Battle in Outer Space Blu-ray Review

Moon Landing Battle

There were few greater cinematic idealists than director Ishiro Honda. Consider this: Five years after conducting the bleak, disparate, nuclear holocaust warning film Godzilla, Honda directed the optimistic Battle in Outer Space.

Consider the United States ended their post-war occupation of Japan in 1952. Battle in Outer Space takes place in future of 1965 and sees American, Arabic, English, and Asian countries together at the UN, uniting against their common foe. No one argues with one another regarding how best to deal with an alien invasion from the far flung planet of Natal. All the world’s leaders nod, agree, and step onto rocketships bound for the Natalian base on Earth’s moon.

Honda directs actors standing in front of their nation’s flags, cheering on pilots headed into space. On the ship, one asks to pray. Each astronaut does so in their own way, without divisive debate. After the crew knocks out Natal’s moon forces, the return landing is greeted with worldwide celebration. Then, all the factories – even those in Siberia – crank up weapons production in anticipation of a retaliatory attack. No talk of shared spending, tariffs, or import fees; this is all-in as one.

Battle in Outer Space, in this regard, is a delight. Ignore the pre-moon landing science and ‘50s era laser beams. Battle in Outer Space is a spirited call to arms to heal international fractures in a post-WWII climate, done with musical cooperation from master composer Ikira Ifukube and visual effects of Toho’s miniatures champion Eiji Tsubaraya. It feels energized, looks colorful, and rarely slows.

… a charming piece of ‘50s pop cinema

This is, however, a product of its time. Battle in Outer Space wants to cash-in before space fever slipped from the public consciousness. Tsubaraya’s miniature ships reveal far too many wires and the buildings too many pre-planned cracks. Ifukube recycles his themes, and Honda (with scriptwriter Sinichi Sekizawa) fails to produce a credible character. Part of that is so no one stands out – this is a unification effort after all – but it’s a strayed focus that leaves Battle in Outer Space searching for a dramatic core.

That leaves action scenes faltering, certainly too similar to those from 1957’s The Mysterians, another Honda/Tsubaraya/Ifukube alien invasion tale. Scenes of traded lasers wander in pace, static and disinterested in kintecism. Action on the moon, making up a majority of Battle in Space, lack the long-standing allure of such scenery. Also, until the closing moments, Earth’s cities remain in pristine condition. When they finally endure blasts from “space torpedoes,” the wobbly miniatures of New York and Tokyo fall on the low side of Toho’s effects output.

What’s left is a charming piece of ‘50s pop cinema, left ragged by time, if no less sensational in its ability to show how the world can be drawn together as a whole. In that sense, the thematic power of Battle in Space hasn’t waned a day, forever a dreamer.

Video

Sony chucks Battle in Outer Space onto Blu-ray alone, this after issuing the film on DVD in a three-pack of Toho classics; Mothra and The H-Man remain absent in HD. There’s little care here, although it’s worth noting Sony/Columbia did not have a print until that DVD release. Battle in Outer Space, since this disc uses the American print, likely doesn’t have a better source available (outside of Toho’s original Japanese version).

Damage is persistent, coming in the form of rough scratches in various degrees. Extensive vertical scratches will sometimes linger, while smaller specks pop up regularly. Dirt and other issues jump in too.

In terms of resolution, this scan doesn’t exude sharpness. Grain is notably chunky as it goes with low res masters. Fine detail is offered, including facial definition on a few occasions. The jump to Blu-ray does no favors to the effects; overly visible wires mark a clear sign of added fidelity compared to DVD.

The stand-out though is color. With the first shots inside the UN set, all of the flags, uniforms, and other national touches flourish. Dazzling primary colors and rich flesh tones offer superb brightness. Contrast offers support too, countered with rich black levels. Time didn’t fade Battle in Outer Space.

Audio

Both English dub and Japanese language tracks come in DTS-HD mono. Note the Japanese track is not supported by accurate subtitles. Rather, dubtitles that pop up even as no one is speaking. That’s a downer.

Overall fidelity runs low energy, sapping the vividness of the horns that make up much of the music. Scratchy dialog and treble-crushing laser fire won’t help. Clarity is sacrificed to time and without remastering, things won’t change. Battle in Outer Space is overdue for an A/V clean-up, but it’s a serviceable presentation.

Extras

Japanese film experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski pair for a commentary track, and you won’t find anyone more knowledgeable on this film (and others) than these two.

Battle in Outer Space
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

From an idealist director in Ishiro Honda, 1959’s Battle in Outer Space believes world unity can stave off an alien invasion.

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