Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Dojo Classics - Invaders From Mars!

I watched both the 1953 original and the 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars.  I've long had VHS copies of both, but I don't think I've ever watched them both back-to-back. My VHS copy of the classic movie by Cameron Menzies was pretty grainy and not really all that much fun to stumble through. I replaced it with a DVD version several months ago, and recently I picked up the Tobe Hooper version as part of a Midnite Movies double feature. To be frank, I don't really have much affection for the remake. I saw it in the theater, but don't really have any strong memory of it. Getting it on VHS many years ago was simple completism. I've watched it once I think. 

But I have to say watching them back-to-back really opens up both movies a bit for me. For one thing my dvd copy comes with two versions, a British cut and a longer American cut. When I got the dvd I watched the British cut and the picture quality seemed not unlike my VHS copy. I was pretty disappointed. But this time I watched the American cut, and this is the cleanest version of the movie I've ever seen. It's really a feast of images. Tobe Hooper made his version out of an affection for the original, but sadly the pacing of the 1986 movie is too slow. Stuff happens but the editing of scenes is relaxed and there are things we don't need to spend so much time on that make the story almost stop in places. The stuff at the school for one just gets on my nerves. They needed to stay focused on David's home and his parents more. But that would've meant getting rid of much of Louise Fletcher's stuff and she's one of the most entertaining things in this movie, her over-the-top villainy is fun to watch. 

There is a weird dreamlike logic to the original, supported by the high-art style they used. The movie has a steady beat to it as the story gets a bit more peculiar all the way through right up to the rumble through the Martian tunnels. The fact they had to make do with men-in-suits and other limited effects put the premium on the story and the pacing. Sadly, Hooper is able to use more elaborate physical effects and that seems to slow things down too. You build a wonderful set, and you want to show it off, I get that, but it's to the detriment of the story. I will say it's always refreshing to see any movie that relies so heavily on physical effects for its monsters though, as I'm about tired of the endless CG critters we get nowadays. 

I really found the story of young David compelling in the original this time, more than ever and the themes of the story, ripe with paranoia really shine through. The death of the little girl was shocking and gave the story a weight it would otherwise lack. The deaths in the Hooper version were less involving, more played for humor even in spots. None of that in the original. It was creepy. I like that Jimmy Hunt, the actor who played the original little boy "David" in 1953 showed up as an adult policeman in the 1986 movie. That kind of insider stuff is cute and doesn't hurt the story if it's done quietly. It's not like Stan Lee showing up and taking you out of the movie, just a hidden gem for folks in on the secret. So I find I like the original a lot more than I ever imagined I would. The remake is still unremarkable.

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