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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Godzilla vs. Gigan
Godzilla vs. Gigan
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // October 19, 2004
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 17, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Concerned youth: "They're not human beings. They're aliens from another planet. They're cockroaches from outer space!"

General leading the counter-attack: "What do you want me to do about it?"

Talking monsters, high-tech cigarettes, and an ear of corn figure prominently in Godzilla vs. Gigan (Chikyu kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan, or "Earth Destruction Directive: Godzilla vs. Gaigan," 1972), an entertaining but singularly substandard Godzilla entry, the King's 12th in eighteen odd-years.

Made in the wake of dwindling audiences and reduced budgets, Godzilla vs. Gigan (pronounced "Guy-Gan," thank you very much) attempts a big scale alien invasion epic along the lines of classic entries like Monster Zero (Kaiju daisenso, 1965) and Destroy All Monsters (Kaiju soshingeki, 1968), but the results are embarrassing. As historian Steve Ryfle points out in his indispensable Japan's Favorite Monster, the awesomeness of super aliens bent on conquering earth loses a lot of its epicness when the would-be conquerors operate not out of some high-tech hidden fortress but rented office space downtown and hideout at a children's amusement park.

Worse, gone are familiar, likeable faces like Akira Takarada, Akira Kubo, and Yuriko Hoshi, faces that had populated Toho's movies of all genres for years. In their place is an inept cartoonist (Hiroshi Ishikawa), his karate-kicking girlfriend (Yuriko Hishimi), an ingenue (Tomoko Umeda) trying to rescue her kidnapped brother, and her hippie sidekick (Minoru Takashima). None of these actors has much charisma, while the script, which mostly has cartoonist Goro bumble about like Inspector Clouseau, does little to help.

With dull human characters and a laughable alien presence, it falls to the monster action to save the day, but this turns out to be Godzilla vs. Gigan's weakest component. Working with a budget a fraction of that normally insisted upon by effects master Eiji Tsuburaya (who died in 1970), new Special Effects Director Teruyoshi Nakano had no choice but to mine the stock footage library for the picture's best scenes of destruction. Sharp-eyed monster fans will recognize footage lifted from, among others, Destroy All Monsters, Monster Zero, Ghidrah -- The Three-Headed Monster (San daikaiju -- Chikyu saidai no kessen, 1964), and even the 16-year-old Rodan (Sora no daikaiju Radon, 1956). The cutting of old with new footage is frequently obvious, especially as newly shot scenes are both comparatively barren and aesthetically different from those earlier glories. Fairing particularly badly is Ghidrah (or King Ghidorah for you purists), the golden three-headed dragon who is lively and animated in old footage, shabby and arthritic in new scenes.

Most notoriously, Godzilla vs. Gigan gives the monsters speaking parts, albeit tentatively as they only have a few lines. In its original release in Japan, these scenes were accomplished via comic book-style thought balloons absent from this DVD version. Almost thankfully, those opting for the Japanese language track with English subtitles will hear only nonsensical electronic distortion; in the English-dubbed version, the monsters actually speak aloud, with Godzilla's voice sounding rather like Homer Simpson with emphysema.

The picture marks the welcome return of Angilas, Godzilla's spiky-backed foe in the first Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again (Gojira no gyakushu, 1955). Gigan, on the other hand, is one of the series' least interesting creations, a bird-like alien robot with a buzzsaw belly. Gigan put in an appearance in Godzilla vs. Megalon (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973), a Godzilla film even worse than this one, but would not return again until this year's Godzilla: Final Wars (Gojira -- Fainaru uozu, 2004).

Godzilla himself looks okay. The costume originally created for Destroy All Monsters is used again, except for water shots which use a ghastly, completely inadequate, frozen-faced stand-in. But as Ryfle and others have pointed out, the main costume by 1972 literally falls apart onscreen.

The picture does have a great title track theme by Akira Ifukube, but even that -- indeed all the film's music -- turns out to be stock, too, culled from earlier films and even an Expo '70 exhibit Ifukube had scored. Jun Fukuda's direction is flat and disinterested, and no wonder.

Video & Audio

As with Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, the DVD itself is great, a terrific transfer in 16:9 anamorphic format that retains the picture's original CinemaScope aspect ratio. The colors, while not as brilliant as they are on MechaGodzilla, are just fine; even the stock scenes have better balance than they did on earlier transfers. The movie may stink, but even casual fans will want to see this if only because it looks so good. More so than MechaGodzilla, Godzilla vs. Gigan's subtitled version differs from the bland, English language track in interesting ways, another draw for fans. Both are Dolby Digital mono, with optional English and French subtitles. (The English track is the same one heard during its original release in America, as Godzilla on Monster Island in 1978.)

Extra Features

As with MechaGodzilla, only extras are a batch of trailers and previews, including a Japanese teaser trailer (in Japanese with no subtitles, in 4:3 matted format) for Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003), and (in 4:3 full frame format) Sony's Godzilla cartoon series.

Parting Thoughts

Godzilla vs. Gigan ranks near the bottom of 29-film series, though this will hardly matter to the series' fans. Done in by its cheapness, it wants to be an epic along the lines of the classic 1960s titles, but inevitably comes off as little more than a pale imitation.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.

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