Year of Monsters: It Came From Outer Space

Today’s film–chosen randomly because I like a little organized chaos in my life–is It Came From Outer Space. This is a fantastic title: evocative, mysterious, charmingly cheesy. And the movie was based on a story treatment by Ray Bradbury, which, that’s clearly a good sign, right?

Alas, my friends, I must inform you that in the case of It Came From Outer Space, I vastly prefer the title to the actual film.

Year: 1953
Director: Jack Arnold
First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some, yes

What I like best about this movie (other than that amazing GIF, of course) is that our aliens haven’t come to Earth to conquer anything, nor are they here to teach us shit. The aliens are only here on this planet because of technical difficulties, and all they really want is to be left in peace so they can finish putting the spare tire on already, and get this show back on the fucking road. This is deeply relatable content.

Still, the aliens sure go ass-backwards about it. I get why they need to abduct people: these guys are shapeshifters, and they have to be able to get around town, gathering repair supplies, without anyone freaking out, all “Holy shit, aliens!” (Or, alternatively, “Holy shit, I met an alien on the road, and now he’s wearing my goddamn face!”) Of course, these dudes might wanna brush up on their acting skills–Alien George must be the least convincing human I’ve ever seen, so much so that normally reasonable fears like how will we ever know who’s human are just downright laughable in this movie. Still, I get most of the abductions.

But Ellen? Boy, was that a bad call. The aliens specifically lie in wait to whisk her away, and there’s absolutely no reason to do it–except, of course, to piss off the locals. A pretty white lady is in danger? One who’s dating our scientist hero? One who the jackass sheriff has a thing for? Get the guns, boys!

Worse, I just don’t give a shit about any of these characters. Richard Carlson, who played our lead scientist hero in Creature from the Black Lagoon, plays a more annoying version of the same scientist here. John is a wishy-washy mess. He keeps saying everyone needs to wait, to trust the aliens–but simultaneously he keeps trying to convince Sheriff Matt that they exist, when it would obviously be much smarter to lie and say the papers were right, that it was a publicity stunt all along. Ellen, meanwhile, is barely even a character, just a bland damsel who screams a lot and must be continuously protected. John won’t allow her to investigate the supposed meteor up close, and Sheriff Matt tells John to take a hike because his irresponsible scientist ways are a bad influence on Ellen. (She misses a day of work, see. One can only assume that heroin is next.)

Potentially, there’s interesting stuff to work with. Kidnapping Ellen, for instance, could have been a way to discuss how the aliens vastly misunderstood human culture, so that their decision feels like an honest mistake, rather than lazy writing. We could make a character study out of John, who’s intelligent and compassionate but whose need to be vindicated ultimately leads to his pride outweighing his mercy. Sheriff Matt could be a dude doing the wrong thing for understandable reasons, which is vastly more interesting than this one-note, overprotective creeper. Ellen . . . well, we could give Ellen an actual personality, and that would at least be a start.

Some side notes:

1. It Came From Outer Space is slow, despite not being a particularly long movie, but if there’s one thing that will always make me happy, it’s MONSTER VISION. (Okay, alien vision, but still.) Monster Vision cracks me up whenever I see it.

2. Other things that make me happy: end credits with pictures! I will forever be a sucker for these kinds of credits, and am probably the only person in the world who misses super cheesy TV opening titles like these or these or these. (Can you tell I’m a child of the 90’s? You might not be able to tell.) Alas, these went the way of the dinosaur for the sake of minimalism and screen time and “artistry.”

3. At one point, our characters willingly fly around in what appears to be half a helicopter? Like, it’s a helicopter without a top. A helicopter with a sun roof. Who made this terrible thing?

4. The aliens don’t just abduct humans; they break into their homes and steal their whole wardrobes, something I find mildly baffling. Perhaps I’m just missing something? It does happen (on the very rare occasion, of course). But near as I can tell, the aliens are fully capable of shapeshifting their clothes as well as their flesh–as they do with George on the road–so I’m bewildered by their choice to add petty theft to their already considerable to-do list.

5. Also, when the aliens abduct Ellen, she’s wearing a striped high-collar top underneath a blazer or jacket. The next time we see her, however, she’s wearing a black dress with a much more daring neckline and an elegant black scarf around her neck. Of course, this isn’t really Ellen, just a shapeshifting alien wearing a stolen dress, but it still manages to have some serious villainous “why don’t I slip you into something more comfortable” vibes.

6. Matt has a nice line about how more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature. “I read an article once,” he says. “Lower temperatures, people are easygoing. Over 92, it’s too hot to move. But just 92, people get irritable.” This is a great bit of dialogue, but it’s also incredibly random. I wish this line were emphasizing a visual motif actually woven throughout the film.

7. George is played by Russell Johnson, who is probably most well known for playing the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. I’m amused by this because, having only the vaguest idea of what Gilligan’s Island is about, I’d always just assumed that this “professor” character was some older, stodgy dude in his 70’s, not, you know, the 1960’s Simon Baker.

The Current Ranking

1. The Black Cat
2. Creature from the Black Lagoon
3. The Mummy
4. It Came From Outer Space

4 thoughts on “Year of Monsters: It Came From Outer Space

  1. Every time I see Russell Johnson interacting with an object in a movie, I feel the urge to say things like:
    Russell Johnson driving a car. “I made this car out of coconuts.”
    Russell Johnson using a microscope. “I made this microscope out of coconuts.”
    Russell Johnson with a robot. “I made this robot out of coconuts.”

  2. I am imagining an abandoned plotline with a bunch of ominous close-ups of a thermometer throughout the movie as the temperature slowly rises and eventually settles on 92F, at which point Matt snaps and violently murders John.

    Heh, I am just under the cutoff for most of that type of opening credits – I know the Buffy ones because I started watching reruns in high school like six years after the show ended, I have zero familiarity with E.R., and Dawson’s Creek’s credits did hit me in the nostalgia for Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23 – they made a lot of Dawson’s Creek jokes.

    • I watched a couple episodes of Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 and thought it was funny, but I didn’t keep up on it. Can’t remember why. Think I meant to get back to it, then it got cancelled, and I was like, well, never mind, then. But it was the first time I’d really seen James Van Der Beek do comedy, and I was amused by this.

      ER is funny because nowadays it’s absolutely not my thing, but when I was in middle school, I started watching reruns on TNT or something (they did, like 2 a day, 5 days a week) and became obsessed with them. They had like 15 seasons of that damn show. I watched maybe 7-8 before I gave up on it, which for me, is pretty good.

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