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This Island Earth (Blu-ray Review)

Well, well, well. More “Universally” welcomed surprises coming from Scream Factory as the year of 2019 continues onward. Its actually incredibly surprising that its taken until 2019 for This Island Earth to find its way onto the high definition format. You’d think it would have at least found its way into some sort of Classic Science Fiction multi-film set if Universal didn’t think it’d do well enough on its own. Crazy enough, it made its way to the format via Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie before getting its own release. Fittingly, Shout! Factory (Under the Scream Factory banner) will be putting the film’s non-riffed and original theatrical version out as well. And they aren’t messing around with it either, its coming with a really rad set of bonus features that’ll have you shouting “Mu-TANT”! This year has seen Universal tackling this unique science fiction horror era between the classic monsters age and the Hammer/API era of horror. This Island Earth can be yours if the price is right, on July 9th.

Film 

Scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) solves a mysterious puzzle that allows him access to a highly secretive program — led by the mysterious Exeter (Jeff Morrow) — that has assembled the world’s greatest scientific minds in an attempt to quickly learn how to generate and store nuclear power. But with the help of fellow scientists Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson), Meacham soon discovers that his host is not what he claims to be.

As a MSTie, This Island Earth is never going to have a fair shake from me. The first time I ever saw the film was Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. And I had MST3K: The Movie on VHS and watched it to the point where everything about This Island Earth is ingrained in my brain for all the reasons the makers and fans of the movie don’t want it to be. Admittedly by the crew of MST3K, they did NOT want to riff this movie but Universal sort of played their hand into doing it. In their eyes, this wasn’t a bad movie and they knew it was beloved. Universal execs were more in the silly out of touch “Hahahahah its old” bunch. But, they sucked it up and (In my opinion) hit a grand slam with it and proved that any movie could be riffed. And in all honesty, it sorta came from a place of passion, which helps.

Seeing the film in full, there’s some added appreciation. For one, MST3K cut it down and intentionally left some areas of the film’s plot out to help add to some humor and also make it look like things didn’t make sense. That’s really not fair to This Island Earth and a cheap way to play the narrative, but that’s also Universal’s doing as they kept cutting the runtime. Also, in this glorious new transfer, you can really appreciate a lot of the ambition that came with the film. While it may not completely work like gangbusters as it would to a young kid back in the time of release, I’ll say for its time the movie has its money all over the screen and looks like a very expensive production.

This Island Earth features a real grand adventure (“Star Wars of our time” says Joe Dante), and took the science fiction film to new levels as you don’t realize it, but its the first to enter the color nexus of filmmaking. While much of the effects work is obvious as this film is of half a century old now, its still quite thrilling to just see the details on display. They did some outstanding work with matte paintings and matching it to model work and other effects. And as stupid as Exeter’s forehead looks, you’ll struggle to find any trace of the make-up effects showing through as it looks quite natural. Yes, the Mu-TANT looks a bit silly nowadays (He’s wearing pants), who doesn’t find silly fun in some of these “guy in a costume” monsters?

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: This Island Earth debuts in its natural state on Blu-ray with a 4K transfer of the inter-positive. You have the ability to watch the film in both the 1.85:1 and 1.37:1 ratios. No matter, both look quite comparable to each other with no real differences to be noted. Details are strong and the film looks pretty crisp. As a positive, the movie does carry a very “I’m watching a 35mm print” kind of look to the presentation.

Depth:  Solid spacing, though nothing Earth shattering. Though I did find the opening credits (Ditto some of the matte sequences) to be surprisingly 3 dimensional. Motions are cinematic and smooth with zero issue coming from rapid movement distortions in the film.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep and closer to some natural levels. Grain shows a little heavier in darker/space sequences of the film. No crushing present.

Color Reproduction: Colors shine pretty well here as there’s a good classical technicolor-like feel to the film. There are good filters, effects and clothing that feel well rounded. Everything overall just feels full and bold.

Flesh Tones: Facial features are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Or at one point they are consistently blue. Facial features and textures are pretty nicely discernible from good distances with reasonable expectations.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, English 3.0 DTS-HD MA Original Perspecta Stereophonic Sound

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This Island Earth gives you 2 solid choices. I went with the Perspecta Stereophonic Sound for the review and it really loosens things up from the mono. You get some fun travel and a bit louder and more impactful experience. Overall, this has a nice classic feel on your ears and it compliments the film very well.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are pretty clear with a nice little analog hiss accompanying.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Author/Visual Effects Artist Robert Skotak
  • With Film Historian David Schnecter

This Island Earth Open Matte (1.37:1) Version (HD, 1:25:55)

Alien Ideas (HD, 21:11) – Interview With Filmmaker Luigi Cozzi. He discusses his love for the movie, almost going play by play through the scenes of the film. Cozzi also contributes some background on where the studios were at this time with genre pictures at the time and what the results are of putting a film like this one out.

Two And A Half Years In The Making: The Extended Documentary (HD, 47:55) – Joe Dante and others discuss their love of the film, the genre and Universal when it was made, the production, the legacy and even the Mystery Science Theater 3000 effect on the legend of the film.

Trailers From Hell: This Island Earth (SD, 2:45) – Joe Dante discusses the film as the trailer plays.

War Of The Planets 8mm & 16mm Films (HD, 11:05) – The shortened “home video” version of This Island Earth.

Facts About Perspecta Stereophonic Sound By Bob Furmanek (HD, 9:39) – A slideshow with information on the audio technology.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:20) 

Behind-The-Scenes Gallery (HD, 2:31) 

Poster And Lobby Card Gallery (HD, 6:53) 

Publicity Stills Gallery (HD, 4:24)

Summary 

This Island Earth by itself is still a fun little science fiction relic/classic. And I’ll forever hear the riffs for it in my head while watching that’ll never go away. Scream Factory has put together a pretty outstanding little release here for the film that both impresses in its presentation and feels wealthy in its bonus features. I recommend Shout! Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie overall, but if you want a nice companion for it, grab this one.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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