FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, cosmological*
Sometimes nostalgia mellows my opinion of a given film. I may still be conscious that the film is inadequate, but it may come to seem like a time-capsule of a particular period.
MESSAGE FROM SPACE gets no such break from me. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw an assortment of lame attempts to duplicate the success of Lucas's STAR WARS, and though none of them succeeded, a few of them are worth watching just as curiosities, like the not-entirely-derivative HUMANOID. However, in this 1978 film MESSAGE is not even medium.
Though there are elements of MESSAGE that were clearly patterned on the Lucas work-- particularly the movie's supposedly cute robot-- the film's immediate model was probably the assorted "sci-fi superhero" TV-shows popular in Japan since the 1960s, since such shows are almost inevitably about a young man, or a group of young teens, acquiring super-powers with which to defend the world. In addition, MESSAGE was directly based on a popular Japanese novel, EIGHT DOG CHRONICLES.
While the original concept had some internal consistency-- eight samurai brothers unite to have adventures-- MESSAGE keeps only the basic idea of eight heroes. Probably following Lucas's idea of a "rag-tag band of misfits," all eight characters-- who are drafted to fight evil aliens -- are totally unrelated to one another, and are not even all Japanese (notably American film-actor Vic Morrow). However, the clumsy script renders all eight characters are incredibly flat stereotypes-- the seasoned old hand, the greedy comedy relief-- and none of the actors' lines confer even the most basic likability to any of these losers.
The worst thing about MESSAGE may be that not only is the selection of the eight heroes thoroughly haphazard-- it even includes the winsome robot-- none of them are really impressive fighters, and all that most of them do is run around firing ray-blasters. Sonny Chiba is minimally involved in the story but apparently his expertise in fight-coordination was not called upon.
The only half-decent thing in the film is a nicely designed "sailing-ship for the stars."