Metalunatic Fringe

How long since I watched THIS ISLAND EARTH? Last time was the MST3K movie which doesn’t count. First time was on TV as a kid, and it maybe didn’t quite enter my pantheon with THE TIME MACHINE and FORBIDDEN PLANET because it screened outwith the BBC2 sci-fi seasons? A weird prejudice to have. Weird kid.

(On the other hand, it’s genuinely not quite as fun or smart as those two.)

Amusingly, brain guy here is able to look around the room and his eyeline always matches who he’s looking at, though in reality he’s looking at an image on a small screen… it makes pictorial sense without making any literal sense at all.

It stands up OK — especially the early, boring stuff, which ain’t boring when you’re an adult. It’s really intriguing and a nice interlocking set of mysterioso scenes. True, there’s something cheesy about leading man Rex Reason, even though he’s an OK actor I think. His baritone delivery is very B-movie and he’s stupid casting as a scientist. It’s a shame when we lose his schlubby friend.

Faith Domergue as a scientist, oddly, I can accept. Maybe because Rex Reason has softened me up first.

At least one of those bumps in the road is Howard Hughes.

Things go off a little when we get to the Big Head Institute — the Metalunans do look rather silly, especially Brack. Fiona was amused by Exeter’s name. All the Metalunans should be named after medium-sized British towns. Basingstoke. Ipswich. Scunthorpe. But Jeff Morrow strikes me as a pretty good actor, underplaying the gloopiness and coming across real sympathetic. Maybe he also got them to give him a better hairline than the other guys. A Metalunatic fringe, if you will. His forehead is almost acceptable. If they’d whittled an inch off his dome, and a few inches off the other guys, they’d have had an acceptable look (with better wigs). I hadn’t noticed this before (maybe I saw it on our old b&w TV?) but the Metalunans are also in subtle brownface.

If I were making a 50s SF movie I’d cast mixed-race actors in whiteface and the mainstream audience would get really uncomfortable without knowing why.

The whole last half plays like someone hit fast-forward. I guess because (a) the picture couldn’t be three hours long and (b) this is the really expensive special effects bit so they can’t afford to linger and (c) sure, things are supposed to accelerate when you reach the climax.

The journey to Metaluna takes a while, and we get to watch cool stuff like the tubes (top) and we see a lady brain guy — I want a whole movie about this butch personage in her fashionable see-thru hat — and then suddenly we’re in a terrible rush.

When we get to Metaluna and there’s some lovely practical miniature effects, a big rubber mu-tant, some icky Technicolor manipulation (anybody know what precisely they did? Leave out the Magenta dye? was it deliberate or was somebody at Technicolor just careless?), which is all great and partly masks the fact that they get abducted to an alien world and then IMMEDIATELY go home. And poor Exeter basically announces he’s going to commit suicide and Reason and Domergue are just, like, “Okay, bye!”

Metaluna is HORRIBLE. I want at least an hour of screen time dedicated to the decontamination procedures.

Whoever did the matte paintings wasn’t real good at perspective. Which might be the most important skill for a matte painter to have.

Am I blue?

“That was once a recreation center.” Oh no, they got the bingo hall? Big-ass matte line here, like everybody’s about to be “beamed up” or something. An odd glitch in such a pricey movie, like the very faint opening credits, superimposed at too weak an intensity. Some of this may be the effects of time rather than bad special effects per se.

As is the way with fifties sf, God gets a mention in Act III, and the whole thing is weirdly conservative. The “happy ending” — Reason & Domergue clinch on terra firma, Morrow fatally splashdowns — begs the question, since the Zagons just destroyed Metaluna, and the Metalunans had the tech to visit Earth, are we now going to get bombarded by the Zagons too?

“She gave me water…” Not nearly enough mutant character development for my taste.

We never see a Zagon, only their tiny, far-away spaceships, but they don’t come off as an intriguing mystery, they’re just a bit of the story nobody was interested in exploring. The whole thing would make more sense or be more meaningful, to me, if the Metalunans had started this war or something.

Orangey the cat is in this too, as Neutrino the cat. His house gets blown up with him in it. Nobody mourns.

THIS ISLAND EARTH stars Dr. Leslie Gaiskell; Prof. Leslie Joyce; Dr. Thomas Morgan; Professor Roy Hinkley; Dr. Brunner; Dr. Karl Fresenburg; & Cat.

10 Responses to “Metalunatic Fringe”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I well remember this one when it was released — with great publicity fanfare, quite unusual for a sci-fi film of its kind. I found the trailer so scary (the mutants lurching towards Faith Domergue) that I simply HAD to go see it. Today we can examine its tatty edges but at the time it really worked. The most frightening moment for me was when the flying saucer beamed up the car with the male and female human leads in it.) This was in many ways recalled by Spielberg in his benign alien spectacular “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

  2. Could it be true? An MST3K I haven’t seen?

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Loved this picture as a young teen. As an adult, I’ve yet to be able to sit through the entire film. I always took the death of Morrow’s Exerter to be a reworked version of the death of Nemo in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES. Then, too, when I looke up James Mason and Nemo, I discover that the the dialogue quoted sounds oddly like Klaatu In DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

    I understand that Jack Arnold did uncredited work on THIS ISLAND EARTH — perhaps in the Metaluna section? Joseph M Newman, credited director, is a member of the Andrew Sarris AMERICAN CINEMA club; Jack Arnold isn’t.

    That’s a super nickname “Big Head Institute” — which will be its official name from now on. We should keep in mind the Cold War side of THIS ISLAND EARTH, with the Big Head Institute as a “front organization” and the trip to the tyrannical homeland to be “reprogrammed.”

  4. The MST3K MOVIE!

    This Island Earth is certainly a more prestige production than other SFs, with the exception of Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still, I guess. The oddly un-starry cast maybe is to do with that odd idea that people in science fiction stories shouldn’t be too interesting. I’ve read Kinglsey Amis defending this principle in the sixties, so it obviously was seen as the correct way to do things. So we get Rex Reason and Faith Domergue.

  5. There’s a quaint exchange that ties in with the cold war reading: when Monitor says that the aliens would relocate to Earth peacefully, Domergue reacts by repeating “Peacefully?” with utter horror. Like that makes it even worse.

  6. C. Jerry Kutner Says:

    Exemplary pop sci-fi. You can find a great write-up on this film – and its political implications – in Raymond Durgnat’s FILMS AND FEELINGS.

  7. Ah, why don’t I own a copy of that? I love Durgnat! I ought to have a shelf of him, instead of one slim volume and some old Films and Filmings…

  8. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Speaking of the “Big Head Institute”

  9. bensondonald Says:

    It reminds me of monster movies where you don’t get to see the full monster makeup until the last reel — and those shots make up most of the trailer. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” only gave us a few seconds of Volcania, but we got tons of the Nautilus and undersea footage before that.

  10. I know someone who made a 21st century horror and the monster still didn’t show until act III. Didn’t want to say anything but this seemed a blunder to me. The Host really moved things on here.

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