Tuesday, June 13, 2006

WAR IN SPACE

From director Jun Fukuda and special effects wiz Nakano Teruyoshi, the creators of several Seventies' Godzilla epics, comes Toho Studios 1977 interstellar adventure, WAR IN SPACE (WAKUSEI DAISENSO).

Conceived by Japan's Toho Studios as a STAR WARS rip-off, the final film owes more to the studios' own Sixties sci-fi thrillers like ATRAGON and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and Gerry Anderson's British television shows UFO and SPACE: 1999.

In the then-future year of 1988, UFOs attack the Earth. While the invaders are devastating New York, Paris, and the world's other major cities, a team of scientists race to complete a space battleship called Ghoten. Once launched, the ship and its crew head for Venus, to counterattack the aliens. Along the way, the only female crewmember (Yuko Asano) is kidnapped by the green-skinned, Roman-helmeted alien leader and his horned wookie, UFOs engage in high-speed dogfights with the Earth fighters above the barren Venusian landscape, and space ships explode impressively.

The old school, handcrafted special effects work – finely detailed miniatures on mostly-invisible wires – is expertly executed and effective. The spaceships, in a decidedly Asian conceit, resemble sea-faring vessels, and the alien flagship is specifically modeled on ancient Roman sailing ship designs. The Ghoten design features a huge drill bit (shades of ATRAGON!) and cool, giant revolvers that fire missiles and are also used to launch sleek, one-man fighters. The UFOs are original and unique. Made on a fraction of STAR WARS' budget, WAR IN SPACE demonstrates that ingenuity and imagination can carry the day even when money's tight.

Discotek Media's DVD presents WAR IN SPACE for the first time on U.S. home video (I believe) with a brilliant 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, completely restored and remastered for this edition. Audio options include both the original Japanese language track and an English dub, presented in both the original mono and in a newly created 5.1 remix. The Japanese track is preferable, as it's stronger and more robust. Discotek has also included a bevy of cool bonus features, including a fascinating video interview with special effects director Nakano Teruyoshi, the original theatrical trailer, an extensive still gallery, and an informative booklet that includes poster art, spaceship design sketches and informative liner notes.

(NOTE: Some of the first batch of WAR IN SPACE discs released had an encoding problem causing playback issues. Discotek is aware of the problem, and if you get one of the defective DVDs, they'll replace it for you for free. Visit their website (http://discotekmedia.com/) for information.)

As a fan of outer space epics and Japanese fantasy films, I've been wanting to see this movie ever since I saw the poster art in a 1978 issue of Fantastic Films magazine. It took almost 30 years, but I wasn't disappointed. It's a great presentation of an old-fashioned space opera, and I recommend it highly.

BUY: War in Space