The recent Blu-ray release of Ultra Q is my first chance to watch this legendary 1966-67 Japanese sci-fi series. Created by Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects master behind the original run of Godzilla movies, Ultra Q is often described as cross between Outer Limits and X-Files. It is the adventures of a team of reporters, pilots, and scientists who investigate and deal with weird events, usually involving giant monsters.
Which leads us to the 500,000 lbs. kaiju in the room. While in its time this was a very expensive TV show to produce, today the special effects in Ultra Q, with its floppy monsters suits and miniature sets, can look cheap and ridiculous – though I’m not sure if the rubbery CGI common today is really that much better. If your reaction is that this all looks worthy of only a Mystery Science Theater treatment, Ultra Q isn’t a show for you. If you sincerely like Godzilla movies, and can appreciate the craft, ingenuity, and imagination that went into such a show, it’s a lot of fun. In those ways, Ultra Q is rather like the older seasons of Dr. Who, which was airing in England at the same time.
The right way to approach Ultra Q is that it, again like Dr. Who, is fundamentally a children’s program, one with entertainment value for older viewers as well. Besides the monsters smashing buildings, over the first three episodes more and more thoughtful ideas are introduced. Episode one “Defeat Gomess” is the troupe of a nerdy kid who could solve the monster problem if only adults would listen to him. “Goro and Goro,” like most stories with a giant monkey, has King Kong inspired themes, that fear and aggression make monsters out of nature and that for some problems: ”You don’t need weapons, you just need a heart.” By episode three, “Gift from Space,” we are considering whether humans reaching out into space might be breaking cosmic laws and customs we are too ignorant to understand, and that space aliens aren’t contacting us because we are still too violent and destructive for extraterrestrial civilization.
The third episode also has already taken our monsters from a reused Godzilla suit to a slimy giant slug from Mars. A lot of the fun of this show is from seeing what kind of crazy creature will star in each episode. I’m also wondering where the world view of the show, the portrait of a technological society on the brink of discovering a much greater universe will go. More thoughts to come as I watch further episodes.