Invaders from Mars Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby
1986, Region A, 100 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on April 7th, 2015
Hunter Carson as David Gardner
Karen Black as Linda Magnusson
James Karen as Gen. Climet Wilson
Louise Fletcher as Mrs. McKeltch
Timothy Bottoms as George Gardner
Laraine Newman as Ellen Gardner
Bud Cort as Mark Weinstein
David Gardner witnesses a UFO landing in the field just beyond his backyard. His father goes to investigate, but when he returns he is different somehow. This kicks off a series of events that could spell the end of the entire human race. Unfortunately, David is just a kid and nobody believes his wild stories. His parents, the people most likely to help him, are acting all sorts of strange, and they now wear similar bandages on the back of their necks. Things aren’t that great for the boy at school either, as his overbearing biology teacher, Mrs. McKeltch, seems determined to make his daily existence miserable. Making matters worse, she now sports a bandage on the back of her neck too! David’s sole source of support is Linda Magnussun, the school nurse who for whatever reason finds his story plausible and agrees to help figure out what is really going on.
David and Linda are in over their heads as they discover the number of people acting strangely is rapidly escalating, and now includes local police officers. Mrs. McKeltch is a formidable opponent who seems to turn up everywhere our heroes need to be in order to solve the mystery. The Marines are called in with a team of nerdy scientists, and following David’s information they discover an army of Martians are hiding in tunnels beneath the town. It is determined that the best course of action is total annihilation, but David insists on rescuing his parents first. What follows is an epic battle to save the planet from an angry alien invader, but the soldiers will need the help of the young boy who uncovered the plot in the first place if they are to emerge victorious.
Science-fiction creature features were all the rage in the 1950s. Hollywood introduced a wave of monsters and aliens that served as allegories to societal fears of nuclear annihilation and threats from the Communist Party. Thirty years later, an unexpected trend of remakes invaded cinemas as the genre’s hottest directors reinterpreted some of the more beloved classics for contemporary audiences. John Carpenter remade The Thing (1982), David Cronenberg tackled The Fly (1986), Chuck Russell awoke The Blob (1988) and Tobe Hooper tried his hand at Invaders from Mars (1986). Hooper opted to target his film toward younger viewers, but the idea backfired as audiences familiar with his recent works including The Funhouse (1981) and Poltergeist (1982) came expecting a new chiller, and were greeted instead with an over-the-top sci-fi kiddie comedy.
Screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Dan Jakoby follow up their work on Hooper’s Lifeforce with this updated version of Richard Blake’s script for the original Invaders from Mars (1953). There are many nods to director William Menzies’ classic film, but something is missing this time around. The Martians are a bit goofy-looking, but are a step up over the obviously human forms of the original. Designed by the legendary Stan Winston (Pumpkinhead), the creatures do not look like the average man-in-a-suit and, in the special features on this disc, the secrets of the mechanics are revealed to be quite inspired. The incredibly talented Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) reunites here with Hooper, and the legendary cinematographer really delivers with a wild color palette that comes to life in the third act inside the alien spacecraft.
Hunter Carson (Paris, Texas) stars as David Gardner, the troubled young man facing down Martians in his backyard. Child actors tend to be hit-or-miss, and Carson is no exception as his performance is all over the place. This has more to do with the direction than his skill as an actor, as he is fine in the more quiet moments. The late, great Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror) does a knockout job as Nurse Linda, a woman reluctantly drawn into a nightmare scenario that sounds ludicrous on the surface but soon proves unexpectedly legitimate. She plays the material straight, lending credibility to the bizarre plot and embraces the silliness of the film. Carson in reality is the son of Black and famed screenwriter L,M. Kit Carson (Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II). The two share great chemistry in their numerous scenes together and it is nice to revisit the film with the knowledge of their relationship.
Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) is particularly menacing as the delightfully bitchy Mrs. McKultch. She is wonderful as the antagonist who proves no matter how evil the monsters may be, their human counterpart can be just as sinister. She owns this role and practically steals the film as she chews the scenery, including an unfortunate frog! James Karen (Poltergeist) is delightful as the gung ho Marine Corps General eager to believe the little boy’s story if it means he gets to blow stuff up for America. Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show) and Laraine Newman (Witchboard 2) are fun to watch as David’s robotic parents, and the always-welcome Bud Cort (Harold & Maude) is terrific in his supporting turn as misunderstood scientist Mark Weinstein. Jimmy Hunt played the young protagonist in the 1953 version of this film and, in a nice bit of casting, appears here as a police officer.
At some point in the second half of the picture Invaders from Mars goes off the rails, and what was initially nostalgic fun quickly descends into high camp. There is enough good stuff in this movie that it makes it all the more frustrating to watch it fall apart at the end. Despite the impressive efforts of the cast and crew cited above, Hooper somehow manages to make things look cheap. He is obviously a fan of the material and has long since proven himself as a talented director, but he drops the ball when it comes to delivering a satisfying conclusion. I remember being disappointed leaving the theater in 1986, and things haven’t greatly improved in twenty-nine years. Something smells like studio interference, but if that is not the case, someone needs to check the back of Tobe Hooper’s neck for a suspicious bandage.
Video and Audio:
Fans of this movie are in for a real treat, as the transfer on this Blu-ray release is absolutely gorgeous. The picture is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is likely the best this material is ever going to look. Colors are unbelievably vibrant and black levels are rich. There are a few brief bits of print damage and some spotty contrast issues, but nothing much to complain about here.
A DTS-HD MA 5.1 track handles the music and effects mix nicely without stepping on dialogue levels. Rear speakers come alive inside the alien tunnels and there is plenty of bass for the military actions. Also available is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track that faithfully presents the original audio mix and is equally serviceable.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Tobe Hooper’s audio commentary is an interesting one, as he does not appear completely satisfied with the finished product. His stories about working for Canon Films in general and on this title specifically are entertaining and informative. Hooper is clearly a fan of the original film and discusses his disappointment in the failure to turn the remake into more of a children’s picture.
The Martians are Coming (37 minutes) continues the tradition of talking heads reflecting on the making of the film. This well-crafted piece features new interviews with Hooper, effects artists Alec Gillis and Gino Crognale, composer Christopher Young and lead actor Hunter Carson. Everyone shares fond memories of their time together, but are not afraid to discuss the shortcomings of the project.
Up next are a trio of stills galleries; the first features a collection of production illustrations, sketches and storyboards narrated by artist William Stout. This piece runs about 14 minutes and is very informative. The second gallery offers a four-minute slideshow of storyboards set to some eerie music from the motion picture soundtrack. The last collection features 27 images of promotional shots from the movie.
The original theatrical trailer and a TV spot rounds out the special features on this disc.