Monster from a Prehistoric Planet
In the 1967 Japanese movie "Monster From A Prehistoric Planet," a greedy businessman forces scientists to surrender a giant egg so he can exploit the hatchling for profit. Little does he realize that his money-making scheme will go seriously awry when Monster Junior's irate parents arrive on the scene for a classic sci-fi stomp-down.
Originally titled "Daikyoju Gappa," the titular "Planet" of the English version may have some viewers scratching their heads. In truth, the giant reptilian bird-like creatures that deliver the invoice for human offences against nature hail from a volcanic island here on Earth. (Unless this is a commentary on the primitive species that dominates the blue-green orb?) It is said that another element that got lost in translation was the parodic edge that"Gappa" brought to the giant-monster-razing-Tokyo genre, but with blue laser-fire shooting out of the creatures' mouths and their ability to fly without moving their wings, the monsters offer enough opportunity for chuckles to make this movie well worth the popcorn.
More subtle, perhaps, are the attitudes implied by the amazement with which one of the scientists observes that the hatchling's species is "capable of thought – even of communication with its own kind!" Granted, the last 40 years have seen advances in human understanding of the animal kingdom – science has shown us that elephants, whales, frogs, and more use ultrasound to communicate, for instance. To many people it seems downright silly to assume that humans are the only species capable of deep social bonds, memory, emotion, and the ability to convey messages through "speech" but this hasn't always been the case.
Of course, part of what's interesting about a movie such as "Monster From A Prehistoric Planet" can be trying to gauge whether the attitudes of its characters reflect fear or, in a roundabout way, broadcast the hope that the natural world is still a source of deep mystery and a wealth of surprising insights await those humble enough to recognize them.
Franz GollerBiologist Franz Goller of the University of Utah discusses avian communication and the film "Monster from a Prehistoric Planet."
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