(1967) director Roy Ward Baker
Oddly enough, this film might signal a major change in my movie viewing life. I happened to catch this film on Turner Classic Movies, a channel that I’ve long coveted but have never had as part of standard cable in San Francisco. And oddly enough, I’d read that this film was going to be showing on TCM as part of their Halloween collection and I was excited to see it. It’s not available at present on DVD. But things have changed and now I have TCM and I may see many many films on that channel now that I have it, playing great films uninterupted by commercials as they do.
And really, Five Million Years to Earth (or as it was originally titled in the UK , Quatermass and the Pit) was a movie that I recalled fondly from childhood and hadn’t seen in eons. A somewhat obscure Hammer horror/science fiction film from the 1960’s, it is the third to feature the character of Bernard Quatermass who had come to popularity as a character on British radio in the 1950’s. But the film isn’t cool and interesting simply for that.
In digging in a London tube station for expansion, workers uncover unusual ape-like skeletons that have enlarged crania. Further digging uncovers a spaceship with strange locust-like creatures inside. And as the story unfolds, we come to find that these aliens (Martians supposedly) came to Earth millions of years ago and perhaps intervened in the evolution of apes and humans, implanting them with a deeply hidden knowledge of the perilous end of the aliens’ civilization, which, while advanced, was also one of totalitarianism. And while these facts themselves aren’t so dangerous, something is triggered in the research in which the alien spacecraft begins projecting visions of the alien world and other paranormal phenomena, nearly destroying London.
When I was a kid, this mixture of weird science, ancient aliens, and evolution was just strange and profound. And the story and its setting, its visions of the alien world, the surprises of the narrative twists really made an impression. It was a film that always stuck with me though I’m pretty sure I only saw it once or perhaps twice. And it really holds up. What’s interesting is how popular the ideas about ancient aliens and alien intervention on the evolution of humans still is today. Sometimes it seems like whole television channels are dedicated to these topics.
I am so glad that I got to see it and I’ve got a fairly long list of other films that I want to see that TCM is airing. So, this category for me, films watched on broadcast television, may become one that grows rapidly after years of being a very unusual way for me to watch films.