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July 9, 2013

Movie Review: Message from Space (1978)

To be honest, I only watched this film because I was looking for movies with Hiroyuki Sanada on Netflix streaming. Since I had already seen Twilight Samurai (excellent film, btw), the only other choice was Message from Space. And considering he was only 18 when the movie came out, I'm guessing he was trying to get some movie experience under his belt (after playing "fighter" in Shogun Samurai, another film that came out the same year). Doesn't really matter as I was entertained, mostly, by this cheesy sci-fi Star Wars rip off. It's one of those great films from the 70s where half the cast is American, speaking English, and the other half is Japanese, speaking Japanese but dubbed in English. Distracting in a way but it adds to the fun factor. Sort of.

The most annoying thing about this flick is the narrator, though, who has to tell us half of what's going on because they either couldn't afford to film it or they thought the audience would be too stupid to figure it out.

Gelusia (aka tree hugging hippies) is conquered by Gavana (not hippies so they're automatically assholes) a race of silver faced fighters who love war and conquering. Gelusia refused to submit and most of them are killed off. The King sends eight magic seeds out into the universe, which basically look like radioactive walnuts, to find warriors to fight for and save what remains of Gelusia. The King's daughter, Emeralida, and a Gelusian fighter, Urocco, will follow the seeds, pick up the chosen warriors, and return. And they follow in a literal ship, like a clipper with the big masts and giant sails. Like maybe Jack Sparrow should be heading up this mission.

Well, the Gavanians can't have that so they attack the ship. They don't stop it but they screw it up enough that it ends up being a wreck of a floater. But that's okay. We're about to meet a few of the chosen warriors as they stumble upon the Gelusian ship.

In this story, bored rich people fly around space on pleasure cruises. Meia, the daughter of a rich man who made his fortune off the last war, is flitting about space and discovers some kind of firefly. Well, she wants one dammit and what Meia wants, Meia gets. A couple of her rough rider buddies, Aaron and Shiro, scour space for riches and fly like asshole teenagers while on the run from the police. "Shut up man, we live by our own code." Aaron and Shiro are in debt and if they help Meia catch some fireflies, she'll give them all the gold they need to keep the loan shark off their butts. Jack, the loan shark's lackey, tags along to make sure they get paid.

Apparently, all you need to put on before hopping out into the void of space to catch fireflies is a mask, like fighter pilots would wear in WWII. Never mind the sub-zero temperatures that can freeze your flesh in seconds or lack of propulsion system that can keep you from floating around all nimbly bimbly. Forever. Details, schmeetails. I'm surprised they didn't have little glass jars with air holes poked in the lids.

Anyway, while trying to catch the little flies, they come across the busted Gelusian ship. Here they meet Emeralida and Urocco, who lie unconscious. They take the Gelusians to some kind of hangar hoping to help them recover. When they do, but before Urocco can behead them for whatever reason, the magic walnuts tumble out. Aaron and Shiro had discovered theirs in the delicate wiring of their space ships; Meia found hers behind the driver's seat in her ship; and Jack found his in a tomato he tried to eat. As they all discuss the importance of walnuts for your health, cue retired General Garuda. He was taking a nap in the back of the hangar - he may have been sleeping off too much brown liquor - and pulls out his walnut that he found in his whiskey last night.

So we've got five of the chosen now but it's obvious the younger men have never fought, and don't want to, and the retired General can't fight a war alone. They all throw away their seeds (except Meia). Somehow Jack comes up with a plan to con Emeralida into thinking he knows where the other seeds are and will help her find those chosen warriors. Maybe they can help instead. Urocco is attacked and left for dead in some canyon; Emeralida falls for the con and gets traded into a marriage with some hag's mutant son (seriously, he looks like a mopey Gorn) while Jack and the boys make off with the gold to pay their debts. Luckily, or not, the Gavanian's swoop in an 'save' Emeralida and take her back to their ship.

The boys are wracked with guilt and each have dreams about Emeralida and the rest of the Gelusians being murdered by the Gavanians. When Urocco returns, not dead after all, Meia lectures the boy on being total douchebags. When they realize what they've done and want to atone for it, the magic walnuts return and they fly off to save the day. Unfortunately, there's another warrior to be found on the way so the seeds wreak havoc in their ships and they crash on another planet. There they meet Prince Hans, a Gavanian. Say what? The current leader of Gavana killed Hans' family and stole the throne. Hans either ran off or was banished but he would like to go back and set things right. When they see the walnut around his neck, they bring him along!

The Gavanians that took Emeralida decide to go back to Gelusia to be big dicks. It's not their fault that Gelusians refused to surrender. All they wanted to do was conquer Gelusia and protect it. Yeah, right. They captured the hag, too, and decide to scan her memories. She remembers all the beauty and splendor of Earth and now the Gavanians want to conquer Earth. Bastards. So they turn on the propulsion rockets they somehow put IN the planet of Gelusia and drive it toward Earth. Our army tries to fight back but we seem rather insufficient to defeat a whole planet. The General is hired to be a negotiator with the Gavana leader. He's supposed to trick the leader into giving us more time to surrender properly but we actually are just putting together a counter attack. When he shows up, he's dressed like a 19th century dandy. When a Gavana soldier insults the General, he challenges the Gavanian to a duel. And even in the future the bad guys still cheat. The general isn't hurt but the Gavana leader is embarrassed. He kills his soldier then informs the General that he won't fall for our ruse. Instead, he destroys the moon because that will have no affect on the Earth and just scare Earthlings into doing what he wants. What a dumb ass.

Now our chosen six warriors gather together to figure out how they can possibly defeat the Gavanians. Somehow they parachute through space (seriously, what the fuck, people?) to gather together and come up with a plan. Turns out all they need to do it stop the main power generator that's in the planet. But you have to fly through a corridor that's only 10 meters wide and shoot the generator at the end. Wow - that's not like Star Wars at all. Unfortunately, it'll destroy Gelusia as well. But if that's what has to be, it has to be. Then while they're all planning this out, the 7th magic walnut is discovered by the General's little robot sidekick. Okaaaayyy....It's a good thing, I suppose, but Urocco thinks this whole plan is a crock of shit and betrays them to the Gavanians. Somehow Emeralida talks him down off the Gavana cheer leading squad and he tries to kill the Gavana leader. Didn't work and as he lies dying, turns out he had the 8th seed all along. Then he dies. Whatever.

Aaron and Shiro take to their ships and use their rough rider hot shot flying skills to defeat the Gavanian assholes. Earth invites the remaining Gelusians to stay on Earth but they want to find a new planet of their own. The warriors ask to come, too. Hans would like to make up for the douchebaggery of his people. Hooray! Meia wants to find purpose. Yay! The General is tired of war and wants to give peace a chance. Awesome! And Aaron, Shiro, and Jack can get away from the cops and loan sharks. Umm, yipee? Now they can create a society where peace and love conquer all. Damn hippies.

The special effects are about what you'd expect in a Japanese Godzilla movie. Not terrible but it's easy to see the strings and figure out when they were using models for the flying sequences and large explosions. The acting was less than stellar, despite Vic Morrow playing the General and Sonny Chiba playing Hans, but I've definitely seen a lot worse. It's hard to judge the Japanese actors since they were dubbed. If their voices matched their bodies and expressions, it might be easier to see who was doing a decent job, overacting, or just phoning it in. But all the characters were likable or you liked to hate them. Gavanians were fun bad guys. Their helmets even had devil horns on them. The Gelusians ran around with flowing hemp clothing and crowns of leaves and flowers on their heads. The Earth folks were headstrong, stubborn, rash, and impulsive but despite their faults, you wanted them to be heroes.

The sound was a bit off - again the dialogue was much quieter than the ambient noise or f/x. But everything else from the lighting and the sets (even if cheesy) fit perfectly. The director got what was needed from the actors and they all managed to pull off this movie well. Despite it's similarities to other blockbuster space movies, and the groovy dated feel of the costumes and philosophies poking through the plot, and the obvious 'no way in hell could you possibly do that in space without a suit' moments, it's an entertaining movie with the right amount of cheese and silliness.

2.5 (out of 5) Hatchets

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