For Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie to have any kind of box-office success, it needed the support of geeky fans weaned on a diet of '50s science-fiction movies. Yet a portion of those fans revolted when they discovered that the MST3K crew would be flambéing 1955's This Island Earth, a respectable piece of intergalactic doom that's far removed from the show's usual cheesy public-domain fare. Sure, the film features plenty of silly elements—dated technology and effects, Z-movie performances, hilariously antiquated notions of space travel—but Manos: The Hands Of Fate this isn't. Someone put a little thought behind it, and for that, it deserves some respect.
Not a lot of respect, granted, but there's a sliver of post-war anxiety in the premise, which involves the harnessing of atomic energy for nefarious purposes. The aptly named Rex Reason stars as a straight-shooting scientist who begins receiving electronic parts of unknown origins, listed in a mysterious catalog composed of flexible steel paper. Naturally curious, he orders the components of a machine called an interociter, which is like the most nightmarish IKEA contraption ever: 2,486 irreplaceable parts, each cross-indexed into a symbol pattern. Turns out the assembly was an aptitude test devised by the mysterious Exeter (Jeff Morrow), an odd-looking fellow with a conspicuously prominent, bumpy forehead. Exeter has been gathering the world's best scientists for a top-secret energy project the likes of which this planet has never seen.
So what could an advanced alien species, capable of zipping across the universe in a flying saucer and shooting death rays, want from Earth scientists who are still using equipment from the Sears appliance catalog? All that is explained hurriedly and in confusing detail, but This Island Earth seems an unmistakable comment on the Manhattan Project, another gathering of scientists for dubious moral purposes. Those moral quandaries are quickly brushed aside in favor of laser beams that can blow up cars or suck single-engine planes into the mothership, but at least the film makes the effort. And since it's one of the last films shot in three-strip Technicolor, those beams sure are eye-piercingly vivid.
Key features: A trailer that oversells the movie in that inimitable '50s style.