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The Cat From Outer Space DVD Review

The Cat From Outer Space

Theatrical Release: June 9, 1978 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Norman Tokar

Cast: Ken Berry (Dr. Frank Wilson), Sandy Duncan (Dr. Liz Bartlett), Harry Morgan (General Stilton), Roddy McDowall (Mr. Stallwood), McLean Stevenson (Dr. Norman Link), Jesse White (Earnest Ernie), Alan Young (Dr. Wenger), Hans Conried (Dr. Heffel), Ronnie Schell (Sgt. Duffy/voice of Jake), James Hampton (Captain Anderson), Howard T. Platt (Col. Woodruff), William Prince (Mr. Olympus)


A spaceship crashes into American farmland one night, and the defense department is on top of it right away, looking for answers to the many questions this occurrence raises. Being the 1970s, the military suspects the Soviet Union, but ultimately reaches the conclusion that this ship isn't from this world.

The tight-lipped, serious officials are baffled at the nature of a foreign item. But one down-to-earth, slightly oddball scientist who works on the same premises is about to make a breakthrough. Dr. Frank Wilson (Ken Berry, of Herbie Rides Again) finds a orange cat that has managed to slip past all of those investigating the crash.

Dr. Wilson gives the cat the ordinary name of Jake, but he soon finds the cat is not in the least bit ordinary. Jake comes from a faraway planet, where the inhabitants have managed to tap intelligence far beyond humans simply with the help of a special collar which channels thoughts. Jake can transfer thoughts, sort of like talking, but without his mouth moving, which certainly cuts down visual effects costs.

The cat from outer space emerges. They're looking at the spaceship, but they don't see a cat.

Jake explains to Frank that he's been separated from the mother ship, and will need some help to return home. This supernatural cat reveals some of his powers to Frank; he is quite the pro at levitation. With Jake's help and the use of a spare collar, an impossiblity like flight becomes reality for Frank.

But one cannot have too many friends and soon others are joining together to help Jake return home. There's Dr. Link (McLean Stevenson), a man whose interest in sports and gambling seems to tower over his scientist work. There's also Dr. Liz Bartlett (Sandy Duncan), Frank's neighbor, co-worker and eventual love interest, who also has a photogenic cat--a mute love interest for Jake.

Jake needs $120,000 worth of gold to get his spaceship back into orbit, so the group of doctors face a challenge. Probably the most spirited segment of the film is when Jake embraces gambling to raise the money to buy the required gold, a subplot the film gives its full attention to. The gang winds up at a poolhall, and there's just signs of life here that hold the viewer's interest more than the rest.

Meanwhile, the military and some undercover agents are on their trail, although this plot becomes muddled and not so interesting. Jake treats those after him to a standstill treatment, presented in very high-tech freeze frame visual effects.

Dr. Frank Wilson offers some smartass insight into this mysterious free-floating object. Frank and Jake bond, over levitation of musical instruments.

As a comedy, The Cat From Outer Space isn't very funny. As science fiction, it's not particularly thrilling at all. The film's interesting title and unusual premise would seem like the perfect setup for rambunctious Disney fun. After all, this is the studio that can make a car with personality and kids from another planet into multiple entertaining films.

But, while the elements seem in place for jovial family fun, this G-rated romp takes its story too seriously for the noticeably thin material. Where the film really leaves the viewer high and dry is the rather prolonged climax, in which a helicopter chase becomes tremendously disinvolving.

The Cat From Outer Space could have been high-spirited fun with the right treatment and tone. Instead, it's merely some late '70s nostalgia and mild entertainment.

Buy The Cat From Outer Space from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 6, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Cat From Outer Space is given a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD. Picture quality remained quite good for the most part, as the print was satisfactorily clean. The film maintained a bit of a faded look, which is as true to its 1970s roots as is the film's limited color palette. Any kind of flaws were minor; few and far between, as well.

At the top of the frame, things seemed a little cramped, as tops of heads were occasionally cut off. In comparison, the fullscreen trailer provided appeared to be open matte. Perhaps the film is overmatted to 1.78:1 here, unlike the 1.66:1 non-anamorphic Anchor Bay release. Comparing the two transfers, you see a bit more on the sides and a bit less on top with the Disney transfer. (Thanks to Ben for captures from the Anchor Bay DVD.) Still, the framing issue isn't too noticeable unless you're looking for it, and it's still way preferable to a pan-and-scan reformat.

The audio presentation for the film is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Sound seemed a bit flat and thin, but dialogue always remained crisp, and the sound effects and score were clear and properly balanced.

Frank is dazzled by Jake's spaceship. The Cat From Outer Space's Main Menu.

EXTRAS

Not announced or listed on the package, the inclusion of the film's original theatrical trailer is a pleasant surprise. The 2-minute fullscreen preview promotes this "supurr-natural" comedy and its cast which seems to have mostly vanished twenty-five years later.

The 16x9 menus contain colorful out-of-this-world graphics from the film; the main menu includes a bit of the film's score.

The disc opens with a brand new 70-second preview for live action Disney films on DVD. This "Magic in the Memories" promo highlights some of the studio's more recently-released discs such as Follow Me, Boys! and the original Freaky Friday, in addition to family favorites like The Love Bug and Escape to Witch Mountain. The Shaggy Dog and The Shaggy D.A., two films which were intended to be released as extra-packed discs this August, are also briefly featured.

The poolhall's odds are against Liz, but they've got the power of the collar! Friends and neighbors, bonded together by an extraterrestrial cat.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Cat From Outer Space offers some fun, just a lot less than it should. In any event, Disney's DVD release appears to surpass the out-of-print Anchor Bay offerings, with 16x9 enhancement and the original theatrical trailer. Those with fond memories of the film will likely want to pick this one up, but it might not be quite as entertaining as it once was.

More on the DVD

Related Reviews

New to DVD:
The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964) | The Ugly Dachshund (1966)
The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) | Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978)

Also Directed by Norman Tokar:
Candleshoe (1978) | The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) | Snowball Express (1972)
Rascal (1969) | The Happiest Millionaire (1967) | Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
Those Calloways (1965) | Savage Sam (1963)

Disney in the Late '70s:
Pete's Dragon (1977) | Freaky Friday (1977) | The Rescuers (1977)

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Classic Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page | July 2004 Catalogue Releases

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