Saturday, June 4, 2011

On the beach: Space Amoeba(1970) - revisited

My recollections of things and people are becoming more problematical as I get older. In particular my memories of first viewings of various kaiju, sci and horror films. If I recall correctly I first saw the Toho film SPACE AMOEBA(1970)(international title) in the late 1970's on TBS(Ted Turner's super station located here in Atlanta, GA). It was the AIP(American International Pictures) version in English dubbed language and titled YOG MONSTER FROM SPACE(the U.S. title). In recent years I have begun a closer examination of the various Toho films featuring giant monsters not named Godzilla. In doing this I have come to gain a better appreciation of these movies, Space Amoeba included.

The film's story: a space probe is launched and begins a long transit into deep space, its destination the planet Jupiter where the machine will study the enormous planet. Interrupting the interstellar journey of the probe named "Helios 7": a blue colored, gaseous energy being which we'll call "Yog". Yog moves about the probe's exterior and interior and then forces the probe to turn about. The Helios 7 returns to Earth splashing down in the south pacific near Selgio Island.

In the meantime a small group lead by a photographer, anthropologist and biologist travel to Selgio Island to make a preliminary study of the island which is being prepped to become home to a lavish resort facility. The alien being "Yog", departing the submerged Helios 7 probe, decides to tour Selgio Island and definitely not for the purpose of securing time shares in the planned resort's vacation packages. The energy being methodically takes over several local marine creatures: a cuttlefish, rock turtle and crab are all inhabited by the alien and are mutated into 30 meter tall giants. These giant creatures, Gezora(cuttlefish), Ganime(crab) and Kamoebas(rock turtle) all make life miserable for the group of people tasked with studying the island. Eventually the biologist figures out what's going on and it's not good: the alien "Yog" has designs on conquest of the Earth(what a shock). Fortunately for the group and island inhabitants the alien creature has a serious aversion to fire and sonics and the humans on the island use fire and a large contingent of bats to combat Yog. The alien eventually loses control of the surviving giants Ganime and Kamoebas and the two battle it out at the conclusion of the film. (no other spoilers)

Some observations of this film, the Toho version, some of them positive and some not:

Thumbs up:

1. the scaling of the three giant marine creatures to about 30 meters. There's no need to make them bigger since all the action takes place on Selgio Island. Keeping the size of these kaiju at 20-30 meters helps make their interactions with the island's human cast of characters more engaging and relevant.

2. the design of the three creatures: I found the suit designs for Ganime, Kamoebas and Gezora to all be solid. Admittedly I felt some disdain watching Gezora trudging about on land, propelling itself with its tentacles. Kudos to Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima for pulling double duty, so to speak as he suited both Gezora and Ganime in this film(Haruyoshi Nakamura suited Kamoebas). My favorite design of the three marine giants is the crab kaiju Ganime: the creature's mandibles, antennae and claws looked quite realistic.

3. the score: I liked the musical composition of this movie a lot. The pounding piano keyboards and urgent horns sound quite good. The truth is I like this score, composed by Akira Ifukube, better than most Godzilla film scores.

4. the overall special effects: aside from some unremarkable matte shots I thought the special effects overall were solid. The SPFX director for this movie was Teisho Arikawa. Eiji Tsuburaya passed away earlier in 1970 which afforded Arikawa the opportunity to direct the effects in this film.

5. the human cast: several pleasingly familiar faces of veteran Toho kaiju film actors carried the human drama along: Yoshio Tsuchiya as the steady, unflappable biologist "Dr. Koichi Mida", Akira Kubo as the temperamental photographer "Taro Kudo" and lastly Kenji Sahara as the nefarious anthropologist(and corporate spy) "Makoto Obata". The tensions among the cast members are often amusing, especially photographer Kudo's obvious disdain for the smarmy and patronizing anthropologist Obata.

Thumbs down:

1. some of the films' matte shots are sub par. There's one scene in particular where Ganime approached the islanders, the matte shot making the creature look several hundred feet tall and not the actual 20 meter scale of the monster.

2. watching Gezora lumber about the island out of the water: there's something inherently ridiculous, to me anyway, about a marine mollusk somehow being able to freely move about on dry land.

In 2006 Mediablasters(under their "Tokyo Shock" label) released Space Amoeba(1970) to R1 DVD, the release presenting this film in its original 2:35.1 widescreen aspect ratio. Here's this DVD for sale at Amazon:

(click the title of this blog entry also to see the DVD for sale at Amazon)

The Toho trailer: