September 2, 2018

Knock Offs Part II: Message from Space

This movie was brutal. There wasn't a single likable character, almost no plot, and it was two hours long. It wasn't totally without charm, but it almost was...

The plot unfolds something like this: The peaceful planet of Jillucia, has been conquered by the steel-skinned warriors of the Gavanas Empire, who've turned the planet into a military base. Kido (the elder of Jillucia) sends eight Liabe seeds [glowing walnuts] into the universe to find heroes worthy enough to liberate their planet. Kido's granddaughter (Princess Emerald) and the warrior Urocco are sent to round up all the seed recipients and assemble their rescue task force. This is the only hope to save Jillucia, so hopefully all the recipients are ready to embrace their destiny.

Don't let me over sell this: That plot rundown gives this movie more credit than it deserves. If this movie were as simple as that, it might have been more enjoyable, but every character has to have their own solo adventure, and that leads to more backstory, and that uncovers more mythos, and that leads them to different planets, and all of that leads to a highly unnecessary two hour runtime.

Walnuts, or Liabe seeds?
The plot that never gets going: Our first two heroes find their prophetic walnuts very early on, and they come across the third walnut recipient shortly after that. Those three team up with a fourth friend (who oddly isn't the fourth nut recipient) and together they're led to the fourth nut holder. The fourth friend does eventually become the fifth nut holder, but not before the first four recipients denounce their nut-destiny. Now, we're about twenty mins into this thing and before the plot can move forward, three of the eight nut holders must receive their nuts and four others must be replaced. The original four nut recipients do eventually receive replacement nuts (that also glow) and find the sixth nut holder after crash landing on a far-flung planet. Now were about 80 mins into this flick, and two more nut recipients must be discovered. They eventually discover the third nut holder's robot is also the seventh nut holder. The eighth nut holder turns out to be someone who's been with the group most of the movie, but wasn't deemed worthy of a glowing walnut until this point. Now that the eight heroes are FINALLY assembled, they can save Jillucia! But there's also 15 mins before the movie ends and so it's really hard to care anymore.

Not one likable character: Aside from a robot sidekick, everyone in this film is either completely obnoxious, oddly gruff, or outrageously childish. The worst offenders the three "teen" friends and their thirty-something companion who somehow embody all of those characteristics. The "teens" seem more like adults imitating toddlers than they do teenagers, they react to the slightest annoyances by screaming at each other or throwing temper tantrums. Their older friend isn't any better, he's about as sophisticated as a Benny Hill character but he also screams every single line he has before huffing out of the scene. And these are basically the hero protagonists! Entitled selfish brats who hate each other, but eventually (and apropos of nothing) decide to work together to save Jillucia, but will continue to be horrible monsters while they do it. If this movie wasn't a full two hours, that all might add to the ridiculousness of the movie, but two hours of this almost obliterates any fun in the rest of the film.

Visuals galore: From the clearly plastic ivy the Jillucia inhabitants adorn themselves with, to the fully impressive costumes the villains rock, someone's always wearing something to look at. The sets and matte paintings are pretty impressive as well, and the effects are enjoyably cheesy. But again, if this film was an hour shorter these elements would more than make up for the unbearable elements, but they're lost in the din of "teens" arguing.

The cast: I would love to know how the filmmakers signed on some of these actors. Many of them had established careers at this point (Vic Morrow, Shin'ichi Chiba, Etsuko Shiomi, to name a few) so their involvement doesn't make a ton of sense. And to add to my confusion, the directer and most of the main cast made The Shogun's Samurai the same year. That movie was apparently so good it was nominated for 5 different Awards of the Japanese Academy. It seems they were capable of producing quality work together, so why on Earth did any of them agree to do this?

Space suits of the future!
The Morphin Power Ranger connection: Shôtarô Ishinomori was one of the writers of this film, and he created Super Sentai Zyuranger, which was what became Power Rangers! He also wrote a bulk of the episodes for most of the (numerous) Power Rangers franchises before his death. 

Other weird connections: Kinji Fukasaku co-wrote and directed this movie. He also directed Green Slime, Battle Royal, The Shogun's Samurai, and co-directed Tora! Tora! Tora!. 

A spin off of a knock off: Apparently there's a TV series called Message from Space: Galactic Wars that's a spin off of this film. Though they reuse a lot of the costumes and FX from the movie, they do up the Star-Wars-knock-off ante by adding a Wookie-like character. The only behind the scenes connections between the film and show are writer Shôtarô Ishinomori and actor Hiroyuki Sanada, but to make things even more complicated, Sanada plays a different character in each... 

Don't let us undersell how aggravatingly drawn out it is: At the halfway point of this movie we were ready for it to be over. This is the kind of movie where every 10 mins or so you'll find yourself asking "did any of that matter", and it'll turn out that none of it did matter. But again, if this movie had been an hour long we might have loved it! Maybe someday someone will make a fan edit and post it on Youtube.

Glowing nuts.

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