Monster Bites - Explorers on the Moon

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959)

There are lot of fan favourites in the Toho back catalogue, but in some way this is one of their truly archetypal releases. Alien threats, rocket ships, people landing on extra-terrestrial landscapes; it's all exactly what you'd expect from a 1950s science fiction B-movie. It also has a lot of other elements to enjoy from the essential Akira Ikufube military music to all the miniature destruction - this time on a global scale. As an Earth versus the invaders effects feature I'd certainly recommend it over Ishirō Honda's better know but far shakier effort The Mysterians, made just two years before this. However as a film on its own terms it's not all totally classic genre material.


The opening of the story is solid stuff. Although there are a few dodgy matte paintings involved the earliest sightings of nefarious moon men attacking are great, ranging from wrecking small sections of railway lines and derailing trains to annihilating entire space stations. It's just a shame some of these big moments are done on the cheap as news reports after the fact. How is this happening and for what reason? Well just because it looks cool I suppose. There's a debate about alien forces threatening to take over the planet and a few silly lines about devices that can lower the Earth's gravity to make destruction of property easier. But the bad guys don't show up to make any demands, and they hold off any further attacks until the very end of the story. In fact they barely show up at all in person.

What we do get is a lot of United Nations discussions. The story is set in the far flung future of...1965. You don't want to go further, even to 1999? Okay. As a result the countries of the world discuss this problem together and plan a retaliatory attack using a joint space programme. They also have some nice new heat ray guns that will be perfect to use in such a situation. The technology has just been perfected, which is a nice coincidence. However the unseen threat, the 'Natal' race has other ideas about this and promptly brain washes a UN delegate to sabotage the weapon. So far they've shown some incredible ways of preventing the humans from taking measures against them. But these amazing advantages are only used when it suits the storyline.

The main second act action takes place on the lunar surface after the alien mind waves are found being transmitted from our own Moon. Despite have such fast moving ships the Natal forces have a great deal of trouble hitting the approaching Earth party, opting instead to take over a crew member Iwomura (Yoshio Tsuchiya) and have him damage his own craft. There's an element of suspense here as the ship functions are deactivated during an action sequence, but again it raises questions about what the alien civilisation is really up to and why they can't do this more often. The astronauts soon land and leave the guy tied up unattended before they set out. What's the worst that could happen?


In terms of model work this is all up to the usual standards of effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, and the lunar surface and the travel craft used have all the charm and miniature detail that's to be expected. The alien lair is a glowing dome that launches flashing bug shaped attack ships. Later there's a sequence featuring New York and San Francisco exploding before the finale in which the UN forces launch a full defence. It's just a shame there's nothing seen of the Natal home and there are no interiors for their lunar base - one thing at least that The Mysterians did better. The major destruction set piece in which the mother-ship obliterates Tokyo with gravity weapons is certainly a highlight. It's not The War of the Worlds but there is something classic about how this all plays out.

If only this was a simple invasion story and the motive of the antagonists was clearer. But why is it so easy for them to blow up a whole satellite in one scene when they have so much trouble fighting back against less advanced Earth space vehicles? Why don't they use mind control all the time to take over more important people? Even more than one at a time would clear up a few problems. They use flying saucers and laser beams but can't seem to kidnap a single astronaut on foot. Why are they even wandering about outside at all in their only physical appearance in the whole story? There are a lot of these sorts of moments. I understand that silly plot developments and cheesy outcomes are a staple in this kind of adventure. I'd just be able to be more involved if the bad guys weren't so badly incompetent as soon the narrative demands it.

Overall this is a watchable venture into the height of the science fiction craze, when things were at their most corny. There's something to be said at least for the overall message of the story, and the optimism shown for the future of mankind. If only things were so simple. It's full of great '50s design work and colour schemes, and the mixture of marching themes and rocket ship battles holds a great deal of allure. You can understand why there are callbacks nearly five decades later in Shin Godzilla, another story that suggests international co-operation is essential for the survival of civilisation. A lot of it is underwritten and the characterisation leaves a lot to be desired, but overall it hits enough of the expected notes to keep things on the right side of compelling.

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP (1966)


Onto something less compelling and well, a little less than the some of its parts. Following the replacement of Frankenstein's monster with King Kong in an earlier feature (leaving him with electricity based power) this island adventure subsequently swapped out Kong for Godzilla (still leaving him with electricity based power). Yeah this is the one where the big G is found buried in a cave for no reason and is then brought back to life with a makeshift lightning conductor. He also plays volley ball with a giant lobster and stares bemusedly at a pretty girl. It's all rather wobbly to say the least. In some ways it's kind of fun but in others it's just not that engaging.

But plot continuity and congruous tonal shifts aren't something they worry about too much at Toho I guess. Elsewhere there's a band of natives being menaced by an evil organisation called Red Bambo who know the secret to avoiding the eponymous lobster. But the creature isn't really the focus of the story, and the title of the film is better in the American version for once; Godzilla vs the Sea Monster. Horror of the Deep sounds like a violent Roger Corman movie. Like the rest of the film it makes little sense. Mothra shows up because island cultures are interchangeable and Mothra is popular. Later there's a blink and you'll miss it fight with a giant condor that looks like Rodan if he was dropped on the carpet and stepped on a few times.

It's almost too much to really judge this one so harshly when a lot of the other Godzilla films are just as silly and feature all the same effects and a lot of the same actors. But I guess there are times when you just have to draw a line somewhere - and this is clearly just a King Kong movie that was slapped together without a lot of thought. It's directed by Jun Fukuda, someone who later made worse entries in the franchise... but they were all funnier or weirder than this. 'Ebirah' just treads that line around so-so and dull. There's no memorable novelty value and while it's kind of watchable this is a minor footnote in the lead up to Destroy All Monsters.

2/5