Directed by Kazuki Ohmori
Distributed by Echo Bridge Entertainment
I’ll never forget the first time I discovered the existence of Godzilla vs. Biollante. I was browsing the dealer room at a local comic book convention in early 1991 when I came upon a grey market video vendor selling copies for $20. I had no idea another Godzilla flick had been made since Godzilla 1985, and as a lifelong Godzilla fanatic, I had to see it. Problem was I had already spent the last of my allowance. I rushed home and begged my mom to loan me the money. She did, I rushed back to the con, and I quickly purchased a copy. The next day I finally sat down to watch this 1989 Godzilla sequel and it did not matter to me that the film was in Japanese and I wouldn’t be able to understand much of the plot or dialogue. All that mattered was that I was watching a new Godzilla movie.
104 minutes later my enthusiasm had gone from giddy excitement to a strange feeling of being underwhelmed. It took a long time before either Godzilla or Biollante made an appearance, and something about Godzilla fighting a giant rosebush with toothy tendrils did not excite the giant monster fan. When Biollante returned for the climax in its much more monstrous form (something about the Biollante design has always led me to refer to this movie as “Godzilla vs. Little Shop of Horrors”), I finally got the spectacular Godzilla monster battle I was hoping for. Yet, for whatever reason, something about the film – be it the human drama, the espionage subplot, the lack of anything monstrous for much of the first hour – left me apathetic, a reaction I don’t often experience watching Godzilla movies.
I think it was about a year of so later when the movie was officially released on VHS in the US with a sufficiently terrible dub job, allowing me to finally see the movie and comprehend exactly what in the hell was going on. Yet, once again, even having a better grasp on the plot did little to change my sense of indifference.
Watching this Echo Bridge Entertainment Blu-ray release of Godzilla vs. Biollante a few days ago marked the first time I had viewed the film in nearly 20 years. You know how sometimes you like a movie, only to watch it years later and realize it’s crap or dislike a movie, only to watch it again much later and find yourself enjoying it more than you did the first time? I had neither experience. Once more I came away with that same underwhelming sense of indifference.
The biggest problem I have always had with this film can be summed up with one word: pacing. This Godzilla, unlike so many others, actually has an awful lot going on, perhaps too much. Godzilla genetic experimentation; a morose scientist mourning his dead daughter; industrial sabotage; geopolitical, agricultural, and nuclear intrigue; military super weapons; weather control devices; anti-nuclear bacteria; psychic children; a monstrous human-plant-Godzilla hybrid with ethereal powers; and, of course, Godzilla wreaking havoc. That’s a lot to cram into any movie, let alone a Japanese monster movie. Because of that nearly half the movie transpires before we even get around to having a giant monster on the screen doing what we’re tuning in for in the first place.
During this third viewing I just wanted to fast-forward 40 minutes to when Godzilla finally emerges from the volcano he was trapped within at the end of Godzilla 1985, and after that I honestly didn’t care much about anything that didn’t involve Godzilla stomping Tokyo, fighting the military’s latest super weapon, or battling a giant plant that spits death glitter. The human aspect of any Godzilla film is typically the weakest part but there’s usually some fun to be had. This sequel strives for a grimmer tone, a less fantastical tone despite all the fantastical things going on all over the place. That approach only works in Godzilla movies when the drama surrounding the monsters is more compelling.
I know a lot of Godzilla fans consider this to be one of the best of the modern era, but I just have to respectfully disagree. Of all the films in the franchise made between Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla 2000, I would personally rank it near the bottom just above the deplorable Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla.
One thing I think even those that disagree with me over the quality of the film will agree with me on is that Biollante boasts what is quite possibly the worst musical score of any Godzilla movie. It truly detracts from the overall Godzilla experience.
The one thing I do take stock of now that I can look back on the franchise is how Biollante very much set the stage for the more entertaining Godzilla offerings of the 1990’s with its eclectic mix of super science, psychic powers, and metaphysical mumbo jumbo: three hallmarks of the Heisei era of Godzilladom. The next installment two years later would be one of my all-time favorites: the positively daffy Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. I don’t look upon Godzilla vs. Biollante so much as a bad Godzilla sequel as I do an installment that helped bridge the gap to bigger and better things.
Echo Bridge’s Blu-ray release is a bit of a mixed bag. I’m no expert when it comes to specific matters of high-definition, but I can safely say two things about the picture quality: It is the most pristine looking print of this film I have ever personally seen, but by Blu-ray standards it’s not the most vibrant. Anyone looking to upgrade their bootleg DVD copies (Biollante skipped DVD entirely in the States) should be pleased with the picture quality, but the film’s natural murkiness, combined with a small amount of grain and lack of depth to the high fidelity, keeps it from popping off the screen like you would hope. Echo Bridge had to get the high-def print directly from Toho so Toho shares much of the blame for not supplying a truly eye-popping print.
The audio comes complete with both the original Japanese track complete with English subtitles and the hideous English dub soundtrack where I swear it sounds like they’re calling him “Godziller” half the time.
The disc extras include the original theatrical trailer and an English-subtitled behind-the-scenes feature that runs for a whopping 50 minutes. It’s easy to laugh at Godzilla movies and ridicule the suitmation and miniature effects, but when you watch a making-of this detailed, you truly come to appreciate the amount of hard work put into bringing the King of the Monsters to life.
Even as someone who isn’t crazy about Godzilla vs. Biollante, I still have to say that any Godzilla fan who owns a Blu-ray player has no excuse for not adding this film to their collection, especially given its under $10 price tag. So few Godzilla flicks have made their way to Blu-ray domestically, and unless Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot explodes to such a degree that the entire franchise gets digitally remastered re-releases in North America, this is most likely the best print of this film you will ever see.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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