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Invaders From Mars: The Sci-Fi Traditional That Impressed The Spielberg Era

The ‘Invaders From Mars’ Kids

Among those post-war American kids who saw Invaders from Mars at the right age (more or less the same age as David himself) were, as mentioned, Steven Spielberg, John Landis, and Joe Dante. Its influence on Spielberg’s work – not just the films he’s directed, but many others he’s produced – can clearly be seen, while almost all of Dante’s directorial career, including films like Gremlins, Matinee, and Explorers, pays homage to the B-movies of the past (Dante and Landis also both directed portions of a B-movie satirical sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon).

Another genre filmmaker possibly influenced by Invaders is Robert Zemeckis. He produced the 2011 animated feature (and box office bomb) Mars Needs Moms about a boy who must rescue his mother after she’s abducted by inhabitants of the red planet. Meanwhile Bill Warren notes in his book Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties that Brad Bird’s 1999 animated masterpiece, The Iron Giant, also paid homage to this movie and others of the 1950s sci-fi boom.

Writer-director Don Coscarelli was similarly inspired by the film when he made the cult horror classic Phantasm. Coscarelli told the New York Times, “There was this film on TV called Invaders From Mars. It’s what I emulated in Phantasm in some ways. It’s about a young boy dealing with some strange things, and no one believes him. Maybe nobody believed me when I was a kid.”

And no less an authority on film history than legendary director Martin Scorsese named Invaders from Mars on a list of the 10 best films (via Indiewire) to use light and color, placing it alongside cinematic landmarks like Vertigo, The Red Shoes, The Searchers, and Singin’ in the Rain. Scorsese also founded the Film Foundation—whose board also includes Spielberg and Spike Lee, among others—which gives grants to film restoration projects at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Among the many movies restored by MoMA was Invaders from Mars, according to the New York Times.

Then of course there’s George Lucas. His fascination with the presence of aliens on Earth manifested not in the Star Wars saga but instead in the Indiana Jones franchise. While the ultimate result of his obsession was 2008’s deeply flawed (to say the least) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, aliens were part of the development of the fourth Indiana Jones film all the way through its nearly two decades of gestation, including an early script called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars.

Lucas reportedly wanted the script (penned by Jeb Stuart) to put Indy right in the middle of the Atomic Age in the 1950s and play off films of that era, including The Day the Earth Stood Still and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. One sequence, in a nod to Invaders from Mars, apparently took place in a remote desert town that has been taken over by oversized, spider-like extra-terrestrials. Even the stark white settings in Lucas’ first film, THX 1138, could well have been influenced by the police station in Invaders.

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