Did Ray Harryhausen like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers?
Ray Harryhausen did the special effects in the movie Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), which he has made iconic. This is a 50s science fiction movie, which means there’s a lot of paranoia and people trying to explain weird stuff. People run around, point up at the sky, and the movie shows us stuff superimposed over a flying saucer, as it zips by. I admit, this movie isn’t for everyone, but it is historic, I will give it that. The flying saucer design is what everyone later movies picked up on and everyone remembers the picture of the Capital building with a flying saucer sticking out of it, still to this day.
The tone is way too serious, but this is the 50s. I do like the pace though and the whole thing reeks of paranoia right from the first minute, as everyone tries to figure out where this mysterious flying objects are coming from. Of course, they alert the Hemispheric Defense Command. Of course. Makes sense. This is a fictional organization, of course, as an important sounding group, but I’m not sure why they didn’t just include the Air Defense Command, you know the actual Air Force. Anyway, the Defense Commanders alert everybody. The movie shows people running around with paperwork. I’d hate to be working in an office at this place.
There’s a LOT of stock footage in this movie, just like in every low-budget movie from the 50s like this one. I can remember other 50s science fiction movies of this period jam-packed with stock footage of rockets, jets, and artillery left over from World War II news reels. This movie is no different. All of the news footage, the rockets, and artillery guns are all stock footage.
There are further mysteries besides the flying saucers themselves. The main character Dr Russell Martin works for the government and gets news of some experiment rockets of his getting shot down by unknown forces. Of course, we’re supposed to conclude that the saucers did all the damage given the preceding introduction to the saucer paranoia. After they conclude the saucers destroyed the government rockets, a saucer suddenly attacks everybody with fake lasers and death rays. Everybody is disintegrated but our main characters.
A number of things in this movie influenced other movies. The aforementioned saucers can be seen in other movies, like Mars Attacks, and in popular media. That’s a given. The alien’s brief appearance also influenced other movies, like Flight to Mars, and The Thing. Some of the plot elements were stolen too, such as the alien’s language being recorded too fast for human ears. I’ve seen that on the Twilight Zone or Star Trek, I think. Can’t place that one though. Maybe someone can help me out.
There’s also an allegory for communism in this movie, same as most science fiction movies from the 50s. Most of the military in the movie is shown paranoid and cautious, ultimately wanting to kill the aliens. A General in the movie is especially defensive as he says, “When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don’t meet him with tea and cookies!”. The movie has communist paranoia and it also has mind control, as the aliens brainscan a big wig General and dig into his BRAIN with their overly complex machine. This movie begins a trend to throw in science fiction gobbly gook dialogue to explain things, which may have influenced Star Trek.
Thanks to Harryhausen, the ray guns look great. The front and back projection of the flying saucers is primitive, but it gets the job done. The best parts of Harryhausen’s work are the animations, which are simple and effective. A ball of light flying around and making people freak out works the best.
Overall, this is an entertaining movie fast enough to appeal to most people. It’s under 90 minutes. It has good effects and a story to appeal to those obsessed with allegories (like me) or science fiction fans. It’s an iconic piece of work by Ray Harryhausen. He must have been proud of this movie, given its legacy. The grand finale is the best part of this movie, and if you haven’t seen it, I think the movie succeeds based on this alone. The rest of the movie works, but a combination of effects, story, and pace make this one a classic.