Spielberg can’t get enough … It Came From Outer Space (1953)
With help from the legendary Ray Bradbury, It Came From Outer Space (1953) presents an eerie adventure, which inspired Steven Spielberg to create another seminal science fiction classic later on. The HollyWood Reporter interviewed Steven Spielberg at the time of Bradbury’s death in 2012, and were reminded of the huge influence Bradbury had on science fiction, extending beyond literature to even film. Spielberg was quoted as saying that It Came From Outer Space was a huge influence on him in the creation of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, which the director was lucky enough to tell Bradbury about years ago. This kind of influence gave me a new perspective on It Came From Outer Space and made it a little more fun to watch.
Spielberg has said that the element that works best in It Came From Outer Space is the fact that the aliens are somewhat benign, not at all like aliens in most stereotypical science fiction. Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay and defined the themes, the characters, and the aliens. For his work on the screenplay, Bradbury was paid 2,000 dollars, and later fired. A professional screenwriter was later hired to polish the final version of the screenplay, but Bradbury’s biggest thematic elements remained.
It Came From Outer Space led the science fiction genre out of the dark in 1953 and into a new era where social commentary could be included, to treat the subject matter with an intelligence and originality, doing so by crafting the Cold War and Communism into allegories. And given my other posts, I love my movie allegories, that’s for sure. The era of the Cold War fuels the suspense in this film, creating a fearful symmetry amongst the characters, a society of fear that reflects the age.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind joins its characters and aliens in the end in what can only be described as tranquil harmony, an idea suggested at in It Came From Outer Space, but not fully realized. In helping the aliens, the characters in It Came From Outer Space experience the persecution and paranoia of the Cold War first hand. The main characters are not the ones angry and hateful at the aliens, instead it is society that suspects and hates them, like a thinly veiled reference to McCarthyism. I say thinly veiled, but it is pretty damn obvious to me after watching it a second time.
This was the first 3-D movie Universal made for the drive-in. It contains many 3-D tropes, like things coming at the camera. It also contains many other science fiction devices, like the guy who saw aliens nobody believes. As the story begins, John thinks he saw something at the bottom of a crater and begins seeing aliens wherever he goes, even on the highway. After people start disappearing though, the police start kissing John’s ass and believing his story. Go John.
The method for giving the alien invasion human form is pretty well done. They just use the same actors. The people disappear and reappear different than they once were. They act strange. They talk in a monotone voice. Are they aliens? Duh. Well, at least it’s original, but it’s pretty obvious though. Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes this idea to the next level and I think the alien invasion into society is more convincing in that film, at least in the Leonard Nimoy version.
John talks things over with the aliens and goes back to town to start quoting philosophy. He sounds like he’s ready for the 60’s. They’re not here to kill us, mack! No, they’re here to kidnap your buddies…temporarily! Yeah, that’s it! Nothing to worry about. Err…
John is played by Richard Carlson, who was in other Universal pictures and a lot of television. This is about as close as he ever gets to something deep and meaningful. He also appeared in The Creature from the Black Lagoon, another Universal horror movie, so he must have a thing for monsters. When John finally sees one of the monsters up close, he is a little upset. Ugly thing. He might not like the looks of them, but John helps them anyway, and the aliens fly away before humanity stomps on them like an ant.
All in all, this movie was pretty decent. The performances are good and the overall themes are excellent, which probably made Ray Bradbury proud. To me, this movie was a little more fun to write about than watch, which was funny. Like many critics have noted, the plot is fairly predictable, and there aren’t many surprises, but it’s still pretty entertaining for a little genre called science fiction.