Battle in Outer Space (宇宙大戦争, Ishiro Honda, 1959)

battle in outer spaceIshiro Honda returns to outer space after The Mysterians with another dose of alien paranoia in the SFX heavy Battle in Outer Space (宇宙大戦争, Uchu Daisenso). Where many other films of the period had a much more ambivalent attitude to scientific endeavour, Battle in Outer Space paints the science guys as the thin white line that stands between us and annihilation by invading forces wielding superior technology. Far from the force which destroys us, science is our salvation and the skill we must improve in order to defend ourselves from hitherto unknown threats.

In 1965 Japan is a hit in space. Having launched their first space station, things are going well but after it is destroyed by flying saucers there is cause for concern. The problem intensifies as strange events occur across the Earth with bridges suddenly collapsing, boats being lifted from the sea and the waters of Venice conspiring to drown the town. World leaders gather in Tokyo to come up with a plan but one of the scientists’ key assets, Iranian professor Dr. Ahmed, is possessed by the Natalians via their high-tech remote control radio waves and procedeeds to do their dirty work for them. The Natalians will settle for nothing less than enslavement of the entire planet and have even set up a base on the moon to make it happen! Time to put those shiny new spaceships to good use!

Scientists may be the heroes of this particular story but the scientific basis for their actions is just as silly as your average B-movie. According to our top professor, the Natalians’ anti-gravity shenanigans can be put a stop to by means of a freeze ray – gravity is, of course, caused by the movement of atoms which is impeded by cold hence the freeze ray. A likely story, but it’s the best they’ve got. The other major problem is that the Natalians are able to possess various people and force them to do their bidding, apparently through “radio waves”. Less about the enemy within, the possibility of becoming a Natalian sleeper agent is more plot device than serious philosophical discussion.

Battle in Outer Space is, in this sense at least, one of the most straightforward of Toho’s B-movie leaning SFX extravaganzas. There is little hidden message here bar the importance of international collaboration as the whole world comes together to fight the alien threat – Middle Eastern and Indian scientists are at the forefront of research and Japan leads the charge flanked by Americans one side and Russians on the other.

Our intrepid band of scientists are the vanguard sent to see off the Natalian threat by jetting off into space and fighting them in their own territory. Honda and Tsuburaya outdo themselves with the special effects which are pretty astounding for 1959 making use of large scale models and matt painting. The scientists travel to the moon to look for the Natalians’ base only to encounter them in space and engage in exciting dogfight. Eventually landing they meet the Natalians face to face and discover they are very tiny and sort of cute but also hellbent on enslaving the Earth. Engaging them in a firefight using heat rays and laser guns, the scientists manage to escape but the Natalian threat follows them all the way back to Tokyo. In true Toho fashion, buildings are destroyed and people knocked flying as the Natalians take the city but our brainy scientists have thought of that and so the aliens have a whole barrage of heat ray guns to welcome them to Earth.

Battle in Outer Space might not have an awful lot going on in the background, but it makes up for it with sheer spectacle both in its effects and in production design. The Natalians are a scary bunch, until you actually meet them, but this time science is on our side as the good guys manage to figure out a way to save the Earth rather than destroy it through fear and angst. In the end it is determination and togetherness which finally lets the Natalians know humanity is not a good prospect for colonisation, only by coming together and making the best of their collective strengths is humanity able to triumph over a superior force – sadly a still timely lesson.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Secret Cinema – 3rd June 2012. Prometheus

This Secret Cinema seemed a bit different, in that it seemed fairly obvious all along what the film was going to be. Secret Cinema evidently had quite a big budget with this one – full page ads in The Guardian, multiple websites and promo videos so there was less in the way of clues and intrigue but perhaps more in terms of content. After I had signed up to their website and bought ‘shares’ in Brave New Ventures – apparently some sort of R&D company – I was instructed to choose my career path from the website. I chose to be a ‘Data Scientist’ as it seemed to fit me best (I guess in the end it was more along the lines of a social archaeologist  or anthropologist). Uniforms could be obtained from BNV Stores and I would need a blue jump suit. Dutifully I went down to the store but being on the shorter side my new employers were unable to accommodate me; I bought a badge and found alternative arrangements for the coveralls.

As the day approached there wasn’t as much input from SC as there had been previously but nevertheless it was very exciting. I arrived at the meeting point at Euston Station a bit before my appointed time of 12pm and waited for other people in jumpsuits to arrive. While I was waiting I met Professor Edwards, who didn’t seem know anything about our mission either. Eventually there were quite a few of us there and we were marched up the road to the right and into where the BNV stores had previously been. After an ID check (read: ticket check) and currency exchange (I guess I effectively bought a tiny bit of orange perspex for £10 but it is quite cool), we had to queue up for decontamination (being sprayed with something in the car wash) before lining up at out appointed embarkation gate by order of profession.

Once the gate finally opened I, and the other data scientists, were led off to our section HQ by our leader (Holloway!) where we were briefed about out mission – finding out the origins of man etc. Looking round the room afterwards I was very excited to find a picture marked ‘The Ripley Scroll’.  After that there was some free roaming, I tried going up one set of steps but an alarm went off so I stopped. Going down some other steps I ended up in the cargo bay and got a mission to take a box to the infirmary, which I did so I roamed round there and eventually into the mess hall, crew areas etc. After a while there was a countdown to external shutdown and I was shuffled back to my original gate. I was told to hold onto the flowers while we launched. After that it was into the hypersleep pods! We lay there for about a minute listening to Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place.

After waking we were told to go to the mess hall but on my way David gave me a flower to take for analysis which I did, it was analysed by Dr Boden but she didn’t find anything and gave me a curt note for Holloway. On my way to find him however I was given ANOTHER FLOWER so I had to do the whole thing over again but Doctor Boden said she’d take me to the infirmary to make sure I was OK after the hypersleep.

However when we got to the cargo bay there was a mission just about to go down to the surface so I joined that. I had to put on green overall over my jumpsuit and a helmet (and eat some bread, which was very nice). The planet surface was pitch black so I mostly kept close to the people in front of me and followed the guides, we saw some of those geyser type things, alien markings and some kind of miraculous projection.

I wasn’t really sure what to do after that but just then people started getting ‘sick’, I tried wandering around but more and more areas were closed off because of ‘contamination’ and eventually I found myself herded back into a lift and  back at the cargo bay. Some people were on the floor convulsing and others were tying to help them. I stood on the side as more and more people became ‘sick’ and the BNV staff were obviously upset. Many of them were shouting things like ‘someone tell me what’s going on’ and ‘what’s happening’, ‘we need a containment officer over here’. After awhile of total chaos someone just started shouting to come this way so we followed and were led to the ‘escape pod’ (or screening room) to watch the film – Prometheus!

As a huge fan of Alien(s) this was absolutely fantastic to me, really loved being in the world and and interacting with Weyland-Yutani.The whole experience was just amazing, could not fault it!