I always thought This Island Earth was one of the more thoughtful, inventive movies of the classic sci-fi era. The premise is intriguing: how cool to get a otherworldly science kit (the de luxe Interositer) from aliens? Pretty much solid gold stuff to most kids, or even adults.
The scientists are key characters here. Drs. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue), Cal Meachem (Rex Reason), Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson), Adolf Engelborg (Karl Ludwig Lindt), and Hu Ling Tang (Spencer Chan). Also, the chief aliens are significant Exeter (Jeff Morrow) and Brack (Lance Fuller). There’s alien abduction, the threat to world peace, not to mention good guy rebel aliens, creepy mutants, and other special effects. Unusually, it’s in color.
Cal starts off talking about “The industrial application of atomic energy.” Next thing he knows, his Shooting Star fighter jet gets beamed by a green glow. Then into a cool lab scene–some nuclear reaction going on–which blows up. The guys (Cal and Joe) getting some unusual spare parts from an unknown source. Another weird package arrives: some kind of manual, for an Interositer. So they order the thing. No budget issues, I guess.
Soon they’re busy assembling it. The video monitor lights up immediately, talking to them. Exeter comes into view. “My colleagues don’t appear out of thin air” says Cal, more than a bit surprised. So he’s invited to a seminar. Already color has livened things up dramatically. The backgrounds are in drab colors, so that the fiery glowing colors stand out.
Anyway, he rendezvous with Exeter’s craft. Cal seems rather naive at basically being abducted by completely inexplicable powers. Dr. Ruth Adams picks him up at an intermediate location. Apparently, she’s working for Exeter. The other scientists are in residence at what’s an isolated mansion. Finally Cal meets Exeter.
“Who we are and what we’re doing here?” Exeter anticipates Cal’s curiosity. It’s the world peace idea. Exeter boots up an Interositer to show Cal some of their other sites. In secret, Exeter consults with his superior, who is anxious that he “proceed with Plan A.” All of the scientists are involved in nuclear energy. Brack sort of skulks around, suspicious. Cal corners Ruth and Steve; they tell him about a lobotomy-inducing device, the “transformer” used as a form of mind control.
Exeter’s immediate purpose is to develop nuclear energy. He demonstrates a sort of laser beam emitting from the lab’s Interositer. A warning, and threat. Steve and Ruth tell Cal about an recently-excavated cave nearby; it’s just big enough for a full-sized UFO. The big boss basically tells Exeter to be ready to split. Meanwhile, the scientists are trying an escape, but Exeter nukes the car with his projector beam.
Steve’s killed, but Cal and Ruth make it out on foot. Just now the giant UFO emerges from its lair. They get into a little plane at the same field they arrived at; the mansion explodes, and their plane is beamed up to the UFO. Now we’re inside the huge spacecraft. Into outer space. Really cool bridge/control room scene. Exeter more or less comes clean, apologizes for what’s happened to the others, they’re going “To a planet called Metaluna.”
More cool stuff–they have to get into Star Trek-like tubes to get “conditioned for life on Metaluna.” They dodge meteors as they approach the “enemy control sector”. Aha! So Metalluna’s under attack, from Zahgon (why are ‘bad’ aliens associated with ‘Z’ names?). Anyway, we discover Metaluna’s need for atomic energy; their defenses against Zahgon depend on a nuclear-generated shield.
Finally, we’re over the crater-dotted moonscape planet of Metaluna. The craft zips into an entry-way, an underground city. Soon they’re brought before “the Monitor” who explains that Metaluna’s ultimate purpose is to relocate to Earth (i.e., to take over). Fairly plausibly, this slimy dictator-type lets on that they have recruited “the earth creatures” because Zahgon destruction has killed all of their scientists and destroyed their labs.
Exeter tries to save our Earthlings from the “transformer”, but only a Zahgon attack and the resulting chaos serves to truly set their escape in motion. The Metaluna city, including the Monitor, is wiped out. Just to complicate things, there’s some more-or-less out of control mutants lumbering about. Exeter guides Ruth and Cal safely back to the still-intact spacecraft. They’re able to launch. Exeter’s too wounded to do more than drop Cal and Ruth off at Earth before his spacecraft, the last thing left from Metaluna, ditches into the ocean.
This last part of the movie is especially well-done, very quickly-paced, and looks stunning. There’s enough special effects–including more effective use of lighting and color–to stock a dozen sci-fi movies. This is not to detract from the Earth-bound first part; it’s a great set-up for what comes later. The transition between the two parts, effected by Exeter leaving Earth with Ruth and Cal, is plausible and deftly accomplished.
The suspension of disbelief, despite all that goes on here, is natural. That’s partly because of the clever introduction to Exeter–and Metaluna–contrived by the “Interositor”. Once we buy into Cal’s scientific curiosity, it’s entirely believable that he would take this first step. Like I said, it does strain credulity a bit that he would just board the drone airplane without any backup. Maybe should’ve had Joe at least track the flight to the mansion or something.
The mansion/lab facility, with its grab-bag of international scientists, as well as Exeter and Brack, is a sort of way station between normal earthly existence and the otherworldly. Cal is sort of like a folk tale hero who’s curiosity sends him down a slippery-slope on a journey of danger and discovery. The fact that he and Ruth return in exactly the way they left, on the little plane, implies that they can pick up where they left off. In a word: dreamlike.
The only loose ends being the destroyed mansion and some dead bodies. That would be hard to explain, but who knew that Cal was there anyway? (Not even Joe). The spacecraft explosion would certainly be seen, but it didn’t look like there was much left.
Another interesting element was the pretty good acting all around. Exeter’s character in particular; it’s a very nuanced role. He starts out as more-or-less a paternalistic and mysterious authority. But we see that he rebels against the inherently dehumanizing mandate that he’s been given. He successfully saves Ruth and Cal, his end is tragic, but strangely uplifting.
This Island Earth is about as good as this genre gets. Along with other gems from the classic sci-fi era: The Thing, Them!, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Forbidden Planet (the film this somewhat resembles), this is beautifully done, very entertaining, and an imaginative treat.
Farmermouse liked all those glowing doodads, he gives it ten meteors. 10/10.