This Island Earth (1955)

Man, this movie has a great title. It evokes Earth as an island, a speck lost amidst the unimaginable depths of space, alone in the coldness with Earth being the sole repose for the human race. But a title alone doesn’t make a good movie. And while I really like the movie, I’m not sure I would call it a good one.

It’s a B-movie that sports a whacky plot and some unusual plot choices. It starts with the heroic scientist archetype (from the pulp era, not the modern geek archetype) assembling an unknown device from an equally unknown sender (why would he do such a thing?). The device, as it turns out, is a machine for communication. He’s invited into a scientific community. Once he’s there the plot really thickens, with the leaders of the community revealing themselves to be aliens and abducting him to their own world far away, where they are at war with another race.

The entire movie feels like it’s a side show for a much bigger story and we only get glimpses of that one. As if we’re following secondary characters, not the main ones. The shifty nature of the movie makes it rather hard to pin down exactly. There’s action, but again, the action is not the main course. Characterization is nearly absent, yet the main characters are nicely drawn, from the well-meaning alien to the competent scientist and the obligatory screaming female love interest.

In the end it’s a movie that is really just a fantastic interstellar round trip that tries to cram as many SFnal elements into its running time as possible, from space ships to an alien world to a two-headed alien mutant. It’s a gimmicky movie full of cliches with a decidedly haphazard plot. And yet it’s a movie that manages to evoke the hard-to-define and hard-to-achieve sense of wonder often present in the best and greatest science fiction.