In 1965, Toho released the 6th entry in the Godzilla series. Best known today under its original Japanese title of Invasion of Astro-Monster, it has had numerous titles over the years. The original US title was Monster Zero, giving no indication it was a Godzilla flick. Then, it became known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero before settling on the original title. Picking up on the huge success of the previous years’ Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, the beloved three-headed dragon was back again as the main foe for Godzilla. As well, Godzilla was now the defender of Earth, no longer the threat he once was.
Our story begins with two astronauts exploring the newly discovered Planet X. Fuji is played by Akira Takarada, star of numerous Toho productions from Gojira (1954) to Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Glenn is played by American actor Nick Adams, guest star on countless 60s TV shows as well as co-starring alongside Boris Karloff in 1965s Die, Monster, Die! Being in the shadow of Jupiter, Planet X has gone unnoticed all these years, existing in relative darkness. Fuji and Nick soon find themselves in an underground fortress, where they encounter the inhabitants of Planet X. They are under attack from a creature they call Monster Zero, who we know better as King Ghidorah. The mysterious Controller wants both Godzilla and Rodan from Earth to fight Monster Zero, in exchange for a miracle drug that cures cancer (or all diseases, as it was translated for the English-speaking audiences). However, once the Controller shows up on Earth, both Glenn and Fuji become suspicious of their true intentions. After capturing Godzilla and Rodan, they take the monsters to Planet X to defeat Ghidorah aka Monster Zero. However, the box containing the miracle drug is really a warning from Planet X. They reveal their true nature and threaten to destroy Earth unless they surrender. They now control all three monsters using sound waves and the battle soon begins with the Earth armies on one side and a trifecta of Kaiju goodness on the other. A sub-plot about an odd warning device to protect women turns out to be important to Earth’s survival, as it is the only weakness Planet X has. Once the new weapon is used against them, their control over the monsters is stopped, leaving Godzilla and Rodan to defend the Earth, forcing Ghidorah back into space. The fate of Godzilla and Rodan is left up in the air, as they are last seen crashing into the ocean.
This was one of my earliest Godzilla flicks, so it remains one of my favorites for nostalgic reasons alone. Bringing the outer space aliens into the plot was relatively unique at the time and a plot that would be repeated in future Godzilla movies. It was certainly more light-hearted fare and was a sign of the more family-friendly turn for Godzilla. Even Godzilla’s appearance is slightly altered here, sporting bigger and friendlier eyes. However, the monsters almost play second fiddle to the rest of the characters. Obvious stock footage from the original Rodan is incorporated, showing signs of a tighter budget. Mothra, who had to help defeat Ghidorah before, was originally planned but cut, again due to budgetary constraints. Minor drawbacks aside, Invasion of Astro-Monster had a successful run in Japan but wouldn’t see release in the US until 1970. One of the biggest drawbacks was poor dubbing. However, since the film is now finally available in its original Japanese language, it is getting more recognition and respect.
One of the refreshing aspects of the film is leading man Nick Adams. After starting off with bit roles in such Hollywood films as Mister Roberts and Rebel Without A Cause in the 50s, Nick had become relegated to guest starring roles in countless TV shows in the 60s. However, in 1965, he solidified his standing in the sci-fi/horror genre with his appearance here, as well as in Die, Monster, Die! and Frankenstein Conquers The World. Sadly, Nick never true found the stardom he so craved. Hollywood rumors about his sexuality and possible relationships with James Dean and Elvis Presley may have hurt his chances at getting bigger roles. After a starring role in Murder in the Third Dimension fell through when the movie halted production, Nick became very despondent and was found dead, apparently from suicide. With the popularity of Godzilla films on the rise in the 70s, it seems possible he could have had a career resurgence. However, considering how much he loathed working abroad, it is also just as likely he would have continued with television work before eventually retiring. Nonetheless, he remains an iconic figure in the Godzilla universe.