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Watch the Skies!

Deriving its title from the paranoid warning at the end of the 1951 classic "The Thing From Another World," Richard Schickel's latest documentary breezily ventilates seminal sci-fi movies from the 1950s and '60s and the profound influence they exerted over today's leading filmmakers. For anyone whose misspent youth included devoting too many waking hours to "Them!" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still," it's an immensely entertaining hour that enhances TCM's status as a prime location for film aficionados.

With:
Narrator: Mark Hamill

Deriving its title from the paranoid warning at the end of the 1951 classic “The Thing From Another World,” Richard Schickel’s latest documentary breezily ventilates seminal sci-fi movies from the 1950s and ’60s and the profound influence they exerted over today’s leading filmmakers. For anyone whose misspent youth included devoting too many waking hours to “Them!” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” it’s an immensely entertaining hour that enhances TCM’s status as a prime location for film aficionados.

Schickel sits with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and Ridley Scott, and perhaps not surprisingly, it’s Spielberg who essentially dominates the proceedings. Not only does his childlike enthusiasm remain undiminished, but he can recall with absolute clarity his experiences viewing, say, “Invaders From Mars,” which “undid my world.”

The production chronicles the manner in which the Cold War and threat of nuclear annihilation permeated themes in ’50s science-fiction, filling theaters with oversized creatures of all kinds, usually brought into being by wayward nuclear fallout. “All these movies had some brainiac (who) said … we only have ourselves to blame for this,” Spielberg notes.

Those productions gave way to what awaited us “out there” as man journeyed to the stars (think “Forbidden Planet”) as well as aliens — usually, though not always, malevolent — coming to Earth.

With so much material to cover in relatively limited time, Schickel can’t really provide an exhaustive blueprint of the period, but he achieves a brisk and efficient tone by selecting key films that left the deepest impressions on the directors. These range from “The Incredible Shrinking Man” to “Destination Moon,” which Spielberg — who gets in a plug for “War of the Worlds,” even connecting the homicidal aliens in the 1953 version to the Holocaust — dubs “the father of ‘2001.’ ”

The movies highlighted offer a sort-of companion to TCM’s regular feature “The Essentials,” in this case identifying must-see titles for anyone who thinks sci-fi cinema began with “Star Wars.” Given the once-over-lightly approach, like any good production rooted in this genre, there’s undoubtedly room for a sequel.

Doc airs at 8 p.m. ET and again at 10:30 p.m. ET (5 and 7:30 PT).

Watch the Skies!

Docu; Turner Classic Movies, Tues. July 5, 8 p.m. ET

Production: Produced by Turner Classic Movies. Producer, director, writer, Richard Schickel; co-producer, Doug Freeman.

Crew: Camera, Harris Done, George Lang, Daryl Studebaker; editor, Bryan McKenzie; music, Casey Cohen. 60 MIN.

Cast: Narrator: Mark Hamill

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