Wednesday, June 12, 2013

GORATH (1962) movie review

Gorath (aka Calamity Star Gorath) (1962) d. Honda, Ishiro (Japan)

When a spaceship on an exploratory mission to Saturn encounters a lethal runaway Red Dwarf star on a collision course with Earth, humanity’s scientists scramble to find a solution. When it is determined that the titular celestial freight train's mass is over 6000 times that our own, the decision is made to shift the Earth’s orbit out of Gorath’s path. Great! (pause) Now, how do we do that?

The solution turns out to be a united world effort to construct an enormous field of atomic thrusters in the South Pole, which will motor our planet the requisite 400,000 kilometers to avoid decimation. This action is intercut with another interstellar flight to derive as much info about the planet-swallowing projectile as possible. Of course, there are stumbles along the way, in the form of underestimating Gorath’s gravitational pull (and its effects on rocket ships and ocean tides) as well as the downside of heating up the coldest place on Earth with nuclear-powered rockets.

Originally, no kaiju were planned to appear, but when producer Tomoyuki Tanaka insisted in order to shore up foreign sales, a subplot involving a giant walrus (dubbed Maguma, with suitmation legend Haruo Nakajima inside the blubbery skin) was introduced. Ironically, this bit of footage was consequently trimmed for the U.S. release and only remains in the Japanese release. (Luckily, the online version I was able to track down was the widescreen, subtitled, Maguma-inclusive one, and for a last minute invention, it works pretty well.)

The key creative team members behind many of Toho’s kaiju films unite once more for this curious amalgam of escapist thrills, human drama and social commentary. With Honda at the helm, prolific screenwriter Takeshi Kimura’s script rich in character and plot, composer Akira Ikufube knocking out the stirring anthems, and f/x dynamo Eiji Tsuburaya whipping up miniature versions of every known vehicle on Earth and a few fantastic spacecrafts as well, expectations were high.

Unfortunately, the end result was a well polished production but one whose occasionally uneven tone, (relative) lack of giant monsters and fanciful physics did not win over the fans in the same fashion as the same year’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. So ended Toho’s brief space opera period, and the rock ’em, sock ’em, monster mash-up era was born.

Undeservedly relegated to footnote/sidebar status, Gorath is notable for Tsuburaya’s effects (especially during the showstopping South Pole construction and flooding of Tokyo sequences), Kimura’s multifaceted narrative, and a wealth of familiar genre faces including the lovely Kumi Mizuno and Yumi Shirakawa, with go-to hero Akira Kubo as a fresh-faced astronaut. A special salute to Kevin Horn, whose effusive and informative 50th anniversary panel at last year’s G-FEST first clued me into this underrated apocalyptic epic.

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