Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Classic Media continues their line of vintage Toho Godzilla pictures with the amiable 'something for everyone' monster-fest Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. The big, splashy show is the first to reinvision the monsters as personalities that communicate with each other, bicker, and form an alliance to tackle an unwanted outsider. Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan oppose the gaijin outerspace interloper Ghidorah (originally Ghidrah to us stateside monster kids). And if a Saturday Night Wrestling rethink of the series isn't enough, we also get two more major subplots to keep the large Japanese cast in constant motion.
Godzilla and Rodan suddenly become active once again, while a meteor from outer space disgorges Ghidorah, a golden-scaled flying colossus with wings, two tails and three ray gun-spouting dragon heads. A Princess from an Asian country (Akiko Wakabayashi) is possessed by the spirit of ancient aliens and warned to avoid an assassination attempt; she reappears miraculously unharmed but believing herself to be a Venusian prophet warning about the threat of Ghidorah. UFO experts chatter on about mysterious events while a reporter asks the tiny twin Shobijin (Yumi and Emi Ito) to appeal for aid to their Polynesian god Mothra. Mothra joins Godzilla and Rodan on Mt. Fuji and proceeds to cajole the persnickedy pair into being good monsters and fighting Ghidorah 'in the name of Earth.'
Thank heavens for Classic Media's policy of putting excellent commentaries on their Kaijû pix, because without some expert guidance I'd be completely lost watching Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. The original Japanese title translates to something like Three Giant Monsters: The Earth's Greatest Decisive Battle which seems far too complicated for the film's intended kid crowd. The movie starts on the same basis as did the previous Toho spectacles Mothra vs. Godzilla and Dogora, bringing together reporters, cops and crooks (this time, international killer spies) before interrupting the proceedings with the monsters. Godzilla rises from the ocean, having somehow gotten loose from the silk cocoon straightjacket we last saw him in. Rodan was a free-range volcano-barbecued squab nine years before but emerges from a fissure ready for more action.
The show clicks off some by-now standard large scale menace and destruction scenes and then settles in for an extended series of tag-team battles on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. The new boy in town is a towering menace that looks great in stills and rather unlikely in motion. Ghidorah appears to be made of energy; he electronically coalesces from some animated plasma blasts. He doesn't look too comfortable flying and when battling on the ground waves his wings while his three heads whip about as if they were three loose garden hoses. Rays shoot from his out-of-control heads willy-nilly. It's like fighting a stack of exploding fireworks, not a monster, yet Ghidorah gives every indication that if he fell down he'd have a tough time getting up again. Worse, after a few seconds we don't think of Ghidorah 'thinking' with the inanimate-looking three heads. He does have a cool signature vocal effect.
The big shock comes when screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa has the Earth monsters discuss their Ghidorah problem. Rodan stands around rather stupidly while Mothra underlines his debate points with spurts of sticky silk (she really ought to get that under control). Godzilla throws his arms up in big guffaws, sits on his haunches and bellylaughs some more while rocking back on his tail. It's hard to know whether this is an epochal change of direction for the Godzilla universe, or the beginning of the end.
Putting Akiko Wakabayashi in the role of the Princess was no mistake as she's cute when haranguing crowds in a fisherman's coat and hat and regal in her princessy gowns. She gets roughed up and eventually wounded by one of the assassins (who gets his in a rather funny fashion, catching the boulder that knocks him off a cliff as if it were a football). Wakabayashi has a fine exit scene, a sort of replay of the reporter/royalty farewell from Roman Holiday, which was a smash hit in its Japanese release.
Mothra's original twin fairy girls are always welcome but it's a bit disconcerting to see the pocket princesses sell out to show biz, something that they'd never have done in the original sublime classic Mothra. They end up serving as ringside monster translators and are only heard, not seen for a farewell at the end.
Some of the sets are really huge, and Toho's experts do great work manipulating tails and wings with wires that stay hidden a lot more that we'd expect them to. Ghidorah has eight separate 'wire' problems to animate in its many wings, heads and tails, and there's a lot of titanic rough and tumble to gum up the marionette choreography!
Classic Media's Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster looks fine in two nicely transferred enhanced encodings. If the monster scenes have a slightly soft quality, it's probably light diffusion added to the lens to help hide wires, so no more complaints, please. The usual quality extras are here accessed by classy menu graphics -- stills, posters, an Eiji Tsuburaya bio.
The keeper extra is a hyper-speed, intensely informative feature commentary by David Kalat. His Godzilla book was one of his earliest, and he modestly takes the opportunity to correct a few errors while overloading us with pertinent info about the production, the inside dope on Toho's two top kaijû writers and many other topics. He also floats a good argument for preserving the English-dubbed import versions of these films, expressing his preference in this case for the sightly re-arranged and more compact American cut. As Continental Releasing couldn't resist replacing some of Akira Ifukube's exciting monster movie music Savant reserves his right to differ. Savant also doesn't buy the notion that dubbing is necessary so that tiny tots can watch the show. A movie in a different language allows a parent to talk along with the video for a pre-schooler and to also implant the important notion that much of the world doesn't speak English. Let the slightly older ankle-biters learn to read English or learn Japanese, it's good for 'em. 1
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster rates:
Supplements: David Kalat commentary, Eiji Tsuburaya bio, trailer, galleries of art and stills.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 8, 2007
1. Just kidding, although I think I taught myself to read at 4 with Superman comic books! I also feel like adding that I don't believe tiny tots too young to read should be watching non-Sesame street fare by themselves.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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