Friday, May 28, 2010

UFO Ep3: Flight Path

Moonbase Alpha? Not exactly, but conceptually this design would gain greater traction for the more sophisticated outer space cinema of Space:1999 post-UFO. This is the scrappy little, low maintenance Moonbase.

It's bloody well FAB FRIDAY! It's time for a taste of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson goodness.

We can all agree kids are insightfully funny with their keen abilities to see things for what they are. They break muddled things down and deliver some of the sharpest, simplest, most concise truths. They deliver us facts that sit right before our very adult eyes, yet fly right over our heads. Case in point, the Boy Wonder says during the opening credits of UFO, "Wow! They have all that high tech stuff, yet they're still using typewriters." I just laughed. Can you believe that? I hadn't paid that any mind at all. Yet it was right there before my very eyes at the start of every episode. Kids are so very clever and so very funny. Still, leave it to the typewriter to lend an air or element of TOP SECRET sophistication. There is indeed a general sense of intergalactic danger and excitement and somehow the typewriter serves the purpose of delivering that atmosphere in UFO's glorious title sequence. The opening credit sequence ranks right up there next to Space:1999 and Thunderbirds' openings. Composer Barry Gray's opening themes also speaks volumes about the mood of each series. There's something a little lighter, more colorful about the UFO sequence, which speaks to the vibrance and semi-transitional nature of UFO to Space:1999 from Thunderbirds. Space:1999's opener is darker, more mature with a fit of energy that speaks to the exhilaration of the mystery and adventure in each of that series' episodes. All themes are classic.

In the forest a man stumbles. A UFO radiates green within the woods. The man makes his way to a vehicle. The man's name is Dawson, a Medical Technician for S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters. He reports in, but something is seriously awry as he sweats profusely and exits the forest dwelling. We're about to find out more as UFO, Episode 3, Flight Path hits the tarmac ready for launch.

On Moonbase, a man named Paul Roper prepares for his return to Earth. Back on Earth Roper is contacted via car phone and he indicates to the unidentified caller that he won't play the game. Roper is clearly involved in something potentially nefarious. He refuses to cooperate until his wife, Carol, is threatened within the conversation.

Back at his home, his wife, a complete British babe [played by the appropriately named Sonia Fox] far hotter than Paul deserves, lives in fear as her home is violated by an intruder. A short time later, Roper arrives at his home, but is fired upon by a rifle as he is a perceived intruder. The assailant is his wife who is frightened beyond words following events that transpired minutes earlier. Double-agent Roper makes contact with the unknown entity and agrees to help following the threat upon his wife's life. Roper lives in a beautiful countryside home complete with the classic thatched roof. I love those thatched roofs! What an art form. Roper's wife is cute as a button. Does she come with the country house too? Sing it Blur!

Roper heads back to S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters to meet with Dr. Doug Jackson in medical. The camera pans to another medical technician who appears to be the enemy infiltrator. Roper is hooked up to some of Jackson's testing equipment. The series of tests generates "positive" and "negative" responses. Roper sweats profusely. What they determine is not made clear. This is a quality exchange between Roper and Freeman thanks to two genuinely fine actors.

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Boy, I was wondering the same thing earlier. Freeman clearly suspects Roper is on edge for a reason. Commander Ed Straker meets with Colonel Alec Freeman to discuss the results of Roper's test. He is considered a "risk." "The man's a mess," declares Straker. Freeman is surprised to hear this about Roper whom he's known for years.

After an evening out, the Ropers return home in their future car. His wife swears she spotted someone in the bushes. Roper escorts Carol into the house. Whilst parking his super cool car, though it really should be a different color for an Anderson show. I mean brown? Still, I liked brown. He is contacted by car phone whereby Paul recites a series of coordinates. In a splendid little twist, the conversation is picked up by the stranger in the woods. The stranger turns out to be none other than Alec Freeman.

Roper is returned to S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters where he undergoes questioning by Straker. Straker is always played brilliantly by Ed Bishop who is hard-nosed, determined, gutsy yet sympathetic when required. This is a terrific moment capturing Straker in action.

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It is clear Straker will stop at nothing in his quest against the UFOs and, in his mind, utilizing Carol, the apple of Paul Roper's eye, as a pawn may be necessary. Straker determines the information delivered to the enemy by Roper was information even Roper didn't fully comprehend. Roper had simply memorized the data and delivered it. Straker checks in with the lovely Lt. Gay Ellis to determine if SID [Space Intruder Detector] has come up with any information regarding the data provided by Roper. Why was SID never just blown clean out of the sky by the UFOs? Gay [I love the name Gay] indicates the information provided is some kind of navigation course, a trajectory of sorts, for something to plot and steer. Straker wonders if it's a flight path for UFOs, "but to where?"

Straker wonders about Roper's contact. "Who was on the other end of that phone?" He suspects the mole is inside the base. Straker alerts all personnel that Roper will be freed in one hour. Straker's intention is to draw out the infiltrator. The Commander presses Gay to keep working on the figures [because hers is just fine]. Freeman escorts Roper to the exit. Roper offers his surprise and an acute observation regarding Straker. "He's not exactly the forgiving type."

Peter Gordeno: I'm not an actor, but I play one on TV. Straker learns Freeman released Roper prematurely. He's either really pissed or a really good actor. Straker alerts all defense systems and alerts Skydiver and its crew of fish-netted [yes, they wear fish nets] soldiers. Interceptors are launched. Mobile Units including SHADO Control are enemy-ready. I'm still uncertain how tough these units are considering a single laser can blow them to smithereens based upon the results of UFO, Episode 2, Computer Affair. Captain Peter Carlin is contacted and Sky 1 is launched. Sky 1 takes to the sky. The Boy Wonder calls it "awesome." It's like a slightly modified and updated, olive-green version of Thunderbird 4. It's growing on me. Unfortunately, apart from the Mobile Units, I'm just not terribly jazzed by the craft designs in UFO. The contrast of the drab, militaristic colors in the vehicles is stark to the sometimes bright orange and pinks that populate the series. It's an interesting mix that I'm warming up to. A UFO lifts off from the Earth surface.

This is a truly timeless, very impressive stunning effects shot and mindblowing to this day. Roper is located, but before Carlin can reach him the UFO destroys his vehicle and Roper along with it or so it would appear. Straker is once again disappointed.

Elsewhere, Roper is just badly hurt, not killed as first suspected. How on Earth did he survive? Meanwhile, Carlin destroys the UFO while piloting Sky 1. Roper is recovered, but in a bad way. Freeman checks on him. Despite their deep friendship, it's clear Straker and Freeman are often at odds on how to fight their enemy. These two are a pleasure to watch when they share screen time.

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Not only could it cost Roper his life, but also his wife. I enjoy the juxtaposition of the two war-time philosophies in play between Freeman and Straker. It's indeed a war of attrition, and like political differences, it offers proof that men and women can disagree, but still find common ground through friendship and goals.

Men are sent to check on Carol Roper. She sits in fear in the quiet of her home. This time she's not defenseless. She grabs her trusty rifle. She's now a frightened, rifle-packin' hottie. Without even determining who was entering she fires and hits a man square in the face. That's surely a bit of a gamble. She could have been firing upon her beloved Paul, but the strange man is not to be her ill-fated lover. The man struggles and reaches for his space weapon. The weapon appears to be not of this world. We see a close-up of Carol's hand and the sound of gun fire. Has Carol met her maker?

Straker continues his analysis with assistance from SID and the ladies of Moonbase regarding the coordinate data. Freeman reports to Straker that Dawson has died. Freeman indicates a tiny, electronic probe was found on medic Dawson. The probe was inserted into his temple. "I think the picture is almost complete" ponders Straker. Straker suspects the attackers will follow Roper's flight plan coupled with heavy sun spot activity at just the right juncture - sunrise on Moonbase. Once again Straker lays down the gauntlet that he's in charge and if need be a command decision will be made.

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Some of the elements from the scene described sound awfully familiar. In fact, they sound a whole lot like Space:1999, Episode 10, Alpha Child and a sequence described exactly as such. Upon further reflection, Roper offers to make up for his seditious ways. It would appear Carol is indeed dead, but Straker withholds the information from Paul Roper for strategic purposes. This says alot about Straker's mission and willingness to go to the wall and see the big picture through.

On Moonbase, Roper requests if Gay would establish a phone link to his wife Carol. Gay insists it will all be sorted out upon his return. Roper heads out onto the Moon's surface complete with rocket launcher. Again, very reminscent of a similar sequence later used for Alpha Child.

Last of the Marlboro Men: It wouldn't be UFO if there wasn't time to share a fag. Roper heads out into the cold isolation of dark space on the Moon's surface in preparation to take out an incoming UFO. Why Paul? While this unfolds, guess what time it is? It's fag time! Yes, it's time for a pack of smokes! Straker and Freeman light up. The UFO is right on schedule. Roper loads his launcher. It's unclear why a few well-placed Interceptors couldn't be ready to strike if Straker knew where to plant Roper. Perhaps the UFO would have picked up the Interceptors. I'm also not exactly sure why Roper is qualified to handle the rocket launcher. How is that? He's much more a computer geek than a military man or weapons handler, but we're never entirely clear on his role. These are a few minor flaws found within a fairly entertaining, dramatic Flight Path. The UFO itself is like a toy top you might spin on your kitchen floor. All in all, the set and costume design is outstanding on UFO. I love the efforts that went into the production work by Sylvia Anderson and others involved with the show. The design work is pure, original, unforgettable, eye-catching invention for a television series of this era.

The otherworldly-sounding UFO target comes into view and Roper fires. He misses. He reloads. Roper tries once again and it's a direct hit. Unexpectedly Roper reports he's losing air. A slight tear in his space suit has placed his life in jeopardy. A Moon Hopper is sent out to save him. Roper tries to seal the hole in his uniform, but the resulting UFO explosion has created a life-threatening slit. Roper begins to fade. He requests that Straker be informed that he has evened things up. His final words utter Carol's name. With a symbolic, visual pop of the space glue sealing his uniform, Roper's fate is instead sealed and Roper fades away in the quiet of space. Paul and Carol are together again. The credits roll.

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This is a splendidly mature ending for a series out of the gate and in the shadows of Thunderbirds, which, of course, did some amazing moments like this with puppets. It's a powerful finale that adds to the strength of Flight Path. Its conclusion is remarkably bleak and eerily prophetic of the vibe of Space:1999 to come. It also stands to reason why Straker made the difficult decision of not informing Paul Roper of his wife's demise. It is both, strategic and sympathetic. Straker had little interest in breaking his heart unnecessarily until the mission was completed if he even managed to survive it. Straker knew the odds and also needed Roper focused. It was a smart, command decision even if we're uncertain why Roper would be the selected candidate for the mission. Ed Bishop straddles the line of hardened, tough commander and sympathetic leader like no other. His performance offers a complex and fascinating character study. Straker is a man of conviction who knows this is a war with casualties and people will die. This decision was very much in keeping with his character to date. Roper, to a degree, gave his life unexpectedly but ironically reunites with his wife.

FAB Issue 72 took a long, hard look at Flight Path in its popular retrospective segment Timelash. Certainly many noted the strong, tortured, personal performance by guest George Cole, as Paul Roper, as the real highlight, but most also noted the poor pacing of the series early on. Andrew Garratt said it seemed the creators still had not “decided yet exactly what kind of series UFO is going to be.” Simon Birkbeck had some interesting observations on Cole offering “somehow he looks uncomfortable on screen” complaining of the “Beatle fringe” style. Could that look of discomfort simply be Cole’s style? Birkbeck also saw Sonia Fox as “unbalanced” in her performance as Carol Roper.

Regarding the sheer power and emotion of that ending, which of course does boast a strong one if one is willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the moment, a few writers would beg to differ and with good reason. Paul Craddock wrote, “I’m… not convinced by the logic behind the episode’s climax, powerful though it is. Sunspots or not, is the only possible defence of Moonbase really one man with a bazooka? If that truly is the case, why pick a nervous wreck who isn’t a weapons specialist and is recovering from injuries sustained in a very nasty car crash?” Tough when logic gets in the way. David Rawnsley pointed, “Why on Earth does Roper volunteer for a suicide mission…? If he doesn’t know his wife is dead he has every reason to live and Straker can send someone who’s a better shot! Of course, if this had been one of the later episodes old Ed would have gone out there himself and shot the sucker down!

On the other hand, Nigel Handwell enjoyed this earlier installment that seemed true to the “hard-assed boss” character motivation that was Straker who handled business from his office. Handwell wisely indicated the producers must have realized Bishop was “absolutely magnetic as Straker” as if finally recognizing “what a leading man they had in Ed.” Moving him out of the office “shooting aliens and chatting up girls” was essential. He also called Roper’s interrogation “weirdly effective in a Big Brother/1984 way.” Other comments noted the weapon used as “the original BFG” and the unfortunate status of this early “deskbound” Straker. How about Flight Path as “very British sci-fi, very bleak”? One likened the episode to “a poor man’s The Cat With Ten Lives.” One person wrote that they believed the ending should have included Ed Straker yelling at Henderson, “You have millions of pounds of equipment up there and you defend it with one man who is a known traitor!” He does have a point even if Cole’s character was under duress at the beginning of the episode. That, in and of itself, should discount his candidacy for the mission.

On the whole, many felt Cole was the real highlight of this vintage UFO entry offering a stellar guest performance whilst supplanting the then under-established regular cast. Despite the strength of Cole’s performance as Paul Roper, the casting does seem slightly mis-matched with his sex kitten wife Carol Roper. The reviews were clearly mixed then and remain so today and thus UFO is clearly still making efforts and strides to get the balance right at this point in the game. Speaking of the Ropers and their marital relationship, A Question Of Priorities would take equally mature subject matter entirely to the next level and do so in spades.

Flight Path closes with an unexpectedly atmospheric and mature closing. Based upon this evidence, UFO appears to be headed on the right flight path going forward, but as I said, still making its way. Perhaps Ed Bishop said it best in Fanderson fan magazine FAB 53, "I think that if I were to make any criticism of UFO, I would say that they didn't do a lot of pre-planning and there was a lot of making it up as we went along." Certainly UFO weathered some of those changes as a result of some fine performances carrying the day when material may have been weak. Strong performances by Bishop, Sewell and this entry's guest, George Cole, keep me believing that the off-beat world of UFO could really deliver some solid entries once it got off the ground.

Flight Path: C+. Writer: Ian Scott Stewart. Director: Ken Turner.

This image is taken from FAB 48 and presents Antonia Ellis and George Cole in a scene that never made the final cut of Flight Path. Special Guest: George Cole [1925-present]. British born. Cole turns in a terrific performance for Flight Path. You'd never know it, but Cole is actually better known for a British comedy drama called Minder [spanning 1979-1994] as a crooked used car salesman.

The Cast: [Where Are They Now?] [Part Two: The Babes].

Gabrielle Drake [1944-present]. British India born. Lt. Gay Ellis. UFO, Episode 16, Kill Straker!, would be her final appearance on UFO. She is absent from six of the first sixteen episodes. She appeared in There's A Girl In My Soup [1970] and Au Pair Girls [1972]. I love au pair girls! I knew many whenn I was younger and they were all little sex kittens - Austrian, German, English. It's easy to see why Drake would make a perfect one. Drake is ultimately, hands down, the show's full on sex kitten with a brain! Here's a brief commentary about Gabrielle Drake's contribution from Gerry Anderson himself extracted from the Fanderson-produced UFO Documentary.

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This image is from the pilot episode, Identified. It would be Wanda Ventham's only appearance until her return in Episode 19 when she ironnically replaced George Sewell with whom she shares this scene. Wanda Ventham [1939-present]. British born. Colonel Virginia Lake. She makes her first appearance in Episode 1, Identified. She surprisingly disappears from the series and doesn't reappear until Episode 19, The Cat With Ten Lives [written and directed by David Tomblin], for the final eight episodes replacing Actor George Sewell. Ventham is arguably the hottest chick on the series next to the stunning, petite Gabrielle Drake.

Dolores Mantez [1938-present]. Lt. Nina Barry. The exotic, sexy Mantez appeared in twenty-three of the twenty-four episodes of UFO. She also appeared in Doctor Who.

Ayshea Brough [1948-present]. British born. Lt. Ayshea Johnson. She was a singer, model and actress. She had her own program called Lift Off With Ayshea followed by an unsuccessful recording and singles career.

Antonia Ellis [?-present]. British born. Lt. Joan Harrington. Ellis apeared in Casino Royale [1967] and a couple of sex comedies. Its easy to see why. Speaking of ultra-hot chicks like Drake, Mantez and Ventham, Antonia Ellis was interviewed in FAB 48 where she hit the nail on the head as far as how the women were presented in UFO. They clearly drove the boys crazy and they damn well knew it. This is also in line with what I found to be slightly heavier facial make-up in this entry. "We had long purple false eyelashes to match the purple wig and we had rhinestones attached to our temples." She added, "Us three girls all looked rather good I have to say. We were all young and great-looking and the uniforms were really rather stunning. We actually had good bodies to show and those costumes actually did show them but it was great." GULP! Yes Atonia! They were great! You looked great! Lt. Gay Ellis grabbed a piece of the real Antonia Ellis for her TV name. Antonia really is quite a heavenly body herself on UFO.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gigantis, The Fire Monster

"In the U.S., its distributor came up with the spectacularly stupid idea of chaging Godzilla's name to Gigantis: The Fire Monster, a decision that limited the film's commercial potential.  As a result of all this, Godzilla Raids Again has always been a somewhat overlooked entry in the Godzilla series." - Steve Ryfle, Japan's Favorite Mon-Star [p.62]-

Author David Kalat really goes to town in uncovering the problems with the American version of Godzilla Raids Again named Gigantis, The Fire Monster. The problems are many and it's comical. Four big ones are noted.

First, Kalat points to the excessive narration throughout the film. He calls it "endless and unnecessary" going so far as to say "one could recommend this film to the blind." The narration also removes one of the strong points of the Japanese original. The haunting and "ominous" mood of the original entry has been completely eradicated by the voice overs.

Second, Kalat discusses the removal of the musical score by Masaru Sato. As a fan of original music, I really hate when they mess with the score. A fine example would be the USA release of Ridley Scott's Legend altering the original Jerry Goldsmith score in favor of Tangerine Dream. Akira Ifukube does not return following Gojira until King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962]. In the interim Ifukube does work with Director Ishiro Honda elsewhere including Rodan [1956], The Mysterians [1957], Varan The Unbelievable [1958] and Battle In Outer Space [1959] just to name a handful. In his place, Toho turned to Masaru Sato who was a talent in his own right even scoring works for Akira Kurosawa. US distribution removed the compositions of a man who would score other films from the Godzilla Showa era including Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep [1966], Son Of Godzilla [1967] and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla [1974]. What a shame Godzilla would be so misunderstood overseas by its distributors it would feel the need to alter a score. Why any foreign film's original, completed vision is altered from its original form is a mystery. Having said that, many of the films brought to American shores did introduce me to my love of Godzilla and my affection for it, despite such shortcomings. It was enough to maintain my love affair with the series and the iconic big lizard for a lifetime. I'm certainly accepting of dubs too, as long as the original soundtracks are maintained separately. Speaking of dubs...

Third, Kalat notes an atrocious dub provided for Gigantis, The Fire Monster. The voice over work, while noted as talky, is provided by Star Trek's future Hikaru Sulu, George Takei and the man who would be Hanna-Barbera's Yogi Bear, Daws Butler [1916-1988]. Butler was also the voice behind Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound. It's "hard to take the proceeding seriously." For many from my generation, as a result of growing up with a steady diet of both series, it is difficult to accept this version of the film.

Finally, the translation of the clear, concise Japanese script is turned into a nonsensical mess of relative gibberish. Kalat provides a segment of that translation from the film and believe me, he's not wrong. It is atrocious. Kalat points to the prevailing "condescension" of the translation and the lack of "scientific plausibility." It is a shamefully haphazard muddle.

Kalat concludes the original Japanese film was about "life during wartime, about the struggle to find courage during a crisis, about love, about putting normal life back together again." Oh, and about getting a Godzilla franchise off the ground. You forgot that one. Be sure to see the original and just about anything by Hanna-Barbera.

Gigantis, The Fire Monster: D+

Director footnoteMotoyoshi Oda [1910-1973].  Oda's one contribution to the Godzilla series is Godzilla Raids Again, or Gigantis, The Fire Monster as it was known in the USA.  Oda is generally discarded as a "studio hack" according to Steve Ryfle in Japan's Favorite Mon-Star, but he gets a bum rap because Godzilla Raids Again mostly succeeds.  Ryfle considers Oda's concentration on the human element for his characters as nothing more than "sappy stories."  This component is a welcome variation on the Ishiro Honda original.  In the end, Godzilla Raids Again is a better film than most people give it credit.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Godzilla Raids Again

Men in rubber suits plunge into the ocean. An exciting moment from the second official Godzilla feature.

"Critics routinely approach the Godzilla movies expecting to find little of value... In fact, many books on science fiction films perpetuate inaccurate plot summaries of Godzilla movies." These are the words of Author David Kalat from his terrific book on all things Godzilla, A Critical History And Filmography Of Toho's Godzilla Series [1997]*.
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Truer words have rarely been said about Godzilla. Not unlike the critical reception of such series as Space:1999 or the original Battlestar Galactica, the Godzilla series has often been much maligned. Yet, there is much to appreciate about this series, like the others, that is often overlooked in favor of towing the perceived critical party line amidst peers within the business. This is why, as The Sci-Fi Fanatic out here on the blogosphere, I feel it is my obligation to take a thorough and fair look at these sorely slandered works. The wonderful Godzilla films have often been given the same treatment by a host of talking heads that nary giving the films any kind of genuine analysis or treatment. I'd like to think, like Kalat, I'm here to give them the fair shake and respect they deserve. Kalat extensively discusses the double-standard that exists for some science fiction monster movies versus those same styles that were presented in the Japanese kaiju eiga pictures. These writers or critics trade in hypocrisy, but must be called on their often shameless roasting of our beloved classics. The writers who arrive at their favorable conclusions regarding these often classic works are often discarded as fanboys, but the fact of the matter is their conclusions are often supported by well-documented facts and detailed, logical analysis that completely remove the arguments of those devodi of such efforts. Those who would merely deliver a hurried, cursory, superficial and essentially purposefully damaging review of a work that deserves better for the purposes of meeting a deadline are the ones who should be exposed. These same nostalgic gems often rise head and shoulders above their American counterparts. At the very least they belong on the same playing field.
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Like Godzilla, the creation of Anguiras would be an equally iconic beast within the Godzilla franchise.
Godzilla Raids Again [1955] is the second film in the Showa Series. It acts on a number of levels as a bridge film between Gojira [1954] and the monster smackdown concepts officially established in King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962] throughout the films of the 1960s and beyond. It is also in black and white like the original, and would be the last Godzilla film to be filmed this way. I've never actually seen this particular Godzilla film. This one flew under the radar and never got the same play stateside as the later Godzilla films. King Kong vs. Godzilla and those that followed were the films that managed to make heavy rotations on Creature Double Feature Saturdays in the USA. I enter it, unlike many of those ornery critics with an axe to grind against Godzilla and its Japanese filmmakers, with an open mind and a general adoration for all things atomic-breathing.

In a rare instance, Director extraordinaire Ishiro Honda would not return for this sophomore effort. It would be a brief departure for Honda who would return for the third film and beyond of the Showa Series of pictures. Director Motoyoshi Oda would take the reins for round two following in the footsteps of a Japanese classic. How does Godzilla Raids Again stack up? For starters, it introduces the concept of the monster versus monster paradigm. Anguiras is the first deatured enemy of Godzilla. The film begins a longstanding relationship with Anguirus. Anguirus, while an enemy here, would become an ally of Big G for years to come following Godzilla Raids Again.

The second and final installment in the Godzilla Showa series to be filmed in black and white begins with a pilot in a small plane radioing to headquarters. K105 has spotted a school of Bonitos. The pilot flirts with the girl in dispatch discussing their planned get together later. Another pilot, K104, is having engine trouble. He's going to crash down onto Iwato Island. K105 is heading to find Kobayashi, pilot of K104. K105 spots the downed plane K104 and Kobayashi waving.
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There aren't many black and white films, Japanese or American, that I can't enjoy. There is something comforting about an old picture.
Despite the absence of Ishiro Honda, it is notable that Director Motoyoshi Oda brings another beautiful, crisp cinematic effort to the emerging Godzilla fanbase. On the rocky outcropping, the two men sit by a fire laughing. Kobayashi learns he will have to thank what he terms the "two annoying girls" in dispatch. Without warning, the classic roar of Godzilla arrives along with a variation on that roar, Anguiras, that is representative of the first of many creatures to come within the Godzilla franchise. Godzilla is spotted tussling with another creature on the island. The two men can only assume it is Godzilla. The rumble between the suitmation actors is sped up on film slightly and looks slightly bizarre. [See Kalat's explanation in the additional commentary portion at the end of this entry]. It almost appears as if the creators were attempting to create the illusion of stop motion animation. As rocks crumble around the men, Godzilla and the as yet identified creature fight! They land themselves straight into the ocean and the two men survive.

Back in Osaka City at Police Headquarters the two men thumb through pages of dinosaur books to identify what it is exactly they witnessed. Takashi Shimura returns as the expert witness and paleontologist that is Dr. Kyohei Yamane. The men discern the facts and indicate the hydrogen bomb testing woke Godzilla [a different one, since the other one died in Gojira] and a creature that appears to be an Ankylosaur. This creature, according to the Japanese dinosaur guide book, is also referred to as Anguirus. This information comes by way of a well known Polish zoologist. No polish jokes allowed. Anguirus facts: 150-200 feet tall, carnivorous and speedy. One of the so-called experts in the room, based on the information of just two men, has somehow deduced the following: "I am afraid to admit it, but it must be Anguirus." That's a pretty complex deduction fella, but I know we have to get this movie moving.
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Dr. Kyohei Yamane [Takashi Shimura] returns.
The men turn to Dr. Yamane for solutions on how to defeat Godzilla. He offers them nothing but bad news. Dr. Yamane indicates to the men that he will show them footage on how Godzilla destroyed Tokyo. What kind of film would that be? Live footage? Self-made documentary? Folks, welcome to the shortcut. Dr. Yamane actually exhibits clips from the original Gojira film. Dr. Yamane has somehow contacted Director Ishiro Honda for the exact same shots Honda filmed. Incredible. The employed stock footage from Gojira proves conventional weapons are no match for Godzilla. It's this kind of shortcut that harms a feature film. It's made clear that all Serizawa knew died right along with him including the Oxygen Destroyer. The room sits silent around a board room table and watch Gojira. Following the Gojira recap, Dr. Yamane proclaims, "Killing Godzilla is hopeless." That's not exactly the kind of inspiration they were hoping for. The men ask of this new Godzilla's existence. Dr. Yamane feared there would be others and proposed such a possibility in Gojira. In Doctor Who, doctors can die, regenerate and wah-lah, new Doctor Who. In Godzilla, as long as the oceans remain endless there can always be more. Dr. Yamane fears this is bigger than "nuclear weapons." They must attempt to predict the "landing area" of the two monsters. Yet they can't do much to stop them. Go figure.

Dr. Yamane indicates Godzilla has a weakness. Lights. He suspects the lights anger him bringing back "memories of the hydrogen bomb testing." The film clearly retains much of the Japanese anguish once again ilustrating the psychological make-up of the people. After all, Godzilla Raids Again was only made a short time after Gojira. This film, more than any other, shares the thematic ties and general vibe found in the 1954 original, but the familiarity and less compelling tale fail to deliver a winner. Yamane insists a blackout be enforced in Osaka [and you thought Tokyo was always under feet] and lights be planted to lure Godzilla away from the city.

The pilot, Shoichi Tsukioka, and his would be lover talk. It's another love story developed in the shadow of Godzilla. He tells her it was quiet on Iwato Island. How do you figure? The man was there for all of five minutes before a brawl was unleashed and rocks began caving in on his head. He must be joking. Soon they will go dancing. These human element and subplots would become an integral part of the Godzilla franchise.

The score is notably solid by Masuro Sato in the absence of revered Composer Akira Ifukube. It captures the drama and intensifies the feeling behind the search of the ocean expanse for our two missing creatures. The mapping of Godzilla's route indicates he is headed for Kii Strait. He is expected to make landfall in Southern Shikoku. The Japanese fear Godzilla will impact their access to the ocean's bounty.

Later, while Tsukioka dances with his girl, Hidemi Yamaji, an alarm sounds. WHAT LUCK! Godzilla has altered course and is headed straight for Osaka Bay. The blackout will be enforced. People are asked to exit calmly. Of course, the reverse occurs as people are panic stricken everywhere. Thanks to the events of Gojira, these people know what Godzilla can do. It was funny to see the lights go out. Not only did the building lights go out, but at the exact same moment all of the driving car lights switch off too. Wow, that's electrical control for you.
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That's not the Scottish Loch Ness Monster.
Meanwhile, tanks roll in. Don't these folks know tanks don't work, especially traditional, conventional ones? The man in the suit arrives - Godzilla. It's actually quite ominous as his head slowly emerges from the water and he moves closer. Flares are dropped in the hopes of luring Godzilla away from the city.
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Evacuations are under way. If they have learned anything from Gojira, it's get the hell out of dodge! So, I give the filmmakers credit for getting Japanese residents to think logically and get to safe areas. It would have been a shame to simply repeat the chaotic disarray of the first film. The flares appear to be working as Godzilla turns sweeping a lighthouse from its perch with his massive lizard tail. He begins moving back toward the ocean. "We are all right now." OH! You had to say that! Did you just say that!? It's a cardinal rule to never jinx yourself like that. I suspect they won't be "all right" for long now. Elsewhere, Tsukioka has delivered Hidemi safely to her father's home, perched high on a hill side. Hidemi pleads with Kobayashi and Tsukioka to take care of her father. There is also a lovely connection between the paternal father figure and the female daughters to date. Japanese culture normally portrays a healthy respect by women for the father and this is illustrated here. At Mr. Yamaji's factory, all quietly rejoice Godzilla is exiting Osaka Bay. Their fishing industry will not be harmed as first anticipated.

Meanwhile, on an open road, a prison transport vehicle is overtaken by several prisoners. The men escape and are pursued by four police officers. One prisoner is shot, a couple captured, some escape. I'm assuming it can't end well for these boobs since they are prisoners. These side story adventures become a regular portion of the later Godzilla adventures. You get the feeling these escapees may become an Anguirus taste treat.

Kobayashi and Tsukioka come upon two officers who jump in their vehicle. They are asked to follow a commandeered truck. The vehicles all make their way to a fuel refinery. That should make for some grand explosions. While on the run, the prisoners crash through a barricade and their truck explodes. This in turn forces several oil tanks to explode. Fires begin to rage. Fires equal bright lights. Bright lights equal monsters. Monsters equal destruction. All of this equals bad news. This won't be good.

A crunchy faced Godzilla spots the fire, turns, gives the classic Godzilla roar and its game on! Godzilla makes landfall and the Japanese military unleash an assault that would devastate a stampede of velociraptors, but not Godzilla. It's humorous to see the wee little model tanks and the plastic figurines standing next to them open up a can of sparking, fiery, whoop-hiney. Now it's only so long before Godzilla gets tired of the disrespect and fires back with his ace in the hole, the atomic breath, or as my Wonder refers to it, "Atomic Breathe yeeaahh!"

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Enter Anguirus. Welcome to the party pal. The suit actors really don't get enough respect. I mean, shouldn't these poor fellows who have the most gruelling of jobs be listed in the cast credits? Perhaps there's a desire to stay away from shattering the illusion of real monsters in battle, but these guys deserve a little love here and it's hardly a secret. Haruo Nakajima returns to the Godzilla suit for Godzilla Raids Again and would continue to do so for many years to come. He is the king of suitmation. The second man is Katsumi Tezuka. He plays the part of Anguirus and is another primary player in the suitmation wars. More on both of these amazing people later.
*
Godzilla looks a bit like Goliath from a popular Sunday morning kids program called Davey & Goliath.
As the two creatures battle Anguirus goes for Godzilla's jugular like some kind of crazed Pit Bull. The speed, again, is filmed at a different rate taking much of the realism found in the original film Gojira out of the battle realism and bridging us closer to some of the action sequences we would see in later films. Slow motion is more effective with Godzilla films and the rare shot in this film proves that out. Godzilla releases destruction on the city, but his frosty, atomic breath seems more like a distraction to Anguirus having little affect.

Mr. Yamaji sees his fish cannery in flames and dreams fade from his heart. From Mr. Yamaji's home, his daughter Hidemi watches the flames and smoke from afar with sadness in her heart. The image is definitely an allusion to the atomic mushroom clouds of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Bikini Atoll.

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The suitmation also improves going forward. Three more prisoners run around seeking escape, but are trapped by the feuding beasts. They decide to take cover by heading underground into the subways. Water floods into the underground and it's a fairly impressive sequence as the men are drowned by the resulting carnage. They inevitably die indirectly at the hands of the monsters. The military retreats.

It's easy to see why Anguirus would one day become an ally with Godzilla, because there is an almost playful rivalry between the two here. It's more playful than hatred in nature and Osaka is there playground.

You'll note slow motion would have been far more effective in Godzilla Raids Again. It was a poorly conceived idea to go in this direction. As Godzilla munches on Anguirus' bleeding neck, the end grows near.

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Well, that takes cares of that. Godzilla is King Of The Monsters once again. "The battle of the century is over." Godzilla returns to the sea. Images of Osaka's devastation once again recall the images of Tokyo from Gojira and once again recall the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Mr. Yamaji's factory is wiped out, but he will rebuild he tells his colleagues. It is a statement that resonates with the concept of the postwar reconstruction following the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Kobayashi and Tsukioka inform Mr. Yamaji they have looked for Godzilla, but cannot find him. Yes, it's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack for the big fellow. Seriously, the ocean is vast and it is hard when he lives under the sea. Mr. Yamaji indicates the Hokkaido branch will become the base of operations. This is a great example for not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Kobayashi is a complete airhead. He doesn't care what happens as long as he can keep flying. I love this brief bit of human interaction between some of the primaries. It's a cute, light moment.

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The film takes us to some beautiful shots of Hokkaido and captures some picturesque snow falling. Mr. Kobayashi is a card. He's extremely amusing. The film also captures some of the formula noted in David Kalat's book regarding the reformulated love triangle prototype established in Gojira. We have a man and woman in love and a third comedic party as represented here by Kobayashi. The third party is generally not the straight man and lends some other aspect to the dynamic of the three-way relationship. But the individual is not the cliched, typical third party lover in the triangle. Kobayashi flirts with Hidemi to bring that element into the mix, but nothing more substantive. So the search continues for fish and Godzilla in some pretty frigid temps.

Later, Kobayashi alludes to a secret for Tsukioka and Hidemi to be determined later. The three arrive at Yayoi Restaurant. Kobayashi surprised Tsukioka with old college friends from the flying corps. They all sit around for a traditional Japanese dinner. There's something so warm and inviting about Japanese dining around a floor with shoes off. I absolutely love that aspect of Japanese tradition. The company party rages while Tsukioka has a small dining party of his own with his old friends in a room downstairs. The dining is interrupted with a report that the company's 2nd Mizukomaru has sank. The fun ends abruptly and the search is on again. These searches do go on a bit long. The film could have been cut by five minutes.

A Godzilla figurine is found in a canyon.
Hidemi, Tsukioka's lover, requests he return home due to inclement weather. She definitely fears for him as a result of their relationship. She demands he return home immediately, but he refuses angering her. Hidemi gets over it quick enough. Kobayashi pays a visit and asks her what girls want. She begins to smile and Kobayashi takes notes and you should too. Handbag. Watch. Stockings. Handbags are particularly good guys. Keep that one handy. Tsukioka spots Godzilla and Kobayashi heads out to assist. Hidemi urges him to be careful. He promises he will return so she can help him pick a gift for his secret girlfriend. Kobayashi enjoys playing the secret game. He leaves his wallet behind for Hidemi to leaf through. I'm uncertain if the photo in his wallet is a picture of Hidemi or if it is a picture of someone entirely different. It's not entirely clear, but he may have secretly loved Hidemi. In the photo, the girl appears to have a traditional Japanese school uniform on and it may be a photo of her from their days in school together. I don't know.

Godzilla is headed for icy Kamiko Island. "Prepare to attack with bombs!" Alright! Here we go. Well, not quite, Kobayashi and Tsukioka have a bit of fun waving to one another from their planes. The mood is quite different in Godzilla Raids Again. Amazing what a different mood a few months can generate for a sequel. Military men with the civilian pilots' assistance plan a strategy to trap Godzilla inside the island. The plan includes fire and more fire with an extra touch of fire.

Kobayashi flies over the island, "That bastard!" The Japanese Defense Force Air Squadron is called upon to attack. The aerial shots of Godzilla on the island show Godzilla standing still like a plastic figurine, because it is a plastic figurine. The Boy Wonder enters the room, "Is that Godzilla? The doll!" Freakin' hysterical! The air force bombards Godzilla with bombs. It's not working because it's bomb-resistant Godzilla. Kobayashi commits suicide in a heroic kamikaze run generating an avalanche. The air strike continues bombing the ice and Godzilla becomes partially buried beneath it, but did Kobayashi really have to die for this to happen? No.

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Hidemi reports to her father that Kobayashi will not be returning. She walks away in tears. The men return to base to regroup, reload and commit a new plan using waves of rocket missiles in a dangerous strafing run at Godzilla. Meanwhile, Godzilla is semi-trapped in the ice and some of the military quickly roll out barrels of fuel below his location from a boat. I love this shot of Godzilla's eyes. The eyes of any creature say so much. A moment like this really captures the anthropomorphic caharacteristics that began to be attributed to Godzilla.

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So the men attempt to stave off Godzilla's exit into the ocean by igniting the barrels and creating a temporary firewall. The planes arrive and the attack commences. Godzilla breathes a bit of fire and takes down two more planes, but the ice burial continues. Unfortunately, this Godzilla lacks the unstoppable intensity of the Godzilla found in the original. Godzilla scraps one more plane with his atomic breath and scraps another with his hand. You're flying way too low there brother. The ice shelf is hammered with rocket missiles endlessly. It's a bit tedious after awhile.

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There are many similarities here, but Godzilla Raids Again lacks the complete, satisfying singular vision the original embodied in Honda's hands. And that's all she wrote for Godzilla [for now]. Tsukioka has a pensive moment to conclude an otherwise avergage film and rather abrupt ending. I can only imagine Actor Takashi Shimura was more than happy to have just a brief part in this one. Godzilla's howl is classic in this entry with a few minor gutteral embellishments added to his growl and that about describes this entry's build n the original. The dark ferocity of the original is absent, but Godzilla does raid again, like it or not.

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One thing is certain, while this was a competent exercise in Godzilla filmmaking, it felt familiar. It was certainly a damn sight better than the additional American footage cut for Godzilla, King Of The Monsters. It does continue to setup the formula for Godzilla going forward. Godzilla Raids Again was definitely an excuse to rush the big guy back into cinemas for a bit of fun and a bit of money making. The big saving grace here, and the freshest element, was the monster on monster smackdown with Anguirus that would be copied ad infinitum into the future. The disappointment is that it could have been handled so much better during filming. Where was the prolific Ishiro Honda when you needed him?
*
Godzilla Raids Again: C+
*
Writer: Shigeaki Hidaka/ Shigeru Kayama/ Takeo Murata
Director: Motoyoshi Oda
Time: 82 minutes
USA title: Gigantis, The Fire Monster

Additional commentary that I found interesting comes by way of Author David Kalat's book, A Critical History And Filmography Of Toho's Godzilla Series. One of his sources indicates Director Ishiro Honda felt Toho had no plans to expand Godzilla initially. Honda recalls, "We had no plans for a sequel and naively hoped that the end of Godzilla was going to coincide with the end of nuclear testing." You can't blame the studio for grand ambitions. Seriously, such a belief seems a bit naive. Godzilla Raids Again arrived very quickly following Gojira. It smells a bit fishy.

Still, bringing back Godzilla didn't appear to be an issue for Toho. Kalat compares Godzilla Raids Again's arrival to the "rush job" of Son Of Kong [1933], which rushed out following King Kong [1933]. This is a perfect analogy. Godzilla Raids Again followed Gojira months later as well. Kalat notes Godzilla Raids Again "suffers" from Honda's absence. He also points out this film and Godzilla vs. Hedora [a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster] are the only two films in the Showa series not directed by Honda or his successor Jun Fukuda. It's certainly worth a look.

Kalat gives a nod of approval to the Special Effects work of Eiji Tsuburaya, but does point to some obvious weaknesses I mentioned. The action sequences between Godzilla and Anguiras are sped up to the point of comical. Kalat indicates Gojira was filmed at a "higher frame rate." Godzilla Raids Again was filmed at a "lower frame rate" than normal "decreasing the realism." One point of interest for fans of suitmation is that the Godzilla suit mold used in this film is strikingly similar to the one utilized for Gojira.

Speaking of similar, unfortunately "the story appears to retread Godzilla." This a great point. Sadly, there isn't alot Director Oda can do. The script really doesn't venture off from some of the aspects found in the first film, but lacks the dark "terror" and the overall urgency of the first film's political climate. There are also a great many light-hearted exchanges thanks to the Kobi Kobayashi character and as Kalat puts it, it takes us out of the "tension." It's true this character is far more likable than any character found in Gojira as far as light antics go. Gojira is played straight, hard and heavy. Godzilla Raids Again is a step back from the severe tones of the orginal in favor of something far less motivated by socio-political currents, which exist to a lesser extent.

Kalat calls the characters that populate this installment of Gojira as "infernally cheery." In Gojira, the characters were "eaten up by personal demons." Despite the short production break between this film and the original, there is definitive feeling of distance between the two films emotionally illustrating the mood or temper of the Japanese people or lack thereof. If reconstruction is suggested in the aftermath of the monstrous smackdown between Aguiras and Godzilla, the impact on the psyche here in Osaka is quite different from the mood found in Tokyo. Still, Gojira was an all out commentary on the state of Japan's victimization following the hydrogen bombs and the testing. Godzilla is a harbinger of that message. In Godzilla Raids Again, Godzilla battles with Anguiras as if to suggest the destruction is an accident resulting from their duel to the death. It's nothing personal. They're just a couple of dumb, old monsters having at it.

Another good insight, and one I noticed, but didn't mention until reading Kalat's reference to the "shame" of the kamikaze pilots. When Kobayashi sacrifices his life in an act of kamikaze bravery, it is intended to highlight the selflessness of the act. There is an almost samurai nobility to the character's motivations. It definitely felt like an effort to lend a positive light to the concept of the kamikaze sacrifice following the negative historical light cast upon the actions of Japanese pilots on American forces during World War II. It's a minor symbolic moment, but it spoke volumes to me.

Kalat delves into some detail about the differences between Godzilla Raids Again and the US version, Gigantis, The Fire Monster. Some of his commentary is funny. There is excessive narration apparently in the US version. "Every event and character motivation is described in such detail by the main character, Tsukioka, that one could recommend this film to the blind." This, in comparison, to the "haunting moods" of silence found in this Japanese original.

Special Effects Director: Eiji Tsuburaya [1901-1970]. Tsuburaya joined Toho Studios in 1938. Together they worked with the Japanese government on films boosting the Japanese war effort during World War II. Author David Kalat had this to say in his book A Critical History And Filmography Of Toho's Godzilla Series: "Tsuburaya's special effects work during the war consisted of propaganda films, and after the war ended he was so closely associated with wartime propaganda that he was virtually blacklisted." Following a brief departure from Toho, he returned to the fray in 1951. He was the head of the Special Effects department by 1952. Along with Ishiro Honda, Tsuburaya would be considered one of the founders of kaiju eiga. He founded Tsuburaya Productions in 1963 responsible for Ultraman [1967]. His film highlights include some of my favorites Gojira [1954], Godzilla Raids Again [1955], Rodan [1956], Throne Of Blood [1957], The Mysterians [1957], H-Man [1958], Varan The Unbelievable [1958], Battle In Outer Space [1959], The Human Vapour [1960], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Matango [1963], Atragon [1963], Mothra vs. Godzilla [1964], Dogora [1964], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Frankenstein vs. Baragon [1965], Invasion Of Astro-Monster [1965], Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster [1966], War Of The Gargantuas [1966], King Kong Escapes [1967], Son Of Godzilla [1967], Destroy All Monsters [1968], Latitude Zero [1969] and All Monsters Attack [1969]. Like Ishiro Honda, the man's resume is exhaustive. There is much more to his career than what I have listed. I have simply listed those of interest to me. He worked extensively with the masters including Ishiro Honda and Akira Kurosawa. He won a Japanese Film Technique Award for Special Effects for his work on Gojira in 1954. He would win others.

Actor Footnote: Haruo Nakajima [1929-]. The actor behind Godzilla suitmation and considered the "best" man in the suit of all-time. Nakajima would also appear in a handful of films uncostumed, but is best know for his work as the man behind the monster. His films include working with Directors Ishiro Honda and Akira Kurosawa. Seven Samurai [1954], Gojira [1954], Godzilla Raids Again [1955], Rodan [1956], The Mysterians [1957] [Moguera], Varan The Unbelievable [1958], The H-Man [1958], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Matango [1963], Mothra vs. Godzilla [1964], Dogora [1964], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Frankenstein vs. Baragon [1965], Invasion Of The Astro-Monster [1965], The War Of The Gargantuas [1966], Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster [1966], King Kong Escapes [1967], Destroy All Monsters [1968], Latitude Zero [1969], All Monsters Attack [1969], Space Amoeba [1970], Godzilla vs. Hedora [1971] and Godzilla vs. Gigan [1972]. The men behind the suits suffered in suits with no ventilation, little air and severe heat. The men suffered greatly losing cups of sweat at a time, fainting, severe muscular strain and cramping in tight quarters. Nakajima retired in 1972.

Actor Footnote: Katsumi Tezuka [1912-]. A former professional baseball player from Kyoto. Tezuka is the second best man behind Godzilla suitmation. His involvement is a little more mysterious. Gojira [1954], Godzilla Raids Again [1955], Rodan [1956], The Mysterians [1957], Varan The Unbelievable [1958], The H-Man [1958], Battle In Outer Space [1959], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Matango [1963] [Medical Center Doctor], Atragon [1963], Mothra vs. Godzilla [1964], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964]. There is a brief featurette included on the disc entitled The Art Of Suit Acting. Here is an interesting bit.

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* It was interesting to note David Kalat's book was published in 1997, the same year as John Kenneth Muir's Exploring Space:1999. Both are published by McFarland & Company, Inc.. Apparently 1997, was a great year for strong critical analysis for two misrepresented series in Godzilla and Space:1999. Kalat's book is the one in need of an update. Both are exceptional books.