Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Movie: Message from Space (1978)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... hang on. Scratch that.

Twenty-six years ago in Japan, a new business was born: the STAR WARS knockoff. Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema is screening an assortment of them as midnight shows, including this wonder from Kinji Fukasaku, who would go on to direct the controversial BATTLE ROYALE.

There’s a villain in the Darth Vader mold. Only he has to listen to his mother, a dead ringer for H. R. PUFNSTUF’s Witchiepoo. There’s a cute robot a la R2D2. Only he belongs to an alcoholic ex-general who dresses like an intergalactic pimp and is played by Vic Morrow. The Luke Skywalker stand-in (Philip Casnoff) wears rainbow suspenders and talks like John Travolta in a bold attempt at a trifecta, ripping off George Lucas, MORK & MINDY and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER in one fell swoop. And to my recollection, none of Lucas’ heroes were chosen by glowing space walnuts.

MESSAGE slavishly imitates the STAR WARS structure, yet somehow finds room for gonzo eruptions of creativity all its own. The set and costume designs, for example, are amateurish but strangely beautiful. Watching this movie is like stumbling onto a work of outsider art, like Henry Darger with an FX budget.

Miscellaneous: Links

What happens when an English newspaper encourages its readers to write to Americans about the upcoming election? Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily, you can find out.

GreenCine Daily offers’s list of the fifty best science-fiction and fantasy films. And THE LAST STARFIGHTER becomes a musical. Can MESSAGE FROM SPACE be far behind? I hope not. Because I’ve written a libretto that’ll knock you on your ass.