Latitude Zero (1969)
Directed by Iroshi Honda
Special effects by EJ Tutsaburu
stars: Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Akira Takarada, Masumi Okada, Richard Jaeckel, Patricia Medina, and Akihiko Hirata
This is a fantasy science fiction film from Toho that seems like an homage to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I probably would’ve appreciated this more if I had seen it as a kid. There’s a Muppet looking flying lion and funky looking bat/human creatures. A small team of scientists researching an underwater volcano dive to the depths of the ocean in a dumbbell. An explosive eruption rips the dumbbell from its tethers and sends it freefalling through the deep waters. There it’s picked up by a super submarine of unknown origin. After meeting the captain and being inspected by a very pleasant female doctor, they head for the underwater home base.
LZ depicts an underwater world with two technically advanced yet warring tribes looking to control the lands beneath the artificial Sun. There’s some impressive submarine dog-fights with heat seeking torpedoes and an underwater laser Canon. Once in the domed city of Latitude Zero the scientists discover a perfect Utopian world, a perfect society and existence for its inhabitants. Caesar Romero plays Malic, the bad guy trying to break thru the city’s force field defense systems and take over the land. Sneaking into Malic’s lair to free a hostage, (LZ’s top scientist) the men are confronted by giant rats with glowing red eyes, beds of sulfur gas, and an acid moat. The bat-humans fly pretty smoothly but in some spots you can see the wires.
This was a rare Toho film shot in English with American and Japanese actors. The Japanese actors learned the English needed for the script. The script was written by Ted Sherdeman, who also penned the script for Them!. It’s interesting to hear the sound effects and music queues usually associated with Kaiju monsters played in this fantasy adventure. Comparisons to the lost city of Atlantis are evident. The submarine and underwater scenes show some achievement in special effects. It’s the fantasy creatures themselves that are the biggest drawback for me. I would say that if you had seen this as a youngster it would offer some measure of nostalgia. However, to me it seems more aimed at children than adults.
Mixed results in FX both propel and hinder this underwater fantasy adventure.
Will probably only be appreciated by Toho completists and nostalgic viewers.