wrote a lengthy book about the making of a very bad but very awesome ’50s monster movie, I’ve seen far too many of these things. But I also have an appreciation for the ones that actually aren’t terrible, and for a few that are actually good. And this is why I’ve seen IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE more than a few times over the years. With Bradbury’s involvement, this 3-D production from Universal in 1953 is one of the best of its kind. The Bradbury in this Bradbury movie was Hollywood-diluted of course, but the movie’s intelligent treatment of contact with alien life makes it unique, as does the sense of mystery and desert atmosphere. The quote above, gracefully read onscreen by actor Joe Sawyer, encapsulates the greatness of this little gem.

So when the news came out that Universal was getting IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE out on Blu-Ray as a Best Buy exclusive, I noticed it was priced like the Wal-Mart bargain bin and knew I had to own it on that basis. It could have been released by Criterion, cost $24.99, and gone into the land of ain’t-buying-because-DVD-is-good-enough. But wiser heads prevailed, despite a lot of trouble going into this release. The 3-D Film Archive did intensive work on the picture and sound, bringing its original three-channel audio to home video for (I believe) the first time.

Old black-and-white movies are tricky for me on Blu-Ray. Some enthusiasts get defensive when someone claims that old movies don’t pop all that much in high definition, the defenders pointing out that 1080p resolution will recreate that silver glow that coats the screen in black-and-white projection. While that is true, I’m not going to pretend. Without color, high definition just doesn’t define that highly to my eyes.

So when I played the disc, I had the same issue I always have with black-and-white Blu-Ray. This looks good, I think to myself, but does it really look that good? But, yes, it does. Comparing it to the 2002 DVD, the Blu-Ray blows it away with significantly more detail and contrast, and an overall brighter image. Atmospheric imagery in a cave late in the movie becomes absolutely beautiful on the new disc, and little visual details like the glittery trail left by the alien shine in a new way.

But having said all that, the audio is just stunning. There is some real channel separation going on, which is a startling thing for my ears to register when watching a movie as old as this one. And the louder moments are downright stunning, like the explosion and musical stab at the beginning.

Extra features to me are extra and not always necessary, but this disc carries a magnificent audio commentary by Tom Weaver from the old DVD. Anyone who has heard a Weaver commentary knows that he not only knows his stuff, but he has specifically prepared it in a pattern that makes sense, and he barely stops talking(!). There’s a good documentary from the DVD too but the commentary is where it’s at.

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, it seems to be selling. My local Best Buy had three or four copies, and I was surprised to see them sold out later in the week. (Shout! Factory’s outstanding Manhunter didn’t seem to be selling out in the spring.)  Anyhow, I hope Universal goes to the trouble with more classic science fiction. Being me, I have to close with a song, one that sampled this movie:

The Magnetic Monster

No robot monsters here in this 1953 collaboration between Ivan Tors and Curt Siodmak, but there are several machines acting crazy.  Less known than the recently restored in 3-D Gog, The Magnetic Monster is the first Tors film about the fictitious Office of Scientific Investigation, a concept that must have seemed close to reality in 1953.  Recently released on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber, it looks wonderful in that old school monochrome way of silvery whites and black ink shadows (along with a fair amount of gray in the middle, I admit).

The Magnetic Monster should get more respect just for starring Richard Carlson, stalwart of fifties SF movies in which he repeatedly plays a wonderfully urbane yet competent scientist hero.  It Came From Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are the best examples, but Carlson is no less awesomely himself here, all smooth determination in the face of a world-threatening calamity.  This lower budget effort brings him together with the movie trope of implying a monster when the money is not there to actually depict it (which Val Lewton did better than anyone), and of using some truly excellent stock footage as another budget fix (from a German silent film with amazing art direction).  Throw in a pretty unique concept for the monster (I won’t spoil it), some great sections of contrast-heavy black-and-white visuals, and a bit part with Strother “Failure to Communicate” Martin as a pilot, and there is a lot to enjoy here.  If you enjoy this sort of thing–I sure do–then check it out.