Nearly 70 years after its original release, William Cameron Menzies‘ Invaders From Mars — the most neglected sci-fi film classic of all time and a major work of impressionist pulp art that has always looked a bit worn and mulchy and never really sublime– has finally been restored to perfection.
If you have any respect at all for the mythic power of this low-budget but extremely influential scary-for-kids film, the fact that it’s finally been upgraded and arguably made to look even better than before (according to Jimmy Hunt) is a very, very big deal.
I’ve seen the new spiffed-up Invaders so don’t tell me.
The guys you need to thank are (a) the great Scott MacQueen, who transformed this once-raggedy film into something new and riveting, and (b) Ignite Films‘ Jan Willem Bosman Jansen, who is based near Amsterdam.
The new Invaders will have its big debut at the TCM Classic Film Festival on Saturday, April 23rd, at 7:15 pm. The screening will happen at Chinese Multiplex House 6. (Why not the main Chinese theatre?) The principals (including Hunt) will participate in a post-screening q & a. Invaders will be released on Bluray, 4K UHD streaming and DVD sometime in the fall.
Invaders has never, ever looked this good…it looks so alive and pulsing that it’s almost spooky. Crisp and whistle-clean and richly hued with good sound…a living, breathing, authentic vessel of early Eisenhower Americana…like it just came out of the lab in early ’53. You can smell that early 1950s coffee…you can smell the sand pit and that early morning air and that 1950s car exhaust…you can hear that eerie Martian choir all over again…and you can feel that same adolescent lust for Helena Carter…well, not Carter herself but her character, Dr. Blake, and that torn blouse that she wears.
Former child actor Jimmy Hunt, who played the young lead, David MacLean, when he was 12 or thereabouts, has seen the restored Invaders and told Jan Willem that it looks better today than when he first saw it as a kid. Maybe he means that the colors seem to pop more vividly or that the focus is a bit sharper or the digital makeover has enhanced it somehow. But that’s a solid endorsement.
Invaders From Mars has had a substandard, downmarket, public-domain look for decades, and now that visual nightmare period is finally over. And the restoration process took only took a half century, thanks in part to the notorious Wade Williams. The Kansas City-based Williams still holds the theatrical rights to Invaders From Mars. Williams has long been regarded as a notorious “rights squatter” who thinks and operates in the mule-headed tradition of Raymond Rohauer. On top of which he’s a right-winger.
The irony is that Williams had nothing to do with the restoration. Jan Willem somehow did an end-run around him, gathering the best materials and then hiring MacQueen to create a new Invaders that would look as good as possible.
No devotee of mind-bending, zeitgeist-reflecting cinema will deny that Invaders is one of the most essential sci-fi films of all time — an inventively designed, purposefully unreal, intensely nightmarish thing that used kid-POV storytelling, surreal dreamscape images and one of the all-time creepiest scores ever composed. (The genius behind the famous “sand choir” theme was Raoul Kraushaar.)
From the Wiki page: (a) “An Eastmancolor negative was used for principal photography, with vivid SuperCinecolor prints struck for the film’s initial theatrical release to provide an oddly striking and vivid look to the film’s images; standard Eastmancolor prints were used thereafter on later releases”; (b) “The Martian heat-ray effect showing the bubbling, melting walls of the underground tunnels was created by shooting a large tub of boiling oatmeal from above, colored red with food coloring and lit with red lights“; (c) “[The] cooled, bubbled-up effect on some areas of the blasted tunnel walls was created by first using inflated balloons pinned to the tunnel walls. But in film tests they looked like balloons stuck to the walls, so the effects crew tried smaller inflated latex condoms. Further testing showed these looked much more convincing, and the crew wound up inflating more than 3,000.”