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Monday, May 8, 2017

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) – Review

Don’t trust aliens. If there is any takeaway from Toho’s science fiction movies it would be that one little tidbit. In 1964’s Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster the series’ first introduced us to the outer space threat of King Ghidorah but in Invasion of Astro-Monster we get honest to goodness aliens who mean us ill will, but time and again the people of Earth fall for the old, “We are peacefully aliens who want nothing more than to help you scientifically inferior Earthlings, can we borrow your monsters?” This sixth film in the Godzilla franchise was a Japanese/American co-production with Toho Studio teaming up with United Productions of America and American producer Henry G. Saperstein and continues Godzilla’s journey toward being planetary savior opposed be being an allegory of the threat of nuclear annihilation.

As if to mirror the nature of the production the story deals with the Space Authority launching a mission that consists of Japanese astronaut Fuji (Akira Takarada) and American astronaut Glenn (Nick Adams) and who seem to be part of a program that was modeled after the Mercury space missions of the 60s. This particular mission that Fuji and Glenn find themselves on is to explore a planet that somehow has remained hidden behind Jupiter all these years, the scientific explanation of how this is possibly is that it’s a “dark planet” and gleefully ignores facts of planetary orbits which would make this planet being hidden all this time pretty much impossible. Regardless our two heroes are sent to explore this new heavenly body that has been named Planet X.


Sadly it's not this Planet X.

When they land their XP-1 spacecraft on Planet X Fuji is shocked to discover very human looking footprints in the planetary dust, and when he calls for Glenn to inform him of this startling find he gets no response. Glenn and the XP-1 are missing. You’ve got to admit this is a pretty gripping opening for what is to be a rather light and fun science fiction/monster romp, and none of the actors in the film treat the subject matter in any kind of campy way, it’s all dealt with rather seriously. The same unfortunately can’t be said of the kaiju (giant monsters) in this film as they tend to come off as if they are doing various Three Stooges routines.  Godzilla’s goofy victory dance is a prime example of this.

We learn that Glenn is perfectly safe and soon Fuji is brought down beneath the surface of Planet X where he meets the seemingly benevolent human-like beings called the Xiliens, it’s here that our duo learn that the people of Planet X have been forced to live underground due to the ravaging attacks by a creature they call “Monster Zero” but once seen Fuji and Glenn immediately recognize it as King Ghidorah who had just recently been repulsed from his attack on Earth by the combined might of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. The Xilien leader known as The Controller (Yoshio Tsuchiya) requests that the two astronauts return to Earth with an offer that consists of the Xiliens providing mankind the cure for cancer if we would be so kind as to lend them Godzilla and Rodan to fight Monster Zero. Fuji and Glenn agree to bring this offer before the World Council but the two can’t help but feel there is something fishy about the Xiliens.


If we ever do meet aliens from outer space I do hope they have this kind of fashion sense.

Meanwhile back on Earth Fuji’s sister Haruno (Keiko Sawai) is dating an inventor named Tetsuo (Akira Kubo) who just so happens to have invented a personal alarm device that has attracted the attention of a group of Xiliens covertly based on Earth. Under the guise of a Toy Company business woman and Xilien spy Namikawa (Kumi Muzuno) purchases the rights to the device, but in the contract Tetsuo signs it states that he won’t see a dime until the device goes into production. This lack of business smarts is one of only many reasons astronaut Fuji doesn’t want this guy marrying his sister. Of course we will later learn that the Xiliens can be crippled by certain sonic sounds and that the alarm Tetsuo invented functions on just such a wavelength, thus the goofball suitor will turn out to be a hero.


I’m betting Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” would have had the same effect.

The nefarious plan of the Xilien's master controller is so over complicated that if you gave it a second thought you’d realize just how dumb it was. After Fuji and Glenn present the Xilien offer to the World Council it’s quickly discovered that the Xiliens already have flying saucers stationed on Earth, hidden under the surface of the lake the Xiliens claim is where Godzilla could be found, and the Controller gives explains that if they didn’t secretly come here early, “Godzilla and Rodan may have had time to do damage to your country.” The dumb humans buy this lame-ass excuse and soon the Xiliens are using gravitational beams to lift a sleeping Godzilla out of the lake and a napping Rodan from inside a mountain. There is no explanation as to why Godzilla is apparently hibernating under this random lake, nor is one given us to how Rodan became buried inside a mountain, they are just yanked from their various slumbers and taken into space.

Note: It took Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra to defeat King Ghidorah in the last film but good ole Mothra doesn’t even get shout out in this film.  Her appearance most likely cut due to budgetary constraints.

We don’t get our first monster fight until about the fifty minute mark which considering the film’s running time is only ninety-four minutes long is a bit disappointing and another telltale sign of the film’s limited budget.  Worse is that when Godzilla and Rodan finally face off against Ghidorah on Planet X the brawl is barely a couple minutes long. Godzilla pops up from behind a rocky outcropping to fire his atomic breath as if he was a cowboy in a shootout, while Rodan flies around being basically useless, and it ends with Godzilla doing the ridiculous victory dance and King Ghidorah just flying away.


It’s a fun fight but not exactly nail-biting.

Fuji, Glenn and scientist Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) are given a tape with the supposed cure for cancer but they return to Earth it turns out the tape does not contain a cure at all instead it’s an ultimatum stating that Earth must surrender and become of colony of Planet X.  They key threat is that if Earth doesn’t surrender they will unleash Ghidorah and newly mind-controlled Godzilla and Rodan to destroy the planet. Have you spotted the idiocy of this plan? The Xiliens have apparently been on Earth for some time, they were aware of the locations of sleeping Godzilla and Rodan, they already had a device to control the minds of monsters, so what was the fucking point of this gaslight con job of offering the cure of cancer in exchange for Godzilla and Rodan? Aside from maybe getting Godzilla and Rodan pissed at the humans for being abandoning then on Planet X this plan makes no bloody sense.


“See if we come and save your sorry asses.”

So exactly what was the point of that staged fight on Planet X? They could have simply snatched the two monsters right off the bat, and then along Ghidorah and their fleet of laser toting flying saucers they could have simply demanded Earth’s surrender at the point. Instead this over complicated sting operation just allows our heroes time to discover what’s really going on and to thwart it.


Did I mention that Xilien spy Namikawa had fallen in love with Glenn?

Namikawa falling in love with Glen was apparently not part of the Xilien plan so she is killed by her evil compatriots, but not before she is able to slip a note to Glenn explaining how Tetsuo’s device is the key to defeating the invaders. So Glenn and Tetsuo team-up while Fuji and Dr. Sakurai work on their own device which will block the mind control beams that control Godzilla and Rodan. Now if the sight of flying saucers being hit with a sonic weapon, causing them to lose control and crash, sounds rather familiar that’s because this completely rips-off the premise as to how the aliens were defeated in Ray Harryhausen’s Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Though the added bonus of a giant monster fight does offset the theft of this idea and really it’s just another example of Toho Studios continued attempt at giving the human characters relevance in these stories.


When really we all came to see stuff like this.

Invasion of Astro-Monster doesn’t have the level of carnage found in the previous entry, mainly due to the film’s greatly reduced budget, and you can even play a drinking where you take a shot every time you spot footage of destruction that was lifted from the films Rodan and Mothra, but director Ishirô Honda still managed to put together another rather entertaining chapter in the Godzilla franchise.  In fact the nature of the franchise becomes very clear as the film ends not with the death of King Ghidorah but instead it has the monster flying off in defeat so that he can return to fight another day, just as he did at the end of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. This is in complete counterpoint to the earlier Shōwa period where each film ended with the death of the monster.  This movie ends with a now mind-control freed Godzilla and Rodan having a rather slapstick battle with King Ghidorah until Rodan picks up Godzilla and the two fly straight at the three-headed villain where the group then go crashing over the cliff to the sea below.  Our heroes witness the defeated "Monster Zero" emerge from the water and flee back to I guess Planet X, but there is no sign of either Godzilla or Rodan.  Could this be the end?


Ghidorah will return in Destroy All Monsters.

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