Friday, April 26, 2013
Stream-And-Run: Message from Space (1978)
The most awesome episode of Power Rangers you’ve never seen…
NOTE: Netflix is taking down a boatload of titles on May 1st, so I thought it might be fun to see how many I can watch in the next two weeks, and then post quick, little hit-and-run reviews here. Hope you enjoy, and if you want to see any of these movies and have Netflix, better watch ’em now!
Much like Mario Bava, Kenji Fukasaku made a reputation for delivering colorful and imaginative movies on a budget. Of course, the budgets Fukasaku worked with were routinely some of the most expensive in Japanese film history, but the director still achieved something remarkable with his films when compared to their more expensive Hollywood counterparts. Message from Space clearly owes a debt to Star Wars - indeed, entire scenes and characters seem lifted whole-cloth - but aesthetically adheres more to the old days of science fiction, before everything became lived-in and decorated with thousands of model kit parts. The story line is based on the same classic Japanese story that would provide the basis for Fukusaku’s later Legend of the Eight Samurai, and concerns eight warriors called upon to help in an intergalactic war. Fukasaku casts his film with solid regulars like Sue Shiomi, Hiroyuki Sanada and Sonny Chiba, who although doesn’t show up until about an hour in, still owns the screen like a boss. Faring less better are the Westerners, although the thoroughly disinteresed Vic Morrow is kind of fun as the grumpy general who’s still moping from the loss of his robot buddy. The design is an outlandish smorgasbord of popular culture, combining samurai, cowboys, Victorian fashion and Flash Gordon - I especially liked the crazy design of the villains, who look like they just stepped out of an old anime series. The special effects were considered cheesy when they came out in the shadow of ILM’s mammoth work, but still hold their own kind of weird beauty - there’s nothing like seeing a Spanish galleon-styled starship cruising through space. It’s crazy and cheesy and ultimately doesn’t make a lick of sense, but what it lacks in other areas it more than makes up for in sheer energy.
* Also worthy of note: the script was by Japanese sci-fi legend Shotaro Ishimori, who created the hugely successful Kamen Rider series, amongst others.