Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'zilla wafers

Since my blog is titled Scraping the Barrel, I figure it's time I dealt with some blatant barrel scraping. And there isn't a better place to start than with the latest Godzilla movies to be released on DVD. Both All Monsters Attack (AKA Godzilla's Revenge - 1969), and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) are pretty much considered the absolute bottom when it comes to a barrel full of Godzilla. Sure, Vs. the Smog Monster and Vs. Megalon are hanging out down there too, but I contend that the only reason these two new releases are relegated to the bottom is strictly word-of-mouth critiques gone out of control. I swear by what I read on the web, folks who hate these movies have never seen them, but because the plot synopsis for both of them read pretty hideously they parrot the company line, or they just want more of the same when it comes to Godzilla movies, and any painting outside the lines is just not what they want in a Godzilla movie. Now, I'm not going to argue that these films are high-art, or even in the top 25% of all Godzilla movies (22 of 'em between 1954-1995!), but opinions are like noses, and since I'm picking mine in public, I think these two fit comfortably in the middle to better of all Godzilla films.
All Monsters Attack has always had the reputation as the worst of all Godzilla movies. I would concede that IF it was a Godzilla movie, it probably is the worst. When in fact Godzilla mostly makes guest appearances in various dream sequences. This film is much less a Godzilla film, but more a deeper study of the effects of industrialization and modernization on Japanese society. The grim city of the film, with it’s smoggy sunsets through billowing smokestacks, is the background for the story of a latchkey kid who apparently suffers from epilepsy. While in his unconscious dreamstate, Godzilla’s son befriends him and helps him sort out his bully problems, as well as deal with his own anger at being abandoned by his parents! Not the most upbeat Godzilla movie, but at least the kid ain’t annoying, or named Kenny. And it has a smokin’ surfin’ soundtrack unlike any other Godzilla film. I swear you can read reviews of this film where the writers absolutely loath the score. I think they are deaf.
As for Terror of Mechagodzilla, it was the last Godzilla film directed by Ishiro Honda, the man who started it all. Forgiving it’s first several minutes of reconstituted monster fights, the remainder of the film is quite unique, though on a really tight budget. Where in the past whether it be alien commanders or military Generals, most of the expository scenes took place in massive underground bunkers or spaceships festooned with blinking lights and giant screen video monitors. This time around, I swear it looks like the alien invaders are planning their world domination from a room rented at the Marriott. Instead of being a distraction though, it's the urban sterility that makes the film much more real-world, here and now, and much less the fantasy unreality of the previous 20 years of Godzilla films. With a major “robot in love with a human” subplot taking center stage for much of it’s running time, the whole film has a melancholy mood unlike any other Godzilla film (except maybe All Monsters Attack). The photography is also stunning at times, and benefits from proper framing this time around, not the barely panned and scanned version that has been junking up the cheap-o video stores for years if not decades. And though this was the first Godzilla with an all new effects team, they handle themselves admirably, with Godzilla no longer battling in barren countryside (the cheapest and easiest of all effects to choreograph and film).
Both of these DVD's are done up in super-deluxe, though reasonably priced editions. Each has commentaries and multiple language options, as well as both US and Japanese release versions of the films themselves. If your collection is barren of all things Godzilla, you certainly shouldn't start with these, but if you have the prerequisite first film, and maybe Vs. Mothra or Ghidorah, the 3-Headed Monster these would be welcome editions.