Tuesday, May 27, 2014

GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (Blu-ray)

With the arrival of director Gareth Edwards' new mega-budgeted Hollywood GODZILLA film, Kraken Releasing has  brought three of the Big G's classic Toho Studio adventures to high-definition Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S. Arguably the best-known of the trio is 1971's GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (a/k/a GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH), which is generally considered the most bizarre of the gargantuan reptile's classic cinematic adventures, pitting the mon-star against a grotesque - and deadly - shape-changing adversary spawned from civilization's waste and pollution.

When the monster Hedorah emerges from the polluted sea, spreading its toxicity across Tokyo, the mighty Godzilla appears to battle the inadvertently man-made threat. Unfortunately, the malleable muck creature can take on various forms, including a poison gas-spewing flying configuration, and a trudging, sludge shape that can go toe-to-scaly-toe with our heroic lizard. As the titans clash - leaving toxic devastation in their wake - the Japanese authorities scramble to find a way to help Godzilla defeat the nigh-indestructible Hedorah.

GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER is an offbeat entry in the long-running kaiju series, with a grim, fatalistic tone, and genuinely unsettling and bizarre imagery. Director Yoshimitsu Banno, in his one and only contribution to the series, attempts to bring back the moralistic aspect and serious tone of the original 1954 GODZILLA, but also throws in such oddities as random animated sequences, surrealistic images, and the unexpected spectacle of a flying Godzilla! This is also the first entry since the original to show on-screen deaths of humans, as Hedorah's poison wipes out large portions of the populace. Reportedly, Toho's series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was hospitalized during filming, and unable to supervise the production. When he saw the final film, he was aghast at Banno's handling of the property and banned him from the franchise!

Still, because of it's unusual approach to the kaiju genre - and specifically, the Godzilla canon - GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER has its share of die-hard fans.

The new Blu-ray edition from Kraken Releasing represents the first time this film has been available in HD in the United States. The 1080p, 2.35.1 widescreen transfer is quite decent, with a reasonably sharp image, good detail, well-saturated colors and a film-like patina of grain. Stock footage shots are noticeably fuzzier and grainier, of course. Print damage is minimal, with only a few errant specks and small scratches.

Both the original Japanese audio and English dub are provided, in DTS-HD Mono. The only extra is the original Japanese trailer in HD.

I wouldn't recommend SMOG MONSTER for Godzilla or kaiju newbies - it's just a little too weird for that - but for fans looking to upgrade their standard DVDs to high def, the Kraken disc is both a reasonable improvement in quality and bargain priced. Recommended.