Friday, December 29, 2006
Friday, September 01, 2006
If Classic Media had simply put out a DVD of the Japanese version of "Gojira," with no extras and a crappy clamshell cover, it would still be one of, if not the, major giant monster event of the year. The movie has long deserved to be seen this way, its recent tour of art house theaters was important, but being available in everyone's home is crucial.
But that's not where Classic Media stopped. Their 2-disc "Gojira" DVD set, which is officially being released Sept. 5, is a beautiful piece of work that is absolutely essential for giant monster and Godzilla fans and, probably more importantly, film buffs in general.
Open the package up and there is a plastic tray for each version of the movie. Beneath the disc for "Gojira" is a photo of Godzilla breathing atomic fire across the Tokyo skyline. Underneath "Godzilla King of the Monsters" is the monster rising from the sea in its death throes, our heroes' ship in the background.
Inside is a booklet with an essay called "Godzilla's Footprint" written by Steve Ryfle, author of "Japan's Favorite Mon-Star," one of the best books on Godzilla films. The essay helps put the films in perspective of the times. It also details the stories of the creators behind the films. The booklet contains a couple of nice stills from "Gojira."
There is, of course, no widescreen here. The movie was not filmed in Tohoscope, so its shape is much the same as your TV screen. I detected nothing cut off or missing (however, I've never seen the film in a movie theater, having missed last summer's showings.)
"Gojira" seems to be subtitled very well. I don't know Japanese, so I can't tell the quality of translation, but it does read well. There were no mistypes or spelling errors that I could see.
Most importantly, it was wonderful to see "Gojira" again. Before this, I had only seen bootleg copies on VHS tape. The movie is truly dark and dismal. There's a seriousness to the film unlike any other giant monster film. Unlike almost all of Ishiro Honda's other work, there is no irony or humor in "Gojira." There is no doubt Honda was making a film for adults dealing with issues that were still raw for the Japanese public.
I'm also impressed with the structure of the movie. In most giant monster movies, one of the most difficult problems to overcome is creating an interaction between the characters and the monster, making the human drama as compelling as the devastation. Only during the long destruction of Tokyo are the characters removed from the center of the film. In particular, I was impressed with the love triangle at the center of the film. Emiko and Ogata confront Serizawa about the oxygen destroyer. This would be compelling drama on its own, but it deepens and becomes more powerful knowing that their argument is about more than just that issue. When Ogata and Serizawa fight, Serizawa is lashing out against a world that would use his discovery for evil and against Ogata directly. Yamane's character is also well drawn. He wants to save Godzilla, not because the monster is one of a kind or some other misguided impulse, but because he sees in studying Godzilla the possibility of saving people's lives. Despite his misgivings, however, he still helps the government in finding a way to defeat Godzilla. In an American monster movie of the time, (think "The Thing from Another World") the scientist would be a madman not really in touch with the situation.
"Godzilla, King of the Monsters" suffers from being packaged with "Gojira." The things that make the original great are hollowed out. Terry Morse and Raymond Burr did a good job with what they had, and if they hadn't done it Godzilla may never have had the level of fame it's reached, but it doesn't have the gravitas of the original. But it is still wonderful to have this film side by side with the original. This was, after all, the version that brought Godzilla to worldwide fame.
All these extra materials are very informative. There were many pieces of information I had never heard before, and I've read much about the Godzilla films. In particular, the commentary for "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" includes snippets from interviews with people involved with bringing the film to America and an interview with Terry Morse Jr., the son of the American director who also worked on the film. This is great stuff and is essential listening for any Godzilla fan.
The featurettes are basically still photos while commentary continues about the movies. The featurette on story development fascinated me (although I imagine many fans will be more interested in the suit-making story of the other featurette.) After hearing it, I really would like to see the original version of Shigeru Kayama's story for "Gojira." It sounds much different from the film and fascinating in its own right. Just hearing the plot details of Kayama's story goes to show how much work Ishiro Honda put into the film. After Honda finished with the film, it was no longer Kayama's story. Honda had made it his own, and much more dramatic and affecting. (Of course, this is all judging from what the featurette tells us. Maybe Kayama's story was much more dramatic in other ways.) Regardless, I am now fascinated with Kayama as he supposedly wrote stories before Godzilla about sea creatures. I wonder if any of his work has been translated? (Actually, I just found this page about an effort to get Kayama's story translated.)
It sounds to me, from my uninformed position, that Classic Media's release stands up well against BFI's. It's too bad the documentary on Japanese fishermen was not included, but it alone is probably not worth the price of importing BFI's disc.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Classic Media's release of "Gojira" is nearing and I, for one, can't wait. I hope to have a review of the DVD up by early September, thanks to a review copy I should be getting. The company is hyping the launch with a sweepstakes, details follow:
CLASSIC MEDIA LAUNCHES “RETURN TO THE KING OF THE MONSTERS™ HOMETOWN”
SWEEPSTAKES TODAY TO CELEBRATE THE RELEASE OF “GOJIRA” ON DVD
One Grand Prize Winner Will Receive an 8-Day, 7-Night Trip for 2 to Tokyo, Japan
New York, NY – August 16, 2006 – Godzilla wants to show you his hometown! To celebrate the US release of GOJIRA, the original 1954, uncut Japanese Godzilla movie, Classic Media kicks off the Return to the King of the Monsters™ Hometown Sweepstakes.
Starting today, Godzilla fans can log onto www.godzillaondvd.com to enter to win one of more than 250 monstrous prizes.
One grand prize-winner will receive an 8-day/7-night vacation to Tokyo, Japan for two, including travel and first-class accommodations. Classic Media will also give away one SONY PSP ™ per day for the duration of the sweepstakes, running from August 16 – September 16, 2006. Additional prizes include 50 “Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters” DVD sets and 200 limited-edition Gojira DVD movie posters.
For “Return to the King of the Monsters ™ Hometown” sweepstakes details, rules and regulations – please log onto www.godzillaondvd.com. This promotion is produced by T.E.A.M. Group, Florham Park, N.J.
Gojira is the original, unedited Japanese version of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. On September 5th, Classic Media will release Gojira on DVD, for the first time ever in the U.S., as part of a 2-disc set that will also include the Americanized Godzilla starring Raymond Burr. Gojira will include 40 minutes of footage that was edited out to allow for the addition of Burr as an American reporter and will be available for $21.98 SRP.
About Classic Media:
Classic Media owns and manages some of the world’s most recognizable family properties across all media including feature film, television, home video and consumer products. The company’s extensive library features a diverse collection of popular animated and live-action characters such as: Casper the Friendly Ghost, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Lone Ranger, Lassie, Underdog and Rocky & Bullwinkle.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
I almost hurt myself I'm so excited. Check out this post from Monster Zero. I've been pretty skeptical about what Classic Media would do with the Godzilla DVDs they now have the rights to, but it looks like they are coming through in a big way. Not only do we have a whole bunch of great classic G films in widescreen and with subtitles, but they include commentary by people like Steve Ryfle, Richard Pusateri, Keith Aiken and Stuart Galbraith IV. (Basically, most of the people behind SciFi Japan and some of the most informed minds in G fandom.)
And the best part is the last line:
This is just a partial list. These discs are still being worked on, so more extra features are expected to be included.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Check out the trailer for "Raki vs. Gramuda." This is the latest in a long-running series of films made by a group (TG2WAC) of giant monster fans in Ohio. The group is well known for holding "how to build a monster" events at GFest. For more information on TG2WAC or Raki, check out the TG2WAC Yahoo group.
Posted by Brian at 7:47 AM
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Director Shin Sang-ok has died. He was a ground breaking director in South Korea before he was abducted by Kim Jong-il and made to direct films in North Korea. During his stay, he filmed the giant monster movie Pulgasari. He later escaped and lived in the U.S. for years, filming 3 Ninjas movies. Salon ran a fascinating article on his abuction you can read here. Allegedly, his last interview can be read here.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Happy 80th birthday to the master of independent cinema, Roger Corman. Unfortunately, I haven't seen many of his giant monster movies, but others have, so here's a few reviews for your reading pleasure:
Attack of the Crab Monsters
It Conquered the World
DinoCroc (includes reviews of a few more classic Corman films as well.)
Attack of the Giant Leeches
Little Shop of Horrors
And my favorite non-giant monster movie:
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
Also, be sure to read Corman's biography How I Made Millions in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.
And finally, check out VideoWatchBlog for an updated list of bloggings about Corman today.
The first "Carnosaur" was muddled but ambitious. It featured dinosaurs hatched from chicken eggs -- and occasionally people. The dinosaurs grew from small bitey critters to T. Rex like monsters. It featured Diane Ladd as a mad scientist who tricked the government and a corporation into backing her crazy scheme. There was lots of goo and a military takeover scene at the end.
"Carnosaur 2" loses all of that. In fact, the only references to the first film is a huge triangle cage that once held the T. Rex sized monster and a reference to the military keeping some dinosaurs "on ice" after the cleanup at the end of Carnosaur.
The movie is set at a government facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In this facility are: atomic waste, nuclear weapons and dinosaurs. But the dinosaurs are on a top secret level, so very few know about them. In the intro to the movie, the dinosaurs escape and kill everyone in the place, except for Jesse -- a precocious kid who knows all about the facility -- who is traumatized by seeing his father killed by a dinosaur.
Our "heroes" are a systems repair group. Apparently, when things break down, these guys are called in. They have the demeanor of a grizzled Army troop. It makes me wonder what kind of systems they are normally repairing. The main character is Jack Reed. Actor John Savage does his best Harvey Keitel in the role as Jack takes a father-like role over Jesse. The whole movie is set in the rooms and hallways and outside heliport of the Yucca facility.
I almost can't call it a giant monster movie as most of the dinosaurs are raptor size. But in the last few minutes of the movie, we get the big T. Rex dinosaur to chase the heroes around, and Jesse has his revenge thanks to an "Aliens" ripoff and the line "Eat This Barney!"
The movie is an entertaining slasher flick with dinosaurs (which, if you think about it, so was the first "Jurassic Park"). There's more focus on character than the first movie in the series, but less ambition in what it tries to pull off.
There's few other reviews out there for me to link to. Also, there's little to say about the crew. It is, of course, produced by Roger Corman (happy birthday!) to tap into the dinosaur craze created by "Jurassic Park." This movie came out after the first movie, but a year before "The Lost World," which despite better production values isn't much better than these movies. The writer is Michael Palmer whose only other credit appears to be "Watchers III," also produced by Corman. (The Web offers a unreliable credits because searches seem to bring up medical thriller novelist Michael Palmer quite often.) Louis Morneau has a few more credits (also mostly Corman-produced efforts), the most famous of which is Bats.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Tim Lucas suggests bloggers write about Roger Corman for his 80th birthday Wednesday. A whole blog tribute. I plan to do something, though I haven't seen a single one of his most famous giant monster movies. Maybe I'll finally post my review of "Carnosaur II." We'll see. But I'd to encourage every blogger to join in on the Corman celebration Wednesday!
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
If you haven't checked out the Negadon Attacks Web site yet, go do it. It's got a new trailer for the film and a personal message from director/creator Jun Awazu. It looks like they are trying to add more features to the site. I hope we learn more about the DVD, which will be released "Summer 2006", sometime soon. Considering this is a short film, how are they going to pad out the disc? Or are they going to sell it at a cheaper price point? Regardless, I'm looking forward to seeing a new film from a real kaiju fan.
Monday, March 13, 2006
According to ScifiJapan, Classic Media has announced it will release a Godzilla 2-pack DVD of the original Gojira with the Raymond Burr version. This is good news. It will be released in September.
There is talk of adding extras to the DVD. I hope they do, because I am still seriously considering buying the BFI version of Godzilla from the UK. But I will wait to see how Classic Media handles this. Cross your fingers G fans and hope for the best.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
There's a new site on the Web that I think my readers would be very interested in: SciFi Japan. It purports to offer complete coverage of Japanese SF films. It's staff, which includes experts such as Ed Godziszewski, Richard Pusateri and Steve Ryfle among many others. I'm looking forward to what this site will have to offer.
Posted by Brian at 2:09 PM
Friday, February 17, 2006
"But from there, all bets are off, as the book constantly surprises. Unlike the all-formula movies from which these stories draw their inspiration, you never know what you’re going to get."
I bought the book when it came out and have been meaning to write about it for a long time now. I still haven't finished it, I just dive into it and enjoy from time to time. The stories are mostly high quality. The writers are serious about the idea, even when they use it for humorous purposes. I've been very pleased with it.
The book is a creation of Robert Hood and I urge you to check out his page for the anthology, where he announces that Prime Books will be publishing a sequel. I can't wait. Also on the site, check out Hood's earlier giant monster story "Watching a Giant Monster Trash a City" and read about the movie version. There's also a few other goodies like The Drakenswode Correspondence and An Unnatural History of Giant Monsters.
The anthology is great fun for all giant monster fans, go buy it now!
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Friday, February 10, 2006
King Kong Escapes was one of the first giant monster movies to infect my young mind. It and Destroy All Monsters were shown during Channel 38's (or was it 9, or 11?) "monster week." Those two films are probably responsible for my fascination with giant monster movies and kaiju in particular.
To my pre-adolescent self, there was nothing more fascinating than the giant mechanical monster known as MechaniKong. He looked like the famed giant ape, but was metal head to toe. In the movie, both he and King Kong fight a T-Rex -- at least I thought it was a T-Rex, it turned out to be a Gorosaurus, a creation of Toho. There was a lot to love in this film.
Now, it's been released in a two-pack with King Kong Vs. Godzilla. I can still see what affected me as a youth, but the movie really pales in comparison to the rest of the Toho canon, and certainly with other Kong movies.
The film was actually a sequel to a 1960s Rankin-Bass cartoon, which has recently been released on DVD. I've never seen that series, so I can't comment on how the two compare.
The good: The movie is filled with neat ideas. There's a sleek submarine that the heroes patrol the waters with. There's MechaniKong, of course. The mechanical monster would later be the inspiration for MechaGodzilla. There's a crazed evil leader, that "international Judas" Doctor Who, and a conflicted agent of a unnamed Asian country. There's a mysterious Element X that could power the world, or lead to its destruction. There's electronic mind control devices. There's an Arctic command center.
And despite all these things, the movie is just not very good. Nothing in the movie is left for the viewer to figure out when a lump of exposition can be used instead. The building of MechaniKong makes no sense. It's built to dig up Element X. But it is immediately shorted out by that element. Shouldn't that have been tested before you spent millions on building a mechanical monster? Seems like a waste of resources. And for that matter, is building a giant mechanical ape any way to run an excavation site?
Logic aside, the movie just seems listless. Things happen and there's the occasional giant monster battle, but they all seem rather boring. The effects have their moments, but are generally poor. This movie came out between Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (initially intended to be a King Kong film) and Son of Godzilla, films that are generally considered to be the start of G's downward trend. If you look at the effects, particularly the tropical island settings, those two films are much better than some of what's seen here.
Still, the absurdity of the film is fun and I still love MechaniKong. If only Toho could bring it back. King Kong Escapes is really only for giant monster movie completists.
Image found at KensForce.
Technorati Tags: King Kong, daikaiju, kaiju
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Horrible news, Godzilla music composer Akira Ifukube has died. Ifukube was one of the three people who were the heart of Godzilla, along with director Ishiro Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya. In fact, Ifukube was Godzilla's voice. It was his idea to run a metal glove down a bass string that created the distinctive sound of G's roar.
Even people who don't know about who scored the Godzilla films intuitively know Ifukube. When you hear those first bass notes of Godzilla's theme, you know the giant monster is about to arrive. For me, his themes for the movements of the military and the actions of the heroes always cheer me up. They are march songs, stirring and moving. I could listen to them at any time.
Here's what Steve Ryfle says about Ifukube in his book "Japan's Favorite Mon-Star" (which is a classic book about Godzilla, a must read):
A KAIJU CACOPHONY: The illusion of Godzilla's size and irrefutable power was reinforced by the thundering sounds of Akira Ifukube, who wrote one of the most memorable musical scores in sci-fi movie history and who supervised the creation of Godzilla's distinctive, immortal roar. Despite his background in classical music and as a composer of serious dramatic films, Ifukube never shied away from [G producer Tomoyuki] Tanaka's oddball monster movie, not even when his contemporaries said it was beneath him and urged him not to do it. After just a few introductory meetings with Tanaka, Tsuburaya, and Honda to discuss the project, Ifukube enthusiastically accepted the assignment. "Something monstrous comes out and makes you jump out of your wits!" Ifukube said. "It is sheer fear, not an abstraction, and it is global. Moreover, my specialty was biology. [Ifukube had worked in forestry.] I couldn't sit still when I heard that in this movie the main character was a reptile that would be rampaging through the city."
Ifukube also did work outside of the Godzilla films, from science fiction spectacular's like The Mysterians and Atragon to samurai classics such as they Zatoichi series. For a listing of his work, check out The Akira Ifukube Page.
It is less well known that Ifukube was an accomplished classical composer. His Japanese Rhapsody won a prestigious international prize and was first performed in 1936 by the Boston People's Orchestra.
Here's an interesting passage from David Kalat's "A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series":
Ifukube's compositional style, which creates music with distinctly Asian qualities whileusing the instruments of traditiona European classical music, is one of emotional extremes and operatic values. During World War II, the Japanese military commissioned him to compose nationalistic hymns for the Pacific islands the Japanese "liberated" from the white people. Ironically, when General Douglas MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Air Force Base in August 1945 at the end of the war, the band performed Ifukubes brass band march for the Filipino people, much to Ifukube's surprise.There's a lot more about him in Kalat's book, another essential text for Godzilla fans. You can also find information on Ifukube on Wikipedia. Tim Lucas writes a well thought out piece on the composer here.
At the peak of his career, Ifukube scored as many as fifteen films per year, eventually scoring more than two hundred features. Ifukube's themes would make an indelible mark on listeners and would be used frequently over forty years, although ironically, he composed the Gojira soundtrack in under a week, without having seen any of the footage. Ifukube simply relied on Honda's assertion that Godzilla would be "one of the biggest things ever on the screen."
Celebrate the man's life by picking up the King Kong vs. Godzilla soundtrack, one of the soundtracks he was most proud of. (And it's always been a crime that his music was taken out of the American version of the film.) Also, check out this Amazon Listmania! for what Ifukube music is available.
This also marks the end of an era. Ifukube was the only one of the creative masters behind the original Gojira who lived past its 50th anniversary. With the composer's passing, the creators of Godzilla pass into history. Long may their work live on.
UPDATE: Picture of Ifukube found at Tokyo Monsters.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The film premiered at a festival in Japan and has been getting very warm reviews. Now comes news that the film has been picked up by Central Park Media for some kind of distribution in America. According to the company's press release:
will be released theatrically this spring and on home video this
summer. Central Park Media will make further announcements at New York
Comic-Con at the end of February.
I'm really curious to see how they release this on DVD. It's a short film, so what else is going to go on the disc? We'll know in February I guess.
Friday, January 27, 2006
I recently got an iPod, so I went searching for giant monster music on iTunes. It was a quick search, but I came up with a few things, besides soundtracks.
First of all, there is a surf rock/metal band called Daikaiju. I've been aware of them for a little while now and they seemed like great fun. I downloaded two songs from their self-titled album: "Super X-9" and "Daikaiju Die!" It's great stuff. The band is kind of interesting too. They wear kabuki masks and all their press materials sounds like words translated from Japanese by an Internet translator.
The second thing I found was a podcast by Infinite Sector Collective.
The infinite sector is a non-profit collective and netlabel dedicated to sharing and promoting free experimental music, noise, and electronica. Our members include musicians, bands, and artists from all corners of the globe.In honor of 50 years of Godzilla, their first podcast episode is dedicated to kaiju eiga. So members of the collective do songs about Rodan, Hedorah, Biollante and others. Most of it is very experimental. If you like static and Metal Machine Music, you might like this. I like a lot of weird music, and I had a tough time with most of the songs. The song "Jet Jaguar," however, was more approachable than the rest of it. It was performed by the group Terminal Shock. The podcast is not for everyone, and clearly not intended to be, but check it out and see what it does for your ears.
I gave a search on iTunes for "kaiju" and came up with "Kaiju Babylon." It's a song by jazz guitarist Henry Kaiser. Like Infinite Sector Collective, it's experimental music, but I found it more fun. It was like some twisted combination of Sonny Sharrock and Spike Jones. I was happy to find Kaiser because I notice he has connections to other artists I like, such as Captain Beefheart, Richard Thompson, Sharrock, Bill Frisell and John Zorn, among others. And, apparently, he is a fan of giant monsters. He gives his praise to "Gamera: The Revenge of Iris" at his journal. (That just shows he has taste as well.)
Finally, something I didn't find on iTunes, but wanted to mention: King Geedorah, "Take Me to Your Leader." King Geedorah is actually MF Doom, an underground hip hop artist who has gotten much praise for his purist stylings. The album is a lot of fun and can be enjoyed even by non-rap fans. Quite a few of the songs on the album are "instrumentals" made up of sounds and clips from giant monster movies. If you do like rap, there's some great work on the album as well. Some well known rappers are here, but hidden under giant monster pseudonyms. I recommend it.
While I'm at it, I'd like to remind everybody about The Monster Project, who I wrote about here.
Technorati Tags: giant monsters, dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, movies
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Two new DVDs of "Godzilla: The Series" have been announced. Like the "The Monster Wars Trilogy" I don't think there will be much in the way of extras, but it will add more of the series to your collection. You can find my thoughts on the original disc here. I enjoy the cartoon and am looking forward to picking up more.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Anyway, this movie is a horror-comedy starring that guy from "Firefly" and features giant worm-leech-like things that are turning people into monsters. The trailer is funny. Could be a good time.
Posted by Brian at 12:59 PM
Saturday, January 14, 2006
I am so excited about getting "Atragon" on DVD. It's one of Toho's classic science fiction films and probably second only to "Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People" among the non-Godzilla films. There's a review here of the new DVD. They give it a thumbs up.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
There were a few holes in the movie. Jack Black's acting is just a touch too much. Black is a ham and he is trying to rein it in here, but only partially succeeds. I don't think he could make a subtle motion to save his life. Fortunately for him, his character is over the top anyway. The film really gives a new look at Carl Denham: ambitious, self-obsessed, adventurous and probably crazy. I liked the rebuilding of the character, it made for a deeper, more interesting guy (and probably one truer to the era.)
The scene with the insects and lampreys and all was pretty exciting, but why does the calvary turn up? As far as I could tell, the writers had just put themselves in a corner and had to find a way out, despite logic. I think that Jackson just wanted to do that scene so much, he let it override his sense of story.
And the last line, the same one from the original film, was just wrong here. It wasn't as cringe inducing as I'd been led to believe, but it certainly didn't fit. In fact, in this version of the movie, Denham should have been packing his bags as the ape was rampaging.
And the movie's length: Yes, it moved right along and didn't feel like three hours, but there was still a hell of a lot of stuff that could have been deleted to make a shorter running time. Even if you love every minute of the film, it's hard to find time in the day to see a three-hour movie.
Despite all those quibbles, it was a great movie. I had a good time and would love to see it again. Naomi Watts was terrific, as she has been in everything I've seen her in. Kong was a marvel to behold. Everything on Skull Island was scary. Atop the Empire State Building, you could really feel a sense of vertigo. I don't think any movie has ever given me such a great sense of height.
This version of King Kong was a worthy remake of the original and adds itself to a list of the finest giant monster movies ever made.
Technorati Tags: kingkong, giantmonsters, movies, review