Wednesday, January 25, 2012

REVIEW: Battle in Outer Space

Battle in Outer Space
Director: Ishiro Honda
Year 1959

Aliens got you down? You're not the only one. In Ishiro Honda's epic alien invasion flick, the Earth is threatened by a race of beings who want nothing more then to take our planet from us and leave us to extinction. This Toho Production is spectacular, bringing together an expansive story of the Earth's survival, while focusing the conflict on the brave men and women who fought tooth and nail to repel its invaders.

The production and story may be as serious as a heart attack, but there's a lot of fun to be had with this movie. Simply put, it's the era in which it was produced that allows for this devastating story to have an edge of fun. The retro clothing and production design is so stylistically cool that you'll find yourself getting lost in the vibrant lunacy of it all. It's nothing that surpasses some of the most gaudy and fanciful productions of the time, but there's something special about the Japanese science fiction efforts that came out of Toho during this time period.

The miniature work and special effects also lend to that sense of retro wonder and wishful thinking that this is what the future would have been like. To the simple yet sleek designs of the alien and human spaceships, to the handcrafted look of the space-stations, and to the silly but highly effective approach of the moon tracker vehicles, the film has a consistent appearance that overshadows its aged effects and instead paints a complete picture of a world created by practical effects and painstaking efforts.

This era of sci-fi movie making has always astounded and impressed me, not because of the realistic effects and awe inspiring possibility of it all, but rather the combination of the overall complete package that the filmmakers are able to gather together. Nothing stands out on its own as wholly believable, but put them together and you have one cohesive and believable world within the context and confines of the screen. While these techniques work as a whole, the retro sensibility and time frame that the film is held in doesn't hurt the production either. I love me some retro sci-fi and can't get enough of the stylistic nature of it all, so I allow things like visible strings holding up space saucers and noticeable miniature work pass from my mind while I soak up all the vintage goodness.

Though the effects might be dated by some, the story is something of an obscure masterpiece, showcasing the entire world coming together for the common good of the planet in order to press back our invading foes. The story is somewhat inspirational, making the viewer believe that if we were put to the test, we would drop our differences and fight for the good of the planet. It's sentimental and quite cheesy, but within the world that the filmmakers set up, it just feels right. Die you alien SCUM!

Another strange approach to the material that I found rather refreshing, was the decision to make the alien menace more of a mystery then a full blown effects laden race of creatures. Throughout most of the run time of the film, we are only given representation of these maniacal creatures as flying spaceships and nothing more. We only get a fleeting look at the alien race far into the second half of the film (which ends up being pretty silly) and it's only for a few key moments. The rest of the film is played out much like the beginning half of the movie and that's with anonymous spaceships battling over the Earth's surface.

I really liked this approach because it allows the viewer to focus on the overall message of the invading force instead of fixating on their appearances. For me it made them that much more viscous and heartless, displaying them as an unknown race of creatures rather then individuals with possible stories of their own.

Battle in Outer Space really is a blast and it never ceased to amaze me that this film was as old as it was. It always felt vibrant and the film continuously threw new things at me that I didn't see coming. The concept of aliens using mind control to make earthlings do their bidding was something that really tipped the scale for the film and allowed the fixation on who these aliens were and what they looked like to be put on the back burner. It was the idea that Earth was in eminent danger of being taken over that drove the narrative along and it worked wonders.

To top that off, the stupendous effects work, that by today's standards is somewhat hokey, are breathtaking in their grand scale and ambitious execution. It was delightful to see the various practical effects work and miniature models during a time when these kind of effects were at their pinnacle point in cinematic history. Simply wonderful.

For me, the film was amazing from beginning to end, showcasing all the elements of an alien invasion flick, combined with a retro style that is just a blast to be bombarded with. After the credits rolled, I could think of nothing more appropriate to shout, then..... EARTH.......

Look up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a fucking UFO! RUN!

Hello up there. Take me to your leader.

Get down honey! Get down!

The models are set and ready for takeoff.

You don't look so good buddy.

For some reason the Police Academy theme song is running through my mind.

Well someone looks guilty.

Surely you can't be serious. I am serious... and don't call me Shirley!

Oh my god! We've landed on the Moon!

Styling on the Moon.

Home Sweet Home.

The astronauts go marching one by one. Hurrah! Hurrah!

Now that's a pretty psychedelic Mothership.

Take that you alien bastards!

The flying Oscar Myer Hotdog Mobiles!

We have lift off!

Welcome to the spaceship jungle baby. You're gonna die!

Is everyone in the audience enjoying themselves?

Lady Liberty! Look out!

Oh please let the Tanner family be OK. DJ, Stephanie, Michelle... RUN!

Auntie Em! It's a twister! It's a twister!

You did it Earth. You're safe and sound...... For now.


  1. I saw this last Saturday on TCM & it was a lot of fun, and as you said great effects.

  2. Tons of fun! Glad you enjoyed the flick. It definitely has that Ishiro Honda magic.