- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available: • Watch the Skies! from Turner Classic Movies, free to cable channel subscribers, and Destroy All Humans from THQ for PlayStation 2, rated T, $49.99.

Fans of 1950s science-fiction motion pictures can relive what the genre had to offer with a documentary debuting Tuesday on the Turner Classic Movies channel (8 p.m., with encore showing at 10:30 p.m.).

“Watch the Skies!” covers a decade when the Cold War was simmering and Americans feared an atomic disaster and mysterious forces taking over their lives. B-movie filmmakers took full advantage of the public’s imagination and unloaded films starring gigantic radiated creatures and extraterrestrial troublemakers.

The 60-minute program stands out not for a bevy of classic clips from movies such as “Them,” “The Incredible Shrinking Man, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Destination Moon,” but for its incredible interviews with current Hollywood icons who help shape today’s sci-fi blockbusters.

Picking the brains of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Ridley Scott, documentarian extraordinaire Richard Schickel allows them not only to reveal extensive memories and knowledge of the cinema genre they love, but also to offer very personal glimpses into their childhoods.

Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars”) hosts the event and acts mainly as a clip-setup man by familiarizing viewers with films focused on space travel, the Mars menace, atomic anxiety and peaceful aliens.

Of the interviewees, Mr. Spielberg is especially animated. He describes his father building him his first telescope and talks about how his parents went to a party at the pinnacle of the Cuban missile crisis while he stayed home and filled sinks and bathtubs with water — because he was sure that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, the water supply would be shut off.

James Cameron excitedly introduces his “Whac-a-Mole” theory to explain hostile alien threats while on the topic of George Pal’s version of “War of the Worlds.” Of course, superior races might want to beat down other species that might be reaching their levels of intelligence and technology, and he reminds viewers that his concept also could be applied to the current superpower’s foreign policy.

A lighter moment finds George Lucas reflecting on Robby the Robot from the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet” as he emphatically denies Mr. Spielberg’s assertion that Robby may have been in Mr. Lucas’ subconscious when designing C-3PO for “Star Wars.” He says it was all inspired by “Metropolis.” A clip from “Forbidden Planet” appears to prove Mr. Lucas slightly wrong.

Mr. Scott’s comments often focus on the believability factor of the films, and he was especially frightened as a youngster by James Arness’ 1951 portrayal of the creature seen in “The Thing From Another World.”

The program concludes with Mr. Spielberg opining on his latest movie, “War of the Worlds,” as sobering footage from the film mixes with his thoughts on World War II refugees, the post-September 11 planet and people abandoning their cities during major conflicts.

I could have watched multiple hours of these four men, just to marvel at their degree of recollection and giddy appreciation of the genre, and maybe a DVD someday will offer extended interviews with the masters.

After becoming entranced by TCM’s celebration of the sci-fi movie, entertainment console owners can re-create the cinematic mayhem in a game melding a classic 1950s extraterrestrial movie loaded with sophomoric humor and multiple ways to eradicate Earth’s inhabitants.

Destroy All Humans reveals the plight of the alien Furons, which need massive quantities of mankind’s DNA to continue cloning their race and survive.

The player controls a bulbous-headed, trigger-happy clone named Cryptosporidium that lands his spacecraft around the United States and wanders the countryside or into towns while zapping potential subjects.

Once a human has been incapacitated, Crypto extracts the brain stem with some fairly gooey on-screen action and collects the gray matter to harvest the DNA.

In addition to exploring farms, secret government facilities and pool parties, Crypto can take to the sky in his saucer to unleash a fiery reign of destruction on areas he has sufficiently ransacked.

The Tim Burton movie “Mars Attacks!” quickly comes to mind during most of the action as the surly aliens even get to incinerate the likes of troublesome police officers and soldiers, just as in the famed film.

The 1950s also ooze from the simulation, with homes, clothing, cars and even chatter about Eisenhower, Nixon and McCarthy dominating the environments.

Especially rewarding events during the game include assuming the role of a government official (by replicating his body) while answering questions from a frightened crowd (hint: play up the communist menace) and flinging exploding, radioactive cows at scientists who dare delve into forbidden technology.

“Destroy All Humans” delivers a hilarious complement to Turner Classic Movies’ “Watch the Skies!” while offering over-the-top action, third-person exploration and stealth missions to satisfy most gamers.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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