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Battle of the Worlds

Battle of the Worlds Blu-ray an interesting example of 'Fettu-cine'

By Jim Bray
August 23, 2022

Everyone's heard of spaghetti westerns, but did you know there was also a genre of Italian sci-fi flicks as well?

If not, I point your attention to Battle of the Worlds, a 1961 entry by Antonio Margheriti that stars the late great Claude Rains, star of such legitimate classics as Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and so many others. Rains, near the end of his long career, is said in the essay notes that accompany The Film Detective's new Blu-ray, to have taken this role on the financial advice of his wife and, though he does tend to chew the scenery more than a tad in his portrayal of a somewhat mad (or at least antisocial) scientist, he definitely does not phone in the performance.

He's the best thing about this movie which, try as they might, the supplements (an interesting documentary about the filmmaker, a commentary track, and the liner essay), isn't nearly the masterpiece its defenders would like us to think it is.

It's definitely worth seeing at least once, and performs its role as a guilty pleasure quite well. Add to that surprisingly great special effects and some legitimate humour and you get an 82-minute experience in the home theatre that just may make you glad you invested that time.

The story, or at least the science of it, is absolute twaddle. It's kind of a mishmash of When Worlds Collide and Mars Attacks!, with a dose of "First Men in the Moon" thrown in for good measure.

The story sees Dr. Fred Steele (Umberto Orsini) and his main squeeze Eve Barnett (Maya Brent) working together at some unknown astronomical station on some tropical island. They plan to leave together the next day to start a life together, but suddenly appears in the sky a rogue planet – nicknamed The Outsider – that's on a direct collision course with Earth.

Except it isn't, according to scientific patriarch and general old fart Profession Benson (Rains). He said it's only going to pass by Earth and leave it unharmed. Naturally, no one else believes him – until suddenly the planet confounds the lot of them by entering orbit around the Earth. Benson figures the Outsider must be under alien control and he calls on the world's leading bureaucrats to blow it out of the sky while they have the chance.

Of course, they waffle. Instead, an expedition is sent up to study the planet – but as the Terran spaceships approach it a bunch of flying saucers come from inside the planet and they attack and destroy the Earth ships launched to make a close study of the new planet. Is it a defense mechanism on the part of the aliens or are they getting ready to invade the Third Rock from the Sun?

We do find out eventually, even after the planet's orbit starts contracting, bringing it closer to Earth and causing all sort of the type of mayhem we're promised from Climate Change Inc., nearly every day.

But you can't rule out old Professor Benson! He figures out how to communicate with and/or control the saucers – destroying a bunch of them in the process. He even gets to catch a ride to the Outsider when a new expedition is mounted to visit the planet.

Does he save the world? Does he sacrifice his life to save the humans he so obviously despises? Or does he join the aliens and ride off into the solar sunset at the end?

I'm not talking.

Scientific ridiculousness notwithstanding, this is a decent outing if you shut off your brain and just enjoy the ride. The performances are fine, the production values are better than expected, and the overall feel is of one of those many forgotten 50's and 60's sci-fi flicks nerds like I used to watch on our local TV channel's horror or sci-fi movie theatre. And that's pretty cool!

The picture, according to The Film Detective, has been scanned in 4K from an original 35mm archival print. If you think that means it's pop-off-the-screen visual perfection you're going to be very disappointed, but don't dwell on that. Overall, the picture is clean and vibrant and very colourful. And widescreen as well, 1.85:1.

The dts-mastered audio is unremarkable, which is only to be expected, but dialogue is always clear and the music and sound effects are quite acceptable as well.

Extras include a decent essay in the case: "Margheriti's World" by author Don Stradley, which puts the director's career into perspective. There's also a commentary track by author/film historian Justin Humphreys, and a pretty good retrospective featurette that runs about half an hour. It's called "A Cinematic Outsider, the fantastical worlds of Antonio Margheriti and comes from a production company called Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

In all, these extras kind of make Margheriti into a more "larger-than-life" character than he may have been in actuality – did Stanley Kubrick really consult with him when he made the great sci-fi masterpiece "2001: a Space Odyssey"? Who knows? I certainly don't, but it makes a great story!

The stuff gives some interesting insight and background into a filmmaker of whom I'd never heard but should have – and puts his career into perspective in the overall world of Hollywood (and Italian) cinefantastique. And that's pretty cool.

Oh, my review copy also contained a coupon for 50 per cent off a one year subscription to thefilmdetective.tv – which the website says usually costs $3.99/month or $34.99/year. You sign up and have access to an app the company says works on the web, iOS, Android, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.

It just may be your idea of nerdvana!

Copyright 2022 Jim Bray

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