Godzilla vs. Megalon (R4 PAL)
For those of you not familiar with this late entry in the original (otherwise known as "Showa") Godzilla, series, let me start with some choice comments from the Internet Movie Database:
"This is not a movie for the weak, as you are suddenly plunged into six different other plots that ultimately make no sense."
"I have a particular dislike for this film as it brings the campy, childish quality of the series to new lows."
"This movie is a shame to the Godzilla series. Thank God I was watching the MST3K-version of it. If I hadn't, I would have to shoot myself to bring me out of my own misery."
Tough crowd, ain't it? Godzilla vs. Megalon, long a staple of American home video, has built itself quite a formidable reputation as the worst of the Godzilla movies. But is it really that bad? That is the question we shall try and answer with this newly remastered Australian DVD hopefully providing a fresh perspective to those of us weary of so many sub-par monster movies.
We open at a lake in the Japanese countryside. As a child named Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase) plays on a mechanical water toy, his older brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Jinkawa (Yutaka Hayashi) watch onshore. Suddenly, the ground begins trembling, and the water level on the lake begins to drop as an earthquake hits. The two men pull Rokuro back to shore just as a massive fault opens up in the lake bed, completely draining it. For obvious reasons, the group decides to call it a day. On the drive back to Goro's house, they hear radio reports that earthquakes have been happening with a high frequency ever since a recent underground nuclear test in the Aleutian Islands. When they finally arrive home, they walk in on two mysterious men (Kotaro Tomita and Wolf Otsuki) who are in the process of ransacking the place. The intruders rough the men up and then flee.
Goro is an inventor, and his latest creation is a humanoid robot he calls Jet Jaguar. It seems that the men who broke into their house were after the robot for their own sinister purposes, and we soon learn what those are. The two men are agents from Seatopia, a subterranean nation whose ecology has been badly damaged by the recent underground tests. Faced with no good choices, the Seatopian emperor (Robert Dunham) decides to go to war by unleashing a giant insect-like monster named Megalon to attack the surface world. The Seatopian agents return to Goro's house and successfully capture Jet Jaguar, and use him to guide Megalon to the surface, where he begins to rain death and destruction on Japan, with the military helpless to stop the carnage. However, Goro is able to regain control of his creation and orders Jet Jaguar to fly (yes, the robot can fly) to "Monster Island" and get Godzilla to come help.
Jet Jaguar reaches Monster Island in the South Pacific where he enlists Godzilla to come to Japan's aid. Godzilla jumps into the sea and starts swimming, and Jet Jaguar flies back home ahead of him. Transforming into a giant robot (yes, the robot can also change sizes), Jet Jaguar begins to duke it out with Megalon. However, realizing that Godzilla is now en route, the Seatopians contact their extraterrestrial allies in the distant Spacehunter M-1 Universe and have them send another giant monster named Gigan, who joins forces with Megalon and begins kicking the stuffing out of Jet Jaguar. Just when all appears lost, Godzilla finally arrives for a wholesome round of old-fashioned monster ass kicking that will decide whether the Earth belongs to those living below it or above it.
During my childhood in the early 1990's, I was not allowed to watch "modern" horror films because of parental displeasure with their gore and violence. However, my parents tolerated - and eventually even supported - my love of older horror movies that continues to this day. On every family outing that resulted in a visit to Ames or K-Mart, I would always stop by the video aisle for a look at what they had for sale. At that point in time there really weren't a lot of "classic" horrors on home video, but those department stores always had video selections that perfectly suited my needs as an up and coming fan. The reason for this is that they always stocked VHS titles by such low-tier companies as Goodtimes and Star Classics, to name just a few of the bargain basement operations that were around back in those days. The tapes were always inexpensive, never more than $10, and often much less. Because these were cheap fly-by-night operations, the films they offered were usually in the public domain. Public domain usually meant old, and therefore, not excessively gory or sexual, and thus perfectly acceptable to my parents. Eventually I built up quite a large collection of these cheap tapes. There were certain movies that showed up more frequently than others, but there are only two movies that I can remember almost always being in the stores, and having been released by every single two-bit video label that I encountered. The first was the original Night of the Living Dead. The second was Godzilla vs. Megalon.
Both films proliferated because of their name recognition, and because of the perception that they were in public domain, a perception that was only half true. While George Romero's film really wasn't copyrighted, Godzilla vs. Megalon had simply fallen into a faux public domain status where everyone was copying it, and nobody was stopping it (as of 2007, the U.S. Copyright Office's website lists Toho Studios as the rights holder, having filed copyright claims on the movie four times between 1973 and 2001). Unlike many of the Godzilla films during that time period, it was never given a release that was decent even by the standards of VHS.
Of course, the film was actually mangled years before it arrived on home video, going back to its original American screenings. The original distributor, an obscure American company named Cinema Shares, cut around three minutes out of the movie (this DVD contains both the original Japanese language version, and the shorter English language version) in order to get a 'G' rating. A rough breakdown of the cuts is as follows.
Cuts aside, the American version is a classic example of how bad dubbing can alter the context of a movie. The English dialog delivery is bad enough as it is (Rokuro was dubbed by a performer who sounds like a young girl on helium), but the omission of certain details about the characters distorts the way we perceive them. In the Japanese version, the dialog is fairly clear that Goro and Jinkawa are good friends or colleagues, and that Rokuro is Goro's little brother. In contrast, the English language version makes no effort to explain those facts, making the relationship between the two men come across as vaguely homosexual, and their relationship with the young boy seems potentially perverse.
The question must now be asked - with the missing footage restored and a subtitled, non-dubbed version finally available, is Godzilla vs. Megalon still the worst of the original Godzilla series? The answer is yes. Previously, I had considered the film to be the worst by a very wide margin. Now, seeing it in its original form, I now only hold it to be the worst by a thin margin. Plain and simple, this movie is a disappointment. Like the Gamera series, the Godzilla films had become more and more juvenile over time. There were two things that set Toho's fantasy films (Godzilla and otherwise) apart from competing films and film series like X from Outer Space, Gappa the Triphibian Monster and the Gamera films. The first was that the talent behind the camera (particularly director Ishiro Honda, composer Akira Ifukube and special effects man Eiji Tsuburaya) was usually better. The second was that they often had a stronger social and moral compass. In the original 1954 Gojira, the monster is symbolic of the utter devastation Japan suffered during World War II, devastation incurred from both nuclear and conventional weapons. In Mothra, the monster becomes a symbol of American imperialism, and how it brings devastation to foreign lands. In Atragon, a naval officer representative of Japan's own imperial past is redeemed when he uses his fantastically high-tech submarine to defeat an attack by another underground nation (one which, incidentally, is a hell of a lot cooler than the Seatopians).
Unfortunately, these are all examples from the mid-50's to the mid-60's. By the beginning of the 1970's, things at Toho had changed. By that point in time, Ishiro Honda had been more or less replaced by the less capable Jun Fukuda as Toho's favorite monster movie director. Eiji Tsuburaya was dead, and Akira Ifukube wasn't composing as many scores. The budgets were lower, and the screenplays were worse. Godzilla vs. Megalon is fully representative of the series' decline because of this. The anti-nuclear, pro-environmental stance comes across as weak and contrived. Even in its original Japanese, there is no character development other than explaining what everyone's relationship to everyone else is. Megalon's obligatory attack on Tokyo is brief, and is composed mainly of stock footage from earlier films, as is the military's response to the monster. The climactic battle takes place in a generic, uninteresting landscape that lacks any of the intricate model work that would have taken extra time and money to build. The opportunistic introduction of Gigan also allows for stock footage from the previous year's Godzilla vs. Gigan.
Of course, by this point in time the Godzilla films were not being made for adults any longer. These were kid's movies. In the trailer for Godzilla vs. Megalon that is included on this disc, there is even a message urging youngsters to come see the movie over spring break. That is probably why adult fans have so much trouble trying to sit down and enjoy the movie. As a form of entertainment, the movie no longer has much appeal to me, even though I too remember a time when, as a child, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
As mentioned previously, this disc contains both the full length Japanese version of the movie, and the shorter American version. The image quality on both is virtually identical, and the fact that the "American" version contains Japanese language credits makes me suspect that the American cut was recreated by editing the full length Japanese master until it synched up with the English soundtrack.
In any case, the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced by this 16x9 enhanced PAL transfer. Overall the image quality is quite good, but not without a few problems. Colors are nicely saturated for the most part, but look a little pale nonetheless. Black levels are often inconsistent and the image as a whole looks rather soft and is lacking in detail. However, the great news is that there are no specks, scratches or blemishes...period. Either this transfer was struck from film elements in wonderful condition, or some truly heavy duty clean-up work was done.
The Japanese version comes with the option of watching the film in either the original 2.0 Mono mix, or a 5.1 Surround remix. The Mono track is good enough. It is decent and robust, and lacks any severe instances of hissing, popping or other distortion. The 5.1 soundtrack is a slight improvement over the Mono track, with somewhat better fidelity and a decent use of the extra channels available.
The American version is available only in English 2.0 Mono, and the soundtrack on this cut of the film is the weakest of the three tracks. The English language dubbing has always had a hissy, raspy quality to it, and it sounds very much the same here as it did on VHS.
Optional English subtitles are available on the Japanese version.
There's not a lot of on-disc extras here. We get original Japanese trailers for the film, as well as for Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla's Revenge. We also get several original posters for the movie.
I do not have any of the other Godzilla films that Madman Entertainment has released on DVD, but judging from the listed specs on them it seems like they are all pretty much bare-bones as well.
Well, here it is. After decades of butchering and cropping, Madman Entertainment has finally given Godzilla vs. Megalon the dignified presentation that it was so long denied. Although it remains the low point of the original series, it still has interest to Godzilla completists. Although many of the original Toho monster thrillers are now out on Region 1 in quality releases, the buzz has been that Godzilla vs. Megalon will not be forthcoming because of a dispute over who owns the American license to distribute it. This release is of fine quality and is not that expensive, even when international shipping and exchange rates are taken into account. If you're region-free, and a Godzilla fan, check it out.
Movie – D+
Image Quality - B
Sound - B
Image Quality - B
Sound - C-
Supplements – C
This disc should have the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode on it. Truly it was one of the best episodes ever of that show.
Yeah, ok but Godzilla does a drop kick in this movie, so you know 5 stars :p
Looks good but I still don't think I'll buy it.
And I always thought Gozilla vs. Gigan was the worst in the series. I guess I need to revisit both to make a more informed decision.
What I remember from watching Godzilla flicks on TV in the late 70s and early 80s when I was a kid was the cheese factor. It was fun for a kid. I thought this was how all Godzilla movies were supposed to be. The ones I remember seeing the most were this one and the one with the Smog Monster (Hedorah). With nostalgic motive, I imported this Australian DVD, so that it could sit on my shelf with the only other Godzilla flick I own, Godzilla vs Hedorah (well, I have the original Gojira, because it is the first and a classic). I think the cheese is a whole lot more fun than those god-awful ones with the baby-Godzilla.
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