Is Godzilla a monster or a hero? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks the giant prehistoric star is a complex character with lots of internal conflict.
"Look at Godzilla and Rodan. They seem to resent us for leaving them behind."
With all the sequels, it's worth noting that the original Gojira, which saw the first appearance of the monster better known as Godzilla, was a somber allegory about the atomic bomb with tough moral decisions about a new weapon as its centerpiece.
You won't find that kind of depth in Invasion of Astro-Monster, released by Toho and Genius Entertainment on DVD, but you will find that the movie gets the same deluxe treatment seen in Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece. Both the original Japanese version from 1965 and the reworked American version from 1970 are included here, along with commentary and features.
What does Invasion of Astro-Monster have to offer? It's one of three Japanese movies to star American actor Nick Adams, and it boasts three—count 'em—three monsters: Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. It's also the first Godzilla movie to use the plot device of alien invaders.
Facts of the Case
"In the year 196X, a new mystery was born in the galaxy. It was the appearance of Planet X."
As astronauts Fuji (Akira Takarada, Godzilla: Final Wars) and Glenn (Nick Adams, The Rebel) head for the mysterious planet, inventor Tetsuo (Akira Kubo, Throne of Blood) is working on a device that, essentially, just makes a lot of noise. Still, there's a buyer: Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno, Godzilla: Final Wars) from the mysterious World Education Corporation.
When the astronauts arrive on Planet X—then the tenth planet, now the ninth since Pluto was X'ed out—they're taken to the leader, the Commandant, who tells the two astronauts that the planet's people live underground because of attacks by Monster Zero. The astronauts recognize the flying three-headed creature with laser-beam breath as King Ghidorah. They can't offer industrial-strength mints, but the Commandant has an idea: "We wish to borrow Godzilla and Rodan." The astronauts are surprised, since leaders of strange new planets usually ask to borrow a cup of sugar first, but they take the message back to Earth and the leaders there agree—in return for a cure for cancer.
The astronauts are suspicious of their new interplanetary friends, since they've noticed that Planet X lacks water and colonization of Earth might solve that problem. Their suspicions are soon confirmed as Godzilla and Rodan return to Earth (under control from the X folks) along with Monster Zero, a.k.a. King Ghidorah.
I've previously reviewed two of these loving DVD treatments of the Godzilla series from Toho: Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece and Godzilla Raids Again. Each of those movies, in its American form, had been severely altered, so the original Japanese versions were a new, improved experience. The American version of Invasion of Astro-Monster stays fairly close to the Japanese original, since the movie was a co-production. There are small changes; the cure for cancer becomes a cure for all diseases, for example. The American voice actors also sound a little hammier. Still, the two versions are similar enough that the Japanese original is more of an option for purists than a different experience. It's nice to have both so you can pick, though.
Invasion of Astro-Monster has a fun, whimsical feel to it. Just look at the way the space backdrops also turn up in a space-themed Tokyo restaurant. Planet X itself looks absolutely phony but still that Jupiter painting in the backdrop looks swell. The defeat of the aliens is amusing rather than violent. There's also good chemistry between Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, and Akira Kubo. Even Godzilla's march music, once somber, is reworked into something upbeat. While the budget isn't anywhere near that of a modern action blockbuster, the actors take it just seriously enough, so it's light without being ridiculous. Really.
The emphasis is on the war between the humans and the aliens, so the monsters seem to get shorter shrift than in other Godzilla movies. The battle on Planet X is most fun, capped with Godzilla's victory dance, but is also the most truncated. Still, there's a lot going on, so the monsters won't be missed too much.
One secret of the co-production is revealed in the Japanese trailer: Nick Adams speaks English while his co-stars speak Japanese. In the English version, we hear his lines and everyone else is dubbed, while the Japanese version dubs Adams's lines. Adams gets typical, angry, young action hero lines like "You rats! You stinking rats! What did you do to her?" and "In defense of Earth, we're going to fight to the last man, baby." It looks like he's having a ball with these lines, baby. The actors interact well enough that I thought Adams was speaking Japanese when I watched the original first.
The color picture doesn't show many signs of age, although there's some grain in the stock footage. The movie was always on the loud side, so it has no problems coming across on this DVD.
The main extra is a commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV. He takes Invasion of Astro-Monster seriously for the most part, and Galbraith shows off his knowledge of the Japanese cast and the movie's history. There was so much information here that I wanted a booklet with an essay on his key points so I could take it all in. There's also a biography of Tomoyuki Tanaka, a poster gallery from Japanese theaters, and a stills gallery. These extras are good, but way too short. Couldn't they have thrown in a few American posters, at least?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Toho did a recut that concentrated more on the monsters for a children's matinee re-release, the commentary notes. While it's mostly harmless, this was all-ages entertainment rather than strictly for kids, so there's a bit of kissing and romantic talk. And yes, some bright kids might realize that there were people in those buildings that Godzilla smashes, even if they're not shown as in the first two movies in the series.
The subtitles were accurate for the most part, but one scene has a reference to "a fling saucer." Why couldn't someone make that alien invasion movie?
Invasion of Astro-Monster can't match Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece, but it isn't trying. By 1965, the series had gone in a new direction of light entertainment with hints of modern blockbusters.
In his commentary, Stuart Galbraith IV asks whether today's young viewers would love Godzilla as much as earlier generations did when seeing them on drive-in screens or TV late shows. I'd guess yes. For those of us who did see them on TV while growing up, I'd say it's not just nostalgia. Invasion of Astro-Monster's still fun, and movies that mix giant monsters and alien invaders don't come along every day.
Not guilty. This monster movie's no zero.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV
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