This Island Earth is one of those classic cheese-fest sci-fi classics from the 1950s that would probably be a laugh riot if it didn’t take itself so darn seriously. It is a surprisingly somber tale of aliens borrowing the best scientific minds from Earth to figure out how to save their own planet. Of course if that doesn’t work, they’ll simply move to Earth themselves, and put humans in their place as a worker-bee second class of inhabitants.
Square-jawed, generically handsome Jeff Morrow plays scientist Dr. Cal Meacham. He’s the type of American stud Renaissance man who give interviews on the airport tarmac while zipping up a flight suit over his gray business attire, then says, “Thanks, guys!” before flying off, piloting his own plane. Meacham gets a mysterious invitation (via a 2,000-piece self-exploding erector-set kit) to join a group of the world’s brightest scientific minds off in a secluded old plantation in Georgia. His intellectual curiosity gets the better of him, and before you know it, he has joined fellow scientists, including Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and Steve Carlson (Gilligan’s Island “Professor” Russell Johnson) in a remote utopia for thinkers.
Turns out that Exeter, the mysterious brilliant fellow who invited all the humans, is from the planet Metaluna, whose people and planet are dying because of enemy invasions. A few of the scientists find that they will be disposable as soon as the aliens get the technological inventions they need from the humans—but their discovery is too little, too late for all but Cal and Ruth. I have to say that it was surprising that none of the humans had noticed earlier that Exeter and his sidekick Brack were a little odd, considering their extremely high foreheads and perfectly coiffed matching white hairdos. More than a little Oompah-Loompah-ish if you ask me (but taller).
It is only the last part of This Island Earth that takes place in outer space as Exeter abducts Cal and Ruth to take to his planet. The famous shot of the creepy alien with big pinchers and a head like The Fly with an exposed brain is a disappointingly minor part of the film. And he’s not even that scary! He is one of those menacing monsters that just happens to walk… really… slow, while the woman (of course) screams and screams and falls over helplessly. I think the slow-monster syndrome probably has a lot to do with the fact that the poor actors probably couldn’t see, much less move easily due to their unwieldy costumes. Alas.
There is a lot to admire about This Island Earth, despite the fact that it was much lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. They had cool sliding doors on spaceships over ten years before Star Trek. Exeter, as a representive of a pushy race of aliens, is actually a sympathetic character, which is unusual for aliens. And the Fly-Guy is pretty groovy-looking, despite the fact that your grandma could knock him over. The somber tone of This Island Earth, with the backdrop of war destroying a home planet, is kind of sobering, making this movie surprisingly interesting in an unironic way.