Godzilla vs. Biollante (Blu-ray / DVD)
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