3D Blu-ray Review: It Came from Outer Space

In case you haven't noticed from any of my other blog posts, the life of geekhood involves countless obsessions with various pop culture artifacts. One of my recurring fixations is with 3D entertainment, a fixation that has been greatly satiated by the release of 3D films on high definition digital media. These releases initially consisted of only new movie titles but as time went on, releases of vintage titles from Hollywood's "golden age" of 3D films in the 1950s have been appearing as well. This post is devoted to one of the vintage titles, It Came from Outer Space, a sci-fi thriller from 1953 which Universal released on Blu-ray last October. While this film may look very low-tech in comparison to the sci-fi films of today, its reappearance in 3D marks a special milestone for geeky 3D aficionados like me. Read on ....

Even without 3D effects, It Came from Outer Space boasts an impressive pedigree. It was one of two classic films from the '50s that were based on work by noted sci-fi author Ray Bradbury; the other one was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was also released in 1953 and features impressive stop-motion work by Ray Harryhausen. It Came from Outer Space was directed by Jack Arnold, one of the giants of Atomic Age sci-fi cinema. During the '50s, he would direct three other 3D films: The Glass Web (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and Revenge of the Creature (1955).

My personal interest in It Came from Outer Space goes back to elementary school in the early '80s. I first read about it in one of the "Monster Series" books that were published by Crestwood House. When Jaws 3D arrived in 1983, I was so excited and intrigued by the idea of 3D that I picked up a book called Amazing 3D, which was written by Hal Morgan and Dan Symmes. The book provides a comprehensive overview of 3D, from its origins in the mid-1800s up until the book's publication in 1982. Amazing 3D covered just about everything that provided the illusion of three dimensions (photos, comic books, movies, and so on) and It Came from Outer Space appeared in the chapter devoted to Hollywood's first run at making 3D a common format in cinematic entertainment.

Because of everything I read during my formative years, It Came from Outer Space became one of three films from the '50s that I was determined to see in 3D, with the other two being House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Before high-definition video became a reality, the possibility of seeing any of these movies in 3D (or at least in a 3D format that was worth watching) were extremely slim. Now, thanks to the Blu-ray format, all three of these films can be seen at home in the way that they were meant to be seen. (I'm still hoping that Revenge of the Creature will be released on 3D Blu-ray too, but I haven't heard anything about that title yet.)

As a Blu-ray title, It Came from Outer Space looks fantastic. I've seen other versions of it in anaglyph (i.e., red and blue) and field sequential, but this version is by far the best with very little ghosting. It also comes with both 2D and 3D versions of the film's teaser trailer, and a half-hour extra called "The Universe According to Universal" that provides a retrospective of Universal's sci-fi movies during the '50s and how they reflected the social and political concerns of that time. However, this extra could have easily been re-titled as "The Universe According to Jack Arnold", since Arnold's films are mentioned frequently.

A number of things set It Came from Outer Space apart from other films of its day. It's one of the few sci-fi films where the aliens are not interested in taking over the earth; these aliens are here by accident and all they really want to do is go home. Instead of using the threat of invasion to evoke fear, Bradbury's script and Arnold's direction squeeze as much tension as possible out of the human characters' varying responses to encountering the unknown and unthinkable. Yet for as unique as it is, this film paved the way for other sci-fi movies of its time--especially Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which features a climax that closely resembles one of the key scenes in Arnold's film.

On the other hand, It Came from Outer Space took a very low-tech approach to sci-fi. Its special effects look modest in comparison to other sci-fi thrillers from the same decade, such as The War of the Worlds (1953) and Forbidden Planet (1956). Essentially, the 3D format is the special effect of the movie, and Arnold makes it look amazing. Unlike gimmicky 3D films that insist on poking objects at the audience, Arnold utilizes natural, unobtrusive movements to impress the audience. He carefully arranges his shots so that objects are located at various distances from the camera, which in turn enhances the depth of field effect when people and vehicles move through the landscape.

Arnold's direction and shot composition to emphasize the 3D effect also stands in sharp contrast to most modern movies that are shot in 2D and converted to 3D via CGI in post-production. As his style demonstrates, it's difficult to make an impressive and memorable 3D film if it is originally planned and shot as a 2D film.

3D entertainment has come a long way since the '50s, and I'm glad that video technology has finally caught up with It Came from Outer Space.


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