November 30, 2006

DVD Review: Godzilla Raids Again

Following the success of Gojira, TOHO Studios immediately put the production of a sequel into motion. Six months later, Godzilla Raids Again arrived on the big screen proving that Hollywood isn't the only place where sequels get rushed and fail to live up to the inital film. The first misstep was when they did not wait for Ishiro Honda's schedule to free up for it, instead turning to Motoyoshi Oda to take the reigns. The end result is sort of entertaining, but falls short of the horror of the original and only hints at the campt that would come through the 1960s.

Godzilla Raids Again is one of the lesser films of the series, and the rushed production did it no favors. It is probably most notable for introducing the Godzilla vs. (insert monster here) formula that would work throughout the majority of the series. In this case it is Anguirus, the Ankylosaurus derived creature. While bringing us the familiar format, it failed to deliver any real human drama. The human characters just seemed to be biding their time waiting for the monster stuff to be over as their stories are interrupted.

This disk from Classic Media contains both the original Japanese film which was released in 1955 and the dubbed version that appeared in US theaters in 1959. Each of these versions offer a distinctly different experience, neither one being terribly satisfying. The original version is the most successful, delivering a monster film that still retains the somber tone of Gojira, while the American version contains some of the worst dubbing and other meddling that I have yet encountered.

Both versions of the film follow the same storyline. The heroes are a pair of pilots who work for a fishing company. One day while out searching for tuna, one is forced to make an emergency landing, after which they stumble upon a pair of monsters fighting on the island before falling into the ocean. The creatures being Godzilla and Anguirus. The two get back to their base and report their findings. There are then talks of what to do about these things which are surely heading for Japan.

Soon enough Godzilla makes landfall with Anguirus on his tale. They battle through Osaka, destroying everything in sight while the military throws everything they have at them. The battle is a vicious one which leaves Anguirus at the bottom of the bay and the military still wondering what they can do about Godzilla. No, I won't give away the ending, but I am sure you have an idea of where they are heading.

The first version I watched was the American version, which was released, theatrically, under the name Gigantis, the Fire Monster. Not once during the movie is he referred to as Godzilla, although that is clearly who it is. This take is more annoying than I remembered. The majority of the movie is narrated by one of the pilots, this gets old real fast. Honestly, did they American producers have so little regard for their audience that everything needed to be spelled out for them? Wait, don't answer that.

In addition to the narration, this version is saddled with tons of stock music replacing the original score, as well as some really poor quality stock footage. So, while there is only a two and a half minute difference in runtime between the two, there is considerable difference in the visual content. The dubbing is poorly done, it seems the script was rewritten with words aimed at matching the actors mouth movements rather than for content, oftentimes the monsters names were flipped and switched around, making keeoing them straight something of a chore. In addition to that, Godzilla's, sorry Gigantis', roar was different everytime. There were only a couple of times where the classic Godzilla roar can be heard.

In short, the American version is not even supposed to be a Godzilla movie. The producers made every attempt to downplay the Godzilla connection which only served to confuse the audience they were seeking to "protect." The most notable thing about this version is that a number of voices were supplied by George Takei, so you will be able to heat Mr. Sulu throughout the film.

After watching that abomination, I immediately switched over to the Japanese version to help clear the bad taste away. Fortunately, that did the trick, sort of. It is clearly the preferred version of the film, lacking in the nonsensical name switching, cringe inducing narration, roaring issues, and lousy stock footage. Still, the film is not without its problems. I just never get any real connection to the human characters, and the story is like two running parallel rather than a single unit. There is the personal story of the delayed wedding with the pilot, and then there is the Godzilla attack.

Audio/Video. Neither is perfect, they both show the signs of age. Still, they are the best representations of the film that I have ever witnessed. It is presented in its OAR of 1.33:1 and the audio is a mono track.

Extras. They are limited, but worth it.
  • Poster Slideshow. A brief look at the posters used during promotion.
  • Art of Suit Acting. This featurette gives background information the suits and the people in them during the initial wave of TOHO monsters.
  • Commentary with Steve Ryfle. His speaking style is a little dry, but there is no denying how good of a track this is. It runs with the American version. It covers differences between the two versions, details of an aborted Volcano Monster movie, rare radio commercials, and other trivia. This is a first rate track loaded with information about the film and those involved. This is a must listen.

Bottomline. This is the DVD that fans have been waiting for. It may not be near the top of my list of favorite Godzilla movies, but it is a DVD I am glad to have within my clutches. It is fun in a cheesey way, and hints at the heights yet to come.

Mildly Recommended.

The DVD is available exclusively through Classic Media. It will be available in retail outlets in the Spring of 2007.


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