Latitude Zero Review
With the rehashed success of Godzilla: King Of Monsters stateside, Japanese sci-fi movies had a worldwide market but often needed a bit of tweaking for the US public. The re-cutting and dubbing of these films was done to make the adventures of monsters and dodgy science more palatable to the greater world and eventually this led to co-productions between the Japanese film-makers and the American money men. This brought forward films like Frankenstein Conquers the World and this more identifiable co-production featuring Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero alongside the regular Japanese talent.
Latitude Zero is a matinee hoot which recycles the Atlantis myth and the Captain Nemo stories popular at the time in a tale of a benevolent civilisation which keeps peace on our terranean world by managing cold war tensions and scientific discoveries that threaten it. Two scientists and a journalist are carrying out tests at latitude zero when their diving bell is struck by an underground explosion and they wake up in the underground Eden that is Captain McKenzie's underwater domain. There, they see peace and missing scientists and technology beyond their dreams and they learn that all this is threatened by McKenzie's adversary Mallic and his attempts to kidnap top scientist Dr Okada and his radiation immunity discovery. McKenzie must attack Mallic's island lair to defeat him once and for all.
The presence of four American leading actors makes the film a more committed co-production than the earlier efforts to marry Japanese Kaiju and Hollywood starpower, but the technical expertise and crew are the same players who launched Gojira on the world originally. A plethora of model effects, some very cleverly intricate and some matte mixing with live action are the basis of the fantastical adventure of the film which features wonderful hybrid monsters courtesy of Romero's mad Mallic. The effects are not always impressive but they are great fun - sure it's a man in a tiger suit rather than some Harryhausen stop motion, and sure the jetpacks are obviously mounted on dolls rather than the actors. If you find yourself let down by these rudimentary tricks then you were taking things too seriously anyway.
Latitude Zero is pantomime fun with a pleasing perversity at its core. Mallic tortures Dr Okada by making a hybrid of his slinky submarine captain, a lion and a vulture, and telling him he's next, and the uniforms of the utopia under the sea reflect a transparent attempt to please any dads that are watching. Watching the film in its longer US edit, there are delirious attempts to speak in English from Hikaru Kuroki and a moustache twirling performances from Romero keen to recapture the camp of his Joker in the Batman series, whilst Cotten's cravate does all his acting work for him . The US inserts show just how stupid the American producers thought their audience was with endless explanation of the plot and clarifications from the evil Admiral complete with his leather codpiece and vampish companion.
Worthy anyone's money for sheer fun and entertainment, Ishiro Honda's movie will bring you monkey bats, leather clad submarine captains and giant rats. Given the dearth of such imaginative nonsense from modern adventures, you should enjoy this as the Sunday afternoon popcorn fodder it is.
Tokyo Shock release the film as a two disc set with enclosed trailer disc as a freebie. Coming in a white DVD case with each of the two discs housed in the sides of the case, Latitude Zero is a rather striking presentation. The first disc comprises the US cut of the film which runs 16 minutes longer the Japanese cut which is included on disc two, and both cuts are in 2.35:1 ratio and look very similar in terms of visual quality. The transfer looks like it has been colour and contrast boosted a little, which gives some of the orange hues a far from clean appearance, and increases the effect of film grain in some lighter sequences. I noted a couple of instances of compression artefacts, but this is a fine transfer which is sharp, reasonably detailed and colourful. The respective audio tracks include the original mono of both cuts - it's a hoot watching Cesar Romero seem to speak Japanese - and a 5.1 mix given for the US cut. The sound has been well mastered with no distortion to speak of and the dialogue is always clearly represented, the 5.1 track will give you an illusion of surround with adequate speaker coverage spreading effects and music across the rear and side, and all dialogue coming from the centre and front.
Disc one includes the teaser for the film in Japanese with English subs, and a photo gallery of 10 promotional and lobby cards. Disc two contains a featurette containing interviews with surviving crew members about the making of the film. The featurette talks about the problems of co-production with competing methods about issues like the director's right to cut the film, shooting with multiple cameras and script revisions. For some of the crew some of the US producer's ideas still rankle even if they see both sides tried to be flexible in completing the picture. Disc two also includes 28 minutes of deleted scenes which appear in neither cut and are largely unused model shots of battles, discarded composite shots and some more examples of life in the underwater dome. the extras are completed with some trailers for other MB releases.
Actually given the flack Media Blasters have taken for some of their genre releases in the past, this is an excellent set presented really well. The film is a kookfest which is great fun and worth kicking your feet up for.