Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Battle of the Worlds!





I have been reunited with a science fiction film from my past.

Back in high school, I was in a Suncoast Video store (it was long ago, such stores no longer exist so the younger set might not remember them.)  I found a VHS tape of an old Italian film I had never seen before: Battle of the Worlds.  The copy on the cover read "a must-have for any science fiction fan."  Since I like science fiction, I figured I must have it.

How MST3K missed this film I will never know.

The story involves an astronomer named Fred Steele.  Fred is about to transfer away from an observatory on (what I assume is) an Italian isle and go home and get married.  Before he may do so however, he discovers The Outsider...a runaway planet that has entered our solar system and is heading straight for Earth.  That means certain destruction for everyone involved.  The calculations with this discovery are confirmed by both an outpost on Mars and a crotchety but genius astronomer named Dr. Benson (played by a histrionic Claude Raines.)  However, Benson does not believe that The Outsider will collide with Earth but will rather just miss it.

Much to everyone's surprise and jubilation, Benson is correct...sort of.  The Outsider does not collide with our home, but rather it slows down and assumes an orbit around the Earth.  Benson argues that this can only mean that The Outsider is hollow and an alien intelligence controls the planet from within (Dr. Sitchin...paging Dr. Sitchin...)  We launch spaceships (in the classic "rocketship" design) to carry out an exploratory expedition to the planet.  But before we can reach The Outsider, a flight of alien ships (in classic "flying saucer" design) launch from the planet and meet us in battle.  It's not really much of a battle as Earth ships are wiped out.

One flying disc however is damaged and forced to land on Earth.  Fred Steele and his crew land their rocketship nearby and board the hostile vessel.  There they discover that the alien ships are entirely automated.  Far more pressing issues are rising, however.  Through a series of stock footage reels, we see that the proximity of The Outsider to Earth is causing hurricanes, tidal waves, tornadoes, and storms of all kinds across the globe.  Something must be done or we're screwed.   

Dr. Benson believes that given what was learned from the crashed saucer (Roswell...I'm still in Roswell), it would be possible to travel to The Outsider and assume control of it in order to "fly" it out of Earth orbit.  Defense officials, understandably concerned over resistance from aliens, take a stance of "let's nuke the bastards."  Steele, Benson, and their comrades will get their shot.  But if they are unable to succeed within a set frame of time, nuclear warheads will rain down on The Outsider.

After fighting their way through another wing of flying saucers, the rocketships of the second Earth expedition land and enter the underground of the planet/spaceship.  There, they discover the long dead bodies of humanoid aliens amongst the catacombs.  Benson surmises that the aliens attempted to flee their own star system for whatever reason but died long before reaching Earth.  Their automated systems, however, kept everything going apace without them.  "Their Noah's Ark became their tomb," Benson observes.  He then sets about learning what he can about The Outsider and its alien race.

Sadly, too much time has elapsed.  The high muckymucks of Earth launch their nuclear missiles.  Steele tells Benson they must go, but Benson refuses.  He claims "life without knowledge is not worth living" and elects to die while exploring the alien world.  Any other choice, he believes, would be truant to his scientific beliefs.  After a frantic escape and one not without its casualties, Steele's team gets back to the rocketship and heads back to Earth...just as The Outsider gets nuked to hell and back.

While made in 1961, this film has much more of the feel of a 1950s "atomic horror" sci-fi vehicle.  You will not see astounding visual effects, you will not hear crisp and realistic dialogue, and you will not find quality acting.

You may, however, find yourself having fun despite it all.



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