Bradbury Festival, Part 2: It Came from Outer Space

“Individual and odd.  A man who thinks for himself.”

This, said of the amateur astronomer-hero of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, was not meant as a compliment.  But then it was the “conformist” 1950s (the film was released by in 1953), a time of Cold War and McCarthyism, when alien “invasions” were not likely to be welcome.  And so, when a meteor strike in the220px-Itcamefromouterspace Arizona desert is seen by our first-on-the-scene astronomer to  actually involve what looks like a space ship, he is first ridiculed, then when it turns out he may be right — and moreover may have made some kind of contact — at the least distrusted.

Meanwhile others in town have disappeared, only to turn up again somehow “different,” something our hero has noticed too.  But by now he’s discovered the aliens mean no harm, simply needing to repair their ship, buried but reachable through an abandoned mine, after which they will be on their way.  That is, if the hero can hold off the Sheriff. . . .

But this is not simply cold war paranoia, not 1956’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from Jack Finney’s novel, but rather a deeper investigation of the problem of “otherness.”  The aliens in this case are as good as their word (they’ve only disguised themselves, for instance, as the townspeople they’ve captured and who they let go when they’re ready to leave), but to our eyes still so outré that there’s no way we could come to understand them — at least not at our present level of unsophistication.  In fact Bradbury, new to working in film, prepared four different treatments, two with the aliens turning out hostile and two benign, and let Universal-International take their pick from them, they fortunately choosing the one he preferred — and also, it turns out, had written a short story the year before called “A Matter of Taste” where it’s Earthmen who land an alien planet of nine-foot spiders with similar difficulties caused by mutual “strangeness.”*

While Bradbury does receive story credit, the actual screenplay was given over to veteran writer Harry Essex who said himself he had to do very little work, but who did smooth some rough edges, including toning down a carnival atmosphere with scoffing reporters at the beginning, making the hero more likeable, and using fewer images of spiders (although the analogy is still there).  Also we get a few glimpses of the aliens, one-eyed blob-creatures, which the producers insisted on against Bradbury’s wishes (although, more to Bradbury’s liking, there were several sequences shot “as seen by” the aliens themselves).

And one more detail, possibly helping assure that the theater for this evening’s screening was practically full:  this was Universal-International’s first film shot in 3-D (the old-fashioned kind, with the red and blue — well, technically, cyan — glasses!).

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* This story, originally turned down by FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION (I believe — this is from the discussion that followed the screening), was finally published in 2004 as part of a book from Gauntlet Press, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, with all four screen treatments plus essays by Center for Ray Bradbury Studies Director Jon Eller, et al., and much, much more.

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