Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)

Title: Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)

Director: Ishiro Honda


There’s something about older Godzilla movies, they seem better produced than some of the newer ones; I dont know if its the caliber of directors behind these films, or the way they were made (probably a bit of both) but the production values seem higher on these old movies. I mentioned something about this on my review for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). The polished look and feel we see on these older films had a lot to do with what veteran Godzilla director Ishiro Honda was aiming to achieve. It appears to me that Mr. Honda made some of the best movies in the whole series, and the film I'll be reviewing today, Invasion of the Astro-Monster is certainly one of them. I mean, he really did  some great sci-fi films, he even made sci-fi out of the Godzilla universe of films. Ishiro Honda  is certainly an important director from Japan. By this I don’t mean that the newer Godzilla films are a joke, I’m just saying that these older films took themselves more seriously somehow. Invasion of the Astro-Monster has many good things going for it, lots of elements that make it one of the best Godzilla films out there. Come with me as I review Godzilla film #6, Invasion of the Astro-Monster a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero!

Story is all about these alien beings from Planet X; who call upon the help of the earthlings to battle against a creature that doesn’t let them live in peace. The inhabitants of Planet X call the creature ‘Monster Zero’ because they name everything by numbers; these aliens are numerical that way. So anyhow, we soon find out that this creature they call ‘Monster X’ is actually King Gihdorah! That’s right my friends, this is King Gihdorah, the same creature that fought Godzilla just one year before in Gihdorah: The Three Headed Monster (1964)! This is the reason why some people see this film as a direct sequel to Gihdorah: The Three Headed Monster, cause Gihdorah attacks again. So anyways, the aliens from Planet X are forced to live underground because King Gihdorah is constantly terrorizing the planet. So they ask the humans for permission to use Godzilla and Rodan to fight against King Gihdorah on the surface of Planet X! As a special prize for agreeing to help them in this matter, they aliens offer the humans the cure for cancer, and quite possibly the cure for all deceases on earth! Are these aliens to be trusted? Should the humans agree to give Godzilla and Rodan to the aliens? Will they truly hand over the cure for cancer?

Aliens take Godzilla and Rodan to their home planet

Well, what I liked most about this film is that apart from being a good Godzilla flick, it was also a great sci-fi story. This was Toho's succesful attempt at uniting Kaiju movies (giant monster movies) with more traditional science fiction, the kind of films that Ishiro Honda was making when he wasnt making Godzilla films. Films like The Mysterians (1957) for example, a film I've yet to see, but I'm looking forward to the experience. This is the kind of science fiction film that was made back then, with flying saucers that make that strange whistling sound when they fly, and aliens that come from ‘Planet X’.

Monster Zero, terrorizing the inhabitants of Planet X

On this film, Godzilla doesn’t spring into action for a long time, I think the film hits the one hour mark and we still don’t see Godzilla fighting. Godzilla is frozen beneath the sea for a huge part of the film until he is finally reawakened by the aliens. But here’s the thing about this Godzilla movie: the human stories where actually good, the characters were interesting, and well portrayed. We have Fuji and Nick, two astronauts who are the best of buddies. One is Japanese the other is American, together they explore the universe for the Japanese nation. On this particular trip they head towards the mysterious Planet X, going where no man has gone before! Cool thing is they act as if they've gone to a new planet a few times already, and they are just having a casual conversation during the flight, cracking jokes. I thought that was kinda funny also, they go on this long journey to a planet thats behind Jupiter, and they dont get up from their seats not once! Nick is in love with a Japanese woman while Fuji is an overprotective brother who doesn’t want his sister marrying her crazy boyfriend Tetsuo, who also happens to be an inventor. Fuji thinks Tetsuo is unworthy of his sister, but Tetsuo’s inventions just might end up saving the human race! Point is, the stories that go on amongst the humans are solid, a bonus in my book.

Things get crazier when the film amps up the sci-fi angle and we get to meet the inhabitants of Planet X. These aliens are a funky looking bunch, they might end up reminding you of something you might have seen in a DEVO music video. They talk in numbers and calculations, they are cold and robotic. They follow rules, to the point where it becomes constrictive. I liked this angle the film has, the human vs. the robotic. In many ways, this story comments on oppressive governments. Are we to loose our humanity in order to become a strict, law abiding society? There has to be a balance somewhere, can it be achieved? This is the core of this films story, and actually, it took me by surprise, the interesting themes. But then again, in one form or another Godzilla films have always criticized governments and their experiments on humanity, when we get right down to the core of who Godzilla is, he's a mutant caused by Nuclear Bombs hurled at Japan by the United States, the  results of years of nuclear testing near Japan. This isn’t the first Godzilla film I see that criticizes governments; Godzilla vs. King Gihdora (1989) did the same thing if I remember correctly. In fact, Godzilla vs. King Gihdorah is very similar to this one especially when it comes to having flying saucers and aliens that control giant creatures through thought waves. So this film my friends, same as the best science fiction films, comments on human nature, and why we do the things we do. The aliens from Planet X are a reflection of any oppressive government that wants to strip its people of its culture and uniqueness. God knows there’s a lot of those out there! This films message is as relevant today as it was way back in 1965.

Then there’s Godzilla himself and the monster fights! We don’t see Godzilla as often on this movie, but the rest of the movie was so interesting, it really didn’t bother me. This was classic 1960 style sci-fi and I was loving it. On this one, Godzilla and Rodan end up being dragged through space, carried to Planet X by alien spaceships. We get to see a re-match between Godzilla and King Gihdorah on the surface of an alien planet! That was pretty cool! Best part is that after Godzilla wins the fight (of course he wins it, you already know that) Godzilla does this hilarious victory dance, it has to be the funniest moment on any Godzilla movie. I mean Godzilla leaps in the air and literally does this little dance, moving his arms and legs, it was hilarious! It made me chuckle, but Godzilla's victory dance also felt kind of out of place in the film. It completely takes you out of the film, it made Godzilla a little too silly, a little too human for me. I guess this sort of thing was done on purpose though. Toho was purposely trying to make Godzilla look friendlier and less scary. They even changed his face so it wouldn't be as monstrous as the previous films.  I guess they didn’t want the kids being too scared of Godzilla, and so this is one of the first movies to portray Godzilla as saviour of humanity, though at one moment he does get to destroy a little bit of Japan, which I guess Godzilla cant help doing. It’s as if he saw houses, and the impulse immediately takes, like instinct. If we could hear Godzilla's thoughts, they'd probably go something like this: "Destroy Japan, destroy, destroy!" But then again, his brain was being controlled by the evil aliens at one point, so I have to cut him some slack on this one. His a good guy on this one, not a force of nature destroying everything. But speaking of Godzilla's 'friendlier' look, its the only thing I didnt like about the movie. He doesn't look menacing at all, in fact, the suit looks too baggy, like it doesnt fit the actor properly. I like the newer Godzilla films where Godzilla looks lean and strong and muscular, ready to kick some ass. My main problem with this one is that its too obvious that its a guy in a suit. Way too obvious and its the only reason why I didnt give the film a perfect five.

My final thoughts on this one are that it was one of the best Godzilla movies I've seen in terms of the humans. I also liked the art direction on the film which was very art deco. At times, I felt as if I was watching a Mario Bava movie when it came down to the sets and art direction, it kind of brought to mind  Planet of the Vampires (1965) which I loved so much. They are from the same era, and have a similar vibe going for them. If you like old school science fiction films, and you love Godzilla films, then this is your ticket right here. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


Andrew said...

I never could really get into these kinds of movies....
But, I gotta say -- you've made me want to give something like this a chance again.

Franco Macabro said...

I used to think the same before, until I actually saw one of them. Now Im hooked on em! They are lighthearted, fast paced and fun, that aint a bad thing every once in a while.

Plus, these films have some genuine artistry to them, tend to have a sci-fi angle which I always love, and theres two giant monsters kicking each others asses and destroying Japan in the process, fun times. If you want to start by watching one Godzilla vs. King Gihdorah aint a bad place to start!

Let me know if you ever give them a chance.

venoms5 said...

MONSTER ZERO is a huge fan favorite. Fran, you simply must see this one again at some point with the English dub. Hearing Academy Award nominated actor Nick Adams' real voice puts this one over the top.

What was so ironic was he had made a statement about other respectable actors going overseas to do foreign films and that he would never do it. He campaigned hard for an award for his appearance in TWILIGHT OF HONOR and reportedly, was so sure he was going to get it, stood up before the name was called out. He didn't win and a short time later he was in Japan shooting FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965). He was a really good actor and was loved by everyone at Toho and has a massive following among fans of the Godzilla series.

The Godzilla "shie", the jumping up and clicking his heels is pretty goofy, and as you said, it was a way to continue turning the big guy into a favorite with children. Some people love it and some people hate it. I thought it was great as a kid and I still giggle at it when I see it today. You have to be in a certain mindset to enjoy these kinds of things. They really are a lot of fun and if you can't relax and let your guard down, you won't enjoy the show.

Interestingly, the US release has loud footfalls when he jumps up and down, but the Japanese version excludes them. There's also a handful of brief effects shots and dialog bits excised from the US release. Also, music cues are swapped around in some places. For whatever reason, there's some bits of stock footage from RODAN that end up in the film. Possibly they needed some additional shots and no time to shoot new ones.

If you liked the human story here, you'll love MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964). That's one of the best monster movies period. Godzilla is evil in that one, the last film that he was a mean bastard. If I remember right, Toho received a flood of letters from kids asking to make Godzilla less mean and they did. Also, MOTHRA VS GODZILLA was a first for the series--it had a monster sequence shot exclusively for the US version that wasn't in the Japanese version where the US Navy attacks Godzilla with frontier missiles. It was called GODZILLA VS. THE THING here in America.

Great, fan friendly review, Fran! It really comes through that you're enjoying these and seeing them for the first time and relishing the experience.

Franco Macabro said...

I'll have to do that and watch it with the english dubbing, I was sad to hear that this actor commited suicide shortly after he made Invasion of the Astro-Monster. Wasnt aware that he was so huge with Godzilla fans.

That story you mentioned about him getting up before his name was called, boy that sounds embarassing!

Godzilla's victory dance was hilarious to me man, I was watching it with a friend and when it happened we both looked at each other "wtf?!" it was an instant rewind moment. We laughed and watched it several times over. I read somewhere that this scene was the idea of the Japanese actor who plays the leader of the aliens, and that it was a popular dance in Japan at the time.

About the differences between the Japanese and the U.S. release, I read they were minimal, some shots of Godzilla stomping on Japanese houses were excised, along with some "alien dialog" that the leader of the aliens says. That stock footage thing, I read about it and I frown upon it, but whatever, I didnt notice it because I had never seen RODAN, but I read you can tell its stock footage because RODAN looks different from shot to shot.

I actually purchased Mothra vs. Godzilla so expect that review soon, i also bought some of the newer ones...cant wait to see them all! And yeah, Im having a great time watching these, I was really missing out on a fun bunch of films. Relishing the experience as you so well put it.

Thanks for commenting Brian!

venoms5 said...

RODAN was shot fullscreen which accounts for the difference in quality.

Regarding the death of Adams, there's been a lot of talk that he was murdered and many of his closest friends believe his death to have been accidental. He had an affair with Kumi Mizuno, his co-star in MONSTER ZERO which is why his wife was divorcing him. If you're familiar with the sci fi/horror western show THE WILD WILD WEST, Adams did two episodes on it. He was a close friend of star Robert Conrad and Adams plays a villain on two different episodes. His season one bad guy role is the best of the two.

Franco Macabro said...

I never saw the Wild Wild West TV show, but I did see the movie. But yeah, apparently Adams death remains a mystery till this day. Damn, he had an affair with his costar in Monster Zero, I didnt know that. I guess thats why those scenes where he is like "I cant be a robot! We cant loose our humanity!" and she's like "I cant be a human!" had such an intensity to them. Those scenes where actually some of my favorite in the movie, good acting shines through there.

venoms5 said...

The WILD WILD WEST movie is NOTHING to gauge the show on. That movie was horrendous and should never have been made. I wrote an article about the show and have reviewed a handful of the episodes. It's essentially James Bond in the Wild West with a lot of science fiction, horror, gadgets and super villains. Dr. Loveless was the most recurring bad guy on there. He was played by Michael Dunn. What bothered my about the movie was that Dr. Loveless wasn't played by a midget instead making him a regular sized man without legs. I recall something about it being un PC to have a midget in the movie, or something along those lines.

But yeah, both Adams and Mizuno share the screen in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD aka FRANKENSTEIN VS BARAGON. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is the sequel to that one.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree, WILD WILD WEST was a disaster of a movie, I'll have to check out that show at some point. Was a popular tv show, because I've heard about it, but I've never actually seen anything on it, not even on tv, or a re-run or anything.

Thanks for those recommendations, I'll be checking them out at some point.


Related Posts with Thumbnails