Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Mothra & Space 1999

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, August 31, 2019 05:50pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi.

Welcome to this month's Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month we travel from the island of Japan to the depths of the universe.

Mothra, Mill Creek:
When a new hundred million dollar Godzilla reboot to hit the theaters I just assumed we'd be treated to aMothra flood of classic kaiju reissues on Blu-ray, but instead it looks like we only got this. And I'm not knocking this release. Mothra is a great movie and Mill Creek did a fantastic job on this, I just figured there would be more classic Japanese monster movie releases to coattail on the marketing for the new film. All is not lost though. It looks like Mill Creek has signed a deal with Toho and they have more releases to come. On October 15th they will release two classic kaiju Blu-ray sets: Ultraman and Ultra Q. Both of these sets are motherloads of Japanese monster movie goodness and will be the first time North America has ever seen Toho's official remastered hi-def prints of these shows. If they look as good as this new Mothra release, we are in for quite a treat.

This reasonably priced steel book edition of the film comes with both the US and original Japanese versions of the movie as well as some nice extras. This is easily the best print of Mothra that has ever been released and, while it is not flawless, the majority of the film looks gorgeous. Certain scenes like the one in the cave when Mothra's egg hatches have been cleaned up to the point where they reveal all kinds of details you could never see before. The cave is filled with mutated plants and animals that were little more than blurry shapes in the old editions. Sometimes the remastering is so good it leads to unintended effects. Now you can see better than ever before that all the special effects in the film were made with models and puppets, but the models and puppets are totally cool and amazing. Toho created many of their special effects by stacking up multiple layers of film and the new remaster sometimes exposes every scratch and piece of dust on each of these layers of film. But these are pretty minor quibbles. The bottom line is that Mothra has never looked or sounded better.

The movie is a classic atomic age creature feature. Infant Island in the South Pacific is thought to be devoid of life after being heavily irradiated by atomic bomb tests. But when shipwrecked sailors return from the island with no radiation sickness and tales of natives, a scientific expedition is sent to the island to figure out what is going on. The scientists find lush jungles, mutated plants, and natives who are protected from radiation by drinking a juice made from local plants. They also discover a pair of foot high women who seem to have telepathic powers. The expedition is paid for by a greedy businessman named Nelson who returns to the island later and kidnaps the two tiny women, killing many natives in the process. He takes the women back to Japan where he forces them to perform in an extremely lucrative nightclub act that takes the country by storm. While he gets rich the natives of Infant Island take their revenge by releasing their god Mothra who hatches from a giant egg. Mothra heads to Japan to rescue the women, destroying everything in her path including Tokyo. This film has one of the best destructions of Tokyo that Toho ever filmed and that's saying a lot because destroying Tokyo is what Toho did best. There are also great characters, music, acting, and a script that transcends basic monster movie fare by bringing in metaphors about capitalistic greed and how it will destroy us all. Mothra is the second most popular Japanese monster, with Godzilla obviously being the first, and this release gives the giant flying insect the respect to which she is due. It's a lovely little release that belongs in the collection of any classic monster movie fan.

Space 1999, The Complete Series, Shout Factory:
Finally we get the complete series of Space 1999 on Blu-ray. Way back in 2010, the first season was Space 1999released on Blu-ray and then nothing for nine years...until now. Shout Factory has just released the complete series, both seasons, in a beautifully packaged box set. Every episode is here and they've never looked better. The new high-definition remasters are a great improvement over the old DVDs, which you can finally throw away or trade in. Space 1999 was one of Gerry Anderson's crowning achievements. Anderson was one of the most powerful forces in the history of British television and created such beloved shows as Thunderbirds, Stingray, UFO, and Terrahawks. He was known for doing children's puppet shows in the sixties but evolved into adult live action shows as his career progressed. Space 1999 was one of his greatest creations and an ambitious attempt to create a brainy science fiction series for the international market. This show ruled the airwaves when it ran between 1975 and 1977, and is fondly remembered along with shows like Battlestar Galactica as one of the best science fiction programs of its era. Given the show's popularity, it's pretty surprising that it has taken so long for the complete series to come out on Blu-ray, but better late than never and Shout Factory's lovely new set is definitely worth waiting for.

The series takes place in the late 1990s. This 1970's vision of the future is far more scientifically advanced than the actual 1990s were. Moonbase Alpha is a permanent self sustained space station on the moon. The scientific research center has over 300 inhabitants. On the other side of the moon from them is a vast nuclear waste disposal site. The Alphans discover a strange form of magnetic radiation in the disposal site, which gets progressively worse. Then on September 13, 1999 the magnetic radiation causes the accumulated nuclear waste to reach critical mass causing a titanic thermonuclear explosion that blasts the moon out of orbit and sends it hurtling into space. The explosion acts like a giant rocket booster that propels the moon into deep space faster than any earth ships can catch up with it. The members of Moonbase Alpha are stranded on the runaway moon, which has effectively become their "spaceship" as they search for a new home in the strange and vast universe into which they've been hurled. After leaving the solar system, the drifting moon passes through a black hole and later some space warps sending it ever deeper into the mysteries of infinity. The first season of the show did a remarkably effective job at capturing the isolation of the Alphan's desperate situation. The episodes of that season explored the depthless abyss of deep space travel and its effect on our fragile human sensibilities. Unlike Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, there was a real sense of dread and vulnerability to Space 1999. In a certain sense, the show really captured the overwhelming emptiness of the cosmic gulfs. True, the Alphans encounter a variety of aliens, monsters, and strange interstellar forces, but on a certain level, the most terrifying thing about the show was the airless emptiness of deep space itself and the thought that these tiny human lives could be snuffed out at any moment in that endless darkness. The second season by comparison is much brighter and upbeat, and almost feels like a different series. Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and other stars from the first season are still there but new actors are also added to the mix. The main one of these new stars is Catherine Schell who plays a shape-shifting alien named Maya who joins the Moonbase Alpha crew. Her character adds a strong feminist dynamic to the show and was the biggest improvement of the second season. Her on again/ off again relationship with fellow Alphan Tony Verdeschi also adds some much needed levity that the first season lacked. There's also a funky upbeat disco feel and look to the second season that is mainly reflected in the soundtrack, the sets, and the costumes. Certain episodes almost look like they were filmed at Studio 54.

The highlight of both seasons is their special effects. That's what Gerry Anderson was known for. On shows like Thunderbirds, the cool space-age vehicles were actually more memorable than the main characters. By the time Space 1999 rolled around, Anderson's special effects team had been at it for over fifteen years and was a well-oiled machine. The spaceships and outer space vistas and planets they created for Space 1999 were some of their best work. Moonbase Alpha was protected by a squad of spaceships called "eagles" that were the modern equivalent of fighter jets. These eagles had incredibly cool designs and facsimiles of them were some of the best selling toys of the seventies. The many aliens and their home worlds are also masterfully done. Each episode is filled with beautiful matte paintings of quasars, nebulas, and galaxies that are so beautiful that I kept freez-framing my Blu-ray player just so I could soak up their magnificent and breathtaking details. This set is rounded out with a huge amount of bonus features, interviews, promo stuff, and featurettes. Shout Factory really ladled it on with this release. There's even a documentary about the toys from the show. But the real selling point of this set is the beautiful quality of the episodes themselves. They've never looked or sounded better and since there are almost fifty hours of them, you've got your time cut out for you.

Relevant Tags

Martin Landau (1), Gerry Anderson (2), Godzilla (4), Toho (1), Mothra (1), Blu-ray (32), Cult Films (22), Cult Film (29), Jon Longhi (28), Movie Moment (16), Barbara Bain (1), Sci-fi (52), Science Fiction (15), Toho Studios (3)