Invasion of Astro-Monster

Invasion of Astro-Monster

We finally signed up for Netflix. It took me several days to clear out enough space in my evenings to actually take advantage of this, but at long last it was time for a movie. I had initially planned on starting a new anime series, but instead had a sudden craving to see rubber monsters stomping on cities. Because I don’t know all that much about monster movies, my selection was more or less at random. Something called Godzilla vs. Monster Zero seemed a good choice for the evening, so in it went. The correct title of the movie according to IMDB is Invasion of Astro-Monster, though it has been called a number of things in a number of countries.

I am not a connoisseur of B movies, or of movies at all really, so my reflections on this will lack profundity and insight. It will have to suffice however; I can only hope this is worthy to be my final 2013 Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge contribution. (There may yet be more, but knowing my writing speed lately, I’m not counting on it.) And SciFi this is, in the truest sense of the word, since Toho Studios decided to cash in on two lucrative movie genres: giant rubber monsters and alien invasions. Sitting in on the brainstorming session for this would have been hilarious: “What can we do this time to spice things up a bit? We’ve already had multiple monsters battling each other, and our Tokyo sets are getting a bit bedraggled.” “What if aliens invade while the monsters fight?” “By Jove, you’ve got it!”

So off our brave heroes go in a 60s vintage rocket ship, to Planet X which has been discovered just past Jupiter. Good thing for the heroes that Jupiter is a quick jaunt from the Earth, since they don’t appear to have packed a lunch. Less fortunate is the fact that Jupiter appears to be a carved, wooden disc hanging in a cheap starscape. Let’s not nitpick though, instead getting straight to the aliens wearing, of course, silvery suits, strange helmets, and killer wraparound shades. They had me at hello. The aliens need help with a giant monster of their own, so they ask to borrow Earth’s. This eventually leads to my favorite scene in the movie, where tacky flying saucers hover above a lake in Japan, pull up Godzilla and Rodan with levitation rays, then tow the two off to Planet X.

I really shouldn’t mock this too much, so I’ll mention some positives. The movie does its best to stay science fictional. In spite of the battling rubber monsters and the aliens in funny hats, the heroes are scientists trying to solve their problems in scientific ways. Looking back, this was the single biggest surprise of the movie. Humanity triumphs not because they punch harder or shoot faster, but because people found the root of the problem, applied knowledge and engineering, and in true Campbellian fashion, built an answer. Crazy. I must also give credit to a couple of visual moments. Yes, Jupiter was pretty hilarious when it first popped up, but there were a couple of shots of rockets and monsters on the eerie surface of Planet X, Jupiter looming cinematically in the background, that were striking. I was genuinely surprised at the artistry.

But those were just moments. For the most part, this is unintentional hilarity from start to finish. Bad dubbing, bad acting, cheap effects, massive plot holes, Godzilla dancing a jig, questionable gender messages, the works. The biggest disappointment for me was the relative lack of destruction. Rubber monster fights were sacrificed for story and aliens, so the total screen time of model houses and cars being smashed was disappointingly low. I enjoyed what I saw, but ultimately wished for more. Less talking between people I don’t care about and more buildings being demolished make for a happy movie reviewer. Oh well.

My final recommendation? It’s a solid rubber monster movie. Anyone who likes that sort of thing will probably enjoy this one too. (Fans of Japanese B movies probably already own the Blu-Ray.) The SF elements make it an interesting study, but I wouldn’t highlight this as a can’t miss film. I wish I had the academic chops to put this in a cultural or cinematic context; sadly that will have to wait until I’ve seen a few more. For now, I have to content myself with Mystery Science Theater 3000 imitations instead.

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