The Bad Movie Report

The X from Outer Space

It's been said before: there are some movies you either love or hate (and many can be found on this site), but to my knowledge, The X from Outer Space is one of the very few movies that lets you know which way you'll fall in the first thirty seconds. The reason for this is the theme music; it's a sorta jazzy, sorta j-poppy, kinda Ultra Lounge kinda thing. Kinda. This theme seems wholly unsuited for a science-fiction movie, let alone something from the land of daikaiju; it is far too light-hearted. It will keep cropping up throughout the movie, so you'd better like it. It is nothing if not memorable - upon seeing the flick for the first time in nearly thirty years, I found I remembered it perfectly.

It also doesn't hurt that in the very first scene, when the somewhat European Dr. Berman (Franz Gruber) gets off a helicopter at the "Mt. Fuji Astro-Flying Center", a soldier hurriedly shuts the chopper door behind him and begins to converse with the scientist; the door pops wide open after a second, then slowly swings itself shut, completely upstaging the two men in the foreground. It's the sign of a small budget and hurried shooting schedule: "Did you both say all your lines? Good! Nobody will notice! Next shot!"

Dr. Kato (Eiji Okada) addresses the crew of the AAB Gamma, the latest ill-fated spaceship to Mars; ill-fated because the last few ships sent there mysteriously vanished (there's something about a UFO, but nobody seems terribly concerned about it. I tried three times to listen to Kato's speech, but each time my mind tuned out, which should tell you something). Where was I? Oh, yes, the crew. They are Captain Sano (Toshiya Wazaki), the stern leader - so stern as to be quite unlikable; Dr. Lisa (Peggy Neal), who doubles as Sano's current squeeze; Miyamoto (Shinichi Yanagisawa), radio man and Odious Comic Relief; and Dr. Shioda (Keisuke Sonoi), a specialist in being expendable.

Looks like a scene from Episode I, doesn't it?Why expendable? Well, AAB Gamma speeds on its way (accompanied by that bouncy music) and encounters the UFO, which flits about on the end of its wire, checking them out ("Looks like the world's largest fried egg," quips Miyamoto. SHUT UP, MIYAMOTO, SHUT UP!!!!) - and suddenly Shioda has a seizure! AAB Gamma has to make an emergency landing at the moon base....but.... the communications officer there is Michiko, Sano's old squeeze! My God! The tension!

Well, there would be tension, but Lisa defuses it by presenting Michiko a pair of earrings from Earth (note to self: try this in real life sometime). The local physician, Dr. Stein (Mike Danning) diagnoses Shioda's condition as "space sickness"; to Stein's dismay, he is chosen as Shioda's replacement. The flight continues, despite a "space forecast" that predicts the mandatory meteor shower. Stein acts as disagreeably as possible. After the AAB Gamma changes course to avoid the meteor shower, the UFO shows up again, at the point where all the other ships vanished, and locks the ship in a "magnetic vise". Stein panics and commandeers the ship, burning half of their fuel in a futile attempt to get away. Jerk.

After the contretemps with the UFO, Lisa spots strange, glowing nodules on AAB Gamma's engine. She and Sano spacewalk to gather one as a specimen, then dispose of the others. Michiko arrives on a "rescue rocket" with some spare fuel, and everyone goes back to Earth with the "cosmic spore". This, to Dr. Berman, is just as good as actually making it to Mars, and he invites everyone to his house for a party (it's strikes an odd note, but that is probably the most realistic moment in the movie: a future where space travel has become so pedestrian that you go out to party the very night you return).

But! A phone call! Trouble at the lab! Everyone returns to find the spore container melted and a hole burned in the floor. Also suspicious is a chicken-like footprint burned into the carpet....

Aaaaah, probably nothing. Let's go party! Our heroes drive to a nice restaurant, only to find the power out. Then, in a welterGuilala in a pensive moment. of flashing lights and explosions, the now-gigantic beastie from the cosmic spore makes his presence known.

The X, or Guilala as he is later known (an unfortunate sobriquet - the first few times I thought his name was "Oo la la" - probably because I saw it on Bastille Day), is an interesting creature. Bulbous arms and legs with skin texture that appears to be borrowed from Godzilla, a tail with a crab-like claw on the end that is never used.... but the head is the real standout, itself looking like a spaceship of some sort. It's the beak that causes many an onlooker to dub Guilala a "space chicken", but I've never been able to see that - not with the glowing, faceted eyes, the weird funnel sticking out of his forehead, and the deely-bopper antennae.

OW!  HEY!In any case, Guilala appears to have bought the standard daikaiju tourist package, which starts off with a trip to scenic Tokyo to smash it flat. Conventional weaponry appears to have no effect on the rampaging beast, especially once it is discovered that Guilala actually eats energy, like, for instance, the fire from bombs and those cool hyper-lightning saucer rays the Japanese have apparently had since the 1960's (and have proved absolutely useless against every monster they have been arrayed against). Then he proceeds to roam the countryside, visiting and sucking dry every power plant in the country, devastating everything in his path.

Examining the shell left when the X hatched, Dr. Lisa finds that it is composed of a complex molecule she dubs "Guilalanium" (say that three times fast), which absorbs and blocks energy; she also feels she may be able to synthesize more of the stuff in an anti-gravity environment. So off flies AAB Gamma, swanky cocktail music a-playing, to space, where the plucky doc indeed mixes up a batch of Guilalanium, only to find out that so much of the substance essentially shuts down the spaceship (doh!).

Back on Earth, Guilala has discovered nuclear power, and sets to slurping as much of it down as possible. It becomes Um.... Berman?  It's for you.apparent that it's on a course for the Space Center itself, and that tasty XTU super reactor fuel that Berman brought. Meantime, on the AAB Gamma, the crew finally decides to listen to what the audience has been shouting at the screen all along and put the container full of Guilalanium in the same sealed chamber as the nuclear fuel... hey! everything works again! And so they return to Earth, just in time for a piece of large machinery to fall on Lisa.

Now, Guilala is quite a distance off, and we never see just how this piece of equipment came to fall on Lisa. It just did, according to Michiko (which sounds awfully darned suspicious to me), and the menfolk have to take time off from their Guilala baiting to get it off her. Then Sano and Miyamoto lead Guilala away from the complex by loading the XTU in a truck and driving away very quickly. But not quickly enough, as Guilala eventually catches them and consumes the fuel. By this time, however, the military has loaded missiles with Guilalanium and rain it down heavily on the X, which shrinks back down into a spore, which is then shot back into space.

Not that this is the end or anything. Dr. Lisa ruminates that the monster taught her that "love requires courage" (huh?). And Sano has gotten back with Michiko.... when the hell did that happen???!!! And then it's the end.

Yo, NASA!  Pay attention!At work in The X from Outer Space is that lovely 60's space aesthetic that set Werner von Braun & Willy Ley design side by side with jumpsuits and go-go boots. The lunar colony is all curves and op-art furniture design, very much a precursor to Gerry & Sylvia Anderson's Moonbase 1 on the UFO TV series. The AAB Gamma is a gloriously improbable spaceship, sleek as a predatory fish, with Flash Gordon-esque fins and three spinning doo-dads ( radar or whatever) on its top. I especially like the spinning doo-dads, which you never see on filmic spaceships. And of course, the ship boasts a constant fiery jet behind, billowing thick blue smoke, which drifts upward in the vacuum of space. In a way, it's good that we have become sophisticated enough that we see how silly that is; then again, that is the sort of innocence lost that should be mourned. The Future of The X is still a clean, magical place, devoid of decaying Mirs and gloves left floating in orbit.

Then, too, although the movie does not fall into the trap of setting itself during some far-flung (at the time) future... say, 1987... despite all the high-tech rocketry in evidence, the helicopter at the beginning and the jets attacking Guilala have a suspiciously contemporary look... and when our friends go out to dinner, they all pile in Miyamoto's Volkswagen Beetle! It was shocking to see the head of the lunar colony smoking a cigarette at the dinner table.... and that XTU nuclear fuel is so powerful, it may blow up if you drop it.

Guilala is not as silly a monster as many would have you believe. It's major problem is that it's not given much to do, save Guilala now looks forward to concentrating on his singing career.the obligatory trashing of the landscape (and make no mistake - Guilala is one kaiju who loves his devastation). The great failing of this movie is its inability to involve us in the drama taking place. Usually, this can be placed at the feet of poor translation and dubbing - in particular, there is one scene between Lisa and Michiko which should be a series of innuendoes and sly comments, but instead is merely there, like a slice of bread lying on a table - it exists, it takes up space. Period. Alas, in the instance of The X from Outer Space, I feel that getting the best translation and dubbing that money could buy would not have helped. Even viewed silently, the movie's troubled structure becomes apparent, as events come to a dead and unnecessary halt so Berman and Kato can theorize uselessly over what will happen.

Interpersonal relationships are so carelessly sketched here, that it's hard to figure out any kind of backstory for any individual, and therefore, it's hard to care. Now, admittedly, there are three minutes cut from the Japanese version of the movie, however, it's easy to figure out where that hole exists in the film: when Stein goes from knocking everybody around to servilely saying "Yes, sir" to Sano's orders. Doubtless missing is the scene where the rest of the crew dogpile on Stein and proceed to pummel his worthless Caucasian ass.

What the hell is with that substitution ploy, anyway? Neither Shioda nor Stein have anything to do with the story after the return to Earth.... maybe there's an explanation in that missing three minutes. Probably not, though. And surely in that missing three minutes is the requisite (almost mandated by international law) scene of panicked civilians running away from the monster - a scene that seems to typify the kaiju eiga in the mind's eye, and which is sorely missed here. Those masses provide a certain resonance, the implication of upheaval and impending loss of home, a human dimension to the destruction that plucks at that part of ourselves that feels Now in convenient travel size!pain when we see news footage of refugees or disaster survivors. Without that sort of emotional backdrop, the film simply becomes an exercise in a rubber-suited man smashing ever more ingenious miniatures.

But we shouldn't be too hard on The X from Outer Space - as I said, the keynote established by the soundtrack is lighthearted - this movie could definitely be shown to a child with minimal fear of invoking nightmares; sadly, that also means that it is leached of all emotional colors that would help it appeal to adults - excluding deviant cases like myself, of course.



Kind of a happy kaiju eiga.

- July 18, 1999

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Teleport City