Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The X Factor: Invasion Of The Astro Monsters - revisited

The continuing popularity of Godzilla never ceases to amaze me. Godzilla has played the antagonist and protagonist and is well liked regardless of his role in cinema. Back during the "Showa" era of Godzilla cinema a significant shift came about involving the iconic monster. Godzilla's first four films, Gojira(1954), Godzilla Raids Again(1955), King Kong Vs Godzilla(1962) and Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964), all featured Godzilla as the proverbial "bad guy", a rampaging monster of potentially unlimited menace and destruction. In December of 1964, in the film Ghidrah The Three Headed Monster, Godzilla becomes a grudging protector of humanity, fighting alongside previous enemies Rodan and larval Mothra in a unified effort to fight and drive off an all powerful space monster named Ghidrah(aka King Ghidorah) who threatens the Earth.

Many die hard Godzilla fans have openly expressed their dislike for Godzilla's role reversal. Some self anointed Godzilla "historians" speculate that the decline in popularity of Godzilla films can be linked to this shift. Maybe that is all true. For me, I have come to appreciate Godzilla's change from villain to "good guy". I still prefer to see Godzilla as the antagonist but, over the years and from watching the older Godzilla movies repeatedly, I believe this switch makes the "Showa" Godzilla films more interesting, collectively. That is probably a debatable point.

As any film fan will likely attest, any movie featuring a "good guy" needs a worthy villain. For Godzilla that villain is obviously King Ghidorah. On the heels of Ghidrah The Three Headed Monster(1964) the gold colored, powerful space monster returns for a rematch in Invasion Of The Astro Monsters(1965). The story of the movie is as follows: a pair of astronauts land on a mysterious planetoid, meet a group of visor wearing aliens who ask the astronauts if they can "borrow" Godzilla and Rodan in order to drive off "Monster Zero"(King Ghidorah). Despite suspicions of the aliens, humanity gives in and the aliens are allowed to locate, seize and fly away with Godzilla and Rodan. The two monsters square off with King Ghidorah on "Planet X" and the space monster flies away. Humanity, promised a universal "cure all" medicine by the aliens, instead is brusquely informed they will become slaves to the Xians, the aliens desiring to colonize the Earth and threatening to deploy all three monsters as instruments of Earth's destruction should humanity refuse the alien's directive. Of course human kind does refuse and chaos ensues as the trio of monsters, under alien control, begin a rampage in Japan. Unlikely heroes emerge to help defeat the aliens. The monsters, eventually removed from the aliens control, fight again in a final battle. (no spoilers)

Some observations of mine regarding this highly entertaining film, some positive and some not, for the inspection of our online community -

Thumbs up:

1. the film's score by Akira Ifukube is fantastic!

2. the special effects overall are marvelous. The miniatures and matte shots are used very effectively to illustrate distance shots of the monsters on the move, especially Godzilla and Rodan. One of my favorite effects sequences of all the Showa G films remains the scene where the Xians deploy their transport vessels to retrieve Godzilla from the bottom of a lake and Rodan from the interior of a mountainside. Simply outstanding.

3. the human cast of characters: collectively they entertain, their interactions critical to the conclusion of the movie. The spectrum of the characters runs the gamut: dashing American astronauts Glenn(Nick Adams) and Fuji(Akira Takarada), who refuse to be intimidated by the mysterious Xian aliens. Adams' character "Glenn" evens finds time to woo the lovely, mysterious Ms. Namikawa(Kumi Mizuno). Adding to the mix is good hearted but bumbling Tetsuo Teri(Akira Kubo), a milquetoast inventor who is intimidated by his girlfriend's over protective older brother, astronaut Fuji. I liked how Tetsuo redeemed himself with the "Lady Guard" invention which in the end helped win the day for humanity against the aliens. Astronaut Glenn also is afforded a brief sequence in which he gets to punch a couple of Xians. Despite the brevity of the scene I liked Glenns' brief can of whoop ass as he blasted a pair of Xians with overhand punches to the noggin.

4. the monster battles: I had some gripes about them(see below) but overall they were IMO well choreographed. Godzilla and Rodan worked well together, especially the final battle where Rodan picked up a charging Godzilla and used him as an airborne battering ram against King Ghidorah.

5. the primary villain in this film, the Controller Of Planet X, played by Yoshio Tsuchiya. Tsuchiya is, in my opinion one of the ultimate Showa Godzilla film baddies. The visor covering his eyes makes it hard to read his face, this effect adding to the creepiness of this character.

Thumbs down:

1. there were some effects shortcomings in this film, most notably the visibility of overhead wires. Annoying to be sure but they do not detract much from the film, for me anyway

2. Godzilla's infamous "jumping shie" celebratory dance after he and Rodan had successfully driven King Ghidorah off Planet X. This scene is IMO absurd and has no place at all in this movie. One of the few outright negatives I assign to this film.

3. at the conclusion of the film astronauts Glenn and Fuji are informed by Dr. Sakurai(Jun Takazi) that they are returning to Planet X as ambassadors. My question: return to who and what? Last I checked humanity just defeated a hostile race of aliens from this small planetoid. That being the case why would we send astronauts back to what is presumably a now empty planetoid?

Invasion Of The Astro Monsters(1965) can be bought on Region 1 as either the '98 Simitar release(titled "Monster Zero",  in English dub only-this is an OOP release) or the stellar Classic Media release called "Invasion Of The Astro Monsters", the disc featuring both original and Americanized versions of the film.

The original Toho trailer: