Blu Notes: BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE「宇宙大戦争」⋅ 2017 ⋅ Anolis Entertainment
Toho tokusatsu fans can scratch one more title off the list, courtesy of dependable German cult outfit Anolis Entertainment. Shinichi SEKIZAWA penned this action-minded follow up to 1957’s comparatively somber The Mysterians, which finds the newly-unified governments of Earth repelling an invasion from the high-tech bandits of the planet Natal. Battle in Outer Space features perhaps the least-engaging human drama in Toho’s genre history (the film makes for one of Ishiro HONDA’s least interesting directorial turns), leaving Eiji TSUBURAYA’s ace special effects production the de facto star of the show. But what a star it is!
Battle in Outer Space offers up a veritable buffet of tasty tokusatsu morsels. The first act is dedicated to the devilish acts of the Natal saucers, who kick off the show by blasting an Earth space station to rubble, while the second sends a scientific force to the Moon, where the Natal have set up an advance base. It’s in the third act that Tsuburaya really pulls out the stops, however, as the Natal mothership pelts major Earth cities with “space torpedoes” and disastrously de-gravitizes whole blocks of metropolitan Tokyo, all while a dogfight between Natal saucers and the rocketships of Earth’s Space Patrol wages above (with accompaniment from one of Akira IFUKUBE’s greatest martial themes, later sourced for the climactic final act of Shin Godzilla). Now nearly 60 years old, Battle in Outer Space still makes for a hell of an effects show, and one predictive (for better or worse) of Hollywood’s more recent city-leveling effects-above-all-else proclivities.
Those familiar with Sony’s domestic DVD edition of Battle in Outer Space will have a good idea of what to expect from the Anolis Entertainment blu-ray of the film, which is sourced from the same HD masters. The blu-ray again offers two versions of the picture, the original Japanese and the dubbed American (which Columbia distributed world-wide in a variety of dubs), which are of identical stuff with the exception of the opening and closing credits. Color and contrast are the biggest beneficiaries of the HD bump, with both appearing quite rich and balanced. Textures resolve to a greater degree than in the DVD editions, but the minor damage that mars Battle‘s surviving elements (a persistent patina of vertical white scratches) also becomes more obvious. Detail ticks up, but not to any overwhelming degree. The original Tohoscope photography is already limited in this regard, and one suspects that it would take a substantial modern effort to drag much more out of it. Healthy encodes in AVC hold it all together, and leave me with precious little to complain about.
Audio options are split between the two versions of the picture, original Japanese and German dub for the Japanese theatrical version, or German dub and English dub for the American theatrical version. All are monophonic and presented in DTS-HD, with the Japanese generally sounding cleaner and better-resolved than its dub counterparts. (It’s worth noting that Battle in Outer Space was presented in 3-track stereo in some of its domestic theatrical engagements, and though that track is preserved on the Japanese DVD it is present on neither the original Sony DVD nor the new Anolis blu-ray.) Optional German subtitles are offered in support of each version.
Supplements improve markedly over the Sony DVD (doubly so for those with any grasp of German), though the fine commentary recorded for that disc by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski is blessedly carried over. New and exclusive to the Anolis blu-ray is a second commentary track (German language) by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Jorg M. Jedner, complemented by a substantial illustrated booklet featuring writing on the film from Jedner and Jo Steinbeck. On-disc supplements continue with the original Super 8mm version of the film (running roughly 8 minutes in English), the original German theatrical trailer for the film (as Krieg im Weltenraum), and digital versions of both the American and German pressbooks as well as the German film program. A substantial gallery of ad imagery for the film rounds things out nicely.
Battle in Outer Space comes packaged in a standard DVD-size case (as with all past releases in Anolis’ Galerie des Grauens series) and includes a standard definition PAL-format DVD which duplicates the blu-ray’s contents. Both discs are region locked per Anolis’ contract with Sony, to region B and region 2 respectively. As for the film itself, Battle in Outer Space, for all its faults, remains a major effects milestone from the very best years of Toho’s genre production. Even with a lack of English language support (when has that ever stopped me) I couldn’t resist, and it’s a thrill to see the film looking as good as this after all these years. For the all region-capable and region B natives, this gets an easy recommendation. Would that all classic special effects films could be presented so well.
A note on this review, and Blu Notes articles to come: While in the past I have been enthusiastic about including screenshots for any video reviews, and still find them as useful and instructive as I ever have, at present I can neither take nor provide them. My wife and I moved aboard a boat in the Spring of 2016, and the dedicated review tech I had at the time (a behemoth of a PC which I still miss dearly) was disposed of out of considerations for space. There should be plenty of reputable sources for screenshots for most of the discs to be reviewed on these pages, but for the rest, and in advance, my apologies.