Invaders From Mars is considered by many to be the definitive Cold War sci-fi film. It was made at the height of the Red Scare period in the 1950s when Americans feared Russian invasion upon U.S. soil and the conversion of the American way of life to Communism. Martian sci-fi movies reflected this country’s paranoia with the aliens subbing in for the Russians.

This film’s plot is typical of the genre in the 50’s as it involves aliens landing in a small town and taking over the citizens’ minds. What was unique about this film was that the story was told from the perspective of a young boy, David MacLean, who one night witnesses an alien saucer land in a nearby field. His parents go out to investigate, but when they return, their personalities are drastically different. Frightened, David goes off to tell the police what has happened, but no one believes him as the aliens slowly begin taking over the town’s citizens.

This story and ones like it have been told countless of times since the 50’s to the point of absolute cliche. What makes it so interesting to watch is seeing how its inspired future filmmakers. For example, its clear Invaders From Mars made an indelible impact on Steven Spielberg. You especially see the influence in the opening minutes of the film when the boy is awakened by a lightening storm outside his window and he sees the alien ship landing. The camera stays on the boy and you see his expression of awe in what he sees. This has become a classic Spielberg signature and he paid particular homage to this movie in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the scene when the little boy opens the kitchen door to go outside and see the aliens.

Another striking thing about Invaders From Mars is its production value. At a time when most films were still being made in black and white, this movie was shot in vivid color cinematography. The colors really jump out at you and their ultra saturated quality add to the film’s surrealism and comic book feel. The alien spaceship set designs are also interesting. The sets are minimalist and surreal and will remind you of Disneyland’s original Tomorrowland. Although audiences probably didn’t notice it at the time, the Norman Rockwell Americana design of the small town really adds to the atmosphere of the film and provides a sharp contrast to the cold, sterile environment of the alien ship. The early scenes inside the boy’s home and the town reminded me a lot of the town of Hill Valley in Back to the Future, which was set in the same time period as this film.

Not surprisingly, anyone who watches this film now will be far from impressed by the aliens and the battle scenes between them and the military. I’m sure they represented the pinnacle of action and special effects at that time, but watching it now only provides good material for an episode of Mystery Science Theater. You can actually see the zipper outlines on the alien suits as they lumber silently back and forth across the screen. The film spends a lot of time showing us stock footage of military tanks and jeeps mobilizing to defeat the alien ship. This was the 1950s and America had not yet become disillusioned by the power of its armed forces. Also, as I stated earlier, Invaders From Mars is an allegory of the U.S. vs. Communism, with the aliens representing the Communists.

No 50s sci-fi film is complete without the obligatory scientist who somehow instantly understands why the aliens are here and how their technology works. In Invaders From Mars, the scientist is an astronomer at the local observatory who helps the little boy. Of course, sci-fi films must also have the beautiful woman who needs saving at some point in the film. This requirement is met by the psychiatrist who befriends the little boy and becomes the first person to believe his story. The other characters in the film are mostly soldiers and policemen sent to fight the aliens and the town citizens who are being mind controlled by the aliens (they represent what Communists will do to us if they take over America).

Invaders From Mars is a fun movie that represents the best of the sci-fi genre in the 1950s. It is a film that inspired many filmmakers who came later and its worth watching it for that alone. You will definitely see the influence it had on filmmakers like Spielberg, George Lucas, and Robert Zemeckis. If for nothing else, its a great movie to watch and make fun of.