Beginning in 2006, Classic Media has been releasing very nice packages of the original Toho Godzilla films, replete with great storybook containers and lots of extras. This culminated in last year's The Godzilla Collection, a box set of all seven Godzilla movies released by the company and a definite must-have for fans of the classic monster series.
Coming off almost like an encore to The Godzilla Collection is this new 2 DVD collection containing two non-Godzilla monster offerings from the Toho vaults: 1956's Rodan (which rather oddly has a copyright notice during the title sequence with roman numerals for the year 1934) and 1966's War of the Gargantuas. The packaging maintains the storybook-style container of the Godzilla releases, so it'll look consistent with other Classic Media releases on the shelf (although this time it's colored black rather than silver). More important, though, is that the two movies are fun matinee-style monster romps that fans of the series are sure to enjoy. I'll provide a few thoughts on each film individually. (I should observe that I viewed the English language versions of the films for this review.)
English language version running length = 1:12:18
Original Japanese language version running length = 1:22:06
A small town devoted to mining is gripped with panic as workmen are found dead, their bodies mutilated. It doesn't seem to take long before a giant caterpillar starts to terrorize the town. That's the least of Japan's worries in this film, as it's later discovered that not one but two prehistoric pterodactyls - grown large thanks to nuclear testing - are mucking around - laying Godzilla-style waste to villages despite military invention.
Rodan offers all the clichés of the Saturday afternoon monster matinee fare I grew up with in the 1980s. It's got stuntmen in rubber costumes destroying miniature villages. It's got the military sending out tanks and warplanes to shoot missiles at the creatures. It's got stock footage. It's got fleeing and screaming Japanese villagers. It even has moralizing about the atom bomb.
And it's still a lot of fun, even today in the age of CG effects work. The inventive and detailed miniature work in Rodan is impressive. The story by Takeshi Kimura, Ken Kuronuma, and Takeo Murata doesn't waste a lot of time with exposition and keeps the action and intrigue moving at an efficient pace. All in all, this is one of the better monster flicks I've seen from this era.
War of the Gargantuas (***)
English language version running length = 1:32:11
Original Japanese language version running length = 1:27:56
One of the high points of War of the Gargantuas is its opening, which features a fairly impressive giant octopus attack upon a ship at night. As the creature appears ready to feed upon the ship's hapless sailors, one of the titular Gargantuas, a shaggy green Sasquatch-looking monster, rises out of the depths to do battle with the octopus. It's a nicely done action scene for a monster film of its time.
After this great opening, though, War of the Gargantuas loses some energy and offers only inconsistent monster movie mayhem fun. The story has an American scientist (Russ Tamblyn) and his Japanese assistant (Kimi Mizuno) called in to investigate the shipwreck, since they once raised a nice brown-haired creature in their lab. Thus, the movie logic follows this equation: brown Gargantua = good monster; green Gargantua = bad monster. Both giants now, the two oversized Bigfoots clash several times in the film, often running around and wrestling in impressive miniature cities.
The humor works well here. The green Gargantua, at one point, clutches and eats a fleeing Japanese woman, spitting out her clothes afterward. An attack on an American songstress also works well as a parody of King Kong. However, the Gargantuas aren't all that visually interesting conceptually, and an obnoxious and grating score intrudes upon the action too much.
By no means is War of the Gargantuas a bad film, but Rodan is definitely the superior of the two.
Rodan is given a full frame presentation. The Internet Movie Database lists Rodan's aspect ratio as 1.37:1, so Classic Media's release pretty much reflects how the film was meant to be seen. Visual quality varies quite a bit, which is understandable considering the usage of stock footage. There's some dust and other imperfections present, but given the film's age, Rodan looks pretty good overall.
War of the Gargantuas is given an anamorphic widescreen presentation reflecting its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image is much cleaner than Rodan, and colors look pretty good, if a little on the dark side.
Both language versions of Rodan are Dolby Digital 2.0. The audio sounds limited, of course, given the time period of its production, but it's fine overall, if a bit bass-heavy.
The Japanese version of Rodan has optional English subtitles.
As with Rodan, both language versions of War of the Gargantuas arrive in Dolby Digital 2.0. The audio sounds good, with the dialogue, sound effects, and score well-mixed.
The Japanese version of War of the Gargantuas has optional English subtitles.
There are no audio commentaries in this release, as there were on previous Classic Media Godzilla titles. However, on the Rodan disc is a well-produced documentary called Bringing Godzilla Down To Size that provides an in-depth look at the history of the filmmakers behind the Godzilla legacy. Running at a very generous 69 minutes, this feature-length doc is given an anamorphic widescreen presentation. Fans of the Toho Godzilla series will appreciate the interviews of surviving talent from the film productions and its emphasis on special effects.
This 2 DVD set contains two classic Toho monster romps: Rodan and War of the Gargantuas in both their original Japanese and English language versions. In addition, a great feature-length documentary called Bringing Godzilla Down To Size is offered as an extra. What more is there to say? Highly recommended.