Tuesday, April 26, 2005

GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER

Thanks to Columbia/Tristar Home Video, many classic (and not-so classic) Godzilla movies are finally getting quality DVD releases in their original aspect ratios and language. Further, these are the original cuts of the films, unaltered by the original U.S. distributors, with no scenes rearranged or missing.

Godzilla 101 – A brief Godzilla primer: In 1954, Toho Studios in Japan released GOJIRA, which upon its later release in the United States, became known as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. This dark, brooding film, dealt fairly seriously with its subject matter, treating the radioactive behemoth as a metaphor for the atomic bomb. But by the time of the second sequel, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, the series started to take on a lighter, more family-friendly tone, and by the mid-Sixties, Godzilla had become a bonafide hero, battling alien invaders and a vast pantheon of other giant monsters, several of which – Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidora – went on to headline their own films, and rival Godzilla himself in popularity.

This first series of Godzilla films ended in 1975 with TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. In 1984, Toho relaunched the series with the film that became known in America as GODZILLA 1985. This second series of seven Godzilla films lasted for a decade, until 1995. Then, in 2000, Toho launched a third cycle of films, beginning with GODZILLA MILLENNIUM and running through to last year's GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.

Didn't know there were so many, did you?

Well, Columbia/Tristar home video is making a real effort to get most of those films out there on Region 1 DVD. And we're going to take a look at one of their recent releases, 1966's GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (GOJIRA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA: NANKAI NO DAI KETTO).

SEA MONSTER was the first of what fans came to call the "South Seas" films, as the action takes place on an isolated Pacific island, rather than the densely populated and very urban Japanese mainland. This film also marked the first stint for director Jun Fukuda behind the camera. Fukuda would ultimately direct most of the remaining films in the first series, and was best known for his budget conscious cost-cutting efforts. Part of the reason for the island setting, for example, was to avoid the cost of building and destroying elaborate miniature cities.

The plot of SEA MONSTER is pretty simple: a group of young men are shipwrecked on a small, uncharted Pacific isle, where they discover, in short order, a beautiful native girl in a sarong, a terrorist base and factory, and Godzilla slumbering in a cave. The girl is from nearby Infant Island (home of Mothra, of course), brought to this island by the terrorist organization Red Bamboo, to work as one of many slaves in their factory. The factory is pretty versatile: it produces both hard water for atomic weapons and a berry juice that the terrorists use to keep the local sea monster, Ebirah (the original jumbo shrimp), from attacking their ships.

Okay, so maybe it ain't that simple.

In any event, before the end of this colorful, fun, family-friendly monster romp, Godzilla goes on a rampage, the terrorists are toasted, the slaves revolt, and Ebirah's destined for a Red Lobster dinner platter. Oh yeah, and Mothra makes a brief, last reel appearance, as well.

The disc is gorgeous, with a beautiful, lush 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors are bright and sharp, and the print is near flawless. Columbia/Tristar provides both an English dub and the original Japanese soundtrack, with optional English subtitles. The Japanese track is preferable for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that it sounds richer and more robust. The only extras on the disc are trailers for other currently available Asian fantasy films from Columbia.

If you've only seen GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER on TV or pan & scan VHS, you haven't seen it. Recommended.

BUY: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster