Invaders from Mars [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Ignite Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th September 2023).
The Film

No sooner is young stargazer David MacLean (Pitfall's Jimmy Hunt) sent to bed on a clear night than he is awakened by what seems like a thunderstorm. Gazing out his window, he sees a flying saucer land in the sandpit behind his home. His parents George (The Carpetbaggers' Leif Erickson) and Mary (The Man Who Knew Too Much's Hillary Brooke) do not believe him when he wakes them; however, scientist George cannot shake the idea that his son might be right, especially since, through his top secret work at the local power plant – his government contractors have instructed him to report any suspicious activity – but fails to return. When George does reappear, only David seems to notice that his father is behaving differently, threatening him not to spread wild stories and reacting violently when David asks about the strange mark on the back of his neck. When David sees Kathy Wilson (The Shanghai Story's Janine Perreau), daughter of George's scientist colleague (The Giant Claw's Robert Shayne), dragged beneath the surface of the sand pit, he tells her mother (Notorious' Fay Baker) only for Kathy to also return behaving oddly just before a fire breaks out in her father's basement lab.

David then attempts to tell the police about what he suspects is an alien invasion; however, the chief (Paths of Glory's Bert Freed) also has a puncture on the back of his neck and has David detained until his parents can pick him up. Against the chief's orders, the desk sergeant (Red Planet Mars' Walter Sande) calls local doctor Patricia Blake (The Golden Hawk's Helena Carter) to examine David. She is not ready to believe David's story, but she sees that his terror is real when his parents turn up and David realizes that his mother's behavior has also become cold and threatening. Patricia prevents them from taking David under the pretense that his may have polio and she takes him into her care. Instead of taking him to the hospital, she takes him to the local observatory and her scientist boyfriend Dr. Stuart Kelston (Monster on the Campus' Arthur Franz) who has already entertained the possibility of beings from another world invading Earth due to the threat of the powerful rockets they have been developing for space exploration. Kelston contacts the military and they mobilize for the invasion; however, even their ranks may already have been compromised by alien intelligence.

Although a fifties science fiction film rooted in Cold War paranoia is nothing particularly novel, a combination of creativity and production compromise turns Invaders from Mars into something particularly subversive. The film is told from the perspective of an imaginative and intelligent (scientifically if not emotionally) child who becomes the identification figure for audience more so than any of the adult figures. While there was always the worry that your neighbor could be a "commie" or even a Soviet spy, virtually all of the authority figures David encounters in the first part of the film – his parents, the police chief, and local police officers – become sources of menace to him; and his status as a child shows just how easily others can be gaslit to dismiss him as "out of control" due to his only child status, imagination, and "those trashy science fiction magazines." This is so emphasized that the viewer is completely caught off guard when adults are willing to believe David from a female doctor who "takes custody" of him, a scientist he looks up to, and stalwart Colonel Fielding (Rocketship X-M's Morris Ankrum) who is constantly willing to believe him and Kelston over compromised General Mayberry (Billy the Kid Versus Dracula's William Forrest).

Academy Award-winning production designer-turned-director William Cameron Menzies (The Maze) presents a world that has been "stripped down" to its essentials as much for budgetary reasons as for David's perspective – almost in the style of fellow art director turned Poverty Row filmmaker Edgar G. Ulmer (The Man from Planet X) who was as influential on the development of "production design" in Weimar Germany as Menzies was in Hollywood – as the comfort of home and its sound stage backyard sandpit give way to imposing, starkly-defined environments like the police station, jail cells, the observatory, and the power plant all anticipating the underground alien ship. The aliens – depicted as a "supreme intelligence" vulnerably contained in a glass dome protected by humanoid mutants (or "mute-tants" as everyone pronounces it in the film) are sadly far less frightening than when they were unseen throughout the first half of the film, and Hunt's adolescent performance can only go so far in sustaining the drama (Hunt's wide-eyed, "gee wiz" delivery anticipates Jay North's one-note performance in the earlier seasons of Dennis the Menace).

While one would like to credit Menzies with a lot of the ambiguity of certain sustained shots as foreshadowing the surprise ending – as well as a recapping montage that seems shows scenes that took place outside of David's perspective as if they were his own memories – the extras reveal that the film ran short when Menzies wrapped his work on the production and a lot of the shots of military vehicles were padding (not to mention the additional material shot six months after the film's release for the European version). As such, some of the unnerving, questioning, "nightmarish" elements may indeed have less to do with Menzies' intention to have control of the film's overall visual design than a series of post-production decisions over which he may have had little or no control. The surprise ending, thus, may not be as unnerving as may have been intended (and it would be dropped entirely from the European version in favor of a more conventional wrap up). In spite of this, the original Invaders from Mars is still a far more stimulating and unnerving work than the expensive Cannon Films eighties remake (which paled even in comparison to the low-budget, satirical take The Stuff). Future Leave It to Beaver mom Barbara Billingsley has an uncredited role as Kelston's secretary.


Distributed theatrically by Fox, Invaders from Mars became a traumatic memory of an entire generation of future Hollywood genre filmmakers primarily through frequent airings on various television packages over the years and then on the video gray market and a budget tape from Goodtimes Home Video. In 1997, however, Image Entertainment released a special edition laserdisc of the film from a digital restoration from what were then identified as the finest elements. We have no idea if this is the transfer that Image subsequently released on DVD in 2002 since that release is branded with both Corinth Films and The Wade Williams Collection (Williams also having been rumored as having the only good materials for the film at the time), but the DVD included both the U.S. and British versions of the film whereas the laserdisc only had the two scenes specific to the European version as extras (see below).

At the time of the earlier digital restoration(s), the negative was considered lost; however, Ignite Films' 2160p24 HEVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed widescreen 4K UltraHD disc (with an HDR10 layer) – as well as the separate Blu-ray and DVD editions – come from a brand new 4K restoration of the rediscovered negative, resorting to dupe materials to fill in some gaps that may be archival damage or possibly the result of the original camera negative having been conformed to the European version after 35mm release prints and 16mm television and rental prints had been struck (the European footage in the extras and presumably the missing footage in the negative was derived from a 1976 dupe negative found in the Film and Sound Archive of Australia).

Richly-saturated reds make themselves apparent right away in the formerly brick red to burnt orange opening credits – now with yellow drop shadow evident – against a star field, and blues and greens are also vivid in the night exterior establishing shots of the MacClean home. It is difficult to tell entirely what odd colors like some flushed skin colors may be due to make-up or the idiosyncrasies of the Cinecolor process, but they become less distracting as the film goes on and as characters move into brighter, more evenly-lit environments. Some of the murky shots of military vehicles mobilizing have likely always looked that way as a side effect of day-for-night tinting stock footage that were either not part of Menzies storyboards (or he may have abdicated sourcing such shots to the editors) while the opticals can also be noisy. Archival damage has been meticulously repaired – with a restoration piece offering illustrative evidence – and the final result is admirable given how it was once believed that the negative was completely lost and the best materials might have been dupe elements for the European version.


The only audio options are English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 original mono and a Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono dub. The English track has also been as meticulously cleaned up as the image, with dialogue, sci-fi sound effects, and the choral utterances denoting the alien presence sounding quite modern in contrast to the less interesting musical quotation choices credited to Raoul Krau­shaar, a musical supervisor primarily remembered in disparaging terms who may have conducted work likely actually composed by often uncredited Republic Pictures serial composer Mort Glickman according to the extras. Optional English SDH subtitles are included along with French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.


Extras start off with "William Cameron Menzies: The Architect of Dreams" (16:26), an interview with James Curtis, author of "William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come", who refers to Menzies as the "father of production design" and describes the film as being "dreamlike" out of budgetary necessity. He provides an overview of Menzies' career from school to the army to silent films, to his work with producer David O. Selznik on films like the epic Gone With the Wind (the burning of Atlanta by way of destroying the struck sets of King Kong was Menzies' idea) and his first directorial efforts through to Invaders from Mars. Menzies' granddaughter Pamela Lauesen recalls her grandfather's work as an artist, visiting sets, and seeing the film's premiere (one of Menzies' last major trips away from home before his death).

In "Jimmy Hunt Saves the Planet" (10:30), Hunt recalls his other works as a child actor, becoming fascinated with the behind the scenes workings of films, Menzies introducing him to the mutants beforehand so as not to frighten him, and recollects that the supreme alien was played by Luce Potter (The Greatest Show on Earth) who had gone to high school with his mother. He also recalls shooting the European version scenes six months after the theatrical release of the film during which his appearance had changed.

In "Terror from Above" (22:24), filmmakers Joe Dante (Piranha) and John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), along with visual effects artist Robert Skotak (Escape from New York), editor Mark Goldblatt (Starship Troopers), and restoration supervisor Scott MacQueen recall the influence of the film on them as children seeing it theatrically or on various television packages while also pointing out its quirks as the result of padding the film including the stock footage that occurs with such frequency that it is laughable. Most interesting is Skotak's contribution in which he describes how films like this inspired him to create the magazine Fantascene with his brother Dennis (The Abyss) at a time when there was no fanzine coverage of genre films, and that producer Edward L. Alperson's son Edward L. Alperson Jr. became interested in pitching a remake using some preliminary designs Skotak created. Skotak anticipated working on it and was unaware that Alperson continued using his designs to pitch the film until he returned from England where he had worked on James Cameron's Aliens to discover that Cannon had greenlighted and produced it in the time he had been abroad.

In "Restoring the Invasion" (6:50), MacQueen shows the viewer raw scans of the original camera negative, a Super CineColor print, and the Australian dupe negative of the European version, describing the process of restoring and balancing the colors, cleaning up effects opticals (without the original separation elements that might have allowed them to recreate them), recreating opticals not cut into the negative, and replacing missing footage as well as explaining defects inherent in the original negative.

The disc also includes a TCM Festival Intro (7:02) with filmmaker John Sayles (The Brother from Another Planet) introducing the film and noting actor Hunt in attendance, as well as the European observatory sequence (8:51) – a painfully-long, flatly-shot dialogue sequence shot without regard for continuity in wardrobe, hair, sets, or even anything remotely resembling Menzies' visual style – along with the European ending (2:52) in which everything is okay and we get a regular lighting flash in the sky over the sandpit rather than the appearance of the flying saucer, as well as an image gallery (38 images), the restored original 1953 theatrical trailer (2:19) and a 2022 re-release trailer (2:17).


The disc is housed in a standard black UHD keep case with the 20-page booklet featuring the essay "Invaders From Mars: A Nightmare of Restoration" by Scott MacQueen (we do not now if the standard Blu-ray and DVD editions also include the booklet).


Although a fifties science fiction film rooted in Cold War paranoia is nothing particularly novel, a combination of creativity and production compromise turns Invaders from Mars into something particularly subversive.


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