Classics: This Island Earth

This 1955 film is undoubtedly one of the greatest science fiction classic of all time.  This Island Earth, based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Raymond F. Jones, brings a classic pulp fiction story to life in a way that has greatly withstood the test of time.  the settings are remarkable not for their realism but for their faithfulness to the imaginative illustrations seen in the 1930s and 1940s editions of Amazing Stories magazine.  The movie is entertaining and clever and an absolute must see!

The movie begins simply enough, introducing Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) who is giving an interview about a conference on atomic energy and the notion of combining atomic power with electronic to create an advanced society.  The movie flirts heavily with the 50s strong infatuation with nuclear energy.  Today, these details make this film even more fun.

Cal jets to his lab in Los Angeles in his own personal plane but loses control during the landing.  He is saved when his airplane is surrounded by a strange green light that causes the plane to land safely on its own.  This is just the introduction to Cal’s upcoming adventure in which he is introduced to unusual people and even stranger circumstances. 

We learn that Cal is being manipulated.  His experiments are interrupted when he is sent a strange set of parts with complicated instructions from an unknown source.  He manages to assemble these pieces to form an “interociter,” a communication device unlike any ever before seen.  This connects him with Exeter (Jeff Morrow), a white-haired, large-headed fellow scientist who claims to be seeking to end war by advancing nuclear power and developing the ability to turn lead into uranium. 

By Exeter’s invitation, Cal is taken to Georgia where he is reunited with Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue), an old acquaintance, and Dr Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson), another specialist in nuclear energy.  With other experts, they form “The Club”, a group managed by Exeter.  Cal quickly realizes that all is not as it seems.  Exeter is clearly different, even beyond his unusual looks.  He doesn’t possess simple cultural knowledge and is feared to be altering some members and infiltrating them into the circle of scientists as mole.  Exeter’s assistant, Brack is caught spying on them, and circumstances indicate that Exeter may be seeking powerful nuclear weapons to wage war, not stop it.

Yet, all is not as it seems.  The three scientists attempt to escape.  Steve is killed when he attempts a diversion.  His sacrifice allows Cal and Ruth to steal a plane and take to the sky.  Their effort is futile.  A spaceship rises above the scientific compound which explodes moments later.  It swoops towards them and pulls their plane into its belly.  Cal and Ruth are trapped as the ship heads for deep space.

Exeter explains the real story, that he is actually an alien from the planet Metaluna, a world being blasted by its arch enemy, the vicious and warlike Zagons, who are pounding the surface of the planet with meteor attacks.  The Earth scientists were enlisted to help develop a nuclear source to regenerate the protective shield that surrounded Metaluna, whose population has had to seek shelter underground in a desperate attempt to survive.  With that mission failed, the surviving Metalunans plan to travel to Earth and assume dominance there.

Among the population of Metaluna are a mutant race of giant insects.  These are used as both servants and warriors and ensure that Cal and Ruth accompany Exeter into the chambers of Metaluna’s leader who regards the Earthlings with indifference.  He orders them taken for “conversion” with a mind-altering device popularly used by the Metalunan elite to control those that might pose a problem.  Exeter takes the pair away, as the planet continues to be pounded by meteor attacks.

Once clear, he defies his orders and takes them to his spaceship.  Realizing all is lost, he launches off the surface and heads back for Earth.  Behind him, Metaluna flames into a radioactive sun.

Once in Earth’s atmosphere, Exeter returns Cal and Ruth to their stolen plane which he drops into the sky.  The plane banks away as Exeter’s ship, now depleted of energy, noses down and crashes into the ocean. 

Director Joseph Newman managed the bulk of the film.  Jack Arnold (uncredited) brought together the stunning Metaluna sequences with the help of Clifford Stine, who developed the film’s extravagant special effects.  Stine’s techniques of destroying models with gasoline bags and fuel soaked materials formed the core techniques later used in Star Wars to create the stunning space battles seen there.

The elements of This Island Earth are now classics for all science fiction fans and this hit film formed the foundation for a number of follow-on movies involving secret alien plots and bug-eyed monsters.

– written by the Two-Brained Cylon