Very weird movie. I can’t help thinking that the precocious child plot got in the way of the computer-taking-over-the-world plot. There were some cool bits in Timmie’s (Richard Eyer’s) adventures with the robot; the kite-flying was unique, and some of his invisibility traits are entertaining. As plenty of others have said, it’s absurd that no one, especially his parents, seem to be alarmed by these physical impossibilities. I can sort of see that, from a kid’s point of view, impossible stuff is believable, so maybe it shouldn’t seem much of a big deal. Suspending disbelief comes easier to kids. Okay, but my suspension of disbelief fell apart when Timmie sets about putting a robot together, and activating it as well.
Things get a lot more interesting as the tone shifts from goofy to menacing. Like the alien-controlled people in Invaders From Mars, we’re dealing with the fellow-travelers who enable the computer’s plan, and the untainted good guys, led here by Timmie’s scientist dad (Philip Abbott). Central to all the plot threads is Robby the robot; in fact ‘he’ is the best actor here. Unlike the other characters, Robby is conflicted. Mesmerized by the computer, he’s ready to make Timmie suffer aboard the spaceship. But, since violence goes against his rationale, he fortunately wavers, giving Timmie the opportunity to deactivate him. I can’t figure out how the computer gets shut down…maybe its inability to control Robby throws an electronic ‘wrench’ into its works.
The robot concept is really a modern form for a Frankenstein monster; a creation that will do its creator’s bidding. This isn’t the only horror concept in the movie–Dr. Merrinoe is tempted, Faust-like, by the computer’s Satanic promises of earthly power “If you obey me…I’ll let you…” We might say that child-like trust breaks the power of Evil (that is, Timmie, with his innocent trust in Robby, unravels the computer’s plans, and therefore its power). This is emphasized when Robby actually destroys the computer, as it attempts, Lazarus-like, to rise up again and mindwash Dr. Merrinoe. To give an extra mile to the forces of Evil, we end with Merrinoe planning to rebuild the computer.
It does appear that all of these happenings are one long dream of Timmie’s; in fact, as mentioned by others, we don’t get to the end of the dream either. That’s great. The unresolved ending is much more satisfying than merely returning to the status quo. The Invisible Boy anticipates 2001: A Space Odyssey’s apocalyptic premise of a sentient computer absorbing and dominating life “All will be sterile…all will be mine!.” Very haunting stuff, and light-years away from a kid playing with a robot. I can imagine the movie using Timmie to set up the wide-eyed look at these futuristic themes: invisibility, robots, computers with human attributes, time-and space-travel. But the child-centered first part of the movie waters down the impact of the second, much more entertaining part.
The special effects are pretty good all around. Robby is a little too invincible, especially considering that the computer turns out to be realistically weak. Of course, Robby is a sci-fi veteran, coming out of retirement from Forbidden Planet. The computer itself is something to behold: impressive screens, knobs, dials, and the cool shafts and discs revolving behind glass. Incredible for the 50s, but not over-the-top gimmicky. Likewise, the spaceship looks believable, especially standing above all those missile-launchers. Even the quick scene showing the shuttle-like ‘glider’ looks cool.
The spaceship interior isn’t bad either, but that brings up another problem with Timmie’s role. Why have the threat of torture? That’s not even something you’d find in a film-noir, at least not with kids; kidnapping him to outer space, is bad enough. Then there’s the spanking stuff–even in that era, that was something that might’ve been mentioned, but not shown.
Anyway, The Invisible Boy is a intriguing movie that’s let down, among other things, by not playing it’s best hand as a serious sci-fi story. 6/10