Warning from Space

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(4/10) Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru, released by Daiei in early 1956, is Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. Remembered for its wonky star-shaped aliens, the jumbled, illogical movie borrows from earlier sci-fi classics without managing to tie the themes together. Although beautifully filmed and decently acted, it moves along slowly and is way too talky. Occasionally brilliant, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, often numbingly stupid.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

Warning from Space (1956, Japan). Directed by Koji Shima. Written by: Gentaro Nakajima, Hideo Oguni. Starring: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai, Kiyoko Hirai, Isao Yamagata. Produced by Masaichi Nagata for Daiei Studios.
IMDb rating: 4.4/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A 

Poster.

Poster.

While still absolutely unknown in the West in the beginning of 1956, Japanese science fiction was rumbling onto scene. Movie studio Toho had released four sci-fi movies: the flawed masterpiece Gojira (1954, review), the invisible man film Tomei ningen (1954, review), Godzilla Raids Again (1955, review), and the ill-fated snowman movie Ju jin yuki otoko (1955, review), which the studio withdrew from circulation soon after its premiere. While Toho is the one of the Japanese Big Six studios that we (rightly) come to think of first when we talk about Japanese sci-fi, Daiei was not far behind. In fact, Daiei had originally beat Toho to the mark with its low-budget invisible man crime thriller Tomei ningen arawuru (1949, review). Now, however, Daiei decided to outdo Toho and make Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. And while it was probably tempting to enter the monster movie genre, the studio opted to not put all their eggs in one basket and try to beat Toho at their own game. Instead Daiei took on another challenge, and produced Japan’s first alien invasion movie – in fact this is the first Japanese movie to feature space flight, aliens UFO:s. Not content with this, they threw in a planetary collision as well, thinking they might get Japan’s first apocalypse film underway while they were at it. The result was 宇宙人東京に現わる (Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru), literally translated as Spacemen appear over Tokyo, but anglicised as Warning from Space. The film premiered on January 29, 1946, before Toho’s colour film Rodan. Continue reading

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It Came from Outer Space

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(7/10) In a nutshell: Sci-fi stalwart Jack Arnold directed this his first science fiction film as Universal’s 3-D splash for the summer of 1953. Prominent sci-fi leading man Richard Carlson plays a proto-Fox Mulder who tries to convince a small town in Arizona that he saw a UFO crash in the desert, while aliens kidnap and and assume the guises of the townspeople. Co-written by Ray Bradbury, this well-directed fable of xenophobia and cold war paranoia manages to both appeal to the pulpier parts of our brains and the intellectual grains of the mind.

It Came from Outer Space. Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by Ray Bradbury & Harry Essex. Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson, Kathleen Hughes, Virginia Mullen. Produced by William Alland for Universal-International. Tomatometer: 81 %. IMDb score: 6.6

Barbara Rush as Ellen in the xenomorph's view.

Barbara Rush as Ellen in the xenomorph’s view.

Acclaimed A movie directors like Howard Hawks, Robert Wise and Don Siegel, along with visionary producer-director George Pal, all did their best to coax the science fiction genre out of the B movie quagmire that refused to loosen its grip on it in the fifties. But equally important – if not even more so – for the genre was Jack Arnold, director of films like Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, review), Tarantula (1955, review) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), among others. Arnold acknowledged the genre’s pulpy roots, and instead of trying to transcend them, he embraced them, but brought a level of intelligence and refinement to his work, and made some of the most influential sci-fi films of the decade. It all started with a film that is often dropped from his resumé when counting his best films, and it is always a mistake: It Came from Outer Space. Continue reading

Four Sided Triangle

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Hammer’s first real deep plunge into science fiction in 1953 has two men cloning the woman they are both in love with. Skipping lightly over anything that might require any deeper thought, the film squanders nearly all interesting concepts of the premise, and instead settles for a dull melodrama. Terence Fisher was still awaiting his breakthrough as horror auteur, and does a good job with filming and direction, and the British movie stars American scandal starlet Barbara Payton and Liam Neeson’s doppelgänger, both doing a good job in their roles.

Four Sided Triangle (1953). Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Terence Fisher and Paul Tabori. Based on the novel 4-Sided Triangle by William F. Temple. Starring: Barbara Payton, James Hayter. Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen. Produced by Michael Carreras and Alexander Paal for Hammer Film Productions. IMDb score: 5.8

Stephen Murray, Barbara Payton and John Van Dyke in Four Sided Triangle.

Stephen Murray, Barbara Payton and John Van Eyssen in Four Sided Triangle.

Before Hammer Films found their great money cow in the colourful, lewd revamps of classic Universal horror films, the small British movie company took a few stabs at science fiction, which was increasingly popular overseas. The studio had already dabbled in sci-fi in the proto-James Bond films Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949, review) and Dick Barton at Bay (1951, review), but Four Sided Triangle, released in May 1953, was the studio’s first all-out sci-fi movie, although still rooted in the old horror tropes of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Continue reading

Metropolis

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(10/10) In a nutshell: The plot may be slightly simplistic and the political message naive, but the thematic and visual influence of Austrian director Fritz Lang’s exciting 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is rivalled by few in science fiction and in film in general. A great, entertaining, sprawling epic in a future tower of Babylon.

Metropolis. 1927, Germany. Directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang. Starring: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlig, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Cinematography: Karl Freund. Produced by Erich Pommer for UFA. Tomatometer: 99 % IMDb score: 8.3 (#106) Metascore: 98/100.

The hugely influential Maschinenmensch robot and some early, beautifully rendered special effects.

The hugely influential Maschinenmensch robot and some early, beautifully rendered special effects.

Few films have been so much written about and analysed as Austrian director Fritz Lang’s stupendous epic Metropolis. Not only is this dystopian sci-fi classic with political and religious undertones one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time. It is also one of the films that has had the biggest influence, not only on the movies, but on art, literature and even architecture and design, in history. Despite all this, Fritz Lang himself disowned the film nearly from the day it was released. Continue reading