Flickhead
Film Review
By Ray Young

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Meba

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Supersonic Saucer

Starring Marcia Manoscule, Gillian Harrison, Fella Edmonds. Screenplay by Dallas Bower, from an original story by Frank Wells. Music by Jack Beaver. Alien by John Wright Puppeteers and P.B. Cow, Ltd. Cinematography by Frank North. Edited by Derek H. Chambers. Animation directed by Ken Hardy. Produced by Frank Wells. Directed by S. G. Fergusson. Running time: 50 minutes. Released in 1956.
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For more information contact 5 Minutes to Live

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    An unsophisticated children’s movie made from modest means, Supersonic Saucer tells the story of a Venusian space traveler’s adventures on Earth with a group of school kids who get mixed up with a gang of crooks. Clocking in at under an hour and entirely lacking pretense, the picture was among dozens produced between 1951 and 1981 by Great Britain’s Children’s Film Foundation, an organization founded by filmmaker Mary Field. (For more information on the CFF, click here.)
    Providing accessible and nurturing entertainment to postwar children, their movies engaged the imagination while screenplays promoted honesty, compassion and kindness. Generally resembling a hybrid of ‘B’ programmers with industrial films, CFF’s conservative budgets occasionally fell short if a script possessed any lofty aspirations. Thus, the science fiction ‘razzle-dazzle’ of Supersonic Saucer and other pictures were channeled through puppetry and cartoon animation notches below Hollywood (or Pinewood) standards, appearing crude if compared to even the earliest work of George Pal or Art Clokey. But cosmetic detail was a relatively minor concern for the Foundation, whose young target audience had just endured the shock of war.
    The son of author H.G. Wells, Frank Wells had a brief career as an art director in major studio pictures (Fire Over England, Things to Come) before writing and producing a series of low-budget films in the 50’s. Based on his original idea (and a Frank Wells production released through Gaumont), Supersonic Saucer is clearly derivative of H.G.’s unobtrusive style and idealism. Pressed for simplicity by CFF guidelines, screenwriter Dallas Bower (who previously wrote the adaptation of Olivier’s Henry V) economized the fundamentals of Wells’s idea into a script that efficiently fleshes out character and avoids controversy save for a brief digression about delinquent parenting. An extended back story about thieves lends an air of lighthearted menace, its band of bunglers reminiscent of something out of an Ealing comedy.
    As the comical, tears-at-the-drop-of-a-hat extraterrestrial (named ‘Meba’) soars around and the kids get into a jam with stolen property, it’s easy to imagine the impact Supersonic Saucer may have had on a child fifty years ago — the quirky imagery and infectious music could brand an impressionable mind for a lifetime. Given his appetite for fantasy and science fiction, was ten-year-old Steven Spielberg zapped by its charm? Or screenwriter Melissa Mathison perhaps? There are vague similarities involving Supersonic Saucer with Spielberg and Mathison’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, mostly in their good natured, wide-eyed dwarf aliens (especially when ET’s wrapped in blankets) and the milked empathy — though Supersonic Saucer director Guy Fergusson’s pathos isn’t nearly as grossly overbearing as Spielberg’s. Meba communicates through telepathy, ET’s method of sharing his feelings with Eliot. And though it’s a stretch, when Meba rings the police a distant ‘ET phone home’ echoes in the mind.
    There’s enough of a ghost of Spielberg’s picture in Supersonic Saucer to warrant a look. It’s also a fairly good children’s movie from when such things were normally small, modest and efficient. That it has hovered below the radar is a mystery. Were all prints of this — an obscurity that’s gone unnoticed by even the most devout SF historians — bought up long ago in an effort to cover ET’s tracks? Alas, suggesting such paranoid conspiracy theories could land one in court. The print used for the DVD from 5 Minutes to Live is old, slightly worn but certainly watchable — the way we used to see a lot of movies — as if it had been stored underground by some delusional soul waiting (decades, if necessary) for the smoke of ET’s ship to clear.

Included on the DVD is Attack of the Animal People, Jerry Warren’s surreal (not successfully so) 1962 re-edit of Virgil Vogel’s Space Invasion of Lapland (1959).