Tuesday, January 17, 2006

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

With a budget three times greater than any previous film in the series and directed by Japanese cinema wunderkind Ryuhei Kitamura (VERSUS), GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (GOJIRA: FAINARU UÔZU, 2004) is a very different kaiju movie, one that plays out more as a high-octane live action anime than a traditional Toho Godzilla flick. The scale of the action and apocalyptic devastation, the MATRIX-styled wire fu, the broad humor, rock score, WWE-styled monster battles, and even the look of the alien villain all make the flick feel more like an edgy cartoon than anything we've seen in the series before.

The plot owes a lot to MONSTER ZERO / INVASION OF THE ASTRO MONSTER (1965) and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1965) with aliens from Planet X using Earth's monsters – and a few of their own – to attack and destroy all of Earth's major cities. Defending Earth (and not very well, actually) are a team of mutant superheroes led by Keanu Reeves lookalike Masahiro Matsuoka and Ultimate Fighting Champion Don Frye (whose performance as "Captain Gordon" is so bad it's great!). The aliens pretty much succeed in destroying the world before our so far ineffectual heroes finally unleash the Big G on the marauding monsters... and that's what we've been waiting for.

Godzilla battles a dozen other monsters – most of them classic Toho kaiju like Gigan, Ebirah, Anguirus, Hedorah, King Ceasar, and Rodan – and the battles are the obvious high point of the flick. Mothra and Minilla (aka Minya, the baby Godzilla) also show up. Most of the monsters have been redesigned and look (again) more like anime characters; in some cases it works, in others it doesn't. I was really disappointed that Megalon, Baragon and Jet Jaguar weren't included, but what the hell.

Overall, it's a really fun and fast-paced movie, and if it really is the last of the series, it's a high note to go out on. I liked it a lot.

Sony's DVD is a pretty bare-bones affair, but it does feature an astounding 2.40:1 Tohoscope widescreen transfer, with anamorphic enhancement. Sony has also included stunning Dolby Digital 5.1surround mixes in both English and Japanese. Finally, there's a "B-Roll to Film" featurette, which consists of some un-narrated behind the scenes footage.

I liked it a lot. For Godzilla and kaiju fans it's a must-have.

BUY: Godzilla - Final Wars