Hideyuki Kikuchi "Talk Live" Event in Tokyo, October 2003 The theme of "journeys" continued from the September talk live event, but this time the journeys were all among the stars. The first film we watched was 1950's "Rocketship X-M," where a trip on a bulbous-tipped rocket to the moon takes a disastrous turn. Cosmic events throw the rocket off course, forcing it to land on Mars instead. The martian landscape, which looks suspiciously like the Mojave Desert, is littered with the rubble of a self-destructive race, the remainders of which are belligerent rock-hurling caveman-types. Regardless of how ridiculous four men and a woman looking wandering around the surface of Mars in army fatigues and gas-masks, at least the film had an interesting tinting effect that had scenes on the red planet tinted an amber hue instead of the regular black and white (which I believe was something included in the special edition of the film released on laser disk). Given that this film was made in about 10 days to beat a George Pal production with a similar theme to the box office, it's quite well-made, and the ending was an interesting departure from most films. "This Island Earth" was Universal Studio's entry into the space race in 1955. My most recent viewing of this film was when it was lampooned in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, but it holds up well even without the hecklers. The effects were rather good, which is important since the story doesn't really make a lot of sense. One thing that occurred to me for the first time, though, was the similarity between the planet of Metaluna in this film and Gamilon in the Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato anime series. And of course, no description of this film would be complete without a nod to the Metaluna mutants, huge bum-headed creatures with veins on the outside and crab claws that are known and loved by sci-fi fans around the world. The funky tinting effects were once again called into play in 1960's "Angry Red Planet", this time giving us a pink world with a hint of reverse-chromatography that helped to hide how bad the sets were. Probably the most famous thing about this film is the giant "rat bat spider" creature that menaces the explorers, though there's also a great scene of a giant amoeba ingesting one of the crew. After that, anything would've been a pleasant change of pace, but what we got was a genuine classic of the genre--"Forbidden Planet." If you've never seen the intelligent 1956 feature that introduces Robby the Robot and boasts some pretty impressive effects, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. They don't come much better than this. The laser disk version that Kikuchi-sensei drew this material from featured a behind-the-scenes look at the ground-breaking special effects of this film, which apparently can't be found on the DVD version. Also, it's a chance to see Leslie Nielsen when he was a hot young buck instead of the bumbling police detective we've come to know. Next on the program was "Journey to the Seventh Planet," which, in my humble opinion, could have more aptly been dubbed "Planet of the Hot Chicks." After a long journey through space, the crew of this ship had only one thing on their minds--dames, and lots of them! As in the beginning of Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles," the spot where the earthmen land goes from barren rock to a lush forest in a matter of seconds. Houses and trees from their hometowns appear as they think of them, and when leggy babes start popping up in bunny girl outfits and negligees, no one's about to start asking tough questions. While I salute this film for tackling the hard-hitting problems of horny astronauts, I was less than impressed by the special effects--which consisted mainly of film scratched with a pin to produce awful laser beams. Raising the horny astronaut quotient to the Nth degree was the infamous "Flesh Gordon," a softcore porn send-up of serial hero Flash Gordon. While the live action scenes were ludicrous, the special effects were surprisingly good. There were a number of creatures animated in the style of Ray Harryhausen, but I can't even give the name of most of them because I try to run a family-friendly act here. One of the big hits of the evening were the beams Dr. Zarkov-inspired Flexi Jerkoff fired from his nipples, and discussion of the film continued at the coffee shop after the event. One interesting note that Kikuchi-sensei was able to provide about the Japanese release of this film--it wasn't promoted as porn, but as just a regular film. When he went to see it in the theater the guy next to him had brought his kids, but a few minutes into the film the family beat a hasty retreat. This is required viewing if you like your genre films to have decent stop-motion animation and indecent exposure. So what more could you possibly want after campy pornographic space opera? A cigarette and some moist towelettes? Sorry, there weren't any of those, but there was the fairly recent "Starship Troopers." Love it or hate it, the big screen version of Heinlein's novel did feature some pretty intense special effects of waves of insect attackers and fleets of starships. While everyone was reveling in bug-splattering fight scenes, the question of whether director Paul Verhoeven is German or Dutch came up (the answer, for those of you playing along at home, is Dutch). Compared to the wizardry of the folks at ILM, the effects in the films of the 50's and 60's looked a lot less "special," so I suppose it's a good thing this film was featured toward the end of the program. A Japanese offering to the space travel genre entitled "Uchu Daisenso/Battle in Outer Space" rounded out the program. Imagine "Independence Day" without the huge plug for Apple Computers. There were lots of people running around blasting alien bases with all kinds of rays, none of which seemed to be terribly effective, and in the end the huge mothership exploded. Wait, that sounds even better than ID4! And while the effects weren't quite up modern standards in this 1959 film, it was blissfully free of Jeff Goldblum--which is more than you can say about most of the science fiction blockbusters of the last decade. With all these films to watch, there wasn't a lot of time for chitchat, which is why my summary of the events this time might seem a little dry. However, I am rather pleased with myself for actually taking notes during the program so I could bring you this report in record time. There weren't as many questions from the audience as usual, but someone did ask if the books that had been announced for the next few months were still on track. The good news is, the latest VHD novel should be out in or around December, as promised--making it the third adventure of our favorite dhampir to be released this year. And speaking of the VHD books, Dark Horse comics seems to be quite serious about releasing the novels in English. Don't be surprised if we have an agreement in the very near future. And on that super-high note I will leave you to go catch up on my sleep.
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