Wednesday, April 23, 2014

INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (1965): 30 Days of Godzilla


aka. Monster Zero
aka. Great Monster War
aka. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero

Space. The final frontier. These are the adventures of the kaiju Godzilla. His 60-year mission: to beat the ever-loving hell out of giant rubber monsters. To boldly go where no giant radioactive lizard has gone before. Today, Godzilla goes into outerspace for the campy and colourful romp: INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER!

So begins the campy era of Godzilla films, but you know what? It starts off with a top-notch sci-fi adventure, so quite your griping! Invasion of Astro-Monster was released in 1965 in Japan but not until 1970 in America where it was released on a double bill with War of the Gargantuas. Despite being firmly entrenched in camp, Invasion of Astro-Monster is one of the best Godzilla movies of its silly period. Featuring whizzing UFOs, spark-barfing rockets, men in bright orange and red spacesuits, aliens who dress like members of DEVO, and an outer space rematch between Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah on Planet X, Invasion of Astro-Monster has everything you'd expect from a family friendly sci-fi adventure film of the era. Backed by thee high-key yet endearing performances by Nick Adams and Akira Takarada as heroic Earth astronauts, Invasion of Astro-Monster is only spoiled by a few elements. One of them is the fact that Godzilla does this:

We're really through the looking glass now.
On a mission to explore the newly discovered Planet X, Astronauts Glenn Amer and K. Fuji (Nick Adams and Akira Takarada) discover the planet is inhabited by a subterranean race of technologically advanced humanoids called the Xians. The Xians hide under the planet's surface because Planet X is under constant attack from none other than King Ghidorah, whom the Xians refer to as Monster Zero. The Controller, the leader of the Xians (Yoshio Tsuchiya), asks the humans for Earth's help. In exchange for a Xian drug that they claim will cure all diseases, the Xians want Godzilla and Rodan transported to Planet X to fight off King Ghidorah, the terrible three-headed dragon of destruction.

When a kaiju comes along, you must whip it. Whip it good.
Earth blindly goes along with the plan until -- surprise! -- the Xians betray the Earth and threaten to destroy all of humanity with the three monsters, which are now under Xian mental control, unless Earth surrenders immediately. This is a key plot point that we'll see recycled several times throughout Godzilla's film history such as in Destroy All Monsters (1968). Since Godzilla's now being branded as a hero, much of his urban destruction is explained away as a product of mind control or some other kind-friendly motivation. 

Baby, I swear I'll never destroy Tokyo again.
Luckily, the Xians are not a modest race. They boast to the world about how they control the monsters using magnetic waves, which gives Earth's scientists enough time to find a way to disrupt the mind control. Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah are unleashed on the Earth and whoop it up with some good old fashioned city-stomping, but once our heroes are able to disrupt the waves, Godzilla and Rodan join forces to beat Ghidorah into submission. All three monsters fall into the sea. King Ghidorah emerges to fly back to outerspace but Rodan and Godzilla remain under the ocean's surface until their next adventure.

If you're a Godzilla fan, you're hearing this sound right now.
At the end of the day, I really like Invasion of Astro-Monster. I love its candy-coloured vision of futuristic space travel, it's ridiculously "mod" alien wardrobe designs, and the camaraderie between the cast. It balances camp with a sincerely enjoyable sense of care-free science fiction whimsy. However, the plot is a muddled mess. The Xian plan makes no sense anyway you look at it; if the Xians were already infiltrating Earth and had the power to control all the monsters from the start, why go through the whole ruse in the first place? The climax is also ridiculously convenient. Finally, the monsters only fight twice -- once on Planet X and then once on Earth -- and each time the fights feel far too short compared to the epic brawls in Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster. And Godzilla dances. I can't forgive that. That's just beyond the pale. How the mighty have fallen.


Tomorrow on 30 Days of Godzilla, we follow Goji from space to the surf where he and Mothra will join forces to take on the colossal crustacean and horror of the deep Ebirah. Come back tomorrow for 1966's GODZILLA vs. THE SEA MONSTER.

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