William Cameron Menzies’s penultimate movie as director, Invaders from Mars (1953), tells the story of an alien invasion seen through the eyes of a young boy. No surprise that with Menzies’s background in production design and special effects, the movie is marvelous to look at, and the new Blu-ray from Ignite Films showcases that work.
Awakened during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, pre-teen David (Jimmy Hunt) sees a spaceship land in the sand pits near his house. His father George (Leif Erickson) checks things out in the morning. Although not gone long, his mother Mary (Hillary Brooke) is concerned so she calls the cops to investigate. George returns and is clearly behaves differently. He’s initially cold then quick to anger. David notices an “x” scar on the back of his father’s neck.
David goes to the police station for help, but is held against the will because the police chief has already been taken over like his father. David is put under the care of Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter), who starts to believe his story. They meet with astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston, who gets the military to investigate. The aliens try to sabotage the rocket research plant while the military discovers the buried alien ship.
Although the victor in this battle isn’t a surprise, the movie’s conclusion is confusing. As David and everyone runs away from the spaceship, there’s a disappointing reveal about what has been taking place. (I wasn’t the only one who thought it disappointing as foreign distributors had producers shoot a new, different ending for releasing in Europe. Thankfully, it’s included in the Bonus Features.) But then when everything seems back to normal, David sees a spaceship, just like he did in the beginning of the film, but what that signifies isn’t clear.
Restored from the original camera negative to its original theatrical version, the video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC displayed in the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Colors appear in bold hues, especially rich reds as seen in the opening credits and elsewhere. Blacks are inky. The image contains a sharp focus but a lot of film grain. Texture detail can be seen in costumes and sets, particularly when it comes to the aliens and their ship. For budgetary reasons, the movie make use of stock footage, much of which features military vehicles. That archive material doesn’t match the color or clarity of the rest of the movie.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue is clear. The score comes through with good fidelity A choir delivers a haunting refrain associated with the aliens and is particularly effective when they are offscreen. The sound effects are solid with the weapons and explosions having a strong oomph.
The HD Bonus Features are:
- William Cameron Menzies: The Architect of Dreams (16 min) – Menzies biographer James Curtis, and Menzies’s granddaughter, Pamela Lauesen, shed light on the man and his movie career.
- Jimmy Hunt Saves the Planet (11 min) – An interview with the former child actor.
- Terror from Above (22 min) – Filmmakers, most notably directors Joe Dante and John Landis, sing the praises of the movie.
- Restoring the Invasion (7 min) – Restoration supervisor Scott McQueen narrates this look at the work done, which is substantial.
- TCM Festival Intro (7 min) – Director John Sayles’s introduction of the film in 2022.
- European Observatory Sequence (9 min) – A title card reveals that six months after its opening, foreign distributors wanted a longer film and a new, reality-based ending. Unfortunately, there’s little to no continuity in this new sequence so it’s almost comical. Plus, it’s just a lot of talking so it’s a bit boring
- European Ending (3 min) – For me, this ending improves on the original.
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Re-Release Trailer (2 min)
- Image Gallery
Menzies’s Invaders from Mars stands out among the glut of ’50s sci-fi movies. There are memorable scenes and visuals, especially the production design related to the aliens. Although a children’s adventure, it doesn’t shy away from presenting chills and thrills. The movie does enough things right I can overlook the ending, especially when a better one is included among the several bonus features. The hard work by the restoration team looks wonderful in high definition. At the Ignite Films website, Invaders from Mars is available on Blu-ray and 4K UHD.