Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers--2 Disc Ed -

DVD Review

Mania Grade: B-

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  • Title: Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers Two Disc Edition
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor
  • Writer: Donald Keyhoe, Bernard Gordon
  • Director: Fred Sears
  • Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment
  • Original Year of Release: 1956
  • Extras: Commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Interviews with Harryhausen and Joan Taylor, The making of the film, Plus over a half dozen other featurettes

Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers--2 Disc Ed

Tim's thoughts on the classic

By Tim Janson, Columnist     January 30, 2008

DVD coverart for Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers(1956).
© Sony Home Entertainment

Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers is pure 1950’s B movie fare. The plot and acting are campy, the budget is minuscule, and it’s filled with 50’s sci-fi clichés, but the film had one thing going for it, and that was the stop-motion wizardry of Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen’s incredible talents made this film rise above other similar films of the era that have been long forgotten. Make no mistake about it…there’s no way this movie would be released on a two DVD special edition over 50 years later without Harryhausen’s involvement. The newly-remastered set comes with an incredible array of special features that puts most new films to shame.

The thin plot centers around Marlowe’s character of Dr. Russell Marvin, a scientist working with the U.S. Army. Martin is launching rockets into space to begin gathering information for man’s eventual travel into space. However, almost as soon as the rockets reach space communication is lost and the rockets come crashing back to Earth. Marvin and his wife, Carol (Taylor) have also had an encounter with a flying saucer and they soon put one and one together and determine the aliens are shooting down their rockets. The aliens relate their tale to Marlowe when they explain they have come to Earth to take over…in a nutshell. Dr. Marvin and a group of other scientists rush to complete a weapon that they hope will disrupt the alien’s gravitational fields. This all leads to an all-out battle in Washington DC with some of the Capitol’s most well known landmarks being destroyed.

In truth, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers is a fairly slow moving picture up until the final fifteen minutes or so. Saucers are seen flying casually around, barely creating a panic as if people see them every day. Occasionally they land and unload a group of plodding aliens in suits who shoot out death rays as soldiers. It’s Harryhausen’s effects that are the star of the film. His saucers have a spinning action with the top of the saucers moving one way and the bottom moving the opposite which truly made them appear as if they were flying, compared to the usually ship on a fish line type of movement. The explosions and destruction of the Washington Monument and Capitol building are the landmark scenes from the film. 

The movie doesn’t have the all-out death and destruction of War of the Worlds and it certainly didn’t have the same caliber of acting, but it also didn’t have nearly the budget of that film either. While the film was shot in just a few weeks, Harryhausen continued to work on the effects for months afterwards. This isn’t a great film from a plot or acting standpoint. There’s little in the way of character development and the science is laughable by today’s standards. It’s still an entertaining film for those that appreciate Harryhausen’s unique talents.

Extras: Wow! Where do I begin? This is one of those releases that make you rejoice in the DVD format. First, the film comes in either the original black & white or new colorized format. This new Chroma-Color process is vastly improved over the old colorizing process of 10 or 20 years ago. The colors are not gaudy but look natural, especially the skin tones. When you see shots of the sky you don’t just see a solid blue with white clouds but subtle gradients of color. What’s cool is that you can toggle back and forth between color and B&W by pressing the “Angle” button on your DVD remote.

The film comes with audio commentary with Harryhausen and visual effects artists Jeffrey Okun and Ken Ralston.

Remembering Earth vs. The Flying Saucers is Harryhausens own recollections about making the film and runs 22:00

A Present Day Look at Stop-Motion takes a look at film students learning the art of stop motion. 11:36

The Colorization Process runs 11:02 and is a look at the new Chroma Color Process that Harryhausen was very impressed with. Ray says he would have liked to shoot the film in color but they did not have the money to do it.

Tim Burton Sits Down with Ray Harryhausen. Director Tim Burton interviews Harryhausen as ray discusses how the saucers were made and other interesting tidbits about the film. Great segment but it’s almost ruined by Burton who babbles almost incoherently and uses the words “you know” and “amazing” about a hundred times during the 27:09 minute interview.

Original Ad Artwork Producer Arnold Kunert looks at the film’s ad materials including rare posters and lobby cards from Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and other films. 17:30

Interview with Joan Taylor:  Actress Joan Taylor shares her thoughts on the film and her amazement that the film is coming out again over 50 years later. She’s genuinely humbled by the attention all these years later. 17:28

David Schecter on Film Music’s Unsung Hero Is a retrospective on the career of composer Misha Bakaleinikoff 22:32

The Hollywood Blacklist and Bernard Gordon.  Original screen writer Bernard Gordon’s name was removed from the credits as he fell victim to Hollywood’s infamous Blacklist of the 1950’s. His name is finally restored on this DVD. 29:23

Sneak Peek of Digital Comic Book Flying Saucers vs. the Earth

Video Photo Galleries.


Showing items 1 - 3 of 3
lister 1/30/2008 11:10:22 AM
Sometimes, budget constraints can be a good thing. This particular tale is better in stark B&W.
philby4 1/30/2008 4:34:54 PM
Wow, I continue to be blown away by comments such as those made by columnist Tim Janson in his review here: "This isn't a great film by plot or acting standards." What a cheap and substantiated shot at the actors. In fact, most reviewers have gone out of their way to justifiably praise the acting within "Earth VS. The Flying Saucers". As it happens, Hugh Marlowe was considered a very fine actor. And, for those who pay attention, you will note that he brings a real believability to the role of the 1950's scientist. He emotes consistently within the range of a solid, veteran actor who cares for his craft, and he completely carries the film as its protagonist. As for Joan Taylor, she too, does all she can with her role as written. Certainly she (unlike many female leads in the 50's period sci-fi films) also provides the looks but also the smooth line delivery in sync with her role as a strong, sophisticated lady scientist . It seems that so many people take a shot at the acting in the movies they review that happen to have been made more than 40 years ago. Context, needs to enter into the equation before dismissing someone's solid acting efforts. In this case, the acting ensemble delivered way beyond the budget constraints and anchored the film for Harryhausen's effects. Both of the lead actors in "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" deserve better than the derisive comments in the review. Also, if you look closely at the redoubtable Morris Ankrum's acting herein, as the unfortunately brain-erased General, he brings pathos and fear and patriotism into the mix by twitches, pupil dilation, posture changes, etc., etc. You feel for this brave man, damnit! The late Ankrum is, by the way, a very highly respected sci-fi genre veteran. Always counted on to bring weight to a small budget sci-fi film, Ankrum certainly delivered well in this one. Indeed, cavalier shots at the acting in this film are unwarranted and wholly unsubstantiated.
tjanson 1/30/2008 4:54:08 PM
I didn't point out Marlowe specifically and it doesn't matter whether the film was produced 50 years ago or last week...there's a reason the film was shot at Columbia which was considered one step abover poverty row studios like PRC and Monogram. As for Ankrum...well, veteran of Sci-fi films he may be,,,mostly bad ones like The Giant Claw and the awful giant grasshopped film Beginning of the End where he played another befuddled General. Ankrum was much better in Western roles.


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