A new Godzilla is stomping back into theaters - and, hey, what do you know? Sony's releasing double-feature editions of the Green Giant's Japanese films as The Toho Godzilla Collection!. Along with the previously reviewed Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla/Godzilla Vs. SpaceGodzilla and Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah/Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for Earth, this package presents two of the city-stomping icon's Toho films in widescreen, Region 1 high-def for the first time.
Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah (1995; 103 minutes)
Concluding the series' Heisei reboot which kicked off with Godzilla 1985, the funereal Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah remains one of the better-received Godzilla flicks of this period. Although it benefits from having an honest-to-goodness storyline with some continuity from the previous Godzillas (going back to the earliest films), Destoroyah's portentous pacing, cardboard-thin characters and cheeseball effects apparently served as a primer on what not to do when Hollywood picked up the franchise. Those who loathed the jokey setups and simplistic plotting in 1998's Godzilla would likely enjoy this entry, in which nasty creatures mutated by the revived Oxygen Destroyer (which killed the original Godzilla) threaten the very existence of Godzilla and his son. While the plot is way too convoluted to go into in any detail here, it adequately take its cues from the usual techno-action-thriller tropes of the '90s with a diverse group of people (computer prodigy teen, assertive lady reporter, etc.) determinedly attempting to stave off the inevitable mega-confrontation between Godzilla and Destoroyah. The rapidly evolving Destoroyah, a red and pink plasticine demon with the face of a Gremlin and the extending jaw of an Alien, takes its rightful place as one of the Big G's most formidable foes. When it comes down to it, battling Destoroyah is the only thing that will save Godzilla and his kin.
After watching a couple of campy Godzilla entries from the '70s, the unrelentingly grim tone of Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah came on like a spash of ice water to the face - what a difference, yet many of the clichés that Toho had in place for decades are present here. It may have a grander visual scope than earlier Toho productions, but the special effects essentially haven't progressed much - CGI is used sparingly in favor of traditionally crafted models, puppets and (yep) rubber bodysuits. Many Godzilla fans seem to prefer this one for its brooding atmosphere, but I found that the cheap-looking effects detracted from the story to a conspicuous degree. Most annoyingly, the film gets needlessly weighed down with a byzantine story, excessively glum and interchangeable characters, and endless sequences like the rah-rah introduction of the film's state-of-the-art military aircraft. That part - inexplicably done twice - comes off like an old Thunderbirds episode (was Gerry Anderson involved?). On the plus side, I enjoyed the various clips and story references to the earliest Godzilla flicks, which extended to having actress Momoko Kochi reprise her role from Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. Toho promoted this as Godzilla's final film, taking a page from the comic book industry by (mild spoiler here) hyping up an iconic character's "death".
Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus (2000; 105 minutes)
Godzilla may physically appear a little sleeker here, but in every other department this effort harkens back to Toho's corny olden days. Taking place in the alternate-universe Japan set up in Godzilla 2000, this entry overflows with shoddy CGI effects and a pulpy, predictable story. Osaka is now Japan's capital, and the primary energy source has shifted from nuclear to clean plasma energy to prevent further attacks from Godzilla. Scientists are diligently working on a powerful ray that will create a black hole that will suck Godzilla into a far-off universe from where he'll never return. Problem is, one of their tests of the ray inadvertently sucked in a mysterious alien egg from the other side. A curious boy discovers the egg and eventually dumps it in the sewers of Shibuya, where it multiplies, unleashing a devastating flood and a swarm of winged mutant buggies known as Meganula. Where does Godzilla figure in? The Meganula suck out some of G's nuclear-infused blood to give life to what eventually develops into the queen of their species, Megaguirus. Drawn to Japan's coast by a forbidden plasma research project, Godzilla faces off against both Megaguirus and the G-Graspers, the elite military unit created to destroy him. Sure, a bunch of puny humans in copters are no match for Godzilla - but what about an oversized mosquito with a deadly stinger and the ability to create city-leveling shockwaves with the flap of her wings?
Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus counts as total cheese-o-rama - ineptly made, but lots of fun. This, despite the fact that it succumbs to many of the '90s-action clichés that befell Destoroyah (both films use the ridiculous "enlarge an indistinct dot on a computer monitor so it reveals a crystal clear image" storytelling device, for instance). Unlike Destoroyah, Megaguirus sports a mildly intriguing, easy-to-follow storyline with a few nice set pieces like the flooded city and the Meganula swarming around Godzilla's body. It's also populated with an interesting, varied cast of flawed characters - and, for once, the token little boy character isn't an annoying brat. I liked that most of the humans were interested in destroying Godzilla for purely selfish reasons - including the feisty G-Graspers officer who myopically becomes obsessed with G. after the monster killed her superior (let it go, lady). The special effects are as cheesy as ever, and the final battle with Destoroyah (one of G.'s lamer adversaries) drags on too long, but surprisingly it ended up being the more satisfying outing of the two. The film also sports a nifty little post-end-credits scene.
The Blu Ray:
Although the 1080p mastering brings out a lot of fine detail in the picture, the grainy, under-saturated 1.85:1 image on Destroyah is underwhelming at best. The film stock doesn't have too many examples of pin holes or aging, but the picture has an overall flat, washed-out look typical of many '90s films pressed on DVD. The 2.35:1 image on Megaguirus fares much better, although this feature's routine cinematography isn't all that inspiring. At least it sports a pleasant picture with good color and pleasant light/dark levels.
Both films supply the Japanese language and English dub soundtracks in decent DTS-HD Master Audio mixes with clean delineations between dialogue, sound effects and music. Megaguirus uses a 5.1 mix, although I didn't notice much of a difference between it and Destoroyah. Each disc also includes optional English, English SDH and French subtitle tracks.
Each film includes its original Japanese Trailer and a few Teasers. It should be noted that the Megaguirus teaser includes a promo for tie-in action toys (a missed opportunity for Sony!).
Magically timed to the latest big-screen reboot, Sony's Blu Ray double feature Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah/Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus offers up two Toho features with wildly different feels - despite being released only five years apart. The grim vistas of 1995's Destoroyah and escapist kiddie-action of 2000's Megaguirus both appear to be cut from the same boring cloth, however. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.