Release Date(s)1986 (April 7, 2015)
Studio(s)Cannon Films/MGM (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Tobe Hooper’s Invaders From Mars is one part remake and one part revisionism. It falls in line with many of the horror remakes that came out of the 1980’s, but doesn’t really get as much recognition. Generally, John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly seem to get all the attention when the subject comes up, yet Invaders From Mars, while not overtly good, has a little more going for it than its initial failure would leave one to believe.
During the 1980’s, Tobe Hooper signed a three picture deal with Cannon Films. He made a sequel to his original classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, as well as the space vampire classic Lifeforce. This is also where Invaders From Mars was born. While the William Cameron Menzies original was more of a look at the American paranoia over Soviets running rampant during the Cold War era, the remake wisely ditches that concept and focuses more on a playful atmosphere with interesting sets and special effects. For instance, the now famous shot of the picket fence askew on top of the hill hiding the aliens’ landing area was completely replicated. But instead of replicating everything else, this version of the story goes for more of a celebration of monster movies of the 1950’s in general.
The two most important aspects of the movie are the creature effects and the overall design. It’s a very colorful movie with plenty of visual appeal. It’s also a story less focused on the seriousness of what’s happening. You can basically only go so far with the concept of a little boy witnessing the arrival of aliens, watching them take over the human race one by one and nobody taking him seriously so far. Things are played up more for the camp factor. Hunter Carson stars as the little boy with Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman portraying his parents. Rounding out the cast is Hunter Carson’s real-life mother Karen Black, Louise Fletcher, Bud Cort, and James Karen. It’s a strong enough cast, but again, the emphasis is less on strong storytelling, and as such, the performances leave a little to be desired, especially from young Carson.
Invaders From Mars didn’t do terribly well when it was originally released. Its style over substance approach obviously didn’t sit well with audiences at the time, but it managed to live on through repeated cable viewings and VHS rentals. Looking at it today, it’s obvious what Tobe Hooper was going for, ill-conceived though it might have been. He simply wanted to remake a movie he liked from his childhood, much in the same way Steven Spielberg did much later with his War of the Worlds remake. The creature effects, however, are the real stars of the show in this movie, at least for me. The story itself is simply a means to an end.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation of the film boasts a somewhat problematic transfer, which is not to say that it’s a bad one. I can’t say for sure, but it appears to have been reassembled using different elements, as told by the varying grain and depth levels. Overall, it’s fairly sharp transfer with lots of nice detail on display. The color palette is as robust as it should be, given how colorful the movie is. Skin tones sometimes vary, however, but black levels are fairly deep, with some nice shadow details. Contrast levels are competent, but it’s the leftover damage that might trouble some viewers. Besides the usual dirt and flecks, there is an overt scratch that lasts for a few seconds during a section of the film. It’s quite obvious, and it does make you wonder if this is indeed an assembly of various elements, with this being the best that there was to offer. Problems aside, it’s still a very strong presentation and a definite upgrade from standard definition. Of the two audio tracks available, English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, I actually prefer the 2.0 presentation. The 5.1 track does little to open up the soundtrack in the surrounding speakers, except for a few key moments. The 2.0 track, however, feels more faithful to the film’s aesthetic. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and both score and sound effects have plenty of breathing room, despite being a two channel lock-off. Dynamics also have a surprisingly wide field from time to time. It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s the best that this disc has to offer, at least for my preference. Subtitles have also been provided in English for those who might need them.
As per usual, Scream Factory has put together a very nice set of extras, and this is definitely a film that cries out for more background information. There’s an audio commentary with director Tobe Hooper moderated by Michael Felsher; there’s The Martians Are Coming!: The Making of Invaders From Mars retrospective documentary (which is terrific, by the way); the movie’s original theatrical trailer; a TV spot; a set of production illustrations by artist William Stout; a set of storyboards; and a still gallery.
Invaders From Mars will be a delight for many who haven’t seen it previously, and will likely be a welcome addition to the Blu-ray library of its longtime fans. And while it may not be able to stand toe to toe with the original classic film from 1953, it’s definitely got enough appeal for horror fans to appreciate.
- Tim Salmons