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Director: Jun Fukada
Discotek Media

In March 1975, Toho Company Ltd. released the last of the classic Godzilla films with THE TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA and nothing more was heard from the giant behemoth until his radical revamping in GODZILLA 1985. In the meantime, special effects films in general underwent a major rebirth in the summer of 1977 with the release of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. This was the effort that forever changed the face of science fiction films leading to the present day big budgets and computer generated effects (CGI) from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Tim Burton, etc. thus eliminating the use of traditional men-in-monster-suits effects of Toho Company and the painstaking stop-motion animation of effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. For their part, Toho released this space opera “epic” in December 1977 to cash in on the Lucas film, although the finished product owes more to Toho’s glory days of ATRAGON (1963) and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959). Now, a relatively new DVD company called Discotek Media has released THE WAR IN SPACE in a generally good presentation (in many ways on par with Media Blasters’ recent Toho releases with one major flaw in encoding (which WILL be rectified by the company…more information later in this review).

As already mentioned, the general plot of THE WAR IN SPACE owes a great deal to Ishiro Honda’s ATRAGON. Instead of an invasion from an undersea kingdom (MU) though, it is the evil Venusians who are the antagonists and it is up to a group of brave astronauts (led by Ryo Ikebe) to journey into space in an Atragon-like spacecraft to stop them. Throw in STAR WARS-like elements (a Chewbacca-like animal/man, young Luke Skywalker/Han Solo-type heroes) and you get a mish-mash of ideas that is definitely one of Toho’s lesser efforts and director Jun Fukada’s last genre film.

Although the cast of THE WAR IN SPACE is composed primarily of younger talent, some Toho veterans do show up in the proceedings for a welcomed bit of nostalgia. Akihiko Hirata who played “Dr. Serizawa” in the original GOJIRA (1954) as well as the tragic figure of “Dr. Ryochi Shirishi” in THE MYSTRIANS (1957) makes an appearance as does Ryo Ikebe who starred as scientists in both BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and GORATH (1962 – PLEASE MGM/SONY…RELEASE THIS AS A MIDNITE MOVIE ON A DOUBLE BILL WITH TOHO’S THE HUMAN VAPOR!!!). In addition, American William Ross appears, and if his name if unfamiliar to some readers, his credits are not. Mr. Ross (through his company Frontier Enterprises) was responsible for dubbing many “international versions” of Toho classics like GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) and even an alternate “international dub” of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). In addition, he also did the dubbing for AIP-TV/Nikkatsu’s MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967) and his name appears in the opening credits. Mr. Ross (who still resides in Tokyo) also acted in Toei/MGM’s THE GREEN SLIME (1968) and Toei/UA’s MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978 – PLEASE MGM/SONY…RELEASE THIS TO DVD AS A MIDNITE MOVIE ON A DOUBLE BILL WITH TOEI’S JOHNNY SOKKO MOVIE, VOYAGE INTO SPACE!!!).

This Discotek presentation is a quite good visual eyeful. It is presented anamorphic in its original Tohoscope (2.35:1) ratio with a beautifully clear and sharp picture and vivid colors. Like Media Blasters’ DVDs, this Discotek release is apparently taken from the same source as Toho’s Japanese Region 2 DVD. The crisp and clear audio is presented in the original Japanese language (2.0 and 5.1), as well as an English-dubbed track (2.0 and 5.1) with removable subtitles for the Japanese language version. Extras include a 32-minute interview with special effects director, Teriyoshi Nakano. Mr. Nakano gives a great deal of informative information on the making of this film. The interview is in Japanese and features removable English subtitles. In addition to this, there are numerous production stills and special effects stills from the film as the original trailer and trailers for other Discotek Media DVDs. There is also a glossy five-page booklet about the film included in the disc’s packaging.

Now…as for the encoding problem on the DVD…at about 36 minutes into the film, movement of the action suddenly becomes jerky; as if a PAL transfer was improperly converted to NTSC. This was apparently a problem on the initial batch of DVDs and the people at Discotek Media ARE aware of the issue and all future releases of this title will be corrected. To that end, they have set up a place on their website (www.discotekmedia.com) in which they address the problem and everyone who has one of these faulty discs can return it (the disc ONLY…NOT the case or cover) to: Discotek Media, War in Space Replacement, 522 Hunt Club Blvd. PMB 338, Apopka, FL 32703. In return, they “will ship you a fully working replacement.”

All things considered, Discotek Media’s presentation is a very good one of one of Toho’s lesser film efforts. The problem with the encoding has at least been acknowledged early and will be corrected by the company. At least this presentation will give fans a glimpse at one of Toho’s last hurrahs of their classic science fiction film series before the 1985 re-inventing of their number one giant…GODZILLA! (Joe Cascio)