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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Battle In Outer Space

This was the second space alien (non-kaiju) movie by the Ishiro Honda/ Toho Studios team. Battle In Outer Space (BiOS) is loosely a sequel to their first space drama, The Mysterians ('59). BiOS does not re-use the Mysterians, but introduces a new alien threat -- beings from the planet Natal who want to conquer Earth. This was hardly a new trope when BiOS was filmed in 1959, but Toho jazzed up the old story with lots of action. The film included a battle on the moon, a dogfight in space and another battle on the earth. Some traditional themes were integrated too. Columbia Pictures released an english dubbed version in the summer of 1960, along with 12 to the Moon to make a double feature.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The year is 1965. Three flying saucers come to earth. They destroy a big-wheel space station, then cause several disasters. Experts decide that they were caused by an anti-gravity beam. At a UN-like meeting, the Iranian delegate slips away and tries to sabotage the earth's heat ray experiments. He is caught before completing his mission. He briefly takes Etsuko hostage and monologues about Natal making a colony of Earth. The Natalians vaporize him, but forensics find a tiny radio transmitter. The transmissions locate the suspect aliens on the moon. Earth sends two rockets for reconnaissance. En route, Iwomura, a member of team 1, is also radio controlled by the aliens. He is caught trying to disable the rocket's weapons and is tied up. Once the rockets land on the moon, the two teams look for the alien base in tracked rovers. On foot, through a long cave, they find the base in a deep crater. Etsuko is temporarily captured by the midget Natalians. A beam weapon battle erupts as the teams attack the base. Meanwhile Iwomura has untied himself and blown up Rocket 1. He is caught trying to do the same to Rocket 2 when the teams return. The saucers attack. Iwomura, free of alien mind control, stays behind to give covering fire. He dies, but Rocket 2 escapes. Eventually, the saucers and mother ship approach the earth. Squadrons of space fighters (X-15s) are sent up. The mother ship sends 'torpedoes' that hit New York and San Francisco. The mother ship tears up Tokyo with its anti-gravity beam. The X-15s and saucers have a massive dogfight. The remaining saucers and mother ship advance on the Tokyo space base. Large dish beam weapons finally destroy the mother ship. It is a bittersweet victory, but the earth is safe, for now. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Unlike many invasion movies where the alien threat is off camera, BiOS has lots of combat action. The aliens give it a good try and we earthlings do a lot of shooting back. The miniature work is not quite as extensive, but still fun to watch.

Cold War Angle
Most of Honda's movies have a blatant anti-war tone. BiOS is a little different. Honda reuses the notion of the earth united against a common foe, as he had in The Mysterians. The result is more of an encouragement (see what we can do if united?) than the more common dour warnings. There is also something vaguely McCarthyesque about a ruthless enemy "turning" loyal citizens into spies and saboteurs.

Etsuko Grows Up -- Pretty young Etsuko Shirashi and Professor Adachi are characters reused from The Mysterians. Adachi is pretty much his old sagely self, full of knowledge, stoicism and wisdom. Etsuko has grown up from her old fashioned girl role. In BiOS, she is a researcher at the Tokyo Space Center and even qualifies to go on the moon mission. Once there, however, she is still given the traditional "woman's work" of getting captured and needing to be rescued.

Redeeming Sacrifice -- The heroic self-sacrificing character is fairly common in Japanese sci-fi. Here, too, the man has past sins for which he must nobly atone at the cost of his life. Dr. Serizawa, guilty of inventing the deadly Oxygen Destroyer, gives his life to destroy Godzilla. In The Mysterians, Etsuko's brother aids the aliens out of naive optimism. Realizing his error at the end, he sacrifices himself, allows the women to escape and blows up the alien base. The crewman Iwomura is in the same mould. His only way to regain honor is to single-handedly hold off the saucers with his beam rifle. The saucers eventually get him, but his sacrifice allows Rocket 2 to escape. Error atoned for.

New Old Menace -- The Mysterians were a homeless race, looking to make Earth their new home. Rather than bring them back for another try, a new foe emerges. Beings from the planet Natal want to make Earth one of their colonies. By 1959, this is hardly a new trope. A minor twist, is that the Natalians are, themselves, not much of a personal threat. They're just little men in orange space suits without any personal-sized weapons. It's their large-scale technology that's deadly.

They Might Be After Our Women -- A curious scene comes when Etsuko is walking back (alone) to the moon rover to fetch the heat ray gun. A swarm of little Natalians crowd around her and restrain her. Perhaps they were trying to capture her. Poor Etsuko has some magic allure to aliens. The Mysterians wanted her too.

Star Fighter -- Predating the space dogfight scene in Star Wars by 18 years, the squadrons of earth's 'star fighters' are none other than America's X-15. When BiOS was in production in 1959, the first X-15 had just made its maiden flight. As a space-capable rocket plane, it was the hottest thing in space-aviation. Little wonder Toho presumed that Earth would have a few squadrons of them (with ray weapons in their noses) by 1965.

Bottom line? BiOS is yet another aliens-attack-earth story, but with more action. Fans of model cities being destroyed get a triple helping. While not especially thought provoking, BiOS is still an entertaining movie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yes, I love this movie, it's more understandable to west civilisation citizen than japan movies usualy are, it's got great visuals and battles takes place in space and on Moon, not only on our Earth.
I was dissapointed from 50s sci-fi movies I've seen in last weeks: logically, I saw high rated movies first a now I watch others. But last three sci-fi movies of the 50s I've seen, This Island Earth, Angry Red Planet and Battle in Outer Space were really seperb!