Earth Versus the Flying Saucers

Year 1956

Hugh Marlowe as Dr. Russell A. Marvin
Joan Taylor   as  Carol Marvin 
Donald Curtis as Maj. Huglin
Morris Ankrum  as Gen. Hanley
John Zaremba as Prof. Kanter
Director - Fred Sears
Screenwriters - Raymond T. Marcus   
    George Worthing Yates   
Special Effects   - Ray Harryhausen
    Russ Kelley   
Book Author  - Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe   
Screen Story - Curt Siodmak

There's a "Who's Who" of special niche people in the credits. Ray Harryhausen was the master of miniature and stop motion special effects. Major Donald E. Keyhoe wrote books about flying saucers. Curt Siodmak wrote a number of screen plays and started the genre involving heads on plates like The Thing that Wouldn't Die or something.

So, you'd think that this movie holds promise. In fact, this movie almost made the bad list.  As a warning to anyone expecting a mature story line, give this one a pass. If, on the other hand, what you want is a great example of stop-motion special effects, then give this one a watch. From my perspective, I happen to like stop motion photography.

To say the least, the plot of Earth Versus the Flying Saucers is weak.   To say the most, the title won't steer you wrong. Perhaps it should have been The United States Versus the Flying Saucers, but otherwise the title just about sums things up.

You see, something is de-orbiting America's satellites.   At the same time there's a rash of UFOs being reported.   So, one plus one equals UFOs are de-orbiting our satellites.   But that's just phase one, sort of like Independence Day. Step two is that these visitors from beyond the stars want to conquer the Earth.   Well, who knows what they wanted to orignally do. Maybe all they wanted was to collect recyclable metal with extreme prejudice so that they could turn it in for cash on their home planet. Instead, one of their kind gets whacked and suddenly its pals want to take over the Earth.

Earth doesn't think much of this so, within about two months Dr. Russell A. Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) comes up with a super weapon to defeat the horde of saucers invading our air space. Actually, the "horde" appears to be number about 10 ships, all of which descend on Washington, D.C. in order to make easy targets of themselves. They don't appear anywhere else on the face of the Earth, just D.C. This is what I call good use of a limited special effects budget.

In the movie, yer've got yer standard...

Where were we? Oh, yes, the aliens have decided to take over the Earth.  They seem to do this sort of thing often, at least according to über scientist Marvin who's now become an expert on things no one has ever seen before. (Ever work for people like that? In five minutes they become experts in what took you five years to learn.) Rather than take the easy way, like land and announce, "Take me to your leader! We're in charge now, mushy skin." they decide to buzz Doctor Marvin's car and play something for him over their loud speaker on their space craft.

It's a message! But it's sent out at a speed that makes it sound like the beating of a bees wings. What are these invaders? Jokers to mankind's Batman? Here's a tip and if you figure it out you can beat me? Maybe it's in their illegal alien union contract that they need to announce their intent when attempting to conquer a planet of more than one-billion sentient things. Maybe it's scheduing. Maybe it's padding the movie. Silly, clueless (since they gave it away) aliens.   

Now let's talk alien tactics. First, they steal the General's brain. This is the General with a newlywed daughter and missing wife. To the aliens, it is seen as the repository of all Earth's knowledge.  Huh? Clueless, aliens!   

Now they are a race that can look in on anything thanks to their inventing a set of super duper X-Ray Specs with wings. The first place they should look is wherever the über scientist, the one they buzzed, is hanging out. Surely they targeted this guys as being worth watching. But, they don't. I mean, if they did and found out what the head brainiac was working on, then über scientist Marvin would have to run away and there be no time to complete work on his new anti-alien weapon.   Clueless!

Finally, after Doctor Marvin completes his work and the humans start to fight back, what happens? The aliens ignore this death ray. Maybe the aliens are hoping that if they ignore their impending defeat long enough, it will go away. Just destroy the toy and continue with your conquering ways? Not these aliens. Clueless!  

Does this movie contain cringeworthy dialogue? You betcha!

The über scientist giving out with the "cool, hip" name for man-made satellites.
Dr. Russell A. Marvin:  We call them 'birds'.

I'm all atwitter at the revelation. (Get it? Birds? Atwitter? Never mind.)

This movie pretends to be steeped in scientific knowledge. It really just had hot tap water run over the dregs. In one scene the hero, his new wife, and the equivalent of a Star Trek away team (we all know what happens to the "red shirts") are on a saucer zooming away from Earth.  To demonstrate the speed at which they're traveling, the screenwriters chose to introduce the concept of the time dilation effect.  They should have chosen the bourbon distillation effect instead.

Anyone who took high school physics should know that as the difference between the speed of an object and the speed of light decreases, time slows down for the speeding object. For example, the faster someone travels, the slower that person ages with respect to their initial frame of reference. That is a problem that needs to be dealt with when it comes to working with something even as slow moving as orbiting satellites (we call them "birds").

So, in the movie, everyone on the saucer is moving normally which is good because their velocity should not affect their perception within their frame of reference. But their watches, within the same frame of reference (i.e. the saucer they're riding in) have stopped and so have their hearts. Huh?  (Does this mean that they can no longer feel love?)

If this really were an attempt to demonstrate time dilation, time would not stop for them. Time would appear to speed up for, oh, everyone back on Earth. But, thanks to the X-Ray Specs, we find that on Earth, nothing is moving faster than normal when these pokey Joes take a peek. We call these lame attempts to show scientific concept "birds" or at least for the birds.

Other things that'll drive you nuts include no explanation as to how the saucers can go from zero to 100,000 miles per second in under five seconds without squashing everyone on board.

Then there's the scene where a "multi-stage" rocket is launched.  The problem is that the stock footage shows a single stage rocket.

Let's not even go into the way Congress is ignored.

So again, why is this movie not relegated to "bad"?    Ray Harryhausen, that's why!    He managed to combine stock footage, sound effects, live action, miniatures, and stop-motion to create something that's coherent and believable within the context of the movie.  Oh, there are a few speed issues and when things fall, gravity seems to be alternately weak or strong at different times because things fall at different rates.

But you've got yer spinning saucers, yer vibrating force fields, yer detailed miniatures, and yer correctly scaled explosions to watch for.    A lot of time and attention went into the effects and they pay off.    This movie is right up there with King Kong for special effects.

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