Monday, February 4, 2008

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA / EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS

In the Fifties, special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen contributed his groundbreaking stop-motion animation to three low budget Columbia science fiction potboilers. All three of these titles – 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS – were released to DVD a few years back as part of the "Ray Harryhausen Collection," in fine editions. Well, now the studio has re-visited the titles with new transfers, new extras and, new, digitally-colorized versions of the films. I haven’t gotten a hold of the new 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH yet, but I can happily report that the other two discs are great!

IT tells the story of a giant octopus, mutated by atomic bomb testing, which attacks San Francisco, while the rather literally-titled SAUCERS, well, tells of a war between the American military and alien invaders. Both films are fast-paced, entertaining relics of an earlier era of filmmaking, with stoic, square-jawed heroes, attractive heroines, and plenty of patriotic military might. Of course, in both cases, it’s Harryhausen’s innovative and inspired effects work that really make the movies memorable and still worth watching today.

Both discs feature new black & white transfers that are notable improvements over the previously released versions, with sharper images and better contrast. Most of the remaining damage and dirt has been digitally removed, as well. Columbia has also provided colorized versions, which can be accessed through the main menu or by using the "angle" button on your remote.

While I’ve seen worse, the colorization still looks bad to me – with an overall brown-ness that is just unappealing and unnatural. But at least they kept the original version available.

Each 2-disc set includes trailers for DRAGON WARS and the new CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Ultimate Editions, audio commentaries by Harryhausen, other effects artists and film historians, behind-the-scenes featurettes, still galleries, original ad artwork, a Tim Burton-Harryhausen video conversation, and much more. They each also feature cover art that’s much superior to their original DVD releases.

In both cases, these are double-dips that mostly justify their existence, and are highly recommended to Harryhausen fans and Fifties sci-fi aficionados.

BUY: It Came From Beneath the Sea (Color Special Edition)

BUY: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Color Special Edition)