We watched this technicolor fantasy–the special effects and stereophonic sound were decades ahead of their time– from the upper balcony of the Loews Paradise theater in the Bronx. Before it was sliced and diced into a 16-plex, the Loews Paradise was the grandest movie palace in New York City, possibly in all of America.
The movie was scary enough, but the shivers started before the first reel–especially for a five-year-old looking down from a stratospheric perch in the balcony. The only thing that compares to it is entering Dodger Stadium from the upper deck, which is adjacent to the stadium parking lot (the LA ballpark was built into a canyon known as Chavez Ravine). Pure vertigo.
The Mysterians (yes, trivia fans, the film later inspired the name of the band Question Mark & the Mysterians) begins with a Japanese astrophysicist discovering an asteroid he suspects was once a planet between Mars and Jupiter. He names it Mysteroid. Then a forest fire breaks out nearby and the scientist disappears into the woods to investigate.
In quick succession, a Japanese village gets wiped out by an earthquake and rescue workers stumble upon a giant robot (immediately named Mogera). Mogera reveals it’s a war machine by stomping on everything in sight and blasting out death rays from its eye sockets; it is impervious to artillery shells. Japanese defense forces finally stop the robot’s advance by blowing up the Koyama Bridge as the war machine tries to cross over to the next village.
The remains of the giant robot reveal that it was manufactured out of an unknown chemical compound. Soon after, astronomers witness activity in outer space around the moon. They alert the world. Then the aliens emerge, their gigantic dome breaking through the Earth’s crust near Mount Fuji. A group of scientists enter the dome, where the Mysterians, a scientifically advanced alien race, list their demands to the people of Earth: a two-mile-radius strip of land and the right to marry women on Earth (they had no idea that Vegas already existed).
They needed to do this because 100,000 years ago their planet…wait for it…Mysteroid (then the fifth planet from the sun) was destroyed by a nuclear war. A few Mysterians were able to escape to Mars before the war, but radiation from Stronium-90 has left 80 percent of the alien population crippled. Interbreeding with women on Earth would produce healthier offspring and keep their race alive.
We’ll cut to the chase here: Japan launches a full-scale attack on the alien dome, but modern weaponry is no match for the Mysterians’ technology. The Mysterians start kidnapping Japanese women. Japan issues a plea to all other nations on Earth to join the attack. The first global attack on the dome fails and the Mysterians up the ante, demanding a 75-mile-radius breeding ground.
Finally, the world’s scientists come together and create the Markalite FAHP (Flying Atomic Heat Projector), a gigantic lens that can reflect the Mysterians’ death rays back on them. They blow up the dome, rescue the women and banish the Mysterians from Earth.
The message of The Mysterians is repeated in most of the Japanese sci-fi movies produced in the post-war period, including Godzilla. Japan, the only nation on Earth to have two of its cities vaporized by atomic bombs, tells mankind the only way to survive the hideous monsters spawned by the Atomic Age is to put aside our petty differences and unite in a global defense of civilization. The original Japanese title of The Mysterians translates to Earth Defense Force.
We bring this up because this week the nations of the world have sent their ambassadors to New York for the annual session of the United Nations.
Most of the attention at this year’s world gathering is riveted on President Obama, who, as chairman of the Security Council, will try to rally a makeshift coalition into battle against the savages known as ISIS [Memo to ISIS: be careful what you wish for]. No doubt there also will be some heated discussion of Russia’s thuggish aggression in Ukraine, and yet another call for global action to deal with climate change.
But while this sturm and drang unfolds at the UN, an enemy far more fearsome than the Mysterians has emerged from the jungles of Africa. This enemy can’t speak, but it has declared war on the human race. It is relentlessly advancing and, as this is being written, there is no way to stop it. The humans are losing.
The noose-shaped bit of microscopic recombinant DNA known as Ebola is the most virulent disease on Earth. Believed to be a bat virus that jumped species, Ebola kills at least 50 percent of the people who come into contact with it (emphasis on the at least–the World Health Organization says the current outbreak is notching a 70-percent mortality rate). We won’t gross you out with all of the symptoms: suffice it to say that in the worst cases this “hemorrhagic fever” basically dissolves your insides.
No, Ebola is not airborne, so you can’t catch it like the flu and it won’t spread quite as fast. But it is extremely messy, making it very difficult for medical teams to deal with more than a few dozen cases without infecting themselves. Without an effective vaccine that can be mass-produced within a year, Ebola will burn its way across the planet.
If you think we’re shouting “Fire!” in the Loews Paradise, consider this: prior to this year, the largest outbreak of Ebola was limited to less than 500 infections, which were contained in a remote region of Africa after a struggle that lasted about six months.
The current outbreak already has infected thousands of people in five African countries. When WHO predicted last month the epidemic would peak within a year at 20,000 victims, they were quickly contradicted by the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., which projected “hundreds of thousands” of infections during the next two years. The U.S. State Department then placed an urgent order for 160,000 Level 5 Biohazard spacesuits for its overseas personnel.
This week, the CDC in Atlanta hit the global alarm bell: the experts now say that if the virus remains unchecked there will be up to 1.4 million Ebola cases in Africa–by the end of January. This is what the mathematicians call an exponential geometric progression, like ice crystals spreading across a freezing lake.
If we were making a vintage Japanese sci-fi flick, we’d pause here to point out that mankind’s encroachment into the last primitive jungles on Earth, Africa’s relentless urbanization and modern transportation have handed Ebola its global passport. In other words, we pretty much brought this on ourselves. Godzilla was an alligator cousin munching on seaweed and minding his own business until fallout from underwater A-bomb tests altered his genetic makeup.
We’ll keep it to this: Ebola is coming soon to a continent near you. Time to call out the Earth Defense Force.
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