LATITUDE ZERO
Japan - U.S.A. | 1969
Directed by Ishirô Honda
Starring
Joseph Cotten
Cesar Romero
Richard Jaeckel

Color
| 105 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC | 2-disc set)

Tokyo Shock

Deck gun dictator.
WAV format | 0.3 MB
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6
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
Latitude Zero is one of the lesser known of Toho's late '60s science fiction films and when you see it in all its mad glory you understand why. It's not that LZ is a bad film — at least not completely. But it is such a strange mixture of good and bad elements that you're never sure how to take it. During the first 45 minutes its plays like a wonderful Jules Verne style fantasy introducing the audience to an amazing underwater city and the incredible scientific advances of its inhabitants. But once Cesar Romero's supervillain character is introduced things get silly pretty fast. As you might expect from a Toho production of the period the miniature work is fantastic, with some great submarine battles and exploding islands. But the creature effects are abysmal, often putting me in mind of poorly articulated stuffed animals. Luckily the film is entertaining enough to overcome a lot of its problems but it's still not one of the best from a studio that was at the time starting a sad slide into dancing Godzilla sequences. Juvenile features aimed at the kiddie matinee market would soon become the standard for mighty Toho.
   
The film begins with two scientists (Akira Takarada and Masumi Okada) and news photographer Perry Lawton (Richard Jaeckel of The Green Slime) in a bathysphere being lowered into the Pacific Ocean from a Japanese science vessel. They are part of a team of oceanic researchers studying a deep sea water current in the hopes of helping submarines increase their speeds. Without warning there is a huge explosion from the seabed and an underwater volcano erupts. The blast tosses the bathysphere around like a toy (he he) and snaps its support cable, severing it from the surface ship and rolling the hapless trio along the sea floor. Just as it appears the men will perish they are unexpectedly rescued by scuba divers who wench the bathysphere into a mysterious futuristic submarine. When Lawton and Dr.Tashiro (Takarada) awaken aboard the sub they're introduced to the lovely ship's doctor Anne Barton (Coffy's Linda Haynes) and the sub commander, Captain Craig MacKenzie (Joseph Cotten, Baron Blood). The amiable captain tells them that his ship the Alpha was in the area to observe the volcanic eruption and watch the sea gain a new island in the process. He was happy to rescue the men but is less enthused when Dr. Barton insists that to save the third member of the bathysphere crew will require medical attention not available on the submarine. MacKenzie reluctantly turns the ship about and heads for home base to save the researcher.
    But before they can reach safety their movements are tracked by the nefarious Malic (Cesar Romero in full Batman overacting mode) who dispatches his own submarine, the Black Shark, to destroy his hated enemy. But MacKenzie proves to be quite resourceful and is able to reach the underwater city of Latitude Zero unscathed. As their companion is rushed off to the hospital, Lawton and Tashiro are shown around the amazing city and have its wonders explained to them. Protected from the ocean by a force field the doubles as the city's sky, LZ is a bucolic society verging on a utopia. The place was established nearly two centuries before and was set up to work for the benefit of mankind. The most brilliant minds of the world are invited to secretly live and work without fear of governments using their creativity for war. The two men are stunned by the place but are even more surprised to learn of the incredible longevity of the city's inhabitants Capt. MacKenzie claims to be over 200 years old! It seems that slowing the aging process is one of Latitude Zero's amazing advances in science.
    After the third member of the bathysphere crew rejoins them the trio begin to think about returning to the upper world. But just then word arrives that scientist Dr. Akada, who was on his way to Latitude Zero, has been kidnapped by the evil Malic. Akada has perfected a treatment that immunizes against the effects of radiation and wishes to keep such a potentially dangerous process out of the hands of warmongering leaders. Malic intends to force the scientist to give up his secret and isn't above using the man's helpless daughter as leverage. The three visitors to LZ ask to accompany Capt. MacKenzie on a mission to Malic's fortress to help rescue Akada. Ridiculously he agrees to take them along but only after they join him in a hot tub. Uh! Actually the hot tub is called the "Bath of Immunity" a soaking process that temporarily confers bulletproof skin to the bather. When the lovely Dr. Barton joins them in the tub I was excited that the film might shoot off in an unexpected direction but everyone's privacy is maintained. And so they're off to save the day.
    That's basically the tale told in Latitude Zero but it doesn't really prepare you for what you're going to see. As mentioned, the film is a strange combination of great and terrible. It plays like the greatest Jules Verne rip-off every made right up until the absurdities become too much to take. And boy, are they epic! Romero plays his role as if the folks in the cheap seats might be deaf, arching his eyebrows at every opportunity and smiling like he was being paid by the grin. Patricia Medina plays his consort Lucretia; she works hard to match Cesar's over-the-top style giving all the scenes in their Blood Rock fortress a camp factor that bumps uncomfortably against the more serious stuff with the heroes. It's clear they were going for a playful sensibility but it often throws the movie's tone off. Adding to the campiness is the sadly inept look of the creatures created by Malic. Its here that it seems the budget came up short. I thought the worst the film could show me was the hysterically stupid looking bat-men that Malic uses to intimidate his prisoners. But when the lion is revealed and is so obviously a man in a lion outfit I nearly doubled over in laughter. Seriously this thing looks like they hollowed out a large stuffed animal and shoved a guy inside. It could not look sillier if they had tried. By the time Malic has grafted condor wings onto the lion, inserted a human brain into it and sent it off to kill, I was utterly slack jawed.
    But the strange thing is, I still like this movie. I could never call it great but I think it works on the level of a grand Saturday afternoon matinee aimed squarely at kids. It's inventive, silly and filled with wonderful eye candy. The final battle between the two rival submarines (including the island bombardment) features incredible miniature work and the film maintains a light touch and a good pace throughout. Even if I might have shortened the running time by a few minutes this is still a fun movie of the type they just don't make anymore. It's tempting to say that director Ishirô (Gojira) Honda was working beneath his abilities but I think it's his craftsman skills that make this such an enjoyable experience in spite of its odd problems. Honda and his collaborators behind the camera certainly did their best even if this isn't their best work. And credit must be given to Joseph Cotten for portraying MacKenzie with a twinkle and a smile, striking the perfect attitude to make the film an entertaining fantasy at least while he's on screen.

Tokyo Shock has given Latitude Zero an excellent debut on Region 1 DVD, in a two-DVD package that might be considered overkill. The film is presented in a beautiful anamorphic widescreen print boasting colors that pop off the screen. Two versions of the film were produced for release in 1969 and both of them are included; the U.S. version on Disc 1 and the "Original Japanese Version" on Disc 2. Strangely, the export version is longer than the Japanese. Clocking in at 105 minutes, it expands on the story is small ways and is actually the more satisfying of the versions. The Japanese cut is 89 minutes and while moving faster feels less fun. Both are good ways to see the story but I find myself giving the nod to the U.S. edit. It gives the English-speaking cast members their own voices and most of the acting is more natural (although nothing could make Linda Hayes performance any good). The English track is presented in both a 5.1 mix and the original mono. The Japanese cut has very good English subtitles in yellow.
   
The extras on Disc 2 consist of interviews with some of the crew, several trailers and over 20 minutes of deleted miniature effects work. The interviews with the assistant director and a couple of the special effects men are interesting but I found the silent deleted footage fascinating; it gives a little behind-the-scenes look at how things were shot. 1/28/08
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