Monday, February 3, 2014

Giant Space Monster Dogora (1964) Movie Thoughts

Light and fluffy diamond caper? Fantasy film with an identity crisis? Or Ishiro Honda just milking the best out of a sorry excuse for a vacation? It's the kind of juggling act my mind performs while watching this mid-1960s offering by the kaiju master himself. More of an attempt by Toho to stretch a little outside the by-then familiar landscape of giant monsters and modeled mayhem, we have what is a mostly weird affair involving jewel thieves, the able police in hot pursuit, and a wily westerner as a mineral-hungry alien menace threatens to usurp the earth of its precious resources. Even as the opening scenes grant us promise of invasion by massive crystalline blue jellyfish, a great deal of the film's running time is centered on a chase for stolen diamonds. And as both films seemed destined to collide in some important manner, one may assume that Honda and Co. have under their sleeves a thematic sucker punch lying in wait. But sadly, this is something that never comes halfway to fruition as Dogora flounders about in search of a cohesive whole. And yet despite all this, there is a sweet attempt at making something totally unusual for the often workhorsed Honda that allows the final product to feel like a mild departure.

Not content with calling it Diamond Eating Space Squids, Dogora kind of fails to come through on nearly all it offers(but not without being a peek at something the celebrated monster filmmaker seemed eager to explore). As a japanese satellite is destroyed in orbit by a glowing blue alien force, a local chapter of organized diamond thieves find themselves at the center of an aggressive investigation. Both antagonists seemingly driven by a lust for nature's jewels, the conflicts on both land and space inevitably converge as scientists and police find themselves increasingly in over their heads.

As head Inspector Kommei (Yosuke Natsuki) and team find themselves inching closer towards understanding a bungled heist, he is almost continuously foiled by foreign interloper, Mark Jackson(played to fun effect by Robert Dunham, who seemed primed to get this character off the ground, and into a series of Jackson adventures that never happened), a mysterious, seeming thief with hidden plans and a wily disposition. While a great deal of the film touts the appearance of some truly unique alien effects and the requisite Eiji Tsuburaya magic complete with terrific model work and panicking crowds, the majority of the film is earthbound, with Kommei, and Jackson often butting heads against each other as they take on the diamond thieving gangsters. And while we do get some mild idea of what makes the gangsters tick, we never gain much of anything about the aliens enough to be compelled by any of that half of this particular mix.

On the whole, Honda and crew seem to be having a great deal of fun at least tinkering with genre outside the usual. There is even a scene here that evokes thoughts of some of the more zany early Bond adventures. Colorful and ready to take on a more caper tale, Dogora feels hobbled by a need to be this lumbering two-headed beast with little or no core focus. While one can see the eerie floating invertebrate giants in the sky as a metaphor for foreign interests, delving too greedily in the resources of other nations, it is often undermined by the film's greater lack of equilibrium. The creatures are well presented, but to what aim? As a result, the final product is this occasionally enjoyable, but ultimately minor entry in the career of one of the defining voices of monster cinema.

So in all, this space invader saga is a bit of a dud. A real shame, too as it does boast some fun images, characters and ideas. Perhaps a project that required more time to cook in the development, Dogora is Saturday matinee fodder that plays not unlike a trailer that goes on and on, never settling on a main hook or tag line. Had Honda and crew been granted a full chance to take on a more down to earth caper film, it is possible that we could have more than just a curious footnote. But alas.. 

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