Monday, August 27, 2012

GODZILLA VS. MEGALON

The 13th film in Toho Studios' Godzilla franchise has had a strange history in the U.S., being both the most-familiar and yet hardest-to-see of the series in America. Originally released in Japan in 1973, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON didn't hit U.S. screens until '76, and was the only Godzilla film to be shown on American network television in prime time, when NBC aired a severely edited (for time) version in the Summer of 1977, hosted by John Belushi in a Godzilla suit.

Due to the mistaken belief that the U.S. version was in the public domain, it appeared frequently in the 80s on television - and on numerous budget VHS videotape labels - which is why it's often the first movie many people think of when they think of Japanese monster films. In the 90s, however, Toho regained control of the copyright, and aside from a few infrequent cable showings, the film became very hard to see in the U.S.

Now Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock has released the original, uncut version of  GODZILLA VS. MEGALON on a fully-licensed and authorized DVD for American kaiju enthusiasts to rediscover and enjoy.

Enraged by Japanese nuclear testing, the underground civilization of Seatopia declares war on the surface world, and unleashes their pet monster, the bizarre, burrowing insectoid called Megalon, upon the people of Japan. At the same time, they've sent their agents to steal a prototype robot, called "Jet Jaguar," from its inventor, Goru Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki). Goru and his little brother Rokuru (Hiroyuki Kawase) are kidnapped by the Seatopian agents but are rescued by their friend, Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). The Seatopians use Jet Jaguar to direct Megalon's attacks, but Goru regains control of the robot and sends him to Monster Island to recruit Godzilla in Japan's battle against Megalon. This causes the Seatopians to borrow the space monster Gigan from hostile aliens... oh, I give up. Needless to say, it all ends with a big, tag-team monster throwdown between the evil monsters, the heroic Godzilla, and a suddenly-sentient (and giant-sized) Jet Jaguar.

Directed by series veteran Jun Fukuda (GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, THE WAR IN SPACE), from a very slim script co-written by Shinichi Sekizawa, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON is the weakest film in the entire Godzilla series. Much of the special effects footage is recycled from earlier entries (conveniently, Megalon's energy ray looks identical to King Ghidorah's), a sizable chunk of the running time is padded with tedious car chases, the tiny cast is entirely male, and the story's origins as a vehicle for the new Jet Jaguar "character" are painfully obvious, with Godzilla playing a supporting role to the robot (itself an imitation of the popular TV character, ULTRAMAN ). It's no wonder that it made such an easy target for the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 crew.

That all admitted, it's still fun, and kaiju completeists will be grateful to have an uncut version available. The DVD from Media Blasters' Tokyo Shock label (a promised Blu-ray edition has yet to appear), presents MEGALON in its correct, 2.35:1 "TohoScope" aspect ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. The source print is nearly spotless, and has superior color balance. After years of hideously-cropped, ragged VHS versions with blown-out colors, this new widescreen edition is a revelation. The movie's still not great, but it looks terrific. Three audio options are provided: 5.1 and 2.0 Japanese, and a 2.0 (awful) English dub. Optional English subtitles are also available. There are no bonus features at all.

So, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON may well be the nadir of the franchise, but diehard kaiju fans will want to pick it up, regardless. It is disappointing that Media Blasters has issued the disc without any supplemental material, but the price is right, the audio/visual presentation is great, and with its release, there are now only two Godzilla titles not yet legally available on DVD in the U.S. (GODZILLA 1985 and GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE). Recommended.

BUYGodzilla Vs. Megalon