Ishiro Honda's 1964 monster-mash, Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster brings together the titular flying beastie (in his first appearance), Rodan, Mothra, and of course, Godzilla in one of the best of the sixties kaiju films that remains as entertaining today as it was when this reviewer first saw it on broadcast television in the late seventies or early eighties.
When a meteorite hurls from space and lands in Japan, it causes a massive heat wave to spread out across the islands. As all of this is going on, Himalayan Princess Selina Salno (Akikko Wakabayashi of You Only Live Twice) is en route to Japan when an explosion in her plane causes a crash landing. Making matters more bizarre is the fact that shortly after the crash, someone looking very much like the Princess is seen wandering the streets of Tokyo, trying to warn the citizens of their impending doom courtesy of a few familiar giant monsters.
Complicating things is the fact that the meteorite that crashed earlier in the film is actually an egg, and when it hatches, a crazy looking three-headed dragon pops out who then proceeds to fly around Japan and shoot lightning bolts at various targets causing no small amount of chaos. In hopes of saving Japan from certain doom, the twin faeries from the earlier Mothra films show up and try to summon her but Mothra isn't given enough time to evolve and is soon laid to waste by Ghidorah until Godzilla and Rodan decide that they've had enough of his antics, at which point all bets are off and a titanic monster battle ensues. A cop (Yosuke Natsuki), his cute sister (Yuriko Hoshi) and a professor (Hiroshi Koizumi) get involved in things but will their input be enough to save the country?
Fast paced and full of fantastic old-school special effects, Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster remains a fan favorite thanks to the plentiful monster battles and the abundance of crazed destruction and mayhem. The suits used in the film are as good as anything that came before it and the miniature construction that we see totaled in the picture is on par with the best films in the series. The original score used in the Japanese version is exciting and tense and it fits the battle scenes and more relaxed character development scenes just perfectly. Add to that the fact that you get not only Ghidorah and Godzilla but also Rodan and Mothra, two favorites, in addition to a plot that moves things along nicely and manages to be both suspenseful and interesting and you've got a top tier Godzilla picture. Ishiro Honda's direction keeps the pace tight and the action tense without sacrificing the little details that add up and provide an interesting story and there are even a couple of unexpectedly effective moments of comic relief inserted that surprisingly enough do not feel out of place at all.
The American Version: This version of the film runs approximately 85 minutes compared to the Japanese cut which clocks in at roughly 92 minutes. The scores are different and a few trims have been made to the U.S. version as well as a couple of odd little changes (examples: a scene where the Princess meets the press is missing, there's a scene with Godzilla emerging from the sea that's been trimmed). Additionally, the U.S. cut has been dubbed into English. Continental Films released the U.S. version to theaters in 1965, a year after the film played in Japan. Thankfully, both versions of the film are included on this disc.
Both cuts of the movie are presented on this DVD in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers which preserve their original theatrical aspect ratios. The Japanese version looks a little cleaner and noticeably more colorful than the US cut but both version do look good. No need to worry about any authoring issues as there aren't any heavy edge enhancement issues nor are there any mpeg compression artifacts. A little bit of shimmer shows up here and there but aside from that there's really very little worth complaining about in terms of the visuals.
The Japanese version is presented in Japanese in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles and the US cut is presented in English, also in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. No problems to report here, both cuts feature nice, clean audio without any problems in terms of hiss or distortion to report. A 5.1 mix would have been fun for the monster mash scenes but you can't fault Classic Media for including the original sound mixes. The scores for both versions sound quite good, dialogue is easy to follow and understand, and the English subtitles are clear and easy to read.
The main extra on this release is a solid audio commentary courtesy of David Kalat who takes the subject matter seriously enough to provide a really interesting commentary but not so seriously as to speak above the material. He details the history of the production, some of the effects work and the casting and he points out some interesting bits and pieces of trivia along the way. It's a well rounded and surprisingly enjoyable class on how this film was put together and why it's important in the grand scheme of Godzilla movie history.
Aside from that, Sony has also assembled a nice still gallery of promotional art work and stills, a brief seven minute featurette on Eiji Tsuburaya that is basically a very quick biography, and the film's original Japanese theatrical trailer.
Classic Media has really done a nice job making up for past mistakes in terms of how the Godzilla films have been treated on home video prior to this new series. Ghidorah - The Three Headed Monster looks and sounds quite good and the extras, from the commentary to the packaging, are classy, interesting and informative. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.