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This Island Earth (1955) - A Trip to Metaluna
This Island Earth (1955) is one of the best pulp science fiction films of the 50's, in that it embraces the essence of the SF of the time. It attempts to convey a real sense of speculation and demonstrates a level of intelligence far beyond that of the other pulp movies of its time. It is consciously optimistic about the uses of science and does not see humanity as a race threatened by its own creations.
This Island Earth was directed by Joseph Newman and was based on the 1952 novel of the same name by Raymond F. Jones. It concerns the kidnapping of a group of scientists by an alien race, the Metalunans. However, far from being malign as aliens tended to be at the time, the Metalunans are fundamentally friendly, and plea with the human scientists to help them save their planet from destruction.
It transpires that a hostile alien race, the Zagons, are bombarding Metaluna with meteoric debris and wearing away the planet's cosmic shield. Scientists Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) and Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) are kidnapped by Exeter (Jeff Morrow) to aid the repair and maintenance of the shield, but arrive too late and witness the planet destroyed in a spectacular sequence of special effects. Exeter then proceeds to ensure their safe return home.
The Monitor:"Then you know that shortly we can expect Zagon to commence and sustain an all-out attack. Our ionization layer must be maintained until our relocation is effected."
Cal Meacham: "Relocation? To where?"
The Monitor: "To your Earth."
Exeter: "A peaceful relocation. We hope to live in harmony with the citizens of your Earth."
Ruth Adams: "In harmony!"
The Monitor: "Our knowledge and weapons would make us your superiors, naturally."
On the surface the movie is a grand space opera about the war between two alien races and the human beings who become unwilling spectators, but underneath this there are other issues to consider. The movie ignores the Cold War mentality that was informing so much SF at the time, instead preferring to show our first contact with an alien race as amicable.
The Metalunans are a mature and generally friendly people who require our assistance to help them protect their world from outside threat. There is irony in the fact that a space-faring race would need to come to us for help with their technology.
The film’s vivid use of colour (it was one of the last films to be made in the three-strip Technicolor process), and it's extravagant special effects are remarkable not for their realism but for their imaginativeness.
The sequences on Metaluna and the look of the Metaluna Mutant are the closest SF cinema ever got to the style of Astounding SF or Amazing Stories magazine covers.
Like Forbidden Planet (with which it also shares one of the best titles of any SF film), its premises and arguments are real examples of speculative thinking in pulp SF.
The critics wrote -
"One of the most imaginative, fantastic, and cleverly conceived entries to date in the outer space field. Ingeniously constructed props and equipment, together with strange sound effects, also are responsible for furthering interest, which is of the edge-of-the-seat variety during the latter half of the film." (Variety)
"The technical effects of "This Island Earth," Universal's first science-fiction excursion in color, are so superlatively bizarre and beautiful that some serious shortcomings can be excused, if not overlooked. One setting alone, a panoramic vista of the doomed planet "Metaluna," should leave anyone bug-eyed." (New York Times)
"Absorbing science fiction mystery, with splendid special effects and only one mutant monster to liven the last reels." (Halliwell)