Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Dunwich Horror (1970) Trailer

The X Factor: Invasion Of The Astro Monsters - revisited

The continuing popularity of Godzilla never ceases to amaze me. Godzilla has played the antagonist and protagonist and is well liked regardless of his role in cinema. Back during the "Showa" era of Godzilla cinema a significant shift came about involving the iconic monster. Godzilla's first four films, Gojira(1954), Godzilla Raids Again(1955), King Kong Vs Godzilla(1962) and Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964), all featured Godzilla as the proverbial "bad guy", a rampaging monster of potentially unlimited menace and destruction. In December of 1964, in the film Ghidrah The Three Headed Monster, Godzilla becomes a grudging protector of humanity, fighting alongside previous enemies Rodan and larval Mothra in a unified effort to fight and drive off an all powerful space monster named Ghidrah(aka King Ghidorah) who threatens the Earth.

Many die hard Godzilla fans have openly expressed their dislike for Godzilla's role reversal. Some self anointed Godzilla "historians" speculate that the decline in popularity of Godzilla films can be linked to this shift. Maybe that is all true. For me, I have come to appreciate Godzilla's change from villain to "good guy". I still prefer to see Godzilla as the antagonist but, over the years and from watching the older Godzilla movies repeatedly, I believe this switch makes the "Showa" Godzilla films more interesting, collectively. That is probably a debatable point.

As any film fan will likely attest, any movie featuring a "good guy" needs a worthy villain. For Godzilla that villain is obviously King Ghidorah. On the heels of Ghidrah The Three Headed Monster(1964) the gold colored, powerful space monster returns for a rematch in Invasion Of The Astro Monsters(1965). The story of the movie is as follows: a pair of astronauts land on a mysterious planetoid, meet a group of visor wearing aliens who ask the astronauts if they can "borrow" Godzilla and Rodan in order to drive off "Monster Zero"(King Ghidorah). Despite suspicions of the aliens, humanity gives in and the aliens are allowed to locate, seize and fly away with Godzilla and Rodan. The two monsters square off with King Ghidorah on "Planet X" and the space monster flies away. Humanity, promised a universal "cure all" medicine by the aliens, instead is brusquely informed they will become slaves to the Xians, the aliens desiring to colonize the Earth and threatening to deploy all three monsters as instruments of Earth's destruction should humanity refuse the alien's directive. Of course human kind does refuse and chaos ensues as the trio of monsters, under alien control, begin a rampage in Japan. Unlikely heroes emerge to help defeat the aliens. The monsters, eventually removed from the aliens control, fight again in a final battle. (no spoilers)

Some observations of mine regarding this highly entertaining film, some positive and some not, for the inspection of our online community -

Thumbs up:

1. the film's score by Akira Ifukube is fantastic!

2. the special effects overall are marvelous. The miniatures and matte shots are used very effectively to illustrate distance shots of the monsters on the move, especially Godzilla and Rodan. One of my favorite effects sequences of all the Showa G films remains the scene where the Xians deploy their transport vessels to retrieve Godzilla from the bottom of a lake and Rodan from the interior of a mountainside. Simply outstanding.

3. the human cast of characters: collectively they entertain, their interactions critical to the conclusion of the movie. The spectrum of the characters runs the gamut: dashing American astronauts Glenn(Nick Adams) and Fuji(Akira Takarada), who refuse to be intimidated by the mysterious Xian aliens. Adams' character "Glenn" evens finds time to woo the lovely, mysterious Ms. Namikawa(Kumi Mizuno). Adding to the mix is good hearted but bumbling Tetsuo Teri(Akira Kubo), a milquetoast inventor who is intimidated by his girlfriend's over protective older brother, astronaut Fuji. I liked how Tetsuo redeemed himself with the "Lady Guard" invention which in the end helped win the day for humanity against the aliens. Astronaut Glenn also is afforded a brief sequence in which he gets to punch a couple of Xians. Despite the brevity of the scene I liked Glenns' brief can of whoop ass as he blasted a pair of Xians with overhand punches to the noggin.

4. the monster battles: I had some gripes about them(see below) but overall they were IMO well choreographed. Godzilla and Rodan worked well together, especially the final battle where Rodan picked up a charging Godzilla and used him as an airborne battering ram against King Ghidorah.

5. the primary villain in this film, the Controller Of Planet X, played by Yoshio Tsuchiya. Tsuchiya is, in my opinion one of the ultimate Showa Godzilla film baddies. The visor covering his eyes makes it hard to read his face, this effect adding to the creepiness of this character.

Thumbs down:

1. there were some effects shortcomings in this film, most notably the visibility of overhead wires. Annoying to be sure but they do not detract much from the film, for me anyway

2. Godzilla's infamous "jumping shie" celebratory dance after he and Rodan had successfully driven King Ghidorah off Planet X. This scene is IMO absurd and has no place at all in this movie. One of the few outright negatives I assign to this film.

3. at the conclusion of the film astronauts Glenn and Fuji are informed by Dr. Sakurai(Jun Takazi) that they are returning to Planet X as ambassadors. My question: return to who and what? Last I checked humanity just defeated a hostile race of aliens from this small planetoid. That being the case why would we send astronauts back to what is presumably a now empty planetoid?

Invasion Of The Astro Monsters(1965) can be bought on Region 1 as either the '98 Simitar release(titled "Monster Zero",  in English dub only-this is an OOP release) or the stellar Classic Media release called "Invasion Of The Astro Monsters", the disc featuring both original and Americanized versions of the film.

The original Toho trailer:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Monkeying Around: A*P*E(1976)

I'm not going to indulge myself in bashing the Korean film A*P*E, a 1976 Korean rip off of the '76 American King Kong film which features a rampaging, 36 foot tall ape like creature. In fact, I'm going to try and track it down on DVD(or DVD-R). There's a certain charm to giant monster movies that possess terrible dubbing, atrocious special effects and stale acting. I've seen movie posters of this film which look quite good. Too bad they weren't an accurate representation of the film itself. At any rate, here's the trailer for the Paul Leder directed A*P*E(1976):

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Conqueror worms: Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964) - revisited

Perhaps the Godzilla film I watched on television most often as a kid was Godzilla Vs Thing, the Americanized version of Mothra Vs Godzilla, which was originally released to theaters back in the spring of 1964. Seems like the American version(released in America by AIP) was on TV quite a bit when I was a kid growing up. If only that had been true for so many other Toho kaiju films. No matter.

I remember my father telling me once he saw Godzilla Vs The Thing while on a business trip in New York. He liked the film but kept pronouncing Mothra as "Mothar". This and the '61 Mothra film are the only two Toho films my father ever saw, both in theaters.

I submit some more personal observations on Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964), my second favorite Godzilla movie(after 1954's Gojira). As always some of these observations may look familiar and some not:

Thumbs up:

1. Godzilla's entrance in this film is simply outstanding. The monster's appearance is preempted by the emission of mysterious radiation, a small, shiny radioactive object discovered by photographer "Yoka" Nakanishi and finally strong geiger readings from Professor Miura's geiger counter. All of these things perpetuate an effective accumulation of suspense leading up to Godzilla's appearance. The monster slowly erupts out of the beach, shaking the strata and other debris off himself.

2. the score in this film is IMO outstanding and among my favorites. The opening theme nicely projects what will be the serious tone for this film, set against the backdrop of heavy winds and seas caused by Hurricane Abe. Watch this opening sequence and you definitely get the impression the movie is going to be a serious treatment of Godzilla and the other elements of the film.

3. the special effects are marvelous. There are, to be sure, some things I didn't like: the puppet effects and what looked like limited stop motion effects are things I could easily have done without. Overall, however Eiji Tsuburaya and his technical staffers created some great effects: the animatronic larval and adult Mothra are terrific, the use of high speed filming is liberal which meant the vast majority of monster movements were slowed down as they appeared on screen, adding realism to the actions by Godzilla and the adult/larval Mothras. I also liked the fact that Godzilla's use of his oral beam was not over-done. The creature employed the weapon mostly when engaged with the adult Mothra and the twin larvae. The larval Mothra's use of silk, the two creatures relentlessly spraying it at Godzilla was also an extremely well rendered sequence. I also like the napalm attack on Godzilla by the defense force airborne bombers. At one point Godzilla appears to briefly be on fire. This effect may have been unintended but it looks good on screen. The miniatures also look great, especially the structure built by Happy Enterprises to house Mothra's huge egg.

4. the human cast in the film: these characters play off each other well, especially the conflicting personalities of no-nonsense reporter Sakai(played by Akira Takarada) and his free spirited, female photographer Junko "Yoka" Nakanishi(played by Yuriko Hoshi). Comic relief is supplied by boiled egg eating reporter Jiro Nakamura(played by Yu Fujiki) versus his gruff, surly boss, the newspaper editor Arota(played by Jun Takazi). Nakamura seems to regarded by his editor as a slacker and the clashing personalities here are often funny. In the English dubbed AIP version the egg eating, bumbling Nakamura tells photographer "Yoka" Nakanishi at one point that he fears his editor boss more than Godzilla.

5. the adult Mothra: I've read about how this creature was rendered for the film and I can only imagine the difficulties that Eiji Tsuburaya and his effects crews had bringing the monster to life. The adult Mothra looks terrific and provides Godzilla with a good battle.

6. the human cast villains in the film: both are played to the hilt. First up is Kumayama(played by Yoshifumi Tajima), a jittery fellow and pompous jackass who is owner of "Happy Enterprises". The name of this company couldn't possibly contradict the demeanor of Kumayama more as evidenced by Kumayama's testy relationship with the local fishermen and the human protagonists, even the Shobojin fairies(played the Ito twins Yumi and Emi). Kumayama is a man who seems to possess a general disdain for people altogether. Kumayama's business partner is Banzo Torahata(played by Kenji Sahara), a self aggrandizing, nefarious and greedy man, who would likely steal from his own mother if he needed the money. The character of "Torahata" is well played by Kenji Sahara and is IMO among the best villains of the classic Toho kaiju films, ranking right up there with Jerry Ito's performance as the despicable, egomaniacal "Clark Nelson" in 1961's Mothra and the creepy Xian leader played by Yoshio Tsuchiya in 1965's Invasion Of The Astro Monsters.

7. the "Mosugoji" Godzilla suit: there is considerable disdain among Godzilla fans for Godzilla's "wobbly" lip in this film. I understand the quibble but for me it detracts nothing from the film overall. The exaggerated and furrowed eyebrows lend a kind of "perma-scowl" to the monster's face. Given Godzilla's role in this movie as rampaging antagonist this effect works well. I also like the overall physique of the suit: the shoulders could IMO have been a little more pronounced but the rounded edges of the dorsals and long, rounded at the end tail all look good.

Thumbs down:

1. there were various distant shots of the adult Mothra-Godzilla battle that I thought looked kind of shaky.

2. the scene where Godzilla first enters a city setting: I would have liked seeing a longer sequence of the monster in a city setting. Even the Godzilla-adult Mothra battle in a city would have been preferred.

I know many younger fans may label this movie as "dated and boring", especially as it compares to the updated effects(CGI and otherwise) in today's films. When considering what Ishiro Honda, Akira Ifukube and Eiji Tsuburaya managed to create together with this film, I think this film stands the test of time quite well, a testament to the skills and imagination of these three men and those at Toho who worked for them in the creation of this movie.

The HD trailer for Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964):

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Every rose has its thorn: Godzilla Vs Biollante(1989) - revisited

I first saw Godzilla Vs Biollante(1989) back in 1993 on the cable channel Cinemax. It struck me as odd that this film would show up on Cinemax since Godzilla movies usually were broadcast on AMC, TNT or TBS. After watching a preview of this movie on Cinemax I was fairly excited to watch it. I would see the original Toho version two years later in 1995 after ordering a bootleg VHS tape of the film from a now defunct NYC catalog order company.

The background of Godzilla Vs Biollante is interesting because the story line for the film was chosen among submissions from fans in a contest in Japan aimed at promoting interest in the film itself. From what I have read at various internet message boards this 1989 Godzilla film is generally well liked and is mentioned as a favorite "Heisei" G film among serious fans of Godzilla. Some observations, some positive and some not:

Thumbs up:

1. the Godzilla suit: the head of the monster is considerably different from the previous film, 1984's The Return Of Godzilla, the monster now also able to turn its head and with more subtle facial expressions. The physique of the monster is impressive, the chest large and the shoulders appearing more prominent than in the 1984 G film. This suit receives generally high praise from fans and it absolutely should!

2. the defense forces in this film, who come across as capable and hard working, especially the young man put in charge of the operations to deal with Godzilla: he's smart, decisive and keeps an open mind to using Miki Saegusa's ESP ability against the monster, something the elder JSDF officer is unwilling to do

2. Godzilla's entrance scene in this movie is terrific, the huge monster thundering out of the volcano(which he had been "imprisoned" in, of sorts at the end of the '84 film). The scene looks marvelous as Godzilla walks towards the sea, the volcano erupting behind him

3. humor in these Godzilla films is always welcome by me albeit in moderation. Colonel Gondo is brave, fearless and somewhat arrogant. Still, in crunch time Gondo led his team into battle against Godzilla and got the job done, managing to fire the ANB rocket into Godzilla's mouth. Gondo also had one of my favorite one liners in all Godzilla films, present in the English dubbed version of the film. After firing an ANB rocket into Godzilla's mouth while inside a top floor of an office building, and with the enormous, 80 meter tall monster standing perilously close to the building itself, Gondo remarked to the monster: "That intravenous stuff will kill you...stick to smoking". lol

5. the Super X2: obviously someone got the bright idea, based on the 1984 G film, that a "Super X" airborne defense weapon could fight Godzilla effectively without pilots, remotely controlled from a JSDF command center, thereby putting no pilots at risk of death. It works, the Super X2 a cool weapons platform that attacks Godzilla either from the air or underwater and is capable of supersonic speeds. This government built airborne vehicle is armed to the teeth with guns and rockets and even deploys a "fire mirror" which can reflect Godzilla's own oral beam back onto him. The Super X2 is the coolest weapon I've seen since the atomic heat cannons in 1961's Mothra and the masers used against Gaira in 1966's War Of The Gargantuas.

6. Godzilla's daytime battle with the naval flotilla: very well rendered with lots of explosions. The pyrotechnic effects used to render the ships exploding after being impacted by Godzilla's primary weapon, his oral beam, are outstanding. Godzilla's oral beam, like in the 1984 G film, is absolutely devastating in this movie. 

7. the final form Biollante, a much larger and more reptilian looking monster which dwarfs Godzilla. I also liked the roar of the giant plant-Godzilla hybrid monster. The creature's acid which it spewed from its mouth onto Godzilla was a good effects shot. The final battle between Godzilla and Biollante is, while not spectacular, solid given that Biollante doesn't appear capable of moving very much because of it's colossal size

Thumbs down:

1. the Saradian agent's use of profanity in the English dubbed version of the film, the bearded character muttering "goddamn" and "goddamnit" in different scenes. In particular one scene where, seeing Godzilla thunder by from the window of his hotel room, the Saradian assassin nonchalantly reacts out loud with "Goddamn, it's Godzilla". Maybe this scene was supposed to convince the viewer this fellow had ice in his veins. Me, his oblivious disdain for the menace of the nearby monster suggested arrogance bordering on stupidity. After repeated viewings of the English dubbed version this guy's potty mouth just seems unnecessary and a bit out of place.

2. the first form of Biollante: in essence the huge creature is a giant rose with teeth and tentacles. I did like the jaws at the end of the tentacles which snapped at Godzilla. Godzilla never seem challenged much in the lake skirmish and rather easily incinerates Biollante with his oral beam.

I own a DVD-R copy of this film copied from a Region 2 with English subtitles and also own the "Universe Laser" Region 3(Hong Kong) DVD which includes English subtitles. Godzilla Vs Biollante(1989) has been
released on VHS(Miramax) but has remained in Region 1 DVD release "limbo". Hopefully one day, and sooner than later, we'll get a quality Region 1 DVD release.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gorilla at large: King Kong Vs Godzilla(1962) - revisited

I saw many Showa era Godzilla films when I was a kid, including Godzilla King Of The Monsters(1956), Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster(1971), Godzilla Vs The Thing(1964) and Monster Zero(1965). Many I wouldn't see until much later after I was an adult, most of them beginning in the late 80's and through the mid 90's as I managed to catch them on TBS's "Super Scary Saturday"(hosted by Al Lewis of the 60's The Munsters TV series) and then after buying bootleg VHS tapes from a now defunct catalog order company called "Vicious Video". I first watched King Kong Vs Godzilla in 1987 with a co-worker and friend in his attic apartment. I managed to record the movie on VHS tape. The tape is long gone but my memories of watching this film are still around.

King Kong Vs Godzilla was produced by Toho and released theatrically for the first time back in 1962. Released in 2:35.1 "Tohoscope" widescreen, this film was Toho's means by which to re-introduce their "star", Godzilla back to the big screen. Recall that Godzilla had not been seen theatrically for seven(7) years since 1955's Godzilla Raids Again, the quickie sequel to Toho's highly successful film Gojira(1954).

Interestingly enough, the 1962 film was originally conceived(by Willis O'Brien) as a "King Kong Vs Frankenstein" film. I'm not going to get into how Godzilla came to become Kong's co star in this movie. I am going to submit some more observations about this film, referencing both the American and Toho versions. As always some of my musings may look familiar and some will, hopefully be new additions to my continuing diatribe about the movie.

Thumbs up:

1. the "Kingoji" Godzilla suit used in the film. Godzilla looks more reptilian with beady eyes on an alligator-like head and has bulkier legs and arms, more rounded, maple leaf shaped dorsal fins and a long, powerful tail. Godzilla is treated as the "heavy" in King Kong Vs Godzilla and this suit is IMO effective at perpetuating that role

2. the original score by Akira Ifukube is superb. It's too bad only those owning the Toho Region 2 DVD or a R2 DVD-R copy can listen to this score because much of it has been replaced in the American version of the film, which was released in 1963

3. Godzilla's entrance in the film is outstanding: the monster's presence is preempted by the glowing, radioactive light coming from inside the iceberg. Godzilla emerges from the iceberg while simultaneously destroying the U.N. nuclear submarine Seahawk (the sub's destruction is implied). The helicopter crew spots the monster below and we see a panoramic shot of Godzilla emerging from the iceberg.

4. Godzilla's attack on the arctic base: it's not without its flaws but overall the scene is rendered well, shots of Godzilla moving through the icy water as he approaches the base, then the monster making landfall and immediately opening up a can of whoop ass with his oral beam, torching some buildings and demolishing the bases' control tower with his tail. The base's defense forces wisely retreat, another nice effect rendered through tanks withdrawing back to their underground bunker.

5. actors Yu Fujiki and Tadao Takashima: I'm never enamored with a glut of humor in kaiju films and while I think the humor was poured on thick at times in this movie no one could have done it better than this pair who had previously worked together on a Japanese TV show called "The Crazy Cats". The shenanigans between these two characters is amplified by their boss "Mr. Tako"(played by bespectacled Ichiru Arashima). Tako is a nervous, jittery man who, given to sudden and periodic emotional outbursts always seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tako's buffoonery during the film reaches its apex when he fancies himself, to the point of absurdity, as King Kong's official "sponsor". Over time I have come to appreciate the antics by these human characters in the movie.

6. Godzilla's attack on the train: a well rendered scene which affords the viewer a nice point of reference to Godzilla's size and power as the monster derails and destroys several train cars from the abandoned train

7. the heroics of actor Kenji Sahara's character in rescuing his girlfriend after she's unceremoniously left behind after abandoning the train...and with Godzilla approaching nearby. Give the guy credit for having some serious testicular fortitude in this scene.

8. King Kong's brief foray into Tokyo. I wish this scene had been longer. Even better would have been the two monsters hashing it out in town. Still, the sequence where Kong hammered off a corner section of a building and then ripped a train car off the tracks to inspect the people inside it served as a good reminder of the power and undeniably intimidating presence of the creature

9. the final battle between King and Godzilla in and around Mt. Fuji: this battle is absolutely an imperfect venture with a brief an ineffective "stop motion" sequence and brief sequences utilizing hand puppets which looked poor on screen. Overall the battle choreography was IMO quite good: the monsters grappled, vigorously blasted each other as Kong used his hands and Godzilla his tail to do the damage. Both creatures threw each other to the ground and Kong evened tried to jam a tree in Godzilla's mouth as well as hurling boulders at his rival.

Thumbs down:

1. I've seen some intellectually challenged characters in many monster movies but the commanding officer of the U.N. submarine "Seahawk" may be the biggest buffoon I've ever seen: this guy allows his submarine, equipped with presumably quality radar and sonar, and operated by competent equipment operators, to plow into the side of an iceberg all while knowing in advance his vessel is surrounded by them. I also noticed that the Seahawk captain didn't know, at least in the English dubbed version of the film, what a "Cerenkov light" was. A scientist nearby explained to the captain that it was a light generated by nuclear reactors...and since the Seahawk is a nuclear sub it seems reasonable to assume that the Seahawk captain would know what "Cerenkov light" is. The befuddled look on the sub captain suggested, to me, that he may have thought it meant a brand of Russian beer or vodka.

2. the general lack of high speed filming used during many of the kaiju action sequences and during the final battle between the monsters

3. the Kong suit looked atrocious. This has been stated ad nauseam. Still, had the suit looked better this film might not receive as much criticism as it does. Kong in this film looks more like a "sasquatch". I thought I read somewhere that Eiji Tsuburaya wanted the Kong in this film to look friendlier. I don't think the garish facial features, hunched shoulders and generally neck-less look project that quality. Add to the suit's terrible look some of the antics by Kong in the film, including getting drunk in island red berry juice and scratching the top of his head after his fur is singed by Godzilla's oral beam and there are now even more reasons to bash the monster. All of that said I've always liked Kong in this film, more his actions than appearance. He did, after all, drive off a giant octopus and manage to defeat Godzilla while likely still experiencing the effects of the red berry juice.

4. in the American version the running analysis by "Dr. Arnold Johnson" was laughable at times, especially when the old geezer used a children's dinosaur book as a visual aide to his explanation and analysis of Godzilla's origin and behavioral habits.

This is an at times wildly uneven film regarding effects. No doubt the film has a strong satirical element as well and that may be a big turn off for kaiju fans. From what I've seen from internet reviews and message board discussion King Kong Vs Godzilla is either really well liked or despised. In any event this film should be in every kaiju film DVD collector's collection!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Numbers game: Destroy All Monsters(1968) revisited

As part of my message board's fast approaching fifth anniversary on the internet I have taken it upon myself to offer some additional "revisits" of the various Showa era Godzilla(and other kaiju) films, movies I have cherished for a lifetime and will still be watching when I'm an old geezer. Last week I offered some additional thoughts on 1966's War Of The Gargantuas. This evening I submit some additional musings on Destroy All Monsters, a film first released to theaters in Japan back in August of 1968, the film reaching American theaters in 1969 courtesy of American International Pictures(AIP). The film is directed by Inoshiro Honda, the movie's score composed by Akira Ifukube and with special effects directed by Eiji Tsuburaya.

Some of my insights and observations may look familiar from previous posts and there is(I hope) some new material for the inspection of the Godzilla fans among this message board's community.

Thumbs up:

1. Akira Kubo's character of "Katsuo Yamabe", a straight faced and no nonsense guy. I figure he has to be since he commands the sophisticated Moonlight SY3 spacecraft, this piece of hardware playing an important role in humanity's ability to deal with the onslaught of the giant monsters who have been loosed by the Killaaks. Yamabe is clearly a take charge guy and also refuses to be intimidated by the lead Killaak alien female.

2. the "Shosengeki" Godzilla suit used to render Godzilla in this movie. I've seen some criticism of this suit as having an overly long neck and altogether too slim profile. Maybe but I like the leaner look of Godzilla which serves the monster well, especially the final battle between the monsters and the Killaak's monster mercenary for hire King Ghidorah. This suit had an excellent run.

3. Godzilla's role as the leader of the monsters in DAM: the role fits Godzilla well, I think though fans of Godzilla as the antagonist and enemy to mankind no doubt would feel some disdain for Godzilla's role at the end of DAM.

4. I found many of the special effects in DAM to be uneven but overall I still consider the effects solid, including:
-the rendering of Rodan as it dives into the ocean off Monsterland's shore to snatch an orca out of the water
-Godzilla's rampage through the city during the monster assault on Tokyo, especially the shots where both G and Manda are shown in close proximity
-the shot of Godzilla's beam flashing across the screen as he fires at the Killaak launched, airborne fireball towards the end of the film, the remaining monsters around him

5. the score by Akira Ifukube is marvelous. I especially liked the score during the moon base scenes.

6. The miniature sets look solid, especially the sequence where we see the Moonlight SY3 on the launch pad with the buildings and runway around it.

7. Gorosaurus and Angilas, who both get to strut their stuff, so to speak, in DAM. Gorosaurus is arguably the most active combatant in the final battle between the monsters and King Ghidorah besides Godzilla, complementing Godzilla's actions well in the fight. Gorosaurus also has IMO the best entrance scene in DAM, erupting out of the ground right under the Arc De Triomphe in Paris(France), the creature plowing through the structure as it appears out of the ground. 

Thumbs down:

1. I hesitate to criticize this scene because given the options Toho's effects staff had at the time I doubt this scene could have been rendered any better in any other way. I'm referring to the scene where Yoshio Tsuchiya's character, "Dr. Otani", and under Killak control, nonchalantly walks to the hotel window and launches himself out of it. Obviously a dummy was used to show Otani's free fall to the beach below but the dummy looked, well, too much like a dummy.

2. the firearms deployed by the "special police"(as they were referred to). The police engaged the Kilaak controlled Monsterland staffers(including Kyoko Yamabe) on the beach. The weapons themselves resembled toys and sounded like something out of a "Buck Rogers" TV episode. The "special police" also appeared to lack in the most basic of marksmanship skills, unable to hit any of the fleeing Kilaak controlled staffers.

3. Godzilla's oral beam suffered that (now infamous) curve as he waded into New York harbor, firing the beam at the United nations building. As to how the monster's beam suffered this "curve" effect I couldn't answer. It didn't look very good, that's for sure.

4. the local military again appeared fairly inept. In one scene, during the initial part of the monster's attack on Tokyo, the JSDF commander and his comrades sat together at a table and appeared remarkably relaxed and nonchalant given the fact the Tokyo was under siege by giant monsters. Maybe they forgot their morning coffee before the monster's attack. ?

Regrettably, Varan and Baragon would make only cameo appearances in DAM by virtue of the deteriorated conditions of the suits of these two monsters.

It is my supreme hope that Toho remakes this film one day, perhaps with Shusuke Kaneko in the director's chair. This film, with updated effects could look awesome.

Hopefully we'll see someone like Shout! Factory or Mediablasters buy the North American rights to DAM and release a quality R1 DVD release with some extras.

The Toho trailer for Destroy All Monsters:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brothers In Arms: "War Of The Gargantas(1966)" revisited

It had been longer than I care to admit since I had watched a classic Toho kaiju film so a few nights ago I decided to sit down and watch War Of The Gargantuas , a classic Toho monster feature that was originally released in Japanese theaters by Toho back in 1966. The film is directed by Inoshiro Honda and the special effects are courtesy of Toho SPFX maestro Eiji Tsuburaya.

As anyone familiar with the older, 60's Toho monster films knows, "WOTG" is a sequel of sorts to Frankenstein Vs Baragon(aka "Frankenstein Conquers The World"), which was released by Toho a year earlier in 1965.

Whenever I watch a film again I often try to pick up on things I didn't notice before, good or bad, and sometimes I just get a reminder, watching the film again, of what I like and dislike about the movie itself. This "revisit" will hopefully be a combination of both. Some observations about WOTG, a favorite of mine, some of them positive and some of them not:

What I liked:

1. Kumi Mizuno whose character in this film, "Akemi" brings a sympathetic angle to the monster "Sanda". Sanda is the protagonist but we need Akemi's interaction with a baby Sanda and later the adult Sanda injuring its leg in order to save Akemi to fully appreciate that the 30 meter tall creature, while hairy and brutish looking, is no menace at all to humanity.

2. the renderings of "Sanda" and "Gaira": both creatures are suited well, the costumes making the suit actors look like giant, ape like sasquatches and, for me anyway, sufficiently creepy to look at. Both monsters also possess flattened heads, like the Franken boy giant in FCTW(1965), presumably an homage to Universal Studio's classic Frankenstein monster. In particular Gaira, the 25 meter tall villain monster. Gaira is ugly and has what appears to be a somewhat deformed face, uglier looking choppers and a generally hostile disposition regarding people in that the green colored, hairy giant, apparently not satisfied with consuming fish, crustaceans, seaweed and other things found in the sea, has begun incorporating humans into its diet, this plot angle adding a significant element of horror to to the film. I like the decision by Toho to allow the suit actor's actual eyes to be used through the suits: this added some realism and emotion to both monsters.

3. the miniature effects in the film are marvelous, especially during the military's initial engagement with Gaira. The military, unlike in other kaiju films, actually appear disciplined, competent and determined in their approach to eliminating Gaira as evidenced by the sequence in which the defense forces set up their lasers and mobile maser cannons. 

4. both monsters, Sanda and Gaira, have outstanding entrance scenes: Gaira, while IMO shown a little too soon in WOTG, still is introduced to the viewer in full action mode, fighting a giant octopus, sinking a freighter and subsequently snatching a pair of crewmen out of the water...as if their day wasn't already shot to hell when their ship was trashed.

Sanda's entrance is also well rendered as he saves Gaira from certain death at the hands of the local military...all while confirming the building suspicion among the scientists that there are in fact two of these giant creatures and not just one.

5. the final battle between Sanda and Gaira in Tokyo: while I thought more high speed filming could have been used while the two giants battled each other in the city the overall fight was well choreographed:

-both monsters threw each other into buildings, blasted each other about the shoulders and head with overhead hand strikes, slammed each other to the ground, kicked each other and employed similar tactics after they had fallen into Tokyo Bay and continued their battle in the water.

6. the score: one of the best, I think!

What I didn't like:

1. Russ Tamblyn, who plays "Dr. Stewart": Tamblyn's character is remarkably nonchalant throughout the entire film despite the presence of a monster that threatens the security of Japan itself. The character Dr. Stewart appears emotionally mute and a dullard for most of the film save the scene where Akemi nearly dies after falling down the lake side slope. I've seen some harsh criticism of Tamblyn's performance in this movie in various web reviews of WOTG, the actor's performance generally blasted as inept and "phoned in". I'm not disagreeing with this but with more viewings of this film I don't notice this as much, whatever that means.

2. the rendering of the "baby" Sanda: I would have liked seeing the baby made to look a little more menacing: granted the small creature wasn't going to look like the monstrosity in the film "Basket Case" but IMO the toddler Sanda looked too cuddly and akin to something a toddler might want out of a stuffed toy machine.

3. the local police in this film who struck me as not being the brightest of light bulbs. I wouldn't characterize them as buffoons but they seemed a day late and dollar short during their (thankfully) brief interactions with the scientists.

4. I noticed again something in this movie I've noticed in other Toho kaiju films: members of the military saluting civilians: in WOTG it was a sequence in which a defense force officer saluted Russ Tamblyn's character "Dr. Stewart". I've often wondered if this is some kind of cultural thing prevalent in these films...as opposed to handshakes or pats on the shoulder. Also, why do the JSDF officers always wear white gloves?

Overall: War Of The Gargantuas(1966) is one of my favorite non-Godzilla kaiju films, marvelously done and absolutely a must on DVD for any self respecting fan of Toho's monster films!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'll drink to that: thoughts on Toho's Kong and berry juice

I don't write satire much these days...but that doesn't mean I don't like to. Here are some musings, some based in reality and some not on one of my favorite Toho giant monsters, "King Kong", specifically the 45 meter tall Kong that was featured as the protagonist in 1962's King Kong Vs Godzilla.

The character of King Kong in the Toho kaiju film King Kong Vs Godzilla(1962) has always been for me a point of fascination. I know for many among the giant monster movie fandom the Toho Kong is looked upon with considerable disdain. Why not? He looks terrible in the '62 film with hunched shoulders, little or no neck and at times appears to have overly elongated arms. His appearance in this film has been described as "a hairy, giant quasimodo" and "giant ugly sasquatch". Add to the fact that the film he appeared in still ranks as one of the most watched Toho kaiju films, not just of the 1960's but in the history of Godzilla films which means A LOT of people have seen Toho Kong in all his ugliness on the big screen, VHS and DVD.

Maybe that's why Kong gets inebriated in the '62 film to the point of passing out on his back in front of the native islanders who worshiped him. Kong may have been ashamed of his appearance and, for lack of a personal groomer and life coach, coped the only way he knew how: by getting drunk. Can you blame him? Imagine having to listen to islanders privately make fun of his garish appearance. While no official estimates have ever been posted I think it's safe to say that King Kong consumed thousands of gallons of the red berry juice based on the size of the islander made containers. Kong's own size of 45 meters(about 148 feet) in height would presumably require a considerable amount of the juice in order for him to numb his feelings of boredom and misery, the potency of the juice's overall fermentation likely comparable to old school homemade corn whiskey, a beverage commonly referred to as "moonshine" in the southeastern United States.

Many fans may consider Toho's Kong a drunk and butt ugly creature but to his credit he managed to defeat a giant octopus and Godzilla, the latter a monster heavier, five meters taller than himself and possessing a scalding hot beam weapon capable of setting Kong's fur on fire. I believe Kong fought Godzilla while inebriated...and he still won albeit with some help from a few random lightning strikes. Toho Kong is old school brawler in combat: grappling, hand strikes, hurling boulders, shoulder blocks and body slams are all part of what Kong employed to defeat Godzilla.

Sadly, Toho Kong, initially asked by Toho to appear in the 1966 film Ebirah Horror Of The Deep, was replaced at the last minute by Godzilla after Kong reportedly refused to promise Toho execs he wouldn't eat Ebirah after tearing the giant crustacean apart with his bare hands.

In summary I'd like to ask fans to give Toho Kong a break, and a closer examination the next time you watch King Kong Vs Godzilla. I think you'll come away with a greater appreciation for this ugly but hard working creature.

As for what has happened since 1962 there is speculation that Toho Kong wants to visit Monsterland in the Ogasawara island archipelago, perhaps even take up permanent residency there but that Godzilla and the other kaiju residing on this remote island won't let Kong drop by until they've received a written, contractual guarantee of a large shipment, in advance of Kong's visit, of the red berry juice. Pacific Pharmaceuticals has been trying to mediate this issue between Toho Kong and the other monsters ever since...without any success. Toho's current CEO Shogo Tomiyama has, in recent years, received considerable pressure from the Japanese Parliament to break this stalemate and help Kong and the kaiju of "Monsterland" reach an agreement. The latest update, posted in a Japanese newspaper last month, said an agreement is imminent.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Monster Island News: Gareth Edwards To Direct Legendary's Godzilla

Monster Island News: Gareth Edwards To Direct Legendary's Godzilla: "Legendary's 'Godzilla' now has a director, according to The Hollywood Reporter: Godzilla has a director. Gareth Edwards, the British film..."