The Mystery of Mamo (1978)

It has been an extremely long time since I’d watched the first Lupin III feature film. It’s been such a long time that it’s been dubbed three more times since the one I remember. And I remembered the immortal lines “Only a laser beam can cut through my vest” and “Once again, I cut a worthless object,” but I completely forgot all the cartoon nudity. “Oh, yeah, so there’s some nude scenes in this,” I said, sheepishly, as our favorite nine year-old critic raised an eyebrow.

But there’s also the usual chaos and chase scenes. It’s a very weird movie in that regard. Some of the shenanigans look like they’re being played for high comedy but have a serious and deadly edge. It’s most evident in a scene where the villains send a helicopter to attack our heroes in a Parisian cafe. It’s the sort of overkill that’s funny because it’s so ridiculous, and indeed our son was roaring with laughter, while innocent bystanders are clearly not avoiding the bullets. It wouldn’t have been funny at all if they’d pulled up in a van. Bringing a helicopter is silly, which prompts laughing, and the subsequent murders are serious. Our heroes are up against one of the most cold-blooded villains they’ve ever faced.

The Mystery of Mamo was released in Japan as simply Lupin III, but American fans started calling it The Mystery of Mamo to match the alliteration of the second film, The Castle of Cagliostro, which we watched in the spring. The name stuck, even though it’s not accurate and “Mameaux” is misspelled. It is one of a small handful of movies directed by Sōji Yoshikawa and it’s a lot more faithful to the lecherous spirit and gangly style of the original comics by Monkey Punch than all the movies that followed.

As for the plot, it’s in a class by itself. The original dub – more on that in a second – isn’t very clear on this point, but Lupin gets word that he’s been executed and DNA testing has proved that the body was his. Zenigata, the Interpol inspector obsessed with Lupin’s capture, doesn’t believe it either. This puts the adversaries at odds again while Lupin starts targeting treasures believed to grant immortality. The trail of clones and eternal life leads them to a stunted, absurdly resourceful, and rich villain called Mamo, who claims to be 10,000 years old. Lupin III’s adventures are usually a little bit more down to earth than this.

Mamo has been released in North America several times by different companies, resulting in four separate English-language dubs. Discotek Media compiled all four, along with the original Japanese language track with subtitles, on a DVD released in 2013. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I remembered. I think I was wrong to choose the original dub that I was familiar with once upon a time. It is said, by people who know these things, to be a good and accurate translation, but it feels incredibly clunky and confusing, and the voice actress for Fujiko sounds too much like a helpless damsel in distress. But the kid still prefers dubs to subs, and I’d like him to be happy when we’re watching stuff together.

To be sure, there’s a lot for a kid to like here, even if his parents may have wished for a little less of Lupin dropping his pants. He absolutely loves Zenigata’s furious, single-minded obsession to arrest Lupin and just cackles at the sight of him. The slapstick violence and action is always amazing in these movies. At one point, they’re being chased up a twisty mountain road by the biggest eighteen-wheeler ever built, and at another, Goemon gives a henchman the sort of wound that even Daffy Duck would have trouble recovering from, so he was in heaven.

So you wouldn’t expect Dr. Anti-Fun, who we met last month complaining about the physics in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, would start grumbling, but at the end, the villain reveals a rocket with a dome instead of a cone top and he just had to interject “that wouldn’t fly!” Well, it wouldn’t hold a brain the size of a ranch house, either, Dr. Anti-Fun, so just hush and go with it. Kids!

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

I really don’t feel like writing this morning, so for posterity: we rewatched Solo today and enjoyed it tremendously again, and I’ve decided that my favorite Star Wars movies are the ones that have the least amount of Force stuff in them: this and Rogue One.

Also: where the blazes is Donald Glover’s series of Lando movies and TV shows?

Image credit: USA Today

Dragonslayer (1981)

Since we brought Avengers: Endgame home, our son watched it in its entirety once. He’s seen the final 45 minutes about six more times. He wants to get to the good stuff, and who can blame him? I can’t swear to it, but that’s probably how I watched Dragonslayer when it arrived on HBO in 1982-ish. I’d seen the movie once or twice when it was released, but I didn’t remember much of the first two acts of this at all. What happens in Dragonslayer? I couldn’t have told you before this afternoon, other than Peter MacNicol fighting an amazing dragon in a big red cave.

Rewatching it, there is a little more to chew on for grownups. It may be one of those films where the special effects don’t really show up until the third act, but there are some interesting moments and good actors. The photography is gorgeous, the music is interesting, and John Hallam plays a very entertaining villain. It’s one of those movies with American leads and a supporting cast full of recognizable British actors like Emrys James, Ralph Richardson, and Ian McDiarmid, although strangely they picked completely unknown American leads, which isn’t usually the way movies like this were made.

I don’t think we can call this a huge success with our son, though. Yes, the dragon stuff went over very well, and there’s a downright stunning moment of absolute grossness where one of the dragon’s victims is being eaten by two dragon babies, which may well be the most gruesome, gory thing in any film that Disney had anything to do with. (They co-produced it with Paramount and distributed it outside North America.) But much like any kid would have done back in the day, this was a movie to squirm restlessly and get frustrated while the film coyly refuses to show the monster. The beast itself is a triumph of design and execution, but I don’t foresee this being a film that he’ll want to dust off and revisit any time soon, and if he does, it’ll just be the final act.

Dr. Slump: Space Adventure (1982)

A few months ago, when we watched the first of the Dr. Slump films, I talked at length about how I firmly believe every home with under-tens should have a stack of the books and whatever cartoons you can find. The comics still haven’t tempted our son, but he was thrilled when I told him we were watching the second of the Slump movies this weekend. 1982’s Space Adventure is the only feature-length film of the eleven theatrical releases – all of the others are under an hour – and while the first one is grandly funny, this one is next-level. He and I laughed our freaking heads off.

Space Adventure is a goofy lampoon of all the sci-fi stuff that was really popular in Japan in 1982 – Star Wars, Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam – and introduces a nefarious villain named Dr. Mashirito who’s the spitting image of Queen’s guitarist Brian May. The fiend, who makes his entrance singing his own theme song, has abducted Penguin Village’s beautiful teacher. Our heroes blast into space to track her down. Along the way, they deal with the fact that Dr. Senbei forgot to include toilets on his spaceship, battle a space armada of robot bug ships, and flick boogers through cameras to land on the person on the other end, which just about made me stop breathing.

Either you get this lunatic brilliance or you don’t, and for whatever reason, my wife’s one of the ones who don’t. So she retreated to the bedroom to have a video chat with some nerdy girlfriends, and I swear I didn’t intend to interrupt her, but in round one of Arale’s big battle with Dr. Mashirito’s giant needle-nosed robot, they end up knocking each other through and around a moon and the kid and I were howling so loudly that one of my wife’s pals suggested she needs to check this show out. I didn’t think that I had a lot to write this morning, but I’ll say mission accomplished and think all you readers should follow her example. Bye-cha!

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)

Even if you can’t stand sports or watching competitions on TV, you know how they end. The camera celebrates the winner. That’s why this lovely, lovely moment at the end of A Boy Named Charlie Brown remains one of my all-time favorite gags in any movie. Charlie Brown has blown it, again, and instead of showing the triumph of the kid who won the spelling bee, the camera focuses on the first loser. The winner is completely forgotten. Lucy – voiced by the wonderful Pamelyn Ferdin – switches off the TV to rant at her friends, turns it back on, and the focus is still on Charlie. It slays me every time. They should try that the next Super Bowl just to drive home how downright mean this is.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown is 51 years old. It probably didn’t feel that downright mean then. Just to put that in perspective, 51 years before that, we were trying to wrap up World War One. I’m fascinated by the way society moves and changes and evolves. Since our culture shifted the way we teach children from “stand up to bullies” to “don’t bully” – I’m not sure why it took so long for us to figure this out – Lucy comes across very differently today than she did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Another little thing that comes across differently to this family just in the last couple of months is that our son has mostly retired his security blanket. Regular readers have seen me mention his little blue blanket, named Bict, several times over the years. For a while, it was joined by several other stuffed animals. But those only watched TV with him for a few months until only Bict remained, and one day in the spring we realized Bict wasn’t with him anymore. Bict stays in bed for cuddling when he sleeps.

Poor Linus may never get to that stage. One day without his own little blue blanket and he’s a mess. He gives it to Charlie Brown for luck, and unable to stand its absence, he and Snoopy take a bus to New York City to find it. The idea of a kindergarten kid staying out all night looking in trash cans in the alleys around the NYPL might just be one of the most fanciful things we’ve ever seen.

I’ve always liked this movie and it holds up very well. I like the musical detours and the interesting changes to the animation and art direction when it leaves the plot behind for Schroder’s concerto and Snoopy’s game of hockey. Our son was really amused by the slapstick and silliness, but had his heart broken a little when Charlie Brown flops in the end. He was really getting into the spelling bee, too. We made sure to tell him afterward that real national spelling bees go on for a whole lot longer than the four or five minutes this one takes. They’re more like dance marathons than the Super Bowl, aren’t they?

Our son has seen some of the other Peanuts movies and most of the TV specials. I’d been saving the best one for last and I’m glad that he enjoyed it. He says that it’s the best of all of them – I’d say it’s probably joint first with the Christmas special, honestly – and added it to his DVD collection with a smile. He’ll be getting another of the old paperbacks for his next road trip next month. In fairness, he doesn’t quite enjoy Peanuts as much as Garfield, but a new-to-him book of strips is just the right thing for a long car trip.

Tron (1982)

I always liked the video game of Tron more than the movie, even though I wasn’t very good at it. I could never finish the third level. Do you remember the game? The cabinet was all black light and faux neon, and you had to clear four sub-games on each level: the tanks, the light cycles, the grid spiders, and the breakout. It got exponentially more difficult with each clear of the four and I don’t know I ever completed even one of the sub-games on level three, but it was incredibly fun and I didn’t mind spending all those quarters trying.

I also liked the toys a lot, and have been chuckling over this one little kid freaking out in the action figure aisle of our local Lionel Play World for almost forty years now. The light cycles used zip-cords and would be really perfect for our place now, with our hardwood floors. The package read “the futuristic light cycle,” and some small boy didn’t know that word and thought it said “fantastic.” So the child flipped out and started screaming “Mom! Mom! It’s the fantastic light cycle! The fantastic light cycle!” Mom said “That’s nice, dear,” and wasn’t about to spend seven or eight dollars on a piece of plastic, leaving the kid desolately crying and choking out between sobs “fantastic light cycle, faaaaaaantastic liiiiiiight cycle…” for what I remember as just short of forever.

I remember the game and that kid much better than I remember the movie. I know I saw it in theaters once as well as a few times on HBO, but the details were all gone before this morning.

Don’t try that on the Helicarrier, David Warner. Tony Stark’ll bust you.

Our son wasn’t completely blown away, but it certainly entertained him. He said that he loved the look of the film, which is what most people remember more than the story, which is really by-the-numbers. Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, and David Warner are the stars, with smaller roles for Barnard Hughes, Peter Jurasik, and former Shazam! star Jackson Bostwick as one of the henchmen. It was the music, which was written by Wendy Carlos, that stood out most to me this morning. During the solar-sailed ship sequence, I was thinking that having a soundtrack of this would not be a bad idea at all, which I never think, even when I’m watching something Bernard Herrmann scored.

It’s impossible for a kid born in the 21st century to see this movie’s animation with the same perspective we had then. It remains really interesting to watch – the front-seat view from the cycles during the race is quite exciting – but, much like the video for the Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” animation has progressed so far that we just don’t “see” the 3D that we did the first time around. Even though the spectacle has been blunted by time, it’s not a bad flick for what it is: the rebels escape and move from A to B to destroy the enemy complex, a perfectly engaging plot for kids. Wikipedia suggests that some critics from the day thought it was “incoherent,” which means they must have had a very long nap in the middle of the press screening.

Of course, the biggest element that’s been blunted by time is the idea that we need to fear an evil supercomputer like the Master Control Program taking control of the Pentagon and the Kremlin. No, these days we’re more aware that human garbage can disrupt the hell out of our world using much smaller systems. I wish the Master Control Program would zap Zuckerberg into a video game and de-res him in a round of electronic jai-alai.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Do you remember when you were a teenager, and much more serious than you are today, and something got under your skin and drove you far more nuts than it really should have? I was twelve when I first saw The NeverEnding Story, and that luck dragon drove me mad. This is a film with really splendid special effects and they’ve aged quite well. Miniatures, matte work, composites, animatronics, everything’s easily as good as a movie in 1984 could hope to achieve. And with some of the fantastic beasts, they did a terrific job with the puppetry and sync to make their mouths move in time with the dialogue. The Rock-Biter, the giant turtle, and the wolf all look extremely good as they “talk,” a credit to all the visual effects technicians who put in the long hours to make this movie work.

And then that stupid luck dragon needs to talk and it just opens and closes its mouth randomly like it’s a badly worn prop from a Chuck E. Cheese that never worked right in the first place. Watching it this morning, it’s as bad as I remembered it. I can’t suspend my disbelief for a single second with that thing onscreen.

That’s a shame, because The NeverEnding Story is otherwise not a bad movie. There are several moments that are done in a quiet, subtle way that leaves them very effective. There’s a bit toward the end when the young hero, Atreyu, finds some centuries-old paintings in the ruins of an old castle that depict events that only just happened. I love that, and I like the idea that characters can’t get past the boundaries of Fantasia because it doesn’t have borders, while the “real” world does. I wouldn’t put it in the upper tier of the ’80s fantasies that we’ve watched for our blog, but it’s an imaginative film with some surprises.

In the obligatory mentions of interesting actors, I have no idea who any of the principals are, but Deep Roy plays a well-dressed guy who stepped out of Alice’s Wonderland and rides a racing snail, and Moses Gunn and Gerald McRaney each get a small scene. And speaking of 1980s fantasies, I was reminded of The Last Unicorn because the movie starts with an interminable, endless, whiny song. I’d honestly forgotten how much I disliked that song until they built a comedy moment around it in the last season of Stranger Things. If I ever have to pick anything to play that Giorgio Moroder wrote, I’ll go with “Life in Tokyo,” thanks.

Hey, that kid’s wearing a Zippy the Pinhead T-shirt.

Anyway, our son seemed to enjoy it more as it progressed, and he really liked the finale, where the protagonist from the “real” world takes advantage of Fantasia’s lack of borders. I was surprised to read that these city exteriors were filmed in Vancouver. The movie was otherwise made in West Germany at studios in Munich, but I guess they decided it would be cheaper to film on streets that are identifiable as North American rather than redressing the streets outside the studio with English-language stop signs, and hired three local kids to play the bullies.

There are two other NeverEnding Story movies. I’d forgotten the second one existed and don’t know that I ever knew about the third. I think we’re probably not going to watch those, but we’ll stay with the eighties for next Sunday morning’s movie. Stay turned!

Today’s feature was a gift from Nikka Valken, and I invite you all to check out her Society 6 page and buy some of her fun artwork! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

So for those of you who don’t know, Lupin III is the world’s greatest thief, and in The Castle of Cagliostro, he and his gun-totin’ buddy Jigen decide it’s time to do something about an international counterfeit operation that’s been going on for decades. They get involved with a runaway bride in a tiny European country and are in for the fight of their lives. I told our son that there would be hijinx and he said “Good. I love hijinx.” He found the experience completely satisfying.

Because it was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Cagliostro is probably most Americans’ first introduction to Lupin III. Some people have a tendency to want a starting point when they’re looking at a big media franchise, and Lupin, with a couple of hundred TV episodes and close to thirty films, is a pretty big one. Nobody ever asks where they should start with James Bond or Law & Order, though, do they? I wonder why that is.

Anyway, I’m far from an expert on the subject. I’ve probably only watched a combined ten hours of Lupin myself, and I don’t like the original comics by Monkey Punch at all. I like the heroic Lupin of Cagliostro; I think that the previous movie, Mystery of Mamo, which we’ll watch later this summer, might be the better of the two, but I like seeing Lupin not being a thief and a creep for long enough to play Robin Hood and save the first decent member of a centuries-old crime family.

I gave our son a quick potted history of the gentleman thief trope, and how the original character of Arsène Lupin was created by Maurice Leblanc in the 1900s, amid a wave of similar characters created by Simon Boothby and EW Hornung. In the 1960s, the trope resurfaced in film and TV (The Pink Panther, Topkapi, It Takes a Thief), and Monkey Punch seemed to create his comics as a reaction to those. Punch’s thief was well-dressed, but certainly no gentleman. His Lupin III, allegedly the grandson of Leblanc’s original, was a protagonist but not a hero. He got toned down massively for television, and tamed further still for some of the features.

So while Cagliostro might be the tamest version of them all – it certainly has that reputation, anyway – it’s still a hugely fun ride, full of car chases and underwater brawls, slapstick violence and real bullets, intricate schemes and hilarious improvisations. Everybody enjoyed the movie hugely and I’m looking forward to the next couple of films that we’ll see later in the year.

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

When I was in middle school, I found a series of six little orange-spined books about monster movies in some library or other, each focusing on a classic: Dracula, Wolf Man, Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, one I don’t remember, and of course Godzilla. I read that in the middle of the original series – the ninth of fifteen films – was one I’d never heard of, but it sure sounded like the reason movies were invented. I’ve no idea why I must have always missed Destroy All Monsters when channel 36 or 46 showed a Godzilla film. Even without the main character’s name in the title, I read the TV listings with a fine-toothed comb looking for anything that sounded promising, and I’m pretty sure that at any time between the ages of eight and twelve, had I seen a movie called Destroy All Monsters in the Sunday TV Week, I would have been shouting about it.

So I got an external Blu-ray drive, which means that I can read the 15,000-plus pages of PDF material on the Doctor Who Blu-rays, and I can get screencaps from Blu-rays like the Criterion Godzilla set. It comes with an unbelievably pretty transfer of the movie and, tragically, the English language dub, which my son asked to watch. Oh, it’s painful. It’s the worst dub on the prettiest visuals. The kid didn’t care. He just wanted mass destruction, which this movie delivers.

In the far-flung future of 1999, the monsters of Earth have been baited and relocated to some islands near Japan called Monsterland. They’re hemmed in by defense screens and have ample food, and since they’re all in one place, it makes it easy for some smug space ladies called the Kilaaks to take over the control center, brainwash the staff with devices that are not hearing aids – that’s Susumu Kurobe, who played Hayata in Ultraman a couple of years previously, in a small role as one of their new agents – and put transmitters all around the planet to drive the monsters to attack Earth’s major cities. If I counted right, nine of the Toho movie monsters get a good bit of screen time. A couple of others, Baragon and Varan, were reduced to cameos, apparently because the costumes were too damaged.

I finally saw this film when I was a little too old to love a Godzilla movie, and it sure wasn’t pretty like this print. (Did you watch Bad American Dubbing like I suggested last month? The hearing aid scene was from the same nth-gen copy that Dave from Let’s Anime landed back then.) But I was old enough to start recognizing actors, like Kurobe, and also Kenji Sahara as the commander of the moonbase. I knew then that he’d been in a couple of previous Godzilla movies, but now I know him better as the star of the tremendously entertaining Ultra Q.

But when you’re nine, the stars of the movie all have big teeth. Destroy All Monsters was made to blow the minds of elementary school-aged kids out their ears, and it succeeds mightily. Our son says this was by far his favorite of the ones we’ve watched, and as soon as it was over, he was waiting for me to get my silly pictures from the disc so he could rewatch Godzilla, Rodan, Manda, and Mothra destroy Tokyo, and the big see-it-to-believe it climax, where eight of the monsters all team up to fight Ghidorah. They were doing these wrestling matches more for laughs than anything else at this point, but they work on two levels. When you’re a kid, just seeing all these titans mobbed up to kick Ghidorah’s space monster ass is something you can only dream about, and when you’re an adult, you marvel at the choreography necessary for any of this to work.

That’s the last of these movies I plan to blog about, but our kid’s enjoying the rest of the movies without me yammering about them. He’s watching Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, which I know better as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, as I’m typing this, and I’m trying real hard not to be distracted by Kumi Mizuno. And the great big shrimp-crab monster, of course.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Is nine years old perfect Flash Gordon age or what? It struck me that I must have been nine or ten the first time I saw it on HBO. Of course I loved it to pieces then – I must have seen it twenty times – and I was pleased to see our son having a blast with it. It’s a stupid, silly, predictable movie, but between the crazy costumes and set design and all the actors having such a ball, it’s just so darn fun.

I haven’t actually watched this movie in decades. No kidding, the last time I saw this movie, I didn’t know who any of the actors were. But I saw it so often that every line was carved in my memory, and for many years, every performer in it was defined later on as having been in this film. Isn’t it funny how the mind works that way? I bet for years and years to come, so many of the actors in the Harry Potter movies will have their wizarding roles be the first to come to mind for half the planet. Mention Rickman, you think Snape. Mention Max von Sydow, I think Ming. A few of the performers escaped their Gordon roles for me – Dalton, Wyngarde – but I don’t care how many Bergman movies I’ve watched, he’s still Ming.

And speaking of Potter, blink and you’ll miss him, but inside the tiny airport terminal, cast there because they needed somebody hungry in Scotland with an Equity card, there’s the future Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane. Poor fellow doesn’t get a line, but he was glad of the credit and the paycheck, I expect.

Does it hold up as an adult? It’s just a goofball adventure film with BRIAN BLESSED stealing every scene and Peter Wyngarde not getting to show his face, but boy, what a voice. There’s not a darn thing wrong with a goofball adventure movie for kids. I guess for grownups there’s the amazing silliness of “Here Comes the Bride” being played at interstellar weddings – bet Ming doesn’t pay any composer royalties either, the swine – and of course the gorgeous Ornella Muti, who’s the space babe against whom all space babes from the period are judged. But mainly it’s BRIAN BLESSED yelling a lot and the hero looking wide-eyed and incredulous while beating up all obstacles. It’s a good film full of good actors, both the headliners and a gang of character actors from the day. John Hallam, with very big hair, is one of the Hawkmen. I also spotted John Hollis and Deep Roy in scenes here and there, so people who enjoy looking for favorite actors will have a ball with this.

As for what doesn’t work in the far-flung future of forty years’ distance, it’s mainly the special effects. Some of it felt dated even in the early eighties, and the kid let out a snort over Topol’s homemade rocket looking awfully unreal as it launched, but I think the design and the strange skies of Mongo give it a unique feel. It may be artificial, but it doesn’t look like any other movie either, which is a good thing. You can complain about the one-note villainy, or the fellow named Ming with the yellow peril beard wanting to enslave white women, but these were there in the original strips and serials in the thirties. A modern Flash Gordon – there was one 13 years ago I didn’t know about before now – would probably do some things differently, but they were shooting for retro in 1980.

Best scene? For me it’s probably Sam J. Jones and Timothy Dalton having that terrific duel to the death on the tilting floor with spikes. And doesn’t Dalton just go ahead and audition for Bond when he starts taking out Ming’s red-suited thugs in the corridors below the city? For the kid, the whole climax was a blast. He even riffed Ming’s demise as Flash runs a freaking rocket into him, cracking “Well, Flash Gordon can’t land an airplane, so what do you expect?” Happily, his hole-filled memory didn’t have to sit too long to remember one little bit at the end. When we watched “Last of the Time Lords” a month ago, I told him that the end, where a mysterious stranger spirits away the Master’s ring, left behind in the dust, was a tip of the hat to a scene from an older movie, which we’d watch together soon. I’m really pleased he figured it out today.

He says that Flash Gordon is his favorite character, “of course.” Some day down the line, he’ll figure out that Prince Vultan’s really the best character in the movie. GORDON’S ALIVE?!

Bad American Dubbing (1993)

There’s a bit in the English dub of Monster Zero where a woman, offscreen, bellows “AAAAAAAHHH!! LOOK OUT THE WINDOWWWWWW!!!” I, of course, replied “Proof positive that you can steal a scene without being in it.”

After the movie, our son thanked me for running the dubbed version. He said, “I prefer watching them dubbed because sometimes I have trouble reading the subtitles, and sometimes they go off the screen while I’m still reading them.” Reasonable points, both, but I cautioned him that sometimes the trouble with watching dubbed versions of movies made in other languages is that the dub is unreliable, stupid, or sometimes just plain ridiculous. And so I put on Bad American Dubbing, the first of three half-hour presentations of some of the worst moments that happened when American producers got their mitts and scissors on Japanese cartoons and live-action sci-fi.

My friends at Corn Pone Flicks made these presentations – documentaries is a bit inaccurate – in the mid-nineties, and I’m overheard in the peanut gallery at one point complaining about something. They’re pretty funny, full of deeply stupid moments and snarky commentary. They’re a bit insular, and rely on fan knowledge, especially from three decades’ distance. More subtitles definitely would help. One pops up at a helpful moment to clarify that it wasn’t Corn Pone who messed with the synchronization. No, one direct-to-video producer honestly released a tape where the dialogue between two characters had them mouthing each others’ lines.

But on the other hand, fans probably knew, in 1993, that Space Pirate Captain Harlock shouldn’t sound like the talking cowboy hat from Lidsville. But if you’ve never met the character before, you might not understand the problem. And while fans know that Sergeant Knox in the second season of Yamato most emphatically did not get out right behind the hero, the joke can only make sense to somebody who’d never seen it before if we got to see the cut scene of Knox getting shot full of holes. That would place the “nobody dies on American TV for kids” line in proper context. The moment also should have been placed right after a later, very silly moment where an actress’s death scene is undermined by somebody saying “She’s unconscious!” Suuuuuuure, she is.

It lands with punches more often than not, as actors talk in incredible run-on sentences, employ half-assed “French” accents and Bela Lugosi voices, and struggle to be heard under the poorly-mixed noise of two different musical soundtracks. Characters don’t think that women are people, modulation needs to be looked at to be believed, the Prince of Space needs to tell his enemies that their ray guns have no effect on him seven separate times in a ninety minute movie, and Flash Contrail and the Differentiated Idioblast remind us that the clowns writing the scripts for these dubs were taking the piss.

At one point, Nadia of Blue Water’s little red pendant begins to glow. It’s not actually a problem with the dub, but it’s a fun excuse for Dave from Let’s Anime, one of the narrators, to compare it to Ultraman’s warning light. Our kid howled laughing, and while he took my point that some dubs are pretty terrible, he would still rather watch Japanese movies and cartoons dubbed, and clarified “I loved that Ultraman riff!”

Click the image of Nick Adams and his space girlfriend to visit Corn Pone Flicks‘ site and enjoy the shows!