In this early 60s change of pace offering from Toho Pictures, mankind is threatened not by a reawakened behemoth from the primordial past, but by a giant rock from outer space. Spaceship JX-1, the first manned flight to Saturn, is ordered to change course and intercept Gorath, a rouge star barreling through the cosmos and headed for a planet-shattering collision with the earth.
Outfitted in white coveralls and helmets, the crew of JX-1 look more like contestants in a go-cart race than astronauts, but in Gorath’s bold future of the 1980s, these are the men with the right stuff. When the crew is informed they are on what amounts to a suicide mission, they only hesitate a moment before raising their fists in the air and chanting, “Hurrah! Hurrah!”
While their esprit de corps is appreciated, it is also just a bit creepy.
Back on earth, high-ranking officials (peeved at not being consulted about the rerouting of JX-1) grudgingly concede that, yes, maybe the right decision was made even without their approval (useful information about the possible destruction of the earth was obtained, after all). Once everyone is on the same page about the need to do something about Gorath, the bean counters weigh-in with their penny-pinching take on the situation: it’s going to cost a lot of money to save the earth. Ultimately, it’s decided the job is too big for Japan to tackle alone, and before you can say UNICEF, the project is a United Nations operation.
Considering contemporary attitudes toward the UN—when, at best, a generous assessment might find the United Nations ineffectual and, at worst, part of a sinister cabal plotting world domination—Gorath’s vision of a united earth is probably the most implausible piece of speculation in a fairly improbable science fiction film. The belief that scientists could come up with a course of action every country on earth would get behind also seems a bit wide of the mark—especially considering the plan that’s eventually proposed.
Here is what the best and brightest recommend: building giant nuclear jets at the South Pole that will push the earth out of Gorath’s path. Seriously. But before anyone can point out that the earth’s rotation might be a problem, cargo ships are sent to the South Pole, and an impressive array of miniatures are deployed, clearing land and building the gigantic jets. After an extended montage of tiny flatbeds, cranes, dump trucks, and bulldozers moving across frame, Gorath begins to look less like a motion picture and more like a Tonka Toy commercial.
Finally, the enormous jets are ignited, and all that stands in the way of earth’s survival is—you probably guessed it—a giant walrus. Possibly freed from an icy hibernation by the heat of the nuclear reactors, it rampages through the UN’s command center. Upon learning of the giant walrus’ existence, the annoyed but blasé reaction of the chief scientist is, “I didn’t think an animal existed down here that could give us any trouble.” Possibly because he grew up in a country that has taken on Godzilla, Rodan, Ghidorah, and dozens of other giant monsters, the chief scientist finds it a bit difficult to get worked up about an oversized walrus. A hover-jet is dispatched to locate the immense marine mammal, and two laser blasts later, the problem is solved.
Planet-moving jets roaring, the earth is nudged out of the way, just as Gorath streaks by. While the rouge planet’s gravitational pull doesn’t result in Roland Emmerich scale destruction (or even Irwin Allen for that matter), the flooding of two minature cites provide the minimum cathartic experience of devastation and spectacle promised by the film (not to mention the fear mongering scientists).
Unfortunately, without massive maneuvering jets in the eastern and western hemispheres, the earth can only continue in one direction. Amid the worldwide celebration at averting total annihilation, it’s lucky no one overhears the following exchange between two scientists:
“Now we face our biggest job. We must put earth back on its original course.”
“We’ll need twice the nuclear power to put it back in its proper orbit. I’d say it’s a bit like walking on water.”
It’s not entirely clear what is meant by this last statement, but it doesn’t sound all that encouraging.
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I was 11 in 1966 when I first saw Gorath at a theater in Downtown Los Angeles. It was on a triple bill with Dr. Strangelove and another film I’ve since forgotten. At the time, in my 11-year-old estimation, I ranked the two films as roughly equivalent. Over the years, however, Dr. Strangelove has gradually moved to the top of my personal list of all-time favorite films, and Gorath, admittedly, has dropped a rung or two, but I still enjoy its can-do, single-minded optimism and complete disdain for any fact that might get in the way of its goofy but visually bold premise. Rotation be damned, we’re moving the earth!