Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Outlander

Outlander is painted with a terrific look. It's limited use of CGI is just right for a classic science fiction story befitting of the genre's legacy.

I've been attempting to get a look at a science fiction film that arrived out of left field for awhile now. I've had it in my Blu-Ray player for so long it was beginning to feel like part of the player. Growing tired and running out of free time in the evening has its ramifications. Outlander [2008] finally arrived on Blu-Ray this year. It quietly came and went*. That's rarely a good sign, but not necessarily an accurate predictor of the film's value on any number of fronts [direction, acting, story, special effects and overall production value]. The question is, where does Outlander fall? Was the disappearance from limited release fair?

There were a number of factors that immediately drew me to the film. It's science fiction certainly. Hello...McFly!? [Knocking on head] Right. I'm pretty much a sucker for science fiction. I think that's safe to say. I prefer the quality stuff, of course, but I'll take a risk now and again. Outlander qualified as a risk in my book. Still, with sleeve comments like "Beowulf Meets Predator" from the Boston Herald how could I go wrong? Right? Well, sleeve praise isn't exactly safe either. There are plenty of places to go wrong.

I'm a huge fan of the Old English poem Beowulf. I've read the classic many times and I'm a big fan of Grendel and Ma Grendel, Dragon, Beowulf and Wiglaf. So, any element of Beowulf mixed with science fiction certainly grabs my attention. Mind you, straight up interpretations of Beowulf always worry me too. I can't adequately or accurately reflect on the Robert Zemeckis film, Beowulf [2007] featuring the voices of Ray Winstone [whom I love] and Angelina Jolie [not so much]. That film intrigued me, but I never pulled the trigger on it. I've never been a fan of writer Neil Gaiman enough to say that I needed to see it. There's also Beowulf & Grendel [2005] [costumes were even reused from that production here on Outlander] starring Gerard Butler. Butler can be a pleasure to watch [300, Reign Of Fire] as well as a dreadful mess [those damn romantic comedies in particular]. I expected much more from him, but he has made some poor career decisions taking on some appalling material . Finally, there is the loosely based Beowulf [1999] starring Christopher Lambert. One of these days I will need to give a proper look at all of these films, but for my money I've always remained true to the heroic English poem. The original. If I'm not going to see a true classic, then let's place it within a science fiction context. Why not?

So here we are with Outlander dubbed as a mix of Beowulf and Predator [1987]. Predator is splendid genre fun and presents big shoes to fill, never mind reaching the heights of a classic, old English poem. Predator was your classic science fiction monster film and it was so well-constructed by Director John McTiernan it remains infinitely rewatchable to this day. Who hasn't seen that film more than once? What happened to McTiernan? Well, surprisingly he is involved in criminal proceedings since 2006 and that has a tendency to sideline a career. So, if Outlander is filled with the promise of Beowulf and Predator where exactly do I sign up? Mind you, I am worried. Those are two classic, very big, iconic cultural references to throw into a descriptive catch phrase. Somehow, there's a good chance it won't quite live up to those amped-up expectations.

So what else drew me to Outlander? What else would have me defy absolutely non-existent word of mouth [save for maybe FDF's take over at Guardians Of The Genre]? My gut. Yes, my gut, apart from filling it with blueberry pie, spoke to me and said I would enjoy this picture. I do work off instinct regularly and more often than not I can predict whether the film is worth my time [normally]. I have been wr-wr-wr-ong [Happy Days' Arthur Fonzarelli never liked saying it either].

I would have enjoyed a little more of the science part of the fiction.
The other big draw for me was the cast, three in particular. Outlander stars Jim Caviezel and guest stars Ron Perlman and John Hurt. How could this picture go wrong? It came and went in 2008 and as far as I know is still flying under the radar somewhere over Iceland. Ron Perlman is a gem of an actor. I've seen so much with the actor that I love [Sons Of Anarchy, Alien Resurrection, Enemy At The Gates] and some features with the actor that have disappointed [Mutant Chronicles]. The same year Outlander arrived the Mutant Chronicles [Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, John Malkovich] landed as well and neither fared particularly well.

What can you say about John Hurt? The man adds a touch of class to anything he graces. He's legend. Hurt and Perlman even featured together in Hellboy [2004]. Apart from Alien [1979] the man has a massive, impressive resume.
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Finally, it was James Caviezel that closed the deal for me. I had been quietly admiring his work from afar for some time. Next to his wonderfully transformative portrayal of Jesus Christ in The Passion Of The Christ [2004] by Director Mel Gibson it was another film that remains a classic in my film library. Caviezel's performance in the ensemble-driven The Thin Red Line [1998] by Director Terrence Malick was a moving one and one that has remained with me with understated power for many years. The remaining cast members certainly add to the film, but Caviezel was the engine of that film for me. He was the soldier with who I connected most. All in all it's a war classic for me alongside Black Hawk Down [2001] and We Were Soldiers [2002]. Since The Passion Of The Christ [a film success that would be an anomaly in anyone's career] there have clearly been missteps for Caviezel and studio losses may have compounded his problems in retaining top billing in big budget pictures. Director Ang Lee's Ride With The Devil [1999] resulted in an epic that would become an epic financial disaster that followed The Thin Red Line the next year. There have also been some interesting smaller films mixed with some headscratchers. Where Caviezel is going in his career is uncertain, but he has not gained the kind of momentum I thought he might following The Passion Of The Christ. Outlander was one of his many lesser known pictures for which he is becoming known. Some might see Caviezel's moves as curious like The Prisoner [2009] remake. Some might characterize his efforts as taking risks as in the case of The Stoning Of Soraya M. [2008]. Whatever your opinion of Caviezel, he is still making a mark and it was primarily Caviezel's presence inside of a science fiction adventure that called for me to roll the dice.
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Tom Lang of The Detroit News says "Honestly: Best. Movie. Ever." Really? That's not faint praise and it's either taken completely out of context or I'm in for a treat. Somehow I doubt the latter. Either way it's going to speak volumes about Tom Lang. We'll see.

My initial thoughts upon the explosive opening and the landing on Earth in Norway 709 AD of our wayward Outlander were imminently hopeful and positive. The special effect, while maybe not boasting cutting edge, were still beautifully handled. The Outlander's crashing ship reminded me of the expertly crafted opening in John Carpenter's The Thing or the opening crash sequence a la my favorite part of Pitch Black [2000]. It was implemented with a real professionalism and falls somewhere between those aforementioned films in its level of detail. These shots are handled with expert direction by Director Howard McCain and the cinematography, filmed in Newfoundland, Halifax and Nova Scotia, by Pierre Gill is crisp and beautiful. It certainly should given its 47 million dollar budget, a budget larger than Alien [1979], Aliens [1986], Predator [1987], Predator 2 [1990], Pitch Black [2000] and to be more responsibly comparative, Predators [2010] to offer perspective. This genre picture took a massive loss and Caviezel has had his fair share of them. Nevertheless, McCain's detail of the crashing vessel into a lake with fish flipping from the water offers some nice detail often overlooked in big budget Hollywood productions.

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Kainan, played by Caviezel, arrives in a stunning suit of body armor complete with four glowing red lights. Lose the helmet and he fits nicely amongst the Nordic clans. When Kainan activates a variety of technologically-advanced devices set against a backdrop of mountainous nature, the juxtaposition of the two distinctly different worlds is severe and the parallel is duly noted for fanboys. His alien dialect is replaced with that of the Norse language [English] and his first word following the pain of the mental overhaul is "fuck." Speaking of fanboys, we wanted more of this.

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Honestly, a little more of the alien space gun would have been nice though.
Kainan's only friend has been killed. A visible gash across his mate's armor chest plate and flashbacks to a slashed door of his home indicate he has brought monstrous company along for the ride. Now lurking somewhere in mother nature a creature is on the prowl as a result of gaining entry aboard his spacecraft. I'm instantly reminded of that nasty alien queen stowaway from Aliens slicing our man Bishop, played by Lance Henriksen, in half.

Kainan happens upon a carcass of a whale, a popular Viking favorite. He finds he is clearly in a place punctuated by swords against his one very cool alien weapon. A crippled village, splatters of blood and claw marks indicate his alien friend has already been there.

Before long, Kainan is knocked unconscious and brought back to the fortified viking encampment. His alien weapon is knocked loose and flung into a waterfall. This sad moment is marked by tears as the event signals to the audience, 'sorry, it's not going to be that kind of picture.' Damn! That weapon was nifty too. Sadly, we never see that gem again. Further, a portion of the budget must have been spent in the initial few minutes of the picture.

Rothgar, played by John Hurt [a loose interpretation on the King from Beowulf], is in a sword battle with his daughter Freya who refuses to marry a tyrant's son. Ah, those father/daughter days. The late village tyrant's son Wulfric desires Freya. You know the story. Externally, the village that was destroyed belonged to Gunnar [Ron Perlman] and Rothgar prays that whoever did it be discovered soon or war could ensue between the peoples.

Wulfric requests Freya look after the captured "outlander." While disinterested at first, she does eventually come to her senses. He's handsome. She's hot. You know the drill.
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As the village awaits Gunnar's pissed-off arrival, and as Kainan's about to make haste and make his escape, the alien beast arrives, not Gunnar. Without seeing a whole lot of the CGI detail, the creature is a lethal, vicious thing complete with some kind of phosphorescent whip tentacle. It's nasty. I couldn't help but think this is the exactly the kind of genre picture that I'd like to see from Sy Fy, but budgets on that channel are sorely limiting. Kainan knows the creature is in his midst and goes after it complete with a vintage Nordic axe. I'm not sure that's going to cut the mustard or the creature for that matter. Kainan finally catches up to the monster as it makes its way up over the village wall. He hollers to it. "Moorwen!" In the shadows, it's a pretty nifty looking beast with sharp teeth. I fear the CGI may be a bit to quick for my taste and I worry the effects won't hold up in the final analysis. There is nothing worse than unrealistic CGI movements. This brings me back to an earlier point. This is why Outlander, on an effects level, simply won't hold up to the live-action effects employed in a film like Aliens. Kainan is quickly hauled back. Somehow, defying all logic, although it was dark [not enough torches apparently], few actually saw the beast except for those who screamed before perishing. Kainan will be held accountable. As Kainan witnesses villagers weeping over lost loved ones, he flashes back to his homeworld where his own family was slaughtered by the beast.

Given the Earth timeline and mentions of Lucifer, I'm a bit surprised Kainan hasn't been drawn and quartered yet under the mistaken belief he could be some kind of shape-shifting monster or alleged work of the devil. Kainan fills Rothgar and the villagers in on Moorwen. It draws its prey via bioluminescence.

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Kainan can't cut a break. He's brought on a journey to hunt down the Moorwen, but he's also tied at the hands. Freya, who was struck by Kainan earlier, returns to see him off with a vengeful right hook.
As Rothgar and Kainan speak we're left to wonder if Rothgar believes Kainan to be of this world or not. When he speaks of a "ship" I couldn't help but imagine he thought Kainan was referring to a boat from the south or the north, but of this world. Either way, it's played with intentional ambiguity. As the two men speak, despite being of other worlds, they share similar fates and joys and tears due to the ties that bind family as well as their fight against a common enemy. As the men travel through the woods, you are reminded of the band of merry men that were picked off one by one in Predator. Would a similar fate await them?
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Bones are strewn across their journey. Filmed on location in picturesque Vancouver, Outlander does look terrific. With Moorwen staring up at the men on the rocks from the lake just feet below, the men are drawn to screams in the distance. A grizzly bear attacks and the sequence is filmed in such a way as to minimize cost and the need to fully realize the bear. The Outlander's assistance in the battle earns him freedom from his chains.
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Returned to camp, Kainan is slowly going native, dressing as the Nordic do, meeting in the mead hall. He is becoming one with those within his newfound home who have accepted him. Freya is leary, but overhears the tale of the battle with the grizzly bear. She overhears the men speak of how Kainan saved King Rothgar, Freya's father.

Not to be outdone, Writer/ Director Howard McCain even has the Outlander Kainan befriend a little viking boy named Erik as in the mythic Erik the Viking of legendary Norse mythology. There is much testosterone, drinking, yelling, and good old-fashioned, filthy Viking merriment, which steeps the film in the reality of a period piece. Before long Kainan and Wulfric enjoy a bit of fun Viking gamesmanship called shields [to ultimately determine who will win Freya's heart no doubt]. Freya is impressed by the Outlander and surprisingly [without jealous heart] so is Wulfric. But Freya clearly fancies Kainan.

Quickly, the fotress-like village comes under seige from Gunnar's tribe. Blood and violence become the order of the evening. Gunnar, played ferociously by Ron Perlman, is so big and so intimidatingly nasty no wonder the villagers fears him. Yikes. They talk of him often, as noted in the documentary clip below. He is indeed a living legend. With Rothgar pinned down by Gunnar, Kainan saves him [again]. As quickly as it began, it ends. Perlman is spectacular in his extremely small part.

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As if Moorwen wasn't enough to worry about, we've got a big fat Gunnar to boot. Gunnar's men plan a second attack, but things don't go as planned thanks to a little, itty-bitty nasty named Moorwen. The creature takes out all of Gunnar's men. Gunnar, not surprisingly, the big bastard that he is, doesn't back down and strikes at the fiery red creature. It's tentacles like red lightning bolts lashing and creating floating embers from the scorched wood that surrounds them. There is a certain visual appeal to the creature and the location that does work well in placing this science fiction tale within the world of Beowulf. Rothgar fires upon Gunnar and his men until Kainan realizes it isn't Moorwen, but rather a fleeing Gunnar clan. They cease fire and allow Gunnar and his men inside the walled compund from the demon beast. The co-existence makes for an uneasy, unsavory peace, but certainly entertaining. The Outlander makes clear that the beast cannot be killed. It must be trapped and King Rothgar heeds his advice despite Wulfric's penis-heavy appeal to go out and kill it. So outside the fortress walls the men dig a giant hole.

As the men miraculously build one of the deepest holes ever dug, eighth-wonder-of-the-world deep [not really], Kainan requests postholes. "What d'ya need postholes fer?" Kainan replies quite simply, for "Posts." One can glean much from such simple exchanges. Outlander plays it straight up, plays it simple and isn't looking to get too tricky despite a few sound messages. Outlander is a film for the science fiction fan looking for a bit of genre fun. When it's all said and done the men build quite a trap. It's many feet deep with roughly 8 long posts, shields atop, with the hole entirely filled with highly explosive oil. The hole is walled up on every side too. It should do the trick. Should. That super-duper alien weapon would have been nice. Oh well, back to ancient weaponry and post hole diggers.

There's a depiction of the alien lair that is intriguing. It certainly gives the allusion of a Grendel place where the beast eats its prey alive. In one of the film's more interesting backstory moments concerning Kainan and his people he shares his story with Freya. While the tale is simplistic, Kainan describes a people that ruthlessly slaughtered a Moorwen population to usurp their land and their planet by imperialistic force to make it their own. They killed all Moorwen without conscience or consideration of the animals being anything more than cattle. You could liken the tale to the American Indian or any other occupying force through a science fiction lens. The Moorwen planet was decimated by Kainan's race. Kainan admits to Freya "you always have a choice." Kainan is not proud of this one. It eats him everyday and the pursuing Moorwen is there to remind him of his sins every step of the way. The Moorwen, like some avenging angel represents something more than an animal, but a thinking, calculating, hurting creature, a victim of the Outlander lending the beast the audience's sympathy. Having told us his tale I too began rooting for the symbol of Grendel. I couldn't help but cheer for Moorwen. In fact, there was a book by writer John Gardner called Grendel [1989] told from the heartrending viewpoint of Grendel, which was quite sympathetic to the classic tale's villain. If you're a fan of the Old English classic it's well worth your time. This is the case made here too. Sympathy turns toward the beast.

With the snow falling, Kainan and Wulfric plan to lure the beast to its fate. Has Moorwen found a backdoor entry point or is it something more?

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Baby, there's a shark in the water.
With Moorwen at the front gate, could there be two a la Grendel and Ma Grendel? I think so. It doesn't end here and I musn't share with you the fates of Ma Grendel and Grendel or in this case Moorwen and Baby Moorwen. I refrain from offering you the fates of Gunnar, Kainan, Wulfric, Rothgar, Freya and young Erik. I leave the genre fun within your capable hands. There is indeed a strange connection between Moorwen and Kainan throughout the film as if Moorwen is indeed a prescient, feeling creature gifted with something more than sheer animal instinct like us. I don't want to give anything away, but I might have preferred if the film gave us a bit of turnabout is fair play given the genocidal ways of Kainan's people. That's all I'll say. Furhter much was made about the beast's near invincibility. Swords seem an unworthy instrument for battle. Nevetherless, Kainan does indicate they would need "better metal" for their final showdown.

This is clearly a picture that trades ray guns for swords in a Lord Of The Rings styled yarn to tell its tale. The CGI is not perfect, and comparable to the CGI depicting aliens in Pitch Black and potentially an improvement upon that. Also, the production, is comparable to another film that featured a reasonably big cast and ended in financially dismal failure- A Sound Of Thunder [2005]. Big names like Ben Kingsley combined with Edward Burns couldn't salvage a poorly executed sci-fi, CGI disaster intended for the big screen. This is indeed a much bigger cut above with better execution and a reasonably strong effects house. While they can never substitute for the more tangible nasties of films like The Thing, Aliens and The Relic, this is a solid genre picture.

Honestly, this is not the best movie ever. Perhaps Tom Lang was drinking heavily that evening to look past cliche and predictability. Perhaps the sleeve art to Outlander misrepresented his remarks. I can see the Beowulf/ Predator analogy to be sure. There's a gritty charm about the film that reminded me of my experience witnessing Highlander [1986] in a small theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland back in the day. I don't think I'm far off in making that analogy. In the end, not that Outlander has anything to do with Beowulf, in the purest sense, but as a loose interpretation with a science fiction twist, the concept gives pause and I give a mild recommendation. The predator itself pales in comparison to the creation in John McTiernan's film. But, what if the great Old English poems with their outlandish tales of monsters weren't the beneficiary of an extra-terrestrial transport. Why not? Despite time discrepancies, what if Grendel wasn't actually of this world assuming Grendel was not the mythic beast? As Nordic adventures go, it's entertaining and we don't get many of them. When I consider Hollywood's idea of great science fiction [Aliens Vs Predator, Transformers] this is a much more impressive alternative. Howard McCain may someday develop his craft and this grand little film might just be remembered as something of a worthy start to a decent career. Time will tell. The spirit and heart of Outlander is in exactly the right place and it plays wisely within its world, besides I'm always game for a good Beowulf retelling.

Howard McCain actually penned the script for Outlander while in film school [1992] inspired by Beowulf and Viking lore. Director Renny Harlin initially showed interest in making the film. By 2005, Weinstein Company backed McCain. Actor Karl Urban was initially considered for the role of Kainan before going to Caviezel. Despite my greater affection for the science fiction elements Outlander is a fine genre mix. It's ashame no one saw it, because it was clearly a labor of love and they don't often come this good.

Outlander: B

* Telling friends about my latest science fiction viewings is never easy by the way. Normally, when I tell friends about the films I've watched I get the head tilt. In essence, I'm the alien. Outlander was a fine example of that. I would tell them I picked up Outlander and they would say, "wow, that's an old film." I always had to follow that response up with, "No, not Outland [1981] with Sean Connery. This is a recent film with Jim Caviezel, the guy from The Passion Of The Christ who played Jesus." That's normally followed with, "ooohhh" and a blank stare of complete disinterest head tilting back. They really must think I have far too much time on my hands.

The Cast: James Caviezel [1968-present]. Career highlights include: G.I. Jane [1997], The Thin Red Line [1998], Ride With The Devil [1999], Frequency [1999], Pay It Forward [2000], Madison [2000], Angel Eyes [2001], The Count Of Monte Cristo [2002], High Crimes [2002], Highwaymen [2003], I Am David [2003], The Passion Of The Christ [2004], The Final Cut [2004], Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius [2004], Unknown [2006], Deja Vu [2006], The Stoning Of Soraya M. [2008], Nature's Grave [2008] and The Prisoner [2009].

John Hurt [1940-present]. His resume is vast, but for me his career highlights include: Watership Down [1978], Midnight Express [1978], Alien [1979], The Elephant Man [1980], The Osterman Weekend [1983], 1984 [1984], Scandal [1989], The Field [1990], Rob Roy [1995], Dead Man [1995], Wild Bill [1995], Contact [1997], Captain Corelli's Mandolin [2001], Hellboy [2004], The Proposition [2005], V For Vendetta [2006], Hellboy II: The Golden Army [2008] and 44 Inch Chest [2009]. Hell, I'm impressed.

Ron Perlman [1950-present]. His voice work is as impressive as his feature film and television work. Here are some of the highlights: Quest For Fire [1981], Beauty And The Beast [1987-1990], Cronos [1993], The City Of Lost Children [1995], The Island Of Dr. Moreau [1996], Alien Resurrection [1997], Enemy At The Gates [2001], Blade II [2002], Star Trek Nemesis [2002], Hellboy [2004], Teen Titans [2004-2006], Desperation [2006], In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Seige Tale [2007], Hellboy II: The Golden Army [2008], Mutant Chronicles [2008] and Sons Of Anarchy [2009-2010].

Sophia Myles [1980-present]. Her career highlights include: From Hell [2001], Underworld [2003], Thunderbirds [2005], Underworld: Evolution [2005] and Doctor Who: The Girl In The Fire Place [2006].
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DVD Extras: The Deleted Scenes are notable and worth the additional time. There is an extensive Alternate Opening scene explaining how Hrothgar [John Hurt] became king. These scenes offer additional depth into the characters and the film's tone. The deleted scenes are equally entertaining to boot. You'll recall in the beginning two men landed and Kainan's partner, the Captain, died from wounds sustained by the Moorwen. In the deleted scenes, he's actually alive long enough for a decent little sequence. An unfinished, creepy segment where a young boy is lured to the Moorwen's bioluminescent tentacles is as evil and mesmerizing as a bug to a flame. These omissions are noteworthy. Perhaps they were unnecessary, but they are quite good. There is a fine enough documentary called Two Worlds, One Film: The Making Of Outlander [16 min.]. Howard McCain offers some wonderful insight into the realization of his dream and his personal translation of Beowulf within the science fiction context. Creature Designer Patrick Tatopoulis discusses his delightful creature creation. Unfortunately, the discussion does once again confirm my general disdain for CGI monsters. Here's a terrific bit from the documentary featuring Perlman [in perfect comic mode], Hurt and Caviezel.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mysterians

Director Ishiro Honda returned to straight up science fiction with The Mysterians. He also wants your women! So, hand over all of your hot Japanese women immediately!

Just three years after Gojira [1954] and only one year following the release of his latest kaiju-eiga [monster] picture in Rodan [1956], Honda opted for the science fiction jugular. Honda linked kaiju concepts into the world of science fiction for a nifty mix in his classic The Mysterians [1957]. This is the stuff that takes me back to days when all that mattered was running barefoot through the dry summer grass in the warm sun. I was essentially transported to exotic Japanese worlds thanks to the vision of one Ishiro Honda and a kind, local television channel that never hesitated to give us the very best in Japanese cinema monsters thanks to Creature Double Feature.
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Honda took a break from Godzilla for a period, opting out of directing Godzilla Raids Again [1955], but would return with King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], the first of several Godzilla versus smackdowns. In the meantime, Honda dabbled in everything from drama to science fiction in its purest sense establishing the creation of some Toho gems that still stand the test of time. The Mysterians, along with some of his other efforts outside of the Godzilla mythology, are sometimes overlooked, but remain some of his essential best. Matango [better known stateside as Attack Of The Mushroom People] [1963], Battle In Outer Space [1959] and Atragon [1963] are some fine examples.

Prepare for science fiction mystery with Director Ishiro Honda's 1957 classic production, The Mysterians. For it's time, Honda created an imaginative picture riffing on the alien invasion concept. Certainly part of the reason for the colorful classic was the team behind it. Honda largely relied on the same creators who brought us Gojira. Writer Shigeru Kayama returned for scriptwriting chores along with new names Takeshi Kimura and Jojiro Okami. Honda's wunderkind producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, was also on board as he was for most of Honda's work. Director of Special Effects, Eiji Tsuburaya, also returned. Tsuburaya, Tanaka and Kayama all participated on Godzilla Raids Again without Honda at the helm. Music compositions were provided by the returning Akira Ifukube. Three actors from Gojira including legendary actor Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi and Akihiko Hirata also returned. These three actors offered three of the four core perfomances in Gojira. One notable difference here is that the film is in color and for a DVD that certainly doesn't get the treatment one would hope for, it looks terrific.

The sci-fi film would be to some extent risque by today's standards. The back cover art depicting a giant robot mole "destroying everything in its path." It adds, "A dome appears out of the ground and a group of scientists are invited to meet the alien Mysterians from the planet Mysteroid. The Mysterians have come in peace." That's what they all say. There's just one minor little request. "All they ask of humanity is three-square kilometers of land and the right to interbreed with Earth women to repopulate their species." WHOA! That is a mildly significant request not to be taken lightly. It's a near gross premise and one that if remade today might be handled with some controversy. "Humanity declares war on the Mysterians." Grab your popcorn people.

One of the truly wonderful experiences when watching any kind of international film, in this case a Japan import, is to soak in the cultural subtlies or maybe even not so subtle cultural events of song, dance or social life. One of the things I personally love about the work of Honda or films distributed by Toho Studios is the sense of 'being there.' One of my personal goals is to someday go to Japan and get lost in translation myself. In the meantime, films like The Mysterians transport us to places through a medium that offers us the next best thing.

Akihiko Hirata and Momoko Kochi.
As the story begins, we learn Astrophysicist Ryoichi Shiraishi [played by Hirata; formerly Serizawa in Gojira] has broken off an engagement to the lovely Hiroko [played by Momoko Kochi; formerly Emiko in Gojira]. There sure are loads of scientists in Ishiro Honda films. I love that. Pandemonium breaks up the conversation as a forest fire is spotted across the water. Ryoichi runs to it and happens upon three young boys who are determined to put out the raging fire. The fire is burning from the roots upward and is clearly not your typical forest fire. Shiraishi spots something in the forest bubbling from the ground before the camera fades to black.

Kenji Sahara.
The next day Joji Atsumi [played by Kenji Sahara; a favorite of Honda] visits Doctor Tanjiro Adachi [played by Takashi Shimura]. He brings Adachi a report on a star named Mysteroid from Ryoichi. Mysteroid is located between Mars and Jupiter. Ryoichi calls it a mystery asteroid, Mysteroid. Atsumi gets a call that a landslide has occurred near Fuji where Ryoichi is staying. A whole village is swallowed by the Earth, trees and houses fall into the ground. Joji heads to the site.

Takashi Shimura with Sahara.
At the location, radiation was detected the day before, but is no longer present. Devastation is all around. Ifukube's unsettling score really adds to the effectiveness of the sequence. Ryoichi is believed to be dead. A review of a nearby river bed determines floating dead fish coming down stream. With camera in hand, Joji, with assistance from the Fuji authorities, continue his investigation. On a road, smoke smoulders from the police tires, the ground is hot and Geiger readings indicate radioactivity present. A landslide unveils a frightening robotic mole that burrows out of the mountainside. This is Moguera and part of Honda's ongoing love affair with the kaiju-eiga genre. This sequence is a whole lot of special effects fun.

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With the jeep toasted, the men make a run for it. Later, back at the Fuji Police station, Joji learns Ryoichi's sister, Etsuko has arrived from Tokyo. An evacuation takes place. Is there ever a Honda picture where an evacuation doesn't take place? Firemen attempt to put out the fire [well, they are doing their jobs], but Moguera's eyes alight blue and fire lasers causing more random destruction. Evacuations to Koyama bridge continue as the military arrives. The army takes up position in the beautiful hills of Japan. Military men repeat over and over, "please, hurry and cross the bridge. It's the defense line." There's certainly no shortage of running down streets and across bridges in Honda films. Explosives are rigged on the bridge set against a beautiful Japanese backdrop. Flying saucers are spotted by Etsuko and Joji. The battle rages. In typical fashion, the Japanese throw everything they have at the thing except for the kitchen sink and nothing works against its extraterrestrial-generated metallic hide. Moguera makes its way toward the bridge. The army blows the bridge and Moguera falls and ceases functioning. Success.

A meeting is called in a capital building. Joji explains a retrieved part from Moguera proves the monstrosity was not of this world. You actually needed to confirm that? It was a robot controlled by radio waves.

In the observatory, Dr. Adachi notes activity on the moon. Joji visits and Adachi tells him that Ryoichi's report on Mysteroid is "invaluable."

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Adachi spots a satellite in space. The Mysterians are here. A visit of the lake indicates Ryoichi had been monitoring it for some time and witnessed a number of strange things. A dome surfaces from the ground. Adachi and Joji observe. The military are on standby. A voice announces "People of the Earth, let us avoid useless warfare." That's mighty swell of you, but let's not forget you drew first blood with your robot friend Moguera blasting his way through the village. So The Mysterians work in a bit of the old bait and switch. The Mysterians wish to "negotiate" with five men including Dr. Adachi and Joji. This is a pretty funny request from the military officer.

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Question: "Do you promise that you won't kill them?" Answer: "Please don't worry." Oh boy. Well, ya see, there's nothing to worry about. All they'll need is your hot and juicy Japanese women. I love Japanese women by the way. I know I mentioned loving British and American chicks, but Japanese women may be a favorite. They are exotic and absorbingly beautiful. There are a few in Ishiro Honda's films that I love to this day, in particular Kumi Mizuno. Stunning I tell you. Anyway, Japanese women are to die for. They are striking! I've digressed long enough on that subject. So, the scientists enter The Mysterians' dome. Ifukube's score continues to mount tension complete with violin section. Inside, the men are given capes to protect them from the cool temperatures. I guess.

Costume and set design is superb on The Mysterians. The scientists are greeted by a man in a yellow space suit. No faces are exposed. They are tantamount to a preliminary version of the Power Rangers. The scientists are seated in a room filled with orange and blue electrical thing-a-ma-bobs. The Mysterians are pleased to meet the scientists. One of the scientists is rather brave. "We're not so glad after what you've done to us." Yikes! Keep it cool brother. The Mysterian leader tells the scientists it was "a little sacrifice to avoid a war." What the viewer learns from a Mysterian viewing screen is that the Japanese military attacked them first. Interesting twist. The alien identifies their planet Mysteroid as Planet No. 5. Could this be another allusion to Lucky Dragon No.5 [as covered extensively in my review of Gojira]? Adachi indicates the planet disappeared one thousand years ago, which is confirmed by the mysterious Mysterian. It was the result of an atomic war between The Mysterians. There is no question references to the Japanese attacking first, Planet No.5 and the atomic war are all allusions to the events of World War II. Some survivors fled to Mars. The alien humanoid indicates militaries start and cause war, but wasn't it Oppenheimer, a scientist, that developed the bomb? It's like the chicken and the egg theory. The Mysterians indicate they had H-bombs when humans were in the Neolithic Age. There is definitely an allegory to war here and it is a bit preachy. It is perhaps less than subtle. The Mysterians request a strip of land "and one more thing...," full access to sex with Japanese women. Alright!

Once again, with the consequences of World War II and the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima informing the work of this Japanese creative team much is in play that references this is indeed a product of their surroundings. The Mysterians have a high dose of Strontium 90 in their bodies. 80% of their babies are born deformed and disposed of. Their race is in jeopardy of extinction as a result of their own atomic wars, hence the need for babes. The Mysterians request five women and they already have three. The remaining two are stars Horiko and Etsuko. "Absurd!" declares Joji.

The Mysterians hold the scientists at gunpoint yet ironically announce they are "pacifists." That's a pretty tough argument to make considering you have guns pointed at heads and giant robots with laser beam eyes destroying homes. The meeting is adjourned and left to the scientists to decide the fate of their future.

Later, at the Ministry Of Defense, a meeting is called once again. The Japanese love meetings. As the meeting points out, The Mysterians have already seized land without request. They have also already abducted three women. This is unacceptable and counter measures are taken concentrating forces at Mt. Fuji.

Later, Joji informs the girls they are on The Mysterians' request list. This is a good sequence and one that indicates our friend Ryoichi is still alive as he is able to speak to his friends directly through their television. You see, the Japanese always seemed to be speaking to me and other youngsters this way when I was growing up. Here's Joji and the pussycats.

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This isn't going to go well. Joji informs Dr. Adachi that Ryoichi is with The Mysterians and he has asked the attack be stopped. Before long the Japanese fire upon the dome. The dome is impervious to the assault by tanks, cannons and jet fighters. The Mysterians just sit back and watch from inside their dome and inside their dome heads. Some nifty effects are applied by Tsuburaya as UFOs zap the jets and take them out. Earth's defenses are simply no match for The Mysterians. These are some nifty effects shots.

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Those shots are a nice precursor to King Ghidorah's own magic. The dome melts everything it touches with its gamma rays. It's kind of funny as I sit watching this mighty military do battle with a giant dome. It's kind of amusing, but I was kind of riveted by this killer dome [for a bit].

The Mysterians' power is equivalent to the Japanese earthquake of 1923 [referring to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, 7.9 on the Richter Scale]. The Mysterians address the cities of Earth via their UFO transmissions. "Dear People of Earth. We do not like wars." These guys are tough hombres. They simply want their land and a few hot Japanese babes. It's a small price between intergalactic friends. The military and scientists regroup and rethink their plan against The Mysterian invaders. The military considers a design for a new weapon called an Electron Gun. Headlines make the newspapers like The Liberal Times [sure to go out of business] and taglines like Down With The Mysterians and Doomsday On Earth? "The Earth is one," declares Dr. Adachi. Even America and the Soviet Union now have a common foe. Dr. Adachi worries the alien invaders may establish a kind of beachhead and more invaders will come. He also alerts the media to their final purpose. Yes! They desire sex with hot Earth women. Bastards! Who doesn't? But get in line alien invaders! Hmm, maybe I'm a Mysterian. Can you imagine wars on Earth if such demands were made? We want your attractive Russian women and we will stop at nothing. Well, it is often said women have brought down civilizations. This time women truly are the root cause of the war.

Inside the dome, we get the accompanying weird sound effects that are attributed to the voices of the aliens. The Mysterians are working on a project of their own ready in 500 Earth hours. When completed Eastern Japan will fall under Mysterian control. So much for those peace-loving Mysterian ways.

The Americans meet with the Japanese. The USA is also watching The Mysterians from a satellite in space. The meeting convenes and Joji asks the Americans if they would like to speak with Ryoichi. They contact him via television. The Americans ask if he is ashamed abandoning his people. He conveys that he is a scientist and The Mysterians are interested in ending atomic wars. Ryoichi informs the men that humankind will perish in 20 years if atom bombs are not eradicated. It's fairly evident just how devastating the two atom bombs were on the Japanese psyche. Ryoichi drops a bit of a bombshell of his own, not that it should be surprising, but The Mysterians want to rule the Earth. They left that bit out earlier. All the hot women in the world would definitely do the trick. Ryoichi clearly believes in The Mysterians and that their intentions are noble. Ryoichi displays a visual of The Mysterian satellite in orbit around the Earth and expresses the superiority of The Mysterian UFO power. They have command of the skies. If you control the skies, conventionally, you control the war. The men determine they must fight back.

People from every nation join the fight. For a film from 1957, Honda does a pretty impressive job of expanding the playing field and creating the impression of a global conflict. He implements just the right complement of character drama and special effects. The men discuss the dome and its weakness. It is immobile and it's electric ray grows weaker over distance. The Mysterians are susceptible to heat as well. This information comes by way of Dr. Adachi. You'll recall the scientists needed capes to keep warm inside the dome. We shall see.

The military men stand by in bunkers and discuss the quiet stand off. Their discussion could easily be a reference to the growing Cold War [1947-1991]. Massive rocketships are launched toward The Mysterians' dome by the allied forces. Bombs are dropped on the dome. The Earth defenders grow weary in their seemingly futile efforts to stop The sex-starved, child-bearing hungry Mysterians. The Electron Gun appears to be [almost] ready and will be loaded.

The Mysterians contact Earth Defense and inform them they have now usurped a seventy-five mile radius and if anyone enters they will be destroyed. Meanwhile the scientists and meeting of the minds are placed in a situation that sounds strikingly familiar and uncomfortable. The men consider hydrogen bombs as their only option. Dr. Adachi insists they mustn't be used. They have a lens reflector they plan on using against The Mysterians as an option. The question is how to use it and where to place the lens. The Japanese response: "We'll hold a conference." HA! Great idea! Let's give The Mysterians more time to dig in.

In the evening, Horiko is abducted from her home by, you guessed it, a Mysterian. I suspect Horiko and Etsuko were requested by Ryoichi who is now with The Mysterians. Etsuko is abducted next. Some military personnel and others enter their apartment and witness the abduction of Etsuko into the sky where a UFO awaits. With all of that advanced technology the best The Mysterians can do is essentially float up to the ship via strings?

With the Electron Gun still unavailable and The Mysterians' underground base nearly complete, the Earth Defense Force feels an attack on the alien invaders must be made. This conference yields the same result as the last conference. We must attack now. "Let's do our best." It wasn't good enough last time, so enough conferencing already. What needs to happen before the attack? Evacuation! Of course, people must evacuate a 75 mile radius. Whew! Those poor Japanese citizens. This must get tiring. There's always a shot of someone from the military waving folks along. These people are running too! I mean, if the poor guy waving ever stepped in their way he'd be run over quicker than you'd say "road kill."

Dr. Adachi fears Hiroko and Etsuko are lost to The Mysterians. It will be "impossible" to save them. Joji feels differently and informs Dr. Adachi of a cave he found that leads into the aliens' lair. The attack on The Mysterians will commence with Marcalite Farps [dish arrays] and Joji makes a run for it. A rocket is propelled toward the sky. Joji makes a play for rescuing Hiroko and Etsuko.

Meanwhile, the skyship is impervious against the Mysterian attacks thanks to the lens technology. They launch two dishes and they make their way toward The Mysterians' dome. The dishes angle toward the dome. I was a little surprised the dishes weren't blown out of the water before getting set up. The laser battle commences. Rockets launch. This appears to go on almost endlessly. Joji makes his way underground and jumps one of the Mysterians taking his weapon. He should have taken his outfit too. He puts the gun to another's head and asks for the women. Elsewhere, the women are held in confinement and a Mysterian in yellow gets them all and tells them to follow him. Could it be Ryoichi? I suspect so.

Outside, the dome is ineffective against the dishes. The dishes have 20 minutes of power remaining. The dome is significantly impacted and The Mysterians request the attack stop. Earth defense indicates they will stop if The Mysterians leave and leave their hot babes alone of course. Water spouts from the lake flooding the valley and the village below. The Mysterians are quite impressed with their own devastating power. Things go awry when Joji throws a wrench in the works and blows up their electronic modules with his newly acquired ray gun. Joji is captured. The dishes have five minutes remaining. All hell is breaking loose inside The Mysterians dome. Joji is captured by Ryoichi. Ryoichi releases them, but will remain with The Mysterians eventhough they tricked him. Ryoichi has to set things right.

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The Mysterians are dying. It's all over for them. Meanwhile, their ace in the hole, Moguera is digging underneath the Earth and it takes out a dish, but the dish crashes on top of the poor robot. Game over! Ryoichi is blowing everything up. As the survivors make an escape. Ryoichi considers killing them, but decides not to fire upon them. It would have been symbolic of their extinction had he done so, but Ryoichi would not do it.

In the end, the battle is extensive and a bit overdone. In an effort to showcase the special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, Honda and company get a little carried away with the visuals and the film tends to suffer for it slowing down in the final act. It just seemed to go on endlessly. A bit of editing may have been in order. The Mysterians do escape. Dr. Adachi takes their message as a warning and Director Ishiro Honda would like us to us to take away that same message. The Mysterians, while humanoid, were essentially a representation of ourselves. It's certainly a product of its era and one that still looks fairly impressive given its production limitations. I'm not entirely certain I could recommend it, but it is an interesting period piece that holds up reasonably well. I've seen younger films that have dated far worse. The Mysterians may be dubbed "The Greatest Science-Fiction Picture Ever Conceived By The Mind Of Man," but that may be a stretch. Toho enjoys exciting taglines like Marvel Comics enjoyed "In The Mighty Marvel Tradition." Toho, in Toho Scope, is all about proud tradition and empire building, but while The Mysterians is probably not all that, it's a crazy ass treat when you consider that bit about the women.

The Mysterians: B-

Producer Footnote: Tomoyuki Tanaka [1910-1997]. Tanaka headed Toho Studios for a period. Tanaka produced every Toho monster movie from the first Godzilla, Gojira[1954] through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah [1995]. He also produced several of Akira Kurosawa's best pictures. In total, he was involved with the production of more than 200 films in his fifty-one year career.

Actor Footnotes: Akihiko Hirata [1927-1984]. He appeared in Gojira [1954], Rodan [1956], The H-Man [1958], Varan The Unbelievable [1958], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Atragon [1963], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep [1966], Son Of Godzilla [1967], Latitude Zero [1969], Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla [1974], Terror Of Mechagodzilla [1975] and The War In Space [1977].

Kenji Sahara [1931-1984]. He appeared in Gojira [1954], Rodan [1956], The H-Man [1958], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Matango [1963], Atragon [1963], Godzilla vs. Mothra [1964], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Frankenstein Conquers The World [1965], War Of The Gargantuas [1966], Son Of Godzilla [1967], Destroy All Monsters [1968], Godzilla's Revenge [1969], Space Amoeba [1970], Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla [1974], Terror Of Mechagodzilla [1975], Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah [1991], Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II [1993], Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla [1994] and Godzilla: Final Wars [2004].

Momoko Kochi [1932-1998]. Kochi appeared in Gojira [1954] and returned for Godzilla vs. Destoroyah [1995].

Yumi Shirakawa [1936-]. Shirakawa appeared in Rodan [1956], The H-Man [1958] and Gorath [1962].