It Came From Outer Space (DVD)
Jack Arnold will make no one's list of the most influential directors of all time, but a look at the Arnold filmography suggests that maybe he should. As director of The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man (not to mention High School Confidential! and The Mouse That Roared), he placed a stamp on '50s pop culture at least as indelible as that of Gil Hodges or Carl Perkins. Released in 1953, Arnold's second film, It Came From Outer Space (along with Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World), helped set the template for dozens of science-fiction films, finding in its alien invaders the perfect correlative for the decade's general unease. An outsider still new to a small Arizona town that's comfortable "knowing its past and sure of its future," writer and amateur astronomer Richard Carlson enjoys a quiet, peaceful life until he spots a mysterious object falling out of the sky. Investigating, he discovers a strange craft, but an avalanche buries it too quickly for him to share his find with anyone else. His neighbors scoff, but soon strangeness begins to seep into town, as some locals take to staring at the sun, speaking in a hypnotic monotone, and performing unusual errands, often involving electrical equipment. Taken from a story by Ray Bradbury, and retaining much of his purple-tinged prose, It Came From Outer Space manages to be a paranoid film about the dangers of paranoia; Carlson finds himself forced to argue for tolerance of the alien doppelgängers, even as they threaten to destroy his life. Three years later, Don Siegel's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers would offer a much harsher version of a similar scenario, but here, Arnold and Bradbury captured '50s unease just before it reached the point of no return. The film still works quite well, although it's tempting to wish for the slightly more radical version described in this new DVD's accompanying documentary. Outer Space's aliens were originally to remain unseen, which would have enhanced a tone diminished by the appearance of its none-too-impressive, semi-mobile space-octopi. (Which, if nothing else, made possible The Simpsons' Kang and Kodos.) Also unfortunate is the loss of Outer Space's 3D effects, planned by the visually meticulous Arnold with more care than most directors brought to the gimmick. Even with this loss and Outer Space's scores of successors, the original retains its potent effect, a combination of Bradbury's thoughtfulness, Arnold's tendency to insert a social consciousness into his films, and outright gee-whizzery. It's still easy to see how the film started viewers watching the skies with anticipation, trepidation, or, as with the residents of Outer Space's typical American town, both at once.