War in Space (US - DVD R1)
Lasers, flying rowboats, and green- faced men. Gabe braves space again...
In the far off year of 1988 (I know, do your best to imagine such an unimaginable distance of time) the planet Venus is very quickly inhabited by a warring race of average-sized green men. Earth is stuck defenceless against the ‘Empire of Galaxies’ spinning saucer brigade and all major cities are crushed in a fury of laser beams and fire. The planet's only hope is a haggard old man and his interplanetary star fighter, a ship whose construction he'd long since abandoned. When the U.N. finally convinces him to go ahead with the finalization of the project, Professor Takigawa gathers a crack team of scientists, technicians, and marines, including his own daughter and both her suitors, to destroy the alien menace.
Though the title War in Space may sound like a Japanese mistranslation of Star Wars, the two films have little in common, and according to box office accounts War in Space was actually released a few months before George Lucas' space opera smash. Accusing the producers of ripping off Star Wars is like accusing them of being psychic. There's no way they could've known that the modestly budgeted American production would become a worldwide phenomenon. Unfortunately this means the film is not Japan's answer to Italy's Star Crash.
War in Space does derive from similar Saturday Matinee origins, but owes more to the original film version of War of the Worlds than Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. In fact, it pretty much lifts its first act from H.G. Wells' seminal story, making it a much smaller scaled affair. This lack of scope (silly or not), is ultimately what makes War in Space a scarcely average camp exercise. Had there actually been a war in space, rather than a skirmish on Venus, I may have found more to recommend the film. Unfortunately, the fun bits are a little too far between.
Viewers will instantly recognize the effects work of Toho's period Godzilla wranglers, and for their part the action is fun. There is a lack of man-in-suit action of course (though there is a Wookie looking executor aboard the alien ship), but the micro set explosion over-load is definitely in the same vain as that of the best adventures of our favourite radioactive lizard. It's too bad that models flying around and blowing up gets old as fast as it does. I mean, there is an abundance of mini-pyrotechnics of display here, but most of the time I found myself wishing for a little more, I'm just not 100% sure as to what I wanted more of.
What makes the film affectively charming and entertaining is in its campiness, specifically in the way it takes itself entirely seriously. The alien mother ship looks like a Viking schooner as decorated by your Aunt Alicia. Though the model is a detailed and well-built one, flying shots are incredibly funny looking. The aliens themselves are strictly guys in jump suits and sickly green face paint, with the exception of their leader, who looks like a Roman Empire themed Madre Gras reject. It seems the Toho technicians couldn't be bothered to put effort into the design of the non-miniatures.
When lead characters are blown away the remaining cast mourns them for all of three seconds before moving on, and the deaths themselves might as well come with a checklist. For the most part, none of the U.N. appointed technicians and solders seem to be very competent, even allowing one of the aliens to board their ship and kidnap the skipper's daughter. When a rescue squad is sent in after her, it seems they finally have the situation in hand as they efficiently make quick work of the equally inept aliens, even disposing of the body of a fallen comrade in an efficiently cold matter. This sudden competence is thrown for a loop when one of the rescuers empties his laser gun into an attacker's seemingly indestructible axe rather then the attacker's soft and supple flesh. It is moments like this that make the film worth watching.
Discotek Media has done a fine job of cleaning up what I'm sure was a messy source transfer, and presents War in Space in its original Tohoscope, which is actually closer to 2.40:1 than the box art advertised 2.35:1. There is visual damage, and your basic dirt, track lines, and artefacts are present, but this is still a fine effort. The actual centring of the image seemed to be a tiny bit off, as on my set the frame had a decent strip of black on the far left side (that's viewer's left, not projection left). The colours aren’t as vibrant as I might have liked either but I understand that there's really only so much one can do with aged source material.
I should note that the Discotek website states that some of the War in Space discs suffer from an interlacing problem. If readers happen upon a damaged copy they can exchange it through the official Discotek Media website
Usually I'm not a fan of artificial 5.1 mixes, but when one considers that Discotek was working from a Mono source, you've got to be at least a little impressed with their work. Though the 5.1 Dolby Digital Japanese track isn't exactly what I'd call lively, it still manages to add some punch to the action and music. The dialogue track also sounds noticeably better on the 5.1 track. The Mono Japanese track is really for the purists only, and wasn't as nurtured as the new surround track.
Unfortunately, for all the work the producers put into the Japanese track, I have to confess that I watched most of the movie with the Mono English dub. I honestly enjoy B-movies such as this more with bad dubbing, it's a personal thing. The English track was unfortunately quiet, but there were no pops or distortions I noticed. The inclusion of this track insures that everybody is happy, the purists, the tech-heads, and the camp-eaters.
The real meat of the special features is, like every Discotek release I've reviewed so far, in the booklet. Here readers will find some design and poster art, along with a nice summing up of the film's history (though one written in an incredibly small font). The sides are a trailer and brief chat with the aging effects specialist, both worthy, if not exactly incendiary inclusions.
If you have patients for long, expositional speeches, and a blindingly silly plot, and you have a love for low-fi model work, I can readily recommend this film. It's not the best of its kind, and I was admittedly disappointed despite my overall approval. There simply isn't enough here to hold the interest of casual genre viewers, and the lack of men-in-suits is a little disconcerting. The disc is about as high class as one should expect, including a clear, widescreen transfer, and three differing audio selections.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th April 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital Mono Japanese, Dolby Digital Mono English
Extras: Trailers, Stills and Production Art, Interview with Effects Director
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jun Fukuda
Cast: Kensaku Morita, Yûko Asano, Ryo Ikebe, Masaya Oki, Hiroshi Miyauchi
Length: 90 minutes
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