As a late-comer to the heated debate about this movie, let me make my
position clear. I am a Jack Arnold fan.
For me, Arnold's contribution to Fifties SF movies is greater than any
other director. But he was heavily dependent on his screenwriters. When
the screenplays were good he turned in some of the best SF movies of
the decade: It Came from Outer Space; Creature from the Black Lagoon;
Incredible Shrinking Man and, to a lesser extent, Tarantula. When they
were poor (Revenge of the Creature; Monster on Campus) all he could do
was make the pictures watchable: he couldn't make them good.
Apparently, Space Children was his personal favourite amongst his SF
movies and the one on which he lavished most care, but it definitely
falls in to that second category. It is watchable, but no more.
It establishes a good atmosphere. Arnold invests an ordinary stretch of
coastline with the same eerie ambiance as the Black Lagoon and the
desert locations of It Came from Outer Space and Tarantula. He also
gets good performances from his juvenile cast. As a group, they are the
least objectionable movie kids of the Fifties.
The problems all lie in the screenplay, which is derivative, half-baked
and repetitive. The screenplays for Revenge of the Creature and Monster
on Campus were simply trite, mechanical and by-the-numbers. This
screenplay is actually incompetent and there is ultimately nothing
Arnold can do to salvage it.
It is a movie with a message, but that message is thoroughly hackneyed.
The mysterious (usually alien) stranger who uses almost magical powers
to save us from our own follies is an idea that has had many outings
over the years: Things to Come; The Day the Earth Stood Still; Stranger
from Venus; The Cosmic Man; Strange World of Planet X and even Plan 9
from Outer Space. Space Children adds nothing new to this somewhat
self-righteous, preachy sub-genre.
The SF content is completely haphazard, so we never really know what is
going on. For example, when the alien lands it causes power cuts that
extend as far as the rocket launch site, so it not clear why the alien
needs to enlist the aid of the children in the first place (anyway, why
not work through adults?). The nature of its connection with the
children is also somewhat vague. Does it possess and coerce them, or
merely enlist their voluntary aid? The visuals often suggest the
former, but the intent of the story implies the latter. Then again,
what help does it require? What do the children actually do to stop the
launch of the missile? If it is telekinesis, why do they have to break
into the launch site? Why does the alien grow in size during the course
of the movie?
The SF content is so incoherent that the story can only really be
viewed as fantasy. For example, the alien's use of children rather than
adults is not dictated by the logic of the story: it is basically a
poetic device. But even fantasy needs its own rules if the story is to
grip. This movie has none, so it feels like random a sequence of
The dramatic structure of the movie is weak. It starts well enough,
with the arrival at the missile base, the landing of the alien, its
discovery by the children and its first communication with them. After
that, it just meanders all over the place. There is no steady build up
of tension and no real climax. Things happen, but for no particular
For example, there is apparently a second alien arrival, but we only
see one alien. We have to assume that, for some reason, it departed and
then returned again.
There is a pointless sequence where Bud takes his father to the cave,
they retrieve the alien and carry it off to their cabin - only to
return it to the cave the following day. This adds nothing to the story
and only contributes to the sense that the movie is just an endless
succession of people going backwards and forwards to the beach.
The business of the adults finding out what is going on, but being
unable to tell anyone about it, is also redundant.
The death of the drunken father is so poorly handled we don't really
know what has actually happened. The implication is that the alien has
killed him, but this undermines the notion that it is essentially
benign. Probably what was intended is that the shock of encountering
the alien caused him to die of natural causes (there is some dialogue
with the doctor that lends weight to this interpretation) but here, as
elsewhere in the movie, even the simplest plot points are fudged.
The truth is that all these scenes are mere padding. The picture seems
so aimless because, having set up the basic situation, it is just
marking time until the thwarting of the rocket launch and the final
revelation. Take away these irrelevant scenes from the middle of the
picture and there simply wouldn't be enough footage for release as a
It is hard to see how this relatively straightforward story could have
been written any worse. What did Tom Filer and Bernard Schoenfeld do to
earn their money?
Despite all these reservations, the movie is by no means a complete
dud. It defects are mitigated by merits that other low budget SF of the
era didn't have. Arnold tries his best to make a silk purse out of a
sow's ear, but cannot quite manage it. Nonetheless, I am glad I finally
have it on DVD to complete my Jack Arnold collection (even if it is a
soft, second or third generation copy).
However, if I was trying to convince people that Arnold's SF films
should be taken seriously I would be very wary about showing them this