This Island Earth

This Island Earth, 1955. Dir. Joseph Newman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. The title sequence starts with blaring trumpets and trombones. It’s not an easy sound, but at least it shuts the audience up, or wakes them up, depending. To be fair, it does segue pretty quickly into a kind of thin, nervy organ sound to accompany the shots of space, and that lurch from blaring to nervy is pretty unsettling, especially if you’re wearing a hat.
  2. One of the actors is called Rex Reason, which is my new favourite actor’s name, after Red Buttons and Timothy Olyphant.
  3. The first scene is an aerial shot of Washington, with even blarier trumpets. Next thing you know, a bunch of reporters with HUGE flashbulbs are clustered round Dr Cal Meacham, a nuclear scientist-pilot-adventurer-national hero hybrid, draped seductively on the wing of a fighter plane, parked back of the White House. They don’t want to keep him long. Dr Meacham laughs (they ALL laugh) and then he puts a flying suit over his business suit. Nobody thinks that at all strange. But maybe that’s because all male children in the US back in the 50s were born in a business suit. And when the nurse delivered them, she tied the umbilical cord in a windsor knot.
  4. Turns out, Dr Meacham is played by Rex Reason. He sounds exactly as you might expect a 1950s hero to talk, which is essentially Zapp Brannigan on steroids. I’m going to call this character Rex from now on, because it’s quicker to type.
  5. Rex flies off in an airfix model of a jet fighter, blowing the reporters’ hats off. Next thing you know he’s buzzing a control tower in the desert. Would it be too much just to land, Rex? I suppose it shows his recklessness, sense of adventure, love of all things phallic.
  6. Turns out, Rex has fucked the plane up with his daring aerobatics (why they ever lent him the plane, I don’t know. I’m guessing he’s probably done this before). Rex is about to crash – but he’s saved by a mysterious green light that takes control of his ship, flashing on and off and waggling his joystick. Rex stares at his lap. He can’t believe his luck.
  7. Turns out the station is a nuclear research facility. Rex isn’t just a pilot, he’s a nuclear scientist. He shucks off his flying suit and gets straight to work, lowering a hunk of lead into a cylinder with one of those grabby claws you see at the fair. SIDE NOTE: I’m obsessed with Rex’ hair. It’s so thickly gelled he must brush it with a trowel.
  8. There’s a nuclear meltdown. Explosion and fire. Rex and his assistant Joe don’t seem that bothered, though. Joe shows him the reactor core that burned out the day before. They don’t have to go far. It’s sitting on his desk. Rex strokes it lovingly. Don’t worry, says Joe. I ordered another one. This is Three Mile Island all over again.
  9. More hokey science shit. It’s quarter of an hour into the film and the only sign of an alien is a green light and a vibrating joystick. I’d be throwing popcorn. We waste another five minutes watching Joe sign for an Amazon delivery he didn’t order. SIDE NOTE: Rex’s suit is not the same one he had on under his flying suit. When did that happen? Maybe he had to change it after the nuclear meltdown – although there wasn’t any splashback, so why would he need to?
  10. Spooky music (oboes, the only blowy instrument that doesn’t suck). Turns out, the Amazon package is a manual printed on metal paper, with impressive electronic instructions. Joe reads it over Rex’ shoulder. ‘Here’s something my wife could use in the house’ he says. ‘An interociter incorporating an electron sorter’. Rex smiles and replies: ‘Yes, Joe, but she’d gain twenty pounds while it did all the work.’ So they should rename the film This Sexist Fucker Island Earth.
  11. Based on the manual they order a shit-load more stuff from Amazon. Turns out it’s flatpack, self-assembly. 2,486 parts says Rex, checking the document, no mention of an allen key. (Or alien key – pause for laughter). Rex takes his jacket off, rolls his sleeves up. This is where we get to see how much of a hero he REALLY is.
  12. Montage. You gotta love a good montage. And this is a great one. With xylophones. Despite this, my favourite montage is still Ashley Judd getting in shape for her escape and revenge in the hit movie Double Jeopardy.
  13. Basically what they end up with is a twin tub with a nuclear symbol on the front. ‘Plug it in Joe and see what happens,’ says Rex, as flip with his gadgets as he is with his jet aircraft. However, you can’t help but notice Rex is holding a spare part in his hands. That’s never a good sign with flatpack. You should never have anything left over except an allen key. And maybe a large measure of self-loathing.
  14. The twin tub starts flashing and talking to them in a patronising way (it’ll fit right in on Earth). ‘Use the intensifier disc,’ says the voice. ‘The one in your hand’ it says. I’m guessing the alien has been around the galaxy a few too many times and it’s running out of patience with lower life forms. Even ones as perfect as Rex.
  15. Rex inserts the disc, turns it 18 degrees to the left, as per. The screen lights up (turns out the whole thing was just a primitive flat screen TV). At last! An alien – which turns out, disappointingly, also to be wearing a suit. It also has an unearthly tan and ludicrous hair, so prefiguring Trump by a good few years. The alien congratulates Rex on completing the task. The alien says he’s a scientist, just like Rex. He’s called Exeter. (Maybe they’re all named after the cities and towns of Devon & Cornwall, for some reason. Maybe later on we’ll meet his sister, Paignton.)
  16. This whole twin tub thing was a kind of interview, to see if Rex was good enough to be given a job. He passed, so Exeter says to meet the plane they’ll be sending Wednesday at 9. Then he disintegrates the manual and blows up the twin tub. Which is a great way to end any interview.
  17. Cut to: Rex and some guy in a hat driving in the fog in a jeep with the shonkiest looking windscreen wipers ever to appear on film. Is Rex working them with his foot? I’m guessing it’s nine o’clock or thereabouts, because where’s the value in seeing what Rex and Joe did to fill the time between the twin tub blowing up and Exeter landing the plane. Although actually I can think of a whole film that might satisfy that. The point is, it’s foggy. Which adds to the mystery (and eases the special effects bill).
  18. The plane lands despite the fog. Rex looks inside. A bare interior with a simple chair. No frills. A bit like EasyJet. There’s no pilot, either, just a nuclear symbol on the dash and a Robbie the Robot air freshener. Rex makes himself comfortable, manspreading to his heart’s content.
  19. The plane lands at a backwoods strip in Georgia. He’s met by Ruth Adams, a doctor, who says Exeter asked her to meet him. Rex is happier to see her than Ruth is to see him, for some reason. She mentions a conference they both went to a few years ago – thermo problems in nuclear reactors – but the way she says it sounds more like she’s talking about something else entirely. ‘Boston, wasn’t it?’ she says. ‘Vermont!’ says Rex, sounding angry. They’re definitely talking about another kind of problem.
  20. On the drive to meet Exeter, Ruth tells Rex all about the club that Exeter has set up for their work. It’s all beginning to sound a little culty, but Rex doesn’t mind. He still can’t get over the fact that Ruth thought it was Boston when it was obviously Vermont.
  21. Ruth shows him around the club house. The is the hallway. This is the living room. This is the lift down to the laboratory and slave quarters.
  22. After a bunch of international scientists stroll by to say hello, a guy who looks exactly like Exeter goes to the lab lift and gives Rex a meaningful look, a bit like Joe but not as wholesome. ‘Who’s that?’ says Rex, straightening his tie. ‘That’s Brack’ says Ruth. ‘One of Exeter’s assistants.’ Honestly, they look exactly alike. The least they could do is wear t-shirts or name badges.
  23. Exeter calls them into his office. They sit whilst he explains the mission – to end war, with the help of scientists. Rex strokes his chin. He’s interested but not convinced. Ruth gives him a sideways look. She’s remembering what he was like back in Boston.
  24. Actually, Exeter sounds a lot like Kelsey Grammar. Which would be a great casting choice for the remake.
  25. Exeter takes them on a virtual tour of the club using another one of the twin tub flat screens. He shows Rex the lab he’ll be using – ‘Still under construction,’ says Exeter, which is a classic estate agent ruse, and not to be trusted. They catch Brack in there, fiddling about. ‘Everything in order?’ says Exeter. ‘Yes,’ says Brack. Actually, I take it back about Brack. He looks like Tom Hiddleston made up to look like Donald Trump. Which is another casting suggestion for the remake.
  26. Everyone dresses for a formal dinner. Afterwards, Ruth and her friend Steve (er hem) takes Rex to look at the underground labs. Ruth has a cat in her lab. It’s called Neutron. ‘We call him that because he’s so positive.’ And as all the trivia forums are at pains to point out: NEUTRONS HAVE NO CHARGE. Which I have to say is still true for most cats, most of the time.
  27. Another casting suggestion for the remake: Eddie the dog from Frasier could totally nail the part of Neutron.
  28. Rex admires the lab – particularly the big lead slab hanging from chains. ‘That’s the same size lead I use in my lab,’ he says, flicking it suggestively with his finger. Steve looks uneasy.
  29. Exeter and Brack have a scene together (but not in that way). In some fine alien exposition we learn that they need all these scientists to help them find more energy (for some reason – aren’t they more advanced than us?). Brack is more hawkish. He wants to electronically lobotomise the subjects so they’ll be more submissive; Exeter thinks that’ll make them less able to hold a test tube, although they’ll be savings on the entertainments bill. Exeter and Brack are interrupted by an important message from Orson or someone – their superior, anyway. Their planet is in immediate danger from a failing layer of hokey science business. There’s no more time. They must fly back home and bring the scientists with them. Brack is thrilled; Exeter, less so.
  30. Ruth, Steve and Rex sneak out in a dreadful old car, escaping to the airport or something. They’re bombarded with neutron beams (nothing to do with the cat), that entirely miss every time until Ruth and Rex bail into a river so that Rex’ competition can be safely incinerated. Another scientist waves from the bank. He’s also zapped. So from this we can only assume it’s easier for a neutron beam to hit a scientist than a dreadful old car. Maybe the scientists have higher densities of chalk.
  31. Finally! A flying saucer. VERY much like a hubcap. Satisfying in the way only hubcaps pretending to be flying saucers can be. Cheap, but unaccountably satisfying. A bit like the whole film.
  32. The way Ruth runs. Honestly. She has to fling her arms about and stagger endlessly, looking distressed and tearful, while Rex plods with his suit and chin and comfortable shoes. It’s not easy being a female scientist, then or now.
  33. Rex and Ruth hotwire a small plane and take off. But the saucer pulls them up into its hatch with a tractor beam. Even though they’re a small plane and not a tractor (pause for laughter). ‘They’re pulling us up!’ says Rex, helpfully. Ruth looks like she’s going to scream, although I’m guessing that’s less to do with the beam and more to do with Rex.
  34. They jump out of the plane and stare in awe at the throbbing interior. Rex runs his hand up and down the wing stanchion. Maybe the Director wanted some action to suggest that here is a man who appreciates impressive machinery, but it also back-references nicely the incident with the joystick. An alien even more miserable than Brack with something horribly like a condom stretched on his head waves them to follow him. He reminds me of the people working in the Covid Testing centres.
  35. They end up on a flight deck that looks just as ‘under construction’ as Rex’ lab. Still, Exeter welcomes them aboard. Apologises for having to blow up the rest of the scientists. ‘We’re not all masters of our destiny’ he says. ‘I learned that on earth.’ Rex is pretty cross about it. Exeter appeals to Ruth. ‘Surely as a woman you’re curious about our destination,’ he says. ‘Where are we going?’ says Ruth. (She must have really loved this script).
  36. Apparently they’re going to a planet called Metaluna, which sounds more like an 90s rave duo, but they didn’t know that then. The hubcap zings away into space. They pass through the thermal barrier, and things get hot. ‘What’s to stop us all bouncing around like a lot of balloons when we leave Earth’s gravity?’ asks top scientist Dr Ruth. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Exeter. ‘We make our own gravity.’ (Why they ever had to come to Earth for any kind of advice is beyond me).
  37. There’s a procedure they have to go through to avoid being crushed to death on Metaluna. It involves being put in a tube and bathed in fog. The lunks that Exeter releases from the tube aren’t all that reassuring, though. When the tubes are fully up they all have mini-fits and stagger off looking sick. Exeter asks Brack to prepare Rex n’Ruth for the tubes. They’ll also have to change into the unflattering overalls that Exeter reassures them are vital to life on Metaluna.
  38. When Rex goes into the tube for conditioning, the camera focuses on his groin. Actually, it’s supposed to be his hands grabbing the handrails, but still, a bet’s a bet. When the tube comes down and fog rises around him, Rex says he ‘feels like a new toothbrush,’ which is brave, if a little weird. They both get x-rayed, we see all their internal organs, except for Rex’ brain, which is too small even for alien technologies. Exeter shows them the problems his people are having back on Metaluna, aside from the dreadful fashion. Apparently ‘the Zygon meteors are beginning to get through the ionised layer’ – which isn’t a good thing and nobody wants.
  39. Coming into land, Rex n’Ruth look at the screen as horrified as two people who booked a weekend away in an Airbnb and find out it doesn’t have WiFi. Exeter leads them outside to the monitor, stopping to point out the lovely view, if you ignore the apocalyptic destruction, flaming meteors etc, etc.
  40. They get introduced to Orson. He explains they needed them to come because all their own scientists are dead, their laboratories destroyed, Zygon will invade soon and there ain’t a thing they can do about it. Their intention is to relocate to Earth – as our superiors, naturally. He scorns humans, saying they’re like children looking through a magnifying glass thinking that’s their true size (although I’ve never met a child who did that). ‘Our true size is the size of our God,’ says Rex, folding his arms – which is an even weirder thing to say than the toothbrush jibe. Orson orders Exeter to take Ruth n’Rex to the Thought Transference Chamber. Which by this stage I’m thinking pretty much everyone needs.
  41. On the way there Ruth says her mind’s her own and no-one’s going to change it, which is signs of recovery. She goes to run – but is stopped by a creature so horrific I can barely describe it. The best I can do is to ask you imagine a traffic warden with a comedy brain cycle helmet, welding goggles and lobster gauntlets. ‘I’m sorry,’ says Exeter. ‘I had hoped to prepare you somewhat beforehand. This is a mute-ant. We’ve been breeding them here for ages to do menial work’. Ruth cannot look. (My reaction would be to speak to the thing and ask if it’s in a union, because really – this is unacceptable).
  42. Rex punches Exeter. The mute-ant shuffles hopelessly towards them in response, but unluckily for the mute-ant (and I’m guessing nothing much that’s lucky has EVER really happened to this mute-ant, number one being cast in this film), one of the meteors hits the building and it gets buried beneath a half pound of polystyrene rubble. Rex and Ruth run on.
  43. Exeter catches them up, forgives Rex for all the punching, offers to help them get back to the spaceship before the planet and the whole cinema goes up. They fly off together, just escaping the Zygon attacks (which look like meteors on wires). They watch Metaluna get transformed into a sun, then get in the tubes ready for the journey back to Earth. But whilst the tubes gas-up, the door opens and the poor mute-ant staggers in. Ruth screams. Rex asks if the tubes are strong enough to keep him out. ‘Possibly,’ says Exeter. ‘He’s badly injured. The pressure should crush him soon…’
  44. Despite this, Ruth raises her tube up, immediately putting herself at risk from both the mute-ant and / or crushing. But hey – it’s done. ‘Run, Ruth. Run!’ says Rex. She does, screaming. The mute-ant staggers after her. She could definitely outrun this thing. There’s probably even time to cook a sit-down lunch, clear up afterwards, and still escape it. But no – she trips, the mute-ant shuffles over, she ends up twisting and screaming helplessly in its gauntlets. Rex jumps out of the tube to do some more punching, but he needn’t have bothered. The poor mute-ant collapses and disintegrates from a basic lack of understanding or proper care.
  45. When they’ve reached Earth again, Exeter says he’ll drop them off and then go exploring the universe. ‘You’re a liar,’ says Rex. ‘You’ve run out of power.’ Exeter doesn’t deny it, and even shifts uncomfortably onto his left side, as if all this punching and planetary disintegration has given him gas. Rex n’Ruth run down to the little plane, Exeter drops them out of the hatch, then hurtles off over the ocean where he bursts into flames, ending the film in much the same way he liked to end job interviews.

So what have I learned from watching This Island Earth? Other than what a curse it can be to have too much time on your hands and no project to work on. Well – a few things:

  1. Neutrons have no charge
  2. You can make gravity if you really want to
  3. To avoid getting zapped by alien beams, jump in a river. Or eat some chalk.
  4. Science is cool
  5. Trump is an alien.

2 thoughts on “This Island Earth

  1. I love your movie recaps.

    I’ve been watching Bergerac. Some of the ‘music’ during the action scenes is so bad I’ve begun muting it to avoid the headaches.

    Like

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