After enduring decades of poor-to-unwatchable home video releases, William Cameron Menzies’ 1953 child paranoia sci-fi thriller Invaders from Mars attacks 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a new complete HDR10 restoration as the debut title from Ignite Films. The restoration effort is nothing short of miraculous with an impressive transfer and fantastic audio, and the disc is stacked with interesting and exciting bonus features. For classic sci-fi fans, this is an essential addition to the collection - Highly Recommended
Little David MacLean is just like any average boy. He’s curious about the world and the universe and has become quite the astronomy aficionado ready to wake up in the middle of the night just to get a clear view of another planet. But when a strange object lands in the field behind his house, he’s sure it’s a flying saucer. When anyone goes to investigate, they’re seemingly swallowed up by the field only to return hours later acting differently - including his father (Leif Erickson) and mother (Hillary Brooke). With the help of health department Dr. Pat Blake (Helen Carter) and famed astronomer Dr. Kelston (Arthur Franz), David must convince the local military officials and Col. Fielding (Morris Ankrum) that there are Invaders from Mars here on Earth!
Thanks to Sputnik and the space race, Hollywood turned its eyes away from gangsters, musicals, and westerns and towards the stars. With George Pal’s production of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds on the horizon, producer Edward L. Alperson fast-tracked his own alien feature with Invaders from Mars. With famed Gone with the Wind production designer William Cameron Menzies in the Director's chair and a budget of roughly ten percent of what Pal was spending, Invaders rushed to get before cameras and into theaters ahead of The War of the Worlds. Hollywood has a long history of copying and rushing concept knock-offs into theaters, only Invaders from Mars isn't just a cheap rush job, it's actually good and genuinely creepy.
In addition to sitting in the Director’s chair, Menzies also acted as his own production designer meticulously creating a slightly off-kilter look to his sci-fi invasion flick. From the soundstage set of the MacLean property to the Martian tunnels to the interior of the spacecraft, the film is a work of SUPERcineCOLOR. Menzies even recreated the famous split-rail fence from Gone with the Wind as part of the stark and creepy MacLean homestead where anyone who reaches the end of the fence suddenly disappears! It’s a gorgeous full-color surrealist nightmare with one stunning shot after the next.
Based on the short story by John Tucker Battle, Invaders from Mars does for kids what Invasion of the Body Snatchers would do for their parents. While most certainly a kid-friendly flick, the film still packs plenty of fear and tension into the package. Again going back to that stark creepy landscape Menzies crafted for the film, there’s a constant sense of foreboding. When we first meet Leif Erickson as little David’s father, he’s a nice encouraging, and likable father figure who indulges his son’s interests in the unknown. But after visiting that field, he comes back a different man - colder and infinitely cruel.
These days most people probably remember the 1986 Cannon Invaders from Mars remake by Tobe Hooper. I grew up mostly watching that version and it terrified me, but I fully remember watching this film on television at my grandparents’ farm. Minus the fence, their property had a creepy similarity to the MacLean house - complete with an unfarmable sandpit in the back forty acres - so it packed a more relatable punch on this writer’s formative years. While my grandfather could have a wicked sense of humor, thankfully he never pretended to “change” like Lief Erickson!
While this film doesn’t have anything as shocking as Louise Fletcher munching on a dissected frog, it’s still a creepy flick. Our Martian mutant slaves are admittedly a little goofy looking, but by the time they make their appearance, Menzies has banked so much goodwill tension with the audience that whatever laughs the creatures may elicit are fleeting. And after years of genuinely sub-par releases, Ignite Films breathes new life into this sci-fi gem. I haven’t honestly sat down to enjoy Invaders from Mars in ages and it was a joy to reconnect with it and see that it still creeps me out.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
After orbiting our planet for decades on DVD, Ignite Films delivers the first Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD releases of Invaders from Mars. For our review, we received the single-disc 4K Ultra HD set. The 4K is pressed on a BD-66 disc and is housed in a standard black case with identical slipcover artwork. Also included is a booklet with the restoration essay Invaders from Mars: A Nightmare of Restoration by Scott MacQueen detailing the extensive work and effort that went into the restoration of this film.
NOTE: Images and the trailer were sourced from Ignite Film's promotional EPK package. I wasn't able to rip the disc ahead of publishing, but I'll try to circle back and get a video clip up shortly!
The last 70 years have not been kind to this film. Ever since Invaders from Mars premiered in Detroit (#OnePride!) in 1953, this film’s prospects for a high-quality home video release of the original Domestic Cut were dubious. After Menzies turned in his final cut, the film went through additional reshoots to extend the runtime for foreign markets and alter the original ending so the final negative wasn’t complete - that’s strike one. The surviving elements weren’t in great shape with color fading and damage - that’s strike two. Past releases simply used still images to band-aid missing footage so a “complete” version barely even exited - that’s strike three.
Normally those kinds of hurdles would knock out any release, but Ignite Films managed the impossible. Before any kind of restoration work could begin, the film essentially had to be reassembled using five sources including the original incomplete negative and various archival prints and the results are often spectacular! Depending on which source was used clarity and grain structure can fluctuate a bit, but it’s far and away better than having a silly still image replace damaged or missing sections of the film! Details are often striking with the image maintaining a natural cinematic quality.
Graded for HDR10, colors are vibrant and beautiful with rich primaries and gorgeous emerald greens for the Martian overlords. This new transfer gives Menzie’s impressive art direction, makeup work, and creature effects all the care and attention they deserve. Black levels are rich and deep giving the image a terrific sense of depth and dimension. Whites are also crisp and bright without blooming and skin tones are natural and healthy looking. Considering all of the hurdles this particular restoration effort had to overcome, it’s a modern miracle we even get to enjoy this film at all, let alone in a premium format with such impressive results. For this one, without the discovery of a pristine print locked away in some unknown vault somewhere, it's not likely to get any better than this!
The film also comes with a terrific DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that is a true treat for classic sci-fi fans. From the army combat sequences to the Martian ship and their little death ray, this is a clean clear track that fully supports the new transfer. Dialog is clean and clear without any issues. Scoring is on point giving fans that creepy grandiose classic sci-fi vibe with that eerie pulsing vocal work. How the score builds and swells as someone walks into the field behind the MacLean house is dynamite stuff. Any age-related anomalies are minimal without distracting from the main feature.
If having the film fully restored and in 4K wasn’t enough, Ignite Films packs in a terrific assortment of interesting and entertaining bonus features to pick through. In addition to the informative booklet, the retrospective on William Cameron Menzies is a particular treat and the restoration featurettes are essential viewing for folks curious about how much work it takes to bring these classics back from the grave. Also, it's cool to see the alternate scenes produced for foreign markets.
Invaders from Mars is genuine 1950s classic science fiction. Made in a hurry to beat a bigger and better film to the market, the film may have had a low budget but it doesn’t look cheap. With famed production designer William Cameron Menzies in the Director’s Chair, the film looks fantastic creating a sense of dread that would creep out any kid in the audience. Thanks to Ignite Films’ new restoration, we’re able to fully enjoy this gem the way it was meant to be seen. Even sourced from a variety of elements, the new 4K HDR10 transfer is spectacular and better than expected. Add in a great audio mix and a wonderful collection of bonus features, this is a fantastic debut release for a new label and I can’t wait to see what Ignite has in store for us! Highly Recommended