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
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!"
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.
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!
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.
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).
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....
probably nothing. Let's go party! Our heroes drive to a nice restaurant,
only to find the power out. Then, in a welter
of flashing lights and explosions, the now-gigantic beastie from the
cosmic spore makes his presence known.
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.
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
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
on Earth, Guilala has discovered nuclear power, and sets to slurping
as much of it down as possible. It becomes 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.