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Old 10-01-2009, 07:39 AM
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Default Invaders from Mars (1986)




Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: October 1, 2009

Released by: MGM
Release date: August 28, 2001
MSRP: OOP
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
1986



I'm going to let everyone in on a little secret: I'm not a Tobe Hooper fan. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does little for me. I appreciate the grittiness of it, with what it did for the genre back then, and am always impressed by what some are able to do on a shoestring budget. Honestly though, it's a movie I will probably never watch again. Hooper certainly has some hits under his belt. I love Poltergeist and will give him credit for it, even though I've read countless times that Speilberg was the real director there. Lets not forget Lifeforce, The Funhouse, and the Salem's Lot TV mini-series. But the reality is the guy has a lot more misses than hits. Night Terrors anyone? The Manger? Crocodile? Ugh. Given the mixed reaction to Hooper's 1986 remake, Invaders from Mars, it may surprise some that I generally enjoy the movie. I grew up watching it, but I don't think it's the nostgalia factor this time around. I think it's a generally fun and enjoyable movie. Now lets see if I can explain why! For this review I decided to watch the original 1953 Invaders from Mars, which will be a first-time viewing for me, followed by Hooper's remake. It will be fun to do a brief comparison of the two. Lets have a look.

The Story

inline Image David Gardner (Hunter Carson) and his father, George (Timothy Bottoms), lie in their backyard gazing at the sky. They are watching a meteor shower and marveling at the constellations. George works in the NASA division at the local military base and the two are obsessed with astronomy. David's mother, Ellen (Laraine Newman), has to come out and drag him in for bed. David is tucked in and sound asleep until he's awoken by a rainstorm. He goes to close his window and sees a spaceship landing down in Copper Hill behind his house. He runs to tell his parents, who are quick to blame nightmares for his overactive imagination. They tuck him back into bed and his father promises to investigate in the morning. David wakes up that morning to find not only has his father investigated, but he's acting strangely, like a completely different person. When he asks his father what he found at the hill, he is again told that is was just a bad dream. David begins to get suspicious when he sees a cut on his father's neck. As he's about to leave for school, his father approaches him and tells him there was in fact something at the hill. He wants to show David what it is, but David refuses and barely escapes by hopping onto the school bus.

inline Image David's father is just the beginning of people acting strange. Soon his mother changes, followed by his teacher, Mrs. McKeltch (Louise Fletcher), who was up behind Copper Hill collecting frogs for science class. David finally finds a friend in the school nurse, Linda Magnusson (Karen Black). She doesn't believe his stories of invaders from Mars that are somehow brainwashing human beings my implanting devices into their necks, but she agrees to give him temporary refuge from Mrs. McKeltch. Later that day David manages to follow Mrs McKelth behind Copper Hill and into the alien spaceship buried beneath. He is spotted by the aliens but is able to escape before they can catch him. Waiting for him at the top of the hill is Linda, who tries to convince him to return home before they get into any more trouble. David finally convinces Linda of the invaders when they witness two workers from the base get sucked beneath the sand.

inline Image David and Linda turn to General Wilson (James Karen) for help. They tell Wilson the story, who doesn't believe it until the two workers - that ones sucked beneath the sand - are brought in. The two go haywire and try to kill the general after he begins to question them about the Copper Hill search. Soon after a launchpad at the base is sabotaged and a NASA rocket is destroyed. The general gathers up the marines and heads out to Copper Hill for a full scale attack against the aliens. They get a bit more than they bargained for as they go up against the advanced alien technology. With time running out, the marines makes a last ditch attempt to destroy the aliens by setting explosives in the ship that are set to detonate in 5 minutes.

inline Image Invaders from Mars is in all likelihood a bad movie, yet I can't help enjoying it. I'm sure nostalgia is at least partially responsible. I grew up watching it time and time again; it was one of my father's regular VCR viewings after a long day at work. Even so, I can typically admit when it's nostalgia that drives my enjoyment of a particular movie, and I think it's only partially responsible in this case. The movie certainly has its share flaws and cheese, yet there's just enough good bits left over to make it an enjoyable flick. I find myself watching it once or twice a year, which puts it in a rare category for me.

inline Image While the story is hokey, who wouldn't expect that from an invasion flick? At least this one jumps right to the point and gets the aliens landing in the first few minutes. Sure, there's some nonsensical story to why the aliens are there; something about them not wanting us poking around on their planet. I've seen the movie countless times yet I'm still not really sure on the entire plot. What's fun is the execution - watching people become brainwashed, watching the "giant Mr. Potato Head" aliens roam about on their ship and the ensuing firefight with the marines. Overall the acting is enjoyable and most give admirable performances with the exception of Hunter Carson as David. His performance is downright dreadful, from his whiny voice to his lackluster acting. It's nearly enough to ruin my enjoyment of the movie, and I have no doubt it will ruin the movie for some. Kudos should be given to Timothy Bottoms as David's father, who is downright Alien-certified after he becomes brainwashed. Louise Fletcher is brilliant as Mrs. McKeltch, David's frog swallowing teacher. Lets not forget genre favorite James Karen as General Wilson. His reactions and mannerisms will bring a smile to your face as they remind you of his Return of the Living Dead performances. And finally, Jimmy Hunt, David in the original, makes an appearance in the remake as the Chief of Police. Good stuff.

Stan Winston, a name we are all familiar with, is the man responsible behind the alien effects in Invaders from Mars. While the effects may not be on the same level as Predator, I have no doubt that's at least in part due to budget constrains. Even so, they're decent enough and truly go well with the general cheese factor to the movie.

Hooper does an admirable job on the directing side and really manages to keep things moving along at a nice pace. The remake runs nearly 20 minutes longer than the original, yet I found the original to drag along; it seems as if the entire movie was David running around looking for help. The remake has its share of that, but its less severe. I may take some heat for this as I know the original is considered one of those golden-age sci-fi classics, but the remake wins hands down for me. I'm sure if I saw the original back in the 50s as a child, like I did with the remake, my opinion might be different. Then again, maybe not. The effects alone are light years better; to be expected given the 30 years between the two. Instead of men in green martian suits we get cheesy looking alien monsters. I'll take the latter. Effects alone aren't enough to put the 80s version as the favorite, but the improved story sealed the deal for me. The writers of the remake, which includes Dan O'Bannon - also of Return of the Living Dead fame, added in a few elements that improve upon the story. One such element would be the addition of Mrs. McKeltch, David's teacher. Excluding David himself (thanks Hunter), the characters in the remake are more developed and as such, more likable. Even the brainwashed humans are more likable in the remake. In the original, David's father becomes violent after being turned. In the remake he becomes downright weird, which in the end is a bit more disturbing. The perfect example is when his father first turns and slowly taps some tic tacs into his coffee, then downs the coffee as some it dribbles down his neck. He turns, looks at David, and states, "Let me walk you to the bus stop!" Perfect!

inline Image inline Image
1986 Remake
1953 Original

There's enjoyment to be had with Hooper's Invaders from Mars, as long as you know what you are getting into. I have warmed to remakes over the years, especially when filmmakers try something new for the second time around. Remaking Psycho as a shot-for-shot colorized remake is just silly. Taking The Thing From Another World and making John Carpenter's The Thing is pure brilliance. While Hooper doesn't approach Carpenter territory here, nor has he ever, Invaders from Mars remains one of his finer efforts.

Image Quality

inline Image MGM released Invaders from Mars in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio that is 16x9 enhanced. There's no doubt this is the best the movie has ever looked and, in all likelihood, is the best it ever will look. Even so, the transfer has its share of problems. There's constant print blemishes popping up - specks of dirt and scratches. The image appears soft at times but overall is relatively sharp. There one noteworthy scene that look straight out of a third generation VHS dub. When David's mother sneaks up on him with his toy robot, the entire scene looks downright dreadful - lacking in detail, faded colors, and plenty of blemishes to go around. Excluding that one scene, colors are well balanced throughout. It would be nice to see the negatives cleaned up a bit and have this rereleased, maybe even on blu-ray, the reality is that's unlikely to ever happen. As such, this is as good as it gets for the time being.

Sound

A Dolby Surround track is included. There's nothing too special here; some good channel separation from fronts and surrounds during the ship landing and the marine attack sequences. Otherwise no noteworthy problems and a pretty straightforward track.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Here's what was most surprising to me: there are some supplements on the disc. I've owned this disc for several years and never knew that until I actually sat down to write this review. There are two featurette - a publicity featurette that runs about 8 minutes and a sci-fi promo featurette that is 15 minutes. Both include interviews with cast and crew, along with behind-the-scenes footage. The sci-fi one is definitely the more enjoyable of the two, in particular with some bits on special effects and an interview with Stan Winston. Closing out the supplements is the original theatrical trailer. The quality isn't the greatest but I'll give them credit for putting it on there and making it 16x9 enhanced.

inline Imageinline Imageinline Image

Final Thoughts

A good bad movie if there ever was one. I enjoyed it and recommend it as a solid B movie. The image has its share of problems but it's still the best looking transfer to date. A few short yet enjoyable supplements are also included. The disc is OOP now but can still be purchased on the used market for next to nothing.

Rating

.
Movie - B-

Image Quality - C+

Sound - B

Supplements - C+



Technical Info.

  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 39 minutes
  • Rated PG
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital Surround
  • French & Spanish Subtitles

Supplements

  • Publicity Featurette
  • Sci-Fi Promo Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer

 

 

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Old 10-01-2009, 09:49 AM
Maniac
Great review! I actually saw it as a kid on TBS and before that, at school before summer vacation (no idea why a teacher decided to show this of all movies), so I'm definitely with you on nostalgia being a big factor as to why I bought it and watch it. My six-year-old daughter actually enjoyed this a lot, so I guess it depends on when you saw it and what you expected.
 
 
Old 10-03-2009, 03:25 AM
Maniac
I also love this movie, and do watch it again from time to time. I will try to catch it again this October after getting the urge when reading this review! Matta, you must have had a great teacher who was willing to show this one!!!
 
 
Old 10-03-2009, 01:26 PM
Maniac
I must have, but I don't remember exactly which year I saw it or what teacher it was! I just remember the set used for the backyard/fence leading over the hill really vividly and it was only three years ago or something that I finally figured out it was THIS movie, so I bought the double feature with this and Strange Invaders. I still don't get all the hate this movie gets, I thought it was a fun movie if you went into it expecting something geared towards kids.
 
 

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