Battle in Outer Space (1959)
A while back I reviewed 1957's Earth Defense Force, later reworked into The Mysterians. This was an excellent example of Toho's early efforts at a grand space epic, filmed in widescreen and in glorious color. The story concerned an invasion of the planet by aliens from outer space thwarted by gallant Japanese scientists and soldiers.
In 1959, Toho released Great War in Space, which was "sort of a sequel" to Earth Defense Force. I say sort of because it's not explicitly stated as being a sequel, but as I will detail as we go along, there's enough internal references to prove that it's indeed a follow up. These include basic plot elements, background references, and several main characters. The production crew was the A-list of Toho Studios, with Ishiro Honda directing a screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa.
Great War in Space was released in Japan in 1959. It was later re-edited by Columbia Pictures, and released as Battle in Outer Space to American theaters in July of 1960. It's this Americanized version that I will be reviewing today, using a DVD-R of a Hong Kong release. It's in color and presented in pan-and-scan fullscreen and runs 90 minutes. Thankfully, it's dubbed in English, but without subtitles I had some difficultly tracking down names and places.
And now on to our show...
First let me say that this movie is outstanding! After my first viewing, I was impressed by the quality of the acting, the tense and exciting action sequences and the spiffy model work. This looks like a movie made fifteen or twenty years later than it was, and certainly far and above most American sci-fi of the same year. The only real negative is the often miserable English dub, which has nothing to do with the actual quality of the film.
Lets talk about the timeframe here. We're told this movie takes place in 1965, which is a full eight years since the Mysterian invasion from Earth Defense Force. In those eight years, the science of space travel and energy weaponry has been expanded greatly. This was most certainly aided by the study of captured Mysterian technology left behind by them when they retreated from Japan. With this in mind, the dazzling spaceships and other cool gadgets of 1965 seem more logical.
We open out in space, where a manned space station called "Satellite SK-1" is being attacked by three UFOs. The station is huge, a spinning wheel with a tower rising up from the hub. Aboard, the crew frantically try and contact "Space Control" as the UFOs zip in. The control room set is huge and looks suspiciously like a pumping station at some water treatment plant in Tokyo.
The three UFOs are reuses of the Mysterian ships from Earth Defense Force, offering very early proof that this is supposed to be a sequel. Based on information from the first movie, we know that these ships are relatively small, holding only two or three aliens and are armed with a single laser gun that shoots a pencil-thin white bolt. They are a unique design, shaped slightly like horseshoe crabs with small fins on either side. I'm impressed that they didn't trot out the same old tired "flying saucer" design, like in every American movie of the era. Because of all the spaceships we will see in this movie, I'll refer to these as "Horseshoe Fighters" for the rest of the review.
The space station is armed with a stuttering ray gun on top of the tower that opens fire on the attackers. One Horseshoe Fighter is hit twice by the ray but shows no ill effects. This is strange as later we see that even hand-held laser weapons are able to explode them, suggesting either that the station's weaponry is incredibly weak or that the editors didn't think of that problem. The Horseshoe Fighters pound the satellite with their lasers, causing it to explode in a flash of light.
We cut directly to our opening credits, which are just cast and crew in English. These cards are superimposed over scenes of the Horseshoe Fighters flying through space and a very impressive shot of chunks of debris from the blasted space station floating by. In most of these types of movies, when something explodes in space, it leaves no trace.
And that's maybe the most commendable aspect of Battle in Outer Space, that so many little details are done in a unique and exciting way, when it would have been much easier to do things the boring traditional way. While the plot itself might be familiar, the spaceships and the battles show great inventiveness and a clear effort to be spectacular while still following established sci-fi conventions. For 1959, this is a kickin' movie.
We see that the Horseshoe Fighters have also made at least three pinpoint attacks on random targets across the globe. In Japan, a Horseshoe Fighter "raises up a railroad bridge" and a bullet train goes screaming into the ravine. The Horseshoe Fighter then gently lowers the bridge back into place! The second attack (shown to us as a terribly flat matte painting) is in the Panama Canal, where a large ship is picked up and then dropped from some height. The last attack (also an equally bad painting) is in Venice, Italy, where a "huge waterspout" causes much damage to the city's coastal buildings.
Is this supposed to be a photo?
What was the motivation for these attacks? They seem designed to scare the humans or warn them of their impending doom. Later we learn that the aliens plan on global conquest, so why these little isolated attacks? You would think that they would want to maintain the element of surprise before their main invasion, or maybe hit targets of a definite military value to help pave the way for the invasion. And what's with the Horseshoe Fighter lifting up the bridge and then setting it back down? That was actually funny! That's the sort of scene one expected in Mars Attacks! , where the aliens had a quirky sense of humor about destruction and carnage.
A conference is called, bringing all the world's leading space scientists to the "Space Research Center" in Tokyo to discuss all these strange happenings. This is truly a multinational gathering, with representatives from dozens of countries attending. Many arrive via some stock footage civil airliners, including a wonderful sexy DeHavilland Comet jet, a rare Canadair Argonaut, and a big Boeing 707 in Pan American colors.
We go inside to listen to them debate the facts and the causes of the disasters around the world. They discuss who the aliens might be and what they want with us. What they don't say is anything about the Mysterians, which seriously hurts my case for this being a direct sequel to Earth Defense Force. However, Japanese movies often don't follow continuity well (or at all). You can really see this in the Godzilla movies where they're roughly in order but contain frequent lapses in continuity for the sake of creative story telling. This sort of thing makes us Americans go crazy! We want our sequels to build on the one before and provide clear links to events in the past. You see how the Trekkies start foaming at the mouth and pulling at their hair when one episode goofs up the continuity, even the diehard Star Wars fans sift through every line of dialogue to find continuity errors. Maybe this is why Japanese sci-fi movies have never really had mainstream success over here...
The Space Research Center.
Anyway, they also discuss the three strange anti-gravity attacks on Earth. A scientist presents the theory that if you rapidly lower the temperature of an object down to absolute zero, then you somehow nullify gravity! This is explained nicely by a smartyhead scientist, who says, "As you know, the cause of gravity is the motion of atoms. And when the atoms of an object have no movement its gravity is correspondingly diminished. At the temperature known as absolute zero, the atomic movement of an object is reduced to a state of rest and it becomes weightless. Owning to the centrifugal force of the revolving Earth itself, the object thus effected would rise up into the air." They are sure that someone in space used a "freezing ray" to effect the gravity of objects during the attacks. Wow, that's a whole lot of crap, even if it sounds pretty serious.
While this is going on, we cut to one representative in particular, Doctor Ahmed from Iran. As he sits listening to the lecture, he suddenly grabs his head as if struck by a great pain. Spooky, spacey music cues tell us that something is seriously wrong here. We see him get up from the table and walk stiffly out the door. We then see him wandering through a courtyard, where he is seen by a woman scientist at her desk. As she watches, Ahmed stumbles in a daze out into the open yard, where he looks up and is bathed in a technocolor beam before disappearing! What the hell?
"Is the pointless Juliett subplot on Lost hurting your brain also?"
The woman scientist is unsure of what she just saw, and eventually convinces herself that she imagined the whole thing. Her name is Etsuko Shiraishi, played by 25-year old Kyoko Anzai. Anzai was a bit player throughout her short career and this movie would be her last credited role. The character of "Etsuko Shiraishi" is a carry-over from Earth Defense Force, but was played by Yumi Shirakawa in that movie. Etsuko's brother Riyoichi was the scientist who was swayed by the Mysterians into helping them until he changed his mind and died redeeming his honor. Etsuko was kidnapped by the aliens, but was rescued just before their base on Earth was blown up. None of this past history is ever mentioned in this movie, but clues in her character's motivations and attitudes give hints to it. She was just Professor Adachi's secretary in the first movie, and now she's an astronaut, so perhaps her unique experience being held by the Mysterians for some time allowed her to move up in the ranks.
Back at the conference, the representatives and scientists are taken down to the ray gun laboratory where they are to witness a test of a newly designed Heat Ray Gun. This is truly an amazing invention, a crew-served support weapon about the size of an M2 .50 caliber machinegun, looking all sci-fi cool with lots of flashing lights and tubes. It's said to "produce a narrow-band energy radiation on the order of 600 megahertz. At maximum output, it can fire continuously for 20,000 hours on a single charge of plutonium." Wow, it's the BFG-9000!!!!!!!! It fires a scratchy-lines-on-the-film-negative beam that is able to burn through 35 separate sheets of ultra-hard metal!
It takes four solid BFG hits to bring down the boss...
We reconnect now with Doctor Ahmed, who is now back in the complex, walking like a total zombie through the halls. While he gets some curious stares from the security guards, no one tries to stop him. He's headed for the ray gun laboratory.
Meanwhile, the representatives continue the tour and are taken down to the underground factory floor where the Japanese are constructing these two huge spaceships. The men all ooh and ahh and are suitable impressed at the progress the Japanese engineers have made with what is said to be an international design. The ships look like giant lawn darts, with typical 1950s design elements like a long, tapering body and four sweeping fins. Nine astronauts will crew each ship. They have "SPIP-1" and "SPIP-2" painted on their nosecones, and they are pronounced "Speep". We see no other Earth spaceships before this one, so we have to assume that the SPIPs are the first interplanetary vessels constructed by humans. Has it taken eight years since the Mysterian invasion to reverse engineer their technology?
The SPIPs flying along later in the film.
In another great bit of technobabble, a representative asks a question about the ships "What is the deviation on the wave motion index?" To which a smartyhead scientist replies "It's one to one hundred thousand in the atmosphere and one to one million in space." Of course, that means nothing at all, but it sure sounds cool! I guess that's the point of technobabble, after all, to give the impression that what you are seeing is actually scientifically possible without bogging you down in thick calculations and formulae.
Suddenly, a warning buzzer alarm is sounded! There's trouble down in the ray gun laboratory! Everyone runs down there, which is kinda silly looking, all these well-dressed dudes trotting in a mass through the halls. They arrive in the lab before any of the security guards do, another of the many instances in this movie where the security at the Space Research Center fails miserably.
Down in the lab, they find Doctor Ahmed wrestling around with a technician, he was there to try and steal the Heat Ray Gun when he was caught. Ahmed gets a hold of the man's pistol (or maybe it was Ahmed's) and waves it around. He's talked down by the scientists (!!!) and he hands his gun over. As he's led away, however, he pulls another pistol from his belt (I think, the editing is confusing here) and holds a woman hostage. Did he come down here with two pistols? It certainly makes no sense for the lab tech to be armed, so I guess Ahmed brought both.
Ahmed and his hostage.
Ahmed then starts to rave about how "eventually you'll be our slaves! The whole Earth will become a colonial satellite for our glorious planet Natal!" Damn, I'm still sticking with my theory that this movie is meant to be a sequel to Earth Defense Force, regardless of what was just heard. Ah, perhaps the Mysterians, after their blunted invasion attempt, settled on the planet Natal? Yes! Hmm...just where is Natal? Who knows and who cares, we just know that they have an advanced base in our solar system now. Maybe "Natal" is the Mysterian name for one of our planets? Maybe even the moon? I can make this work...
Anyway, a dude drops a counter balance weight (!) on Ahmed's arm, knocking the gun loose. Ahmed takes off running, the assembled scientists in hot pursuit. The next shot is of Ahmed clearly outdistancing all the scientists, even the younger ones, as he flees through the complex. On three occasions, armed and uniformed security guards try and tackle him, but like Barry Sanders in the open field, Ahmed stiff arms and shoves them aside and keeps running.
Finally reaching the open courtyard where he was seen disappearing before, Ahmed runs out screaming and shouting to the sky. A Horseshoe Fighter comes zipping in, causing the scientists to huddle together and "drop down to a crouch" for some reason. The Horseshoe Fighter emits the same technicolor beam as before and Ahmed disappears, presumably transported up into the Horseshoe Fighter.
Ahmed beaming up.
The scientists run over to where Ahmed was last standing. There's a pinkish "residue" on the ground, perhaps meaning to be a "shadow" formed by the beam from above. The scientists take a sample of this and somehow (?) deduce that Ahmed was being "mind-controlled by radio wave impulses" from the aliens. How the hell they managed to figure this out from that pink residue is not explained and just sounds stupid. There's already enough empirical evidence already to make the assumption that Ahmed was under alien control of some sort, which would have been enough to say and would have kept the audience guessing some more. It's ok for scientists to admit they don't know something, really.
Anyway, another conference is held where it's announced to much fanfare that the two big spaceships are now ready for their first mission into space. They will be sent off to search for the alien base of operations, suspected to be on the moon, and plan to destroy it to forestall any invasion attempt of Earth. Eighteen astronauts from all over the world (though mostly Japanese and a few Americans) are picked to crew the SPIPs on the expedition to the moon. These include at least two, maybe three women, including Etsuko.
SPIP-1 will be commanded by Professor Adachi, played by 55-year old Koreya Senda. The character of "Professor Adachi" was one of the heroes of Earth Defense Force, though in that movie he was played by the great Takashi Shimura. Why Shimura didn't return to reprise his role is anyone's guess, but he was in high demand at the time. In his place, Koreya Senda plays the character fairly identically, with no noticeable change in personality.
SPIP-2 will be commanded by American Doctor Richardson, played by bit part actor Len Stanford. The character of "Doctor Richardson" is another carry-over from Earth Defense Force, though in that movie he was played by Harold Conway, who confusingly plays a different scientist in Battle in Outer Space. Here, Richardson is a competent astronaut and scientist who looks a lot like Neil Armstrong.
We now cut to a nighttime scene, where we see Etsuko and her beau Major Ichiro Katsumiya snuggling on a blanket under the stars. They talk about the coming mission and the dangers and kiss and hug. Etsuko gets all emotional and starts sobbing on Katsumiya. Katsumiya is played by 41-year old Ryo Ikebe, a popular actor, appearing in nearly a hundred films in his career. He might be best known for the role of Professor Tagikawa in 1977's The War in Space. Katsumiya is a tall strapping dude who will be our film's Leading Man Hero. He's also an astronaut in Etsuko's crew.
As they smooch, up drives a totally cool open-top roadster driven by another astronaut named Iwomura, played by 32-year old Yoshio Tsuchiya. Tsuchiya was a popular Toho star in his day, with juicy roles in 1965's Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and 1967's Son of Godzilla amongst the highlights. He also played the Mysterian Commander in Earth Defense Force, but was in a helmet so no one recognized him. His role in our movie is totally unrelated to that role.
Iwomura is a single guy and tries to get Etsuko and Katsumiya to go into town with him and party hearty. They decline and Iwomura leaves them. That entire sequence absolutely reminded me of a very similar moment in Mission to Mars where Gary Sinise's character visits the other astronauts before the flight at a bar-b-que, he even drives a convertible. I guess this is not surprising, most screenwriters are movie fans themselves, and they can't help but pick out good bits from other movies.
We follow Iwomura as he drives back into town on a lonely country road. Suddenly, a technicolor beam bathes him in light and he grabs his head in pain. Somehow he gets the car over to the side of the road and we hear a reverberating alien voice echoing in his head, saying that he is now "under their control". Iwomura then awakes in his car in the city, totally not remembering how he got here or what happened to him. Let's keep an eye on Iwomura, shall we?
Iwomura has something spooky happen on the road.
Sometime later, all the assembled astronauts, dressed in matching white jumpsuits and lightly-padded leather skull caps, are being shown off for the press and the adoring public. They smile and wave as the crowd cheers them on with banzai bows and clapping. Hmm...Iwomura seems to be rubbing his head a lot here, like he has a migraine...
A rare behind-the-scenes shot.
The two crews enter their ships, which are resting on gantry pads close to each other. In one of the neater bits in the movie, both ships take off at the same time, roaring up into the sky in gouts of flame and smoke. It was assumed back in 1959 that the massive g-forces of rocket launch would cause astronaut's faces to pull back like loose rubber. To simulate this, we get a quick shot of a man holding onto the sides of his face and pulling back! It really does look a bad as it sounds and I was really disappointed with the way it jarred you out of the serious and tense scene.
Racing into space, they set a course for the moon and turn off their main engines, using their built-up momentum to carry them most of the way. Inside, we see that the command cabins are now at zero gravity. As with many movies of this era, the special effects to show weightlessness were primitive and often unconvincing. To get around this, they just have the actors "act weightless" by moving slowly and waving their arms around a bit. The effect is dependant on the acting skill of the actors and it varies from man to man. As the movie goes on, fewer and fewer attempts are made a faking weightlessness, and eventually everyone just runs around like normal. I think all they had to do was toss in one single throwaway line like "Ok, chief, turn on the artificial gravity generator now." and I wouldn't have to have this conversation.
Outside of Earth's orbit, they pass through the debris field from the destroyed space station (remember?). Like the Enterprise cruising through the floating wreckage at Wolf 359, our astronauts solemnly watch as twisted hunks of hull and even a dead body (!!!) drift by. They offer up prayers to the dead and keep going, now more than ever determined to stop the aliens.
Wreckage of the station.
It's said that they will travel the 376,000 kilometers to the moon in 52 hours. This is pretty good for 1959, the actual distance is about 384,400 kilometers. So, 52 hours at that distance comes out to roughly Mach 307!!! I guess that number is meaningless as beyond 122 kilometers, past the exosphere, air density is so low that the speed of sound becomes undefined. By comparison, the Apollo missions took nearly four days, but the unmanned Surveyor probe in 1966 only took 63 hours.
Anyway, they head for the moon, aiming for a spot on the surface where they have picked up some suspicious radiation, "100 kilometres north of the Sea of Rain". They believe that an alien base exists at this spot and they are tasked to locate and destroy it by any means possible. But the aliens are not going to allow this without a fight.
The aliens launch a coordinated attack, with "guided missiles" fired from the moon's surface timed to arrive just as Horseshoe Fighters engage the SPIPs. We will see a total of six of these guided missiles, backed up by two Horseshoe Fighters. The SPIPs are armed with a single Heat Ray Gun in the nosecone, which shoots out a scratchy white line on the negatives. These seem to have a very limited field of fire, perhaps even the entire spaceship must be moved to aim the weapon.
The SPIPs return fire!
The space battle is vigorous and exciting, with missiles and heat rays zipping everywhere and things exploding brightly. The Horseshoe Fighters seem to hold back, letting the guided missiles come in first. We visually see five of the six guided missiles shot down by the SPIPs, and we have to assume that the sixth was also downed off-screen.
So with the battle raging, no one has the time to worry when Iwomura stumbles out of the control room holding his head in pain. Hmm...I'd think, considering what happened with Doctor Ahmed, that they might be more aware of such abnormal behavior. The Voice In His Head tells Iwomura to turn off the power supply to the Heat Ray Gun. He goes into what I assume is the engineering section of the ship, strangely devoid of crew. Turning off the power consists of turning three small flywheels to the right a few times, very high-tech.
Back in the control room, they instantly see the problem with not having any weaponry. They also realize that Iwomura is missing and a dude goes to look for him. He finds Iwomura in engineering, still turning wheels and such. The two men get into a fairly lame fistfight, really more of a shoving match with an occasional open swing or bear hug tossed in. Eventually, Iwomura is knocked out cold and the dude turns the power back on to the gun. He hauls Iwomura back to the control room where he tells everyone what happened. They put Iwomura in his seat and tie him up with belts and straps. Thank goodness they didn't produce some rope from somewhere to tie him up, why would you have ordinary rope in a space ship?
The well-detailed cockpit of the ship.
As they secure him, suddenly they hear on their speakers a message broadcast from the moon! The reverberating alien voice tells them that "We warned you, do not approach the moon! If you do you will surely die!" Both ships heard the message, but they have come too far to turn back now. The two Horseshoe Fighters (maybe the message came from them?) head back to the moon without engaging.
So the SPIPs approach the moon now. These being 1950s space ships, they land vertically, tail first. There is some discussion about this maneuver placing them in danger of attack while descending, but they decide it's worth the risk. Maybe they should think about designing space ships that land like a conventional airplane? We saw that they have lateral thrusters earlier, couldn't they use them in conjunction with the main engines to descend horizontally?
Despite the design flaws, the need to land backwards gives us one of the absolute best composite matte images you will see of the two ships making the turn against the background of the moon. Each ships spins into position like a '73 Dodge Charger throwing an interplanetary bootlegger in a Dukes of Hazard episode. I rewound and watched this sequence several times, it's that good.
Down, down the ships go, coming to a rest in an open area about a hundred yards from each other. From each ship is lowered a "Lunar Hover Tank", a large moon buggy, well-armed and armored and equipped with both treads and hoverjets. The model is wonderfully realized, and you can really believe that such a vehicle is scientifically and mechanically possible. They are armed with a laser gun in a bulb turret and have a double-jointed twin crew cabin. On the bad side, they seem to have silver hub caps (!!!) and when they hover the tension on the model's tracks is too slack to look natural. The two asteroid buggies from Armageddon are rip-offs of this design, as are some of the vehicles in the Space:1999 series. They also kind of look like Mars One or Science One vehicles from The Morrow Project. If you can get that last reference then I will give you a dollar...
None of these are the Moonbus.
The crew don spacesuits with exterior oxygen tanks and large helmets. On the helmets are each person's job title, such as "Gunner" or "Radio" or "Chief". For some reason, the nine-letter word "Commander" is shortened to "Comdr" but the nine-letter word "Navigator" is written on the helmets entirely. Also strangely, these are written in English, as are a lot of the signs and instrument labels in both the SPIPs and the Hover Tanks, showing us how international this mission is.
The nifty spacesuits.
They leave one man in each spaceship (along with Iwomura tied up in a chair), while the other fifteen men head off in the Hover Tanks. They're heading in the direction of the suspected alien base, which they detected from space from telltale electronic emissions. The trip through the rocky landscape of the moon is dangerous and nerve-wracking for them. They eventually switch to hoverjets as the terrain gets too broken for treads.
Back in the SPIP-1, Iwomura awakes from unconsciousness to find himself tied up. The Voice In His Head tells him that he has to get himself free and sabotage the ships. Like Houdini, he manages to wiggle his hands free a bit and untie the knots with his teeth. Free, Iwomura sneaks up on the one crewman left behind in the ship, crawling slowly up ladders until he reaches the control cabin. He smacks the poor guy on the head with a pipe wrench (!). He then sets a charge or maybe overloads the engines or something, causing the ship to explode later offscreen. Before it blows up, we see Iwomura stumbling out of the SPIP-1 in his spacesuit and heading for the second ship, urged on by the increasingly annoying Voice In His Head. Jumping ahead, when the alien base is later destroyed, the signal stops and he can overcome the alien mind probe before causing any damage to the second ship.
Back to the expedition, they have to continue on foot as they are worried about the big Hover Tanks being spotted by the aliens. So eight of the men (including the two commanders along with Etsuko and Katsumiya) disembark and head off on foot, the other seven men stay with the Hover Tanks. They cross the rocky moonscape and eventually locate a tunnel through the side of a crater. Once through the tunnel, they come out high up on the crater's edge.
They are not too surprised to see that in the floor of the crater sits a shiny metal alien base! It looks like a big roulette wheel with a spinning half-dome on top that emits multicolored lights. It makes beeping and whirring noises and hums with mechanical menace. This is clearly what they have come to find.
The alien base.
Ok, so they send Etsuko back to the Hover Tanks to tell them to bring up a Heat Ray Gun. What, no radios? Maybe they didn't want to be detected. As she works her way back through the tunnel, however, she is surrounded by about a dozen small spacesuited aliens! These are about four-foot tall and make chirping and beeping sounds like R2-D2. They harass Etsuko, but don't actually cause her any harm.
Now these little aliens have their faces covered up, so we can't tell if they are Mysterians, but I would have to say no. I'm totally guessing here, but I say that these little guys are "slave labor" of a sort, doing the Mysterian's menial work, or perhaps acting as janissaries even. They seem to be drone-like worker bees, with not a lot of intelligence, totally unlike their high-tech masters who have built a space fleet. Where did these little guys come from? Were they kidnapped humans? Genetically engineered laborers? Another alien race subjugated by the Mysterians? Perhaps stunted mutants as a result of the nuclear war the Mysterians waged in the distant past, as related in Earth Defense Force? Who knows, but the possibilities are interesting to think about.
The little dudes assault poor Etsuko.
Katsumiya senses something is wrong with Etsuko and goes to look for her. He fights off the little aliens, who are really as harmless as the three-eyed ETs from Toy Story. To her credit, Etsuko yells that he should forget about her and save himself, but we know he's not about to do that. Finally breaking free, Katsumiya shoots down all the aliens with his laser rifle. I know he had to do it, but it comes across as a bit cold, him gunning down all those defenseless creatures like that.
Meanwhile, the moonbase has detected the remaining astronauts up in the tunnel entrance on the crater wall. A reverberating alien voice tells them they are now slaves and cannot ever return to Earth. The voice then gives them "ten seconds of Earth time to surrender" or be killed. As the countdown begins, Etsuko and Katsumiya show up with the tripod-mounted Heat Ray Gun. Wow, there must have been a whole lot of time in between the scene when they escaped the little aliens and when the base gave them the ultimatum because the Hover Tanks were a long ways away.
So they open fire on the alien base with the Heat Ray Gun. It has very little effect and the return fire from the base threatens to collapse the tunnel and trap them inside. Just when it looks bad for our Earthlings, over the edge of the crater flies the two Hover Tanks! They start blasting away at the base with their guns, covering the team's retreat through the tunnel. Under concentrated fire, the alien base begins to smoke and burn. It finally explodes in a fireball.
Engaging with the Heat Ray Gun.
The astronauts pile back into the Hover Tanks and take off for their spaceships. A number of Horseshoe Fighters are in the area and they seek to exact revenge on the humans as they flee. So now we have the two Hover Tanks racing back to the spaceships, being attacked continuously by a total of five Horseshoe Fighters.
The battle is tense and exciting, with laser beams zipping back and forth and explosions galore. The composite mattes here are very well done, with ships passing behind mountains and flying in the background as the Hover Tanks rumble by. Two of the Horseshoe Fighters are shot down, but a laser bolt damages one of the Hover Tanks, rendering it immobile. The men scramble into the other Hover Tank, in this scene trying to fake the moon's low gravity by prancing (!) and high stepping (!) like Dion Sanders returning a punt. As they didn't do this in previous scenes, I suspect that this was one of the first scenes shot and after that they just gave up and decided to walk normally.
The Moonbuses run the gauntlet.
The other three alien ships disengage and finally the Hover Tank reaches the spot where the spaceships landed. They are shocked and dismayed to see that SPIP-1 is now just a scattering of twisted debris, having been blown up by Iwomura. The second ship, however, is still intact.
As they work to get the Hover Tank winched up into the ship's hold, they see that Iwomura is on a nearby rocky outcropping, laser rifle in hand. Four Horseshoe Fighters come barreling in. Iwomura begins blasting away at the Horseshoe Fighters, covering his fellow astronauts' escape. He shouts to them (over the radio, I presume) that he is very sorry for having destroyed the ship but he was under alien mind control. Now he has come to his senses and is determined to give up his life to atone for his actions.
With his laser rifle, he manages to shoot down two of the attackers, but, as expected, a laser bolt finds Iwomura and he is killed. His noble self-sacrifice allows the spaceship to take off and saves many lives. Iwomura's betrayal then redemption is a common theme in Honda's movies, last seen in Earth Defense Force were the scientist Shiraishi had nearly the exact same series of events lead to his noble death. It also echoes Doctor Serizawa's sacrifice in 1954's Godzilla.
Iwomura redeems himself.
SPIP-2 makes the return voyage to Earth without incident, bringing the bad news to the leaders of the planet. While they destroyed the base on the moon, they all realize that it's just a matter of time before the aliens send reinforcements and launch the invasion. In one of those moments that only science fiction can provide, all the nations of the world lay down their petty cultural, ethnic and territorial differences to join forces to defeat the coming invasion.
A new model of small space-faring "scouting craft" is undergoing trials at the moment and the decision is made to arm this model with a single Heat Ray Gun and rushed it into production. We hear that factories around the world are being retooled to make components for the craft, all nations sharing it its design and production. These spacefighters are truly wonderful designs, based on the American X-15 experimental jet with some styling cues from the aptly-named F-104 Starfighter. Unlike conventional jets, these are launched out of silos or from vertical rails, blasting straight up into space. While not totally accurate, for the rest of this review I'll call them "X-15s".
Movie props of the fighters.
There are three major bases constructed for three squadrons of X-15s, one each in Japan, on the Siberian plains of Russia and in the wide open grasslands of Texas. At these places, hardened underground hangers are built to house and protect the X-15s. The Siberian and Texas bases are probably built in the areas of existing ICBM bases, which would lend their radar tracking facilities as well as underground silos and bunkers. In Texas, I vote for Dyess Air Force Base west of Dallas, it would be a perfect fit for the X-15s. Each squadron carries the flag of its host nation and I think the pilots are also locals.
We see that Doctor Immerman is at the Siberian base, perhaps acting as advisor to the Russians. Doctor Immerman is played by 48-year old Harold Conway, an American actor living in Japan. The character of "Doctor Immerman" is a carry-over from Earth Defense Force, though in that movie he was played by George Furness. Immerman was changed to DeGracia for some reason in The Mysterians, perhaps because it sounded too Germanic. His role in this movie dovetails into my sequel theory nicely.
The fateful day finally comes when the Mysterians again give it a go. A large force of ships is detected in space headed for Earth, comprising eleven Horseshoe Fighters escorting one large "Mothership". This Mothership is probably four times the size of the smaller fighters and shaped like a conventional flying saucer. Clearly, the Horseshoe Fighters are going to try and keep the human defenders off the Mothership. From the bases in Texas, Siberia and Japan, units of X-15s are thrown into the air. They form up in space and the battle is set. The editing is choppy, but based on what we can see, there are 23 X-15s engaged, three from Russia, five from Japan and fifteen from Texas.
The alien Mothership and her escorts.
Battle is given at 5,000 kilometers above the planet's surface. It quickly degenerates into a dogfight melee with both sides in a free-for-all of zapping lasers and nifty flying. The editing is quick and the music is rousing, with so much going on in every shot it's like the final space battle in Return of the Jedi. Sure, there are some reused shots, and others that are clearly just run backwards, but it's still an exciting battle sequence worthy of the film's title.
There is actually some strategy employed by the Mysterians here. Six of the Horseshoe Fighters stay with the Mothership while the other five race ahead to form a screen against the incoming X-15s. The covering battle is fierce, and two of the Horseshoe Fighters are destroyed. Four X-15s are also lost, two of them American and the other two of unknown nationality.
The Mothership and her escorts have now broken through the outer screen and are headed for Earth. The Mothership launches three "space torpedoes", which are reuses of the guided missile footage from before. The controllers on Earth retask some of the X-15s to chase down the space torpedoes and kill them. We see that the intercept attempt is not entirely successful. One torpedo plows into the water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, demolishing the span.
Next we see that the Mothership and five of her escorts (where did the sixth one go?) have now entered the Earth's atmosphere and are racing towards Tokyo! It hovers over the downtown area and a wide blue beam is emitted from the bottom. This is the vaunted "freezing ray", though a much stronger version that what the Horseshoe Fighters carry. We get some truly great shots of entire city blocks in Tokyo crumbling and being lifted into the air. Cars, buses and trams, as well as people are caught up in the maelstrom and lifted up to their deaths. A building with "Benrido" in English on the front gets special attention from the camera. Another, ironically signed "Cinerama" also takes a beating, maybe a little stab at Hollywood?
Sucking up Tokyo.
Finally, Japanese X-15s arrive over Tokyo to defend the city, one of them shooting down a Horseshoe Fighter in the clear blue sky. A pilot soon informs headquarters (and us) that they have destroyed all the Mysterian ships except the Mothership and one single Horseshoe Fighter. Hmmm...a lot went on offscreen, eh?
These last two enemy ships are now "30 degrees north of the Space Center and seven miles high". The Space Center is defended by a battery of large beam emitter dishes, which look and act like the Markalite Guns from Earth Defense Force. As the ships approach, the guns open up. The Horseshoe Fighter is disabled and falls into a hanger, exploding in a cascade of fire and debris. The Mothership survives only seconds longer, blasted into fragments by several hits. Yeah!
Atomic Heat Cannons.
In the headquarters there is much rejoicing and whooping. The invasion attempt has failed, the aliens defeated...at least until The War in Space from 1977, also known as Battle in Outer Space II.
And that's the end. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Written in May 2005 by Nathan Decker.
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