Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
As part of its co-production deal with Henry Saperstein, Toho rushed out a semi-sequel to Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster in Invasion of Astro-Monster, an even more juvenile giant monster adventure that adds cartoonish elements to the Kaijū stew. Mothra sits this one out but Rodan and Godzilla are back to tangle with the outer-space dragon King Ghidorah, last seen beating a hasty retreat into the stratosphere. Nick Adams of Frankenstein Conquers the World is back as well, this time playing an intrepid astronaut investigating a mysterious planet 'hidden' behind Jupiter. Simplistic plotting by ace Toho scribe Shinichi Sekizawa keeps us up to our scaly necks in rockets, menacing aliens, perfidious females and plenty of rampagin' rough-housin' rubber reptiles.
Astronaut pals F. Glenn (Nick Adams) and K. Fuji (Akira Takarada) discover aliens living on Planet X. The "Xians" are forced to live underground because the ferocious Monster Zero (that's King Ghidorah to us puny earthlings) has command of the planet's surface. The Xians ask for permission to transport Godzilla and Rodan to Planet X to defeat the three-headed dragon; in the spirit of friendly reciprocity they offer a modest trinket -- a cure for cancer. With the approval of Earth's diplomats, the Xians pack Earth's giant monsters into force-field bubbles and haul them off to fight ... but the trusting Earthmen don't realize that it's all a sneaky plan to use the giant beasts to conquer our planet!
Invasion of Astro-Monster was held up by five years, owing to distributor problems; a year later it was on television pan-scanned and re-titled Monster Zero. By that time the original American kids who grew up with the first color Godzilla imports like King Kong vs. Godzilla were young adults. Kiddie titles like Son of Godzilla, with its little Godzy blowing cute smoke rings, were no longer something that one wanted to be caught watching by other adults. Invasion of Astro-Monster has elaborate effects work on a scale befitting the earlier Toho fantasies and a script that manages some halfway interesting human relationships. But if Godzilla and his pals showed a tendency to act like cartoon characters in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, this time out they might as well be Bugs Bunny and company.
Pulled from hibernation by the Xian's bulbous flying saucers (from this point on Toho spacecraft would become increasingly uninteresting), Rodan and Godzilla float like fetuses inside bubble transporters. When revived on Planet X they scrap like pro wrestlers rented to enliven a county fair. After Ghidorah's quick defeat -- an event that turns out to be a sneaky Xianian trick -- Godzilla does an out-and-out jig to celebrate. All he needs to complete the picture are bagpipes and a kilt. Then the monsters stare forlornly at the Astronaut's departing spaceship. Of course, since Adams and Takarada need space helmets to walk on the surface of Planet X, we wonder exactly what Rodan and Godzilla are breathing ...
About the time the Earthmen discover that the cancer cure is a fraud, the Xians show up with all three monsters. King Ghidorah has actually been their radio-controlled patsy, and now Rodan and Godzilla are zombie slaves as well. The peace rhetoric was just a smokescreen, as the visored Xians are really distant cousins to the Mysterians of Chikyu Boeigun and the Natalians of Battle in Outer Space: scurvy space pirates after our fertile, fragrant Earth.
The interpersonal stories give everyone a problem to solve. Astronaut Fuji is overprotective of his sister Haruno (cute Keiko Sawai). He disapproves of her interest in meek inventor Tetsuo (Akira Kubo) who has licensed his security alarm invention to a mysterious company that isn't marketing it. Astronaut Glenn flips for the beautiful Miss Namikawa (luscious Kumi Mizuno), who he discovers is an employee for the very same mystery firm. As it turns out, the company is a covert branch office for the Xianian invaders, and Miss Namikawa is a cloned Xian babe who pays a price for falling in love. Astronauts Glenn and Fuji work to perfect a ray to interrupt the Xian's monster-control beam, sort of a re-think of Doctor Marvin's levitation interrupters in the old Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. Then we find out why the Xians wanted to suppress Tetsuo's security device: it emits a high-frequency sound that kills any Xian that hears it. This could very well be the inspiration for the finale of Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, sans Slim Whitman, naturally.
The final monster battle is augmented (for the first time?) with stock shots, mainly military action lifted from The Mysterians and nicely preserved and re-framed attack scenes from the 1956 Rodan. The new battle footage has tighter framing and faster cutting than Ghidorah's first outing, and the 'wire choreography' keeping all those heads in motion is pretty good as well. 1
Kaijū fans can't go wrong with Classic Media's Invasion of Astro-Monster. The colorful enhanced Tohoscope picture (why do these packages all say CinemaScope?) has few if any problems and the audio is a delight when Akira Ifukube's upbeat themes are heard. The Japanese version is only a couple of minutes longer than the dubbed American cut, which swaps out a number of music cues. One jaunty march representing the navy in the first Gojira must have sounded too 'Japanese' to American distributors, because it was replaced in Battle in Outer Space as well.
The extras maintain Classic Media's high standards. Dynamic menus take us to a featurette on producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, a trailer and the expected galleries of art and stills. Stuart Galbraith IV's relaxed commentary presents a wealth of information and context, linking the film's cast to other Japanese films and examining the 1965 box office competition for Toho's fantasies. Galbraith also tells the interesting story of Nick Adams's experience as a gaijin actor in the Japanese studio system.
Like the other Toho epics in Classic Media's collection, the disc comes in a sturdy 'Little Golden Book'- style package that saves space on the DVD shelf. But I don't know about that Tokyo- mandated title Invasion of Astro-Monster. We can't tell if Astro-Monster is doing the invading or is being invaded himself.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Invasion of Astro-Monster rates:
Supplements: Commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV, featurette on producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, trailer, still and art galleries
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 13, 2007
1. Tallk about old-time TV viewing misery: Since the Rodan scenes were converted to 2:35 TohoScope by taking a lateral slice out of the middle of a 1:33 frame, they are somewhat grainier than the rest of the footage. But TV prints of Invasion of Astro-Monster had to take that already-duped 'Scope image and pull a 1:33 crop from it, resulting in a really grainy, enlarged mess. When watching Astro-Monster on television, we couldn't tell what some shots were supposed to be. A shot might be Rodan's blurry foot or a corner of his wing.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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