Sunday, June 3, 2018

Supersonic Saucer (England, 1956)

Supersonic Saucer is a children’s film produced by France’s Gaumont Studios in cooperation with Britain’s Children’s Film Foundation—of which Supersonic Saucer’s producer, Frank Wells, a son of H.G. Wells, was a top executive. The film concerns a group of school kids who befriend a friendly space alien who has landed on Earth all by his lonesome. What is most notable about this alien is that he is played by a puppet that looks like a cartoon owl in a hijab, and that he communicates solely by rolling his eyes, much like a fourteen-year-old girl.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. The alien, who the kids take to calling Meba, communicates telepathically with his young friends, while the rest of us, joyless adults husks with no capacity for wonder that we are, have to make due with eye-rolls. This leaves us to assume that all Meba is saying is “Oh my god-uh!” And well he might be.

Meba’s human playmates are comprised of four boarding school kids who, for various reasons, have had to remain at their school during the holidays. Rodney, played by the wonderfully named Fella Edmunds, is the leader of the group, because he is the oldest boy and it is 1956. Then there are two girls, Greta (Gillian Harrison) and the refreshingly ethnic-looking Sumac (Marcia Manolescue). Finally, there is Adolphus (Andrew Mette-Harrison), a toddler who remotely reminded me of Porky from the Our Gang series. None of the other kids inspired comparisons to Our Gang because, being uniformed boarding school students with posh English accents, there was just zero chance of that happening.

Because it was paid for in part by taxpayers’ money, Supersonic Saucer endeavors to impart a moral lesson upon it’s young viewers. This comes as a result of Meba’s habit of stealing things in order to make his little friends’ wishes come true. When they wish for a tableful of sweets, he robs a bakery. When they wish for a million pounds, he robs the Bank of England, and so on. The lesson here is, not only that one should not steal, or that one should be careful what one wishes for, but also that one should be careful what one wishes for when in earshot of a wish-granting alien with a limited understanding of human customs and law.

Eventually, the kids’ financial windfall comes to the attention of a gang of numerically designated robbers led by Raymond Rollett’s Number One. This paves the way to an exciting conclusion in which Meba uses his magic ability to make film go backwards to send the robbers scurrying back the way they came as fast as an undercranked camera can make them.

At just forty-seven minutes long, Supersonic Saucer does not overstay it’s welcome—provided you let it darken your door in the first place, that is. It’s naïve special effects are both charming and strange, and its young stars are too reserved to be annoying. It could even be of interest to fans of 50s sci-fi, given its plethora of scenes in which a cartoon flying saucer zigs and zags in the skies above London.

But, for me, what is truly interesting/galling about Supersonic Saucer is what happens to it when it hits the internet. The result is a lot of self-congratulatory posts in which a thematic through-line is drawn between it and E.T., the authors or commenters sometimes going so far as to say that they find it “hard to Imagine” that Steven Spielberg had not seen the film prior to making E.T. What I find hard to imagine is that someone would be so lacking in imagination, and so ignorant of the law of statistical probability, that they cannot imagine two people at two different times hitting upon a concept as generic as a child befriending an alien. In reality, E.T. has less in common with Supersonic Saucer than it does a “boy and his dog” story like Old Yeller. Nonetheless, the legions of people online who don’t understand how creativity works have made the internet, ironically, as much of a platform for gleefully calling out imagined plagiarism as it is for plagiarism itself.

But, who knows? Maybe a young Steven Spielberg really did see Supersonic Saucer, a film so obscure that even the people who made it have probably forgotten about it, and was inspired by it to make E.T. If that is true, we can not only say that, without Supersonic Saucer, there would be no E.T., but also that there would be no Mac and Me or Nukie. That’s a sobering thought if there ever was one.


Kenneth J Narde said...

Its been a long long time since I saw this, but I recall the idea that the flying saucers were the aliens themselves rather than vehicles they traveled in. I thought there was a scene where Meba and others were shown spinning rapidly on their home planet until they took flight...your film reviews are much appreciated.

Bob Johns said...

Man I need to track this one down!!