September 29th, 2014

MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978) ** ½

The director of The Green Slime, Kinji Fukasaku goes back to outer space for another doozy of a sci-fi movie. It’s one of the most obvious Star Wars rip-offs of all-time. There are cutesy robots, lightsaber-influenced weapons (in this case, a “light whip”), music clearly aping John Williams’ classic score, and characters named “Princess Meia” and “Prince Hans”. Most of this is pretty shameless and some of it is quite dumb, but hey, at least it’s better than Starcrash.

Fearing his planet will be overtaken by a Darth Vader knockoff (he looks like a cross between Dr. Doom and a samurai), an old man sends eight seeds (they look like walnuts) into space. From there, he hopes will grow eight strong warriors. The seeds are found by Vic Morrow, a couple of loudmouth troublemakers, a whiny chick, Sonny Chiba, a dumb robot, and a couple of other people not worth mentioning. They eventually learn to work together and bring down the evil alien menace.

If Battle Beyond the Stars was The Seven Samurai in Space, this is The Eight Samurai in Space. I’m not sure if that one extra guy helped or not, but whatever. In fact, it in some ways seems like Fukasaku’s warm up to Legend of the Eight Samurai, which he made with Chiba a few years later.

Message from Space is way too long, has too many characters, and suffers from some patchy pacing. It does have a few goofy moments and a couple of straight-up hilarious ones to make it almost worth watching (especially if you’re a Star Wars fan like I am). My favorite scene was when an old hag bought the princess as a “wife” for her mutant son. If your jaw doesn’t drop on this part, it’s probably wired shut.

The special effects are surprisingly well done too and are easily the best thing about the film. The effects utilize a lot of different methods to achieve the finished product, and the editing is so good that the seams are hard to spot. It’s not Industrial Light and Magic or anything, but it’s still pretty good.

If you’re watching the flick because Sonny Chiba is in it, you’re bound to be disappointed. He doesn’t show up until the movie is halfway over. However, his fight with the main baddie is over the top and should make you laugh out loud.

AKA: Message from Space: Galactic Wars. AKA: Return to Jelucia.