Films Better Left Remembered: Gorath

Gorath (1962)  Spaceship JX-1 (the first manned flight to Saturn) is ordered to change course and intercept Gorath, a rouge star barreling through the galaxy, heading straight 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 future of the “80s,” 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 in unison, “Hurrah!  Hurrah!”  While their esprit de corps is appreciated, it’s also a bit creepy.

Back on earth, high-ranking Japanese officials are peeved at not having been consulted about the decision to reroute JX-1, but after some thought, they magnanimously decide that, yes, maybe the right decision had been made without them (useful information about the possible destruction of the earth was obtained, after all).  Once everyone is on the same page regarding 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.  It’s decided the job is too big for Japan to take on alone, and before you can say UNICEF, the project is a United Nations operation.

Considering contemporary attitudes about the United Nations — when even a generous assessment might find it ineffectual, at best, and part of a sinister cabal plotting world domination, at worst — Gorath’s vision of a united earth is probably the most unlikely piece of speculation in a fairly improbable science fiction film.  The belief that the world’s scientists would come up with a course of action that every nation on earth could get behind also seems a little wide of the mark — especially considering the plan that’s ultimately proposed.                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Here is what the best and brightest recommend:  giant nuclear jets built 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 deployed to the South Pole, and an impressive array of miniatures begin to clear land and build the gigantic jets.  After a few minutes of watching tiny flatbeds, cranes, dump trucks, and bulldozers move across frame, Gorath begins to look less like a motion picture and more like a Tonka Toy commercial.

Once the jets are ignited and blasting away, 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 existence of the giant walrus, the annoyed but blase reaction of the chief scientist is, “I didn’t think an animal existed down here that could give us any trouble.”  Perhaps when you belong to a country that has taken on Godzilla, Rodan, Ghidorah and dozens of other giant monsters, it’s a little difficult to get worked up over an oversized walrus.  A hover-jet is dispatched to locate the walrus, and, two laser blasts later, the problem is solved.

Gorath streaks by, missing the earth, causing just enough destruction with its gravitational pull to satisfy the apocalyptic expectations created by fear-mongering scientists.  While certainly not on a Roland Emmerich level of spectacle or even Irwin Allen, for that matter, the flooding of a couple of miniature cities provides the minimum cathartic experience of mayhem promised by the film.

Unfortunately, without massive maneuvering jets in the eastern and western hemispheres, the earth can only continue in one direction.  Amid the world-wide celebration, 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 exactly clear what the scientist means by this last comment, but it doesn’t sound very encouraging.

*                                        *                                          *

I was eleven 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.  To be honest, at the time, I liked Gorath and Strangelove just about the same.  The great thing about going downtown to watch movies was that anything could turn up on a double or triple bill.  Current releases played with films that had opened five or ten years earlier.  A classic might share marquee space with an exploitation or foreign film, or just about anything for that matter, as long as it was printed on cellulose acetate and could be run through a projector.

Over the years, Dr. Strangelove has slowly 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, visually bold premise.  Rotation be damned–we’re moving the earth!

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