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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II / Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla

Sony Pictures // PG // May 6, 2014
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 28, 2014 | E-mail the Author
As Godzilla prepares to once again roar into theaters, Kraken Releasing and Sony are opening the floodgates on Blu-ray. The newly-minted Kraken is focusing on the Shōwa era with Ebirah: Horror of the Deep, Godzilla vs. Gigan, and Godzilla vs. Hedorah, although you might know them better on this side of the Pacific as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Godzilla on Monster Island, and Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, respectively. Sony, meanwhile, is revisiting the far more recent Heisei and Millenium eras in a series of four double features. One Heisei-era card pits Godzilla against King Ghidorah and Mothra. The end of the Millenium series is documented in the pairing of Final Wars and Tokyo SOS. There's even one double feature that spans both eras, despite their clashing continuities, with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah alongside Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. Reviews of all of these discs ought to be on DVD Talk soon enough, but for now, let's take a look at this double feature of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla.

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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
As much of a frothing-at-the-mouth Godzilla fanatic as I was growing up, there were still plenty of movies in the franchise that were a tough slog for me to get through. The most lackluster installments delivered what seemed like 15 minutes of Godzilla demolishing Tokyo and curbstomping colossal monsters, and the other hour and a half would be meandering, woefully uninvolving stories about the people caught in the crossfire. That's not even a little bit of an issue in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, a movie that, despite its title, isn't actually a sequel to 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla at all. The sheer volume of action is an endless adrenaline rush. The Big G squares off against Rodan, introduced here to the Heisei series for the first time. He repeatedly clashes with Mechagodzilla, as if you couldn't have guessed that from the title. Mechagodzilla dukes it out with Rodan. The Japanese military aims its crosshairs at Godzilla, unleashing a swarm of tanks and jets to stave off his reign of terror. This Godzilla truly is a king of monsters, not some friend to all children in a half-shell: a fierce, unrelenting force of destruction. The first clash between Rodan and Godzilla is somewhat clumsily staged, but the rest of the battles are epic in scale and an infectious blast to watch unfold.

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As densely packed as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is with brutal kaiju brawls, there is a story lurking around in here somewhere. The remnants of the Futurians' Mecha-King Ghidorah from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah have been reverse-engineered to beef up G-Force's anti-Godzilla arsenal. Chief among these new weapons is Mechagodzilla, a machine the same size and shape as Godzilla himself but piloted by a crack team of very human fighters. Less promising is the flying gunship Garuda, designed by pteranodon-obsessed engineer Aoki Kazuma (Masahiro Takashima). These days, Kazuma is less involved with the mechanical side of things and is instead smitten with a cute biologist (Sano Ryoko) studying an egg brought back from a pteranodon nest. The expectation is that another Rodan will hatch from this oversized egg that's somehow emotionally tethered to Miss Gojo. Instead, it's a baby Godzillasaurus that emerges, one that may hold a sinister solution to ending the threat of the full-sized Godzilla once and for all. There's a lot more to the premise that I could keep droning on and on about, with parasite eggs and psychics and Super Mechagodzilla and wacky hovercraft and Rodan being heaped onto the pile for reasons unknown. The story is a half-baked yet overstuffed mess but doesn't get in the way too much, the overwhelming majority of the action is spectacular, and I can't get enough of Akira Ifukube's phenomenal score.

Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
As sloppy as its storytelling so often is, it's still easy for me to get swept up in the spectacle of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, meanwhile, has borderline-nothing going for it. I have no idea how to even begin recapping the plot. The incandescent twin priestesses known as the Cosmos issue a warning about a force that will soon threaten the planet, although I think the first clue came when SpaceGodzilla trashed a NASA space station earlier in the flick. See, Godzilla's DNA found its way into space during his battles with Biollante and Mothra, and his irradiated genetic code was sucked into a black hole, spat out of a white hole, and transformed into SpaceGodzilla. Think a flying Godzilla with massive crystals jutting out all over his body. A legion of scientists and military brass have done their damndest to prepare for their next clash against Godzilla -- including psychic warfare and dusting off the drill-nosed robot from The Mysterians -- but if they take down Godzilla, what could possibly stand in the way of SpaceGodzilla?

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The strange thing is that I've rewatched Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla more than any other installment from the Heisei series, and I don't remember ever having such an intensely negative reaction to it. Looking at it now, this is in the running as the most glacially paced Godzilla movie I've ever suffered through. The kaiju battles are few and far between. I guess I have enough of a lifelong love of Superman to gush over the extensive use of large crystals in its visuals, and that gives me something to gawk at during the endless and aggressively lackluster fight choreography near the end. Takayuki Hattori's score is a disappointment following Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, lacking the gravity of Ifukube's far more engaging compositions. The screenplay is a trainwreck, derailed by a "...wait, what?" Yakuza subplot that goes nowhere, returning psychic Miki deciding in the heat of battle that she must be telekinetic (and is!), and Akira Emoto holding up that massive "Yuki's Special" bullet and explaining for the eight quadrillionth time about how it's filled with coagulant that can bring down Godzilla once and for all. I have no idea why the now-adorable baby Godzillasaurus from Mechagodzilla II is even in here unless Toho planned on licensing out too-cute stuffed animals or something.

Aargh. Slow, tedious, excruciatingly dull, and bogged down by some dreadful effects work. Need to move on before I ball up in the fetal position and cry.

Most, if not all, of these Godzilla double features from Sony use masters approved by Toho. Licensing requirements would seen to ensure that there's really not a way around that, and as anyone who's been paying attention knows, Toho signing off on a video master tends to be more of a warning than anything else. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla suffer from all the familiar Toho headaches. Colors are often dull and lifeless. Black levels and contrast are anemic. The image leans soft and is sorely lacking in fine detail. Grain is poorly resolved, often clumping together in a muddy, indistinct mush. These presentations are also peppered with flecks of dust, moreso than just about anything that's passed through my hands over the past couple of years.

Let's start with the first half of this double feature, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. For every marginally okay looking shot, such as the one below...

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...there's something that's either all but indistinguishable from a DVD release...

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...and/or looks as if it's thirty years older than it actually is:

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Bear in mind that we're talking about a film from 1993. Things really don't improve with the following year's Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla either. Admittedly, the image below is a matte shot with some expected degradation, but it still gives an idea of how low the bar is set:

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I dusted off my DVD release of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla to snap a few comparison shots, if you're curious. The color timing has been extensively changed, opting for something cooler and somewhat more cinematic rather than the harsh, video-like palette of the DVD. There also isn't any artificial sharpening to get in the way. Interestingly, I did see some of the same speckling in the same places. Ancient master, sloppy lab work, or all of the above?

DVD (2000)Blu-ray (2014)
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To Sony's credit, they appear to have done what they can within the parameters of their licensing agreement. Each half of this double feature scores its own BD-50 disc. The bitrate of these AVC encodes is more than respectable, each spilling over onto the second layer of its disc. Unfortunately, the grain is so poorly resolved in Toho's masters that it often looks as if the image is swarming with compression artifacts even though that really shouldn't be the case:

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It's a shame that Toho continues to go out of its way to tarnish the legacy of one of cinema's most iconic franchises. I braced myself for the worst, and that's just about what Toho has mandated for this Blu-ray release.

The early word was that these Godzilla double features would offer newly-translated English subtitles. The original DVDs were saddled with dubtitles -- transcriptions of the English dub rather than proper translations -- and despite assurances to the contrary, these Blu-ray discs deliver more of the same. In the stretches I compared on both halves of this double feature, the English subtitles were almost word-for-word identical to the English dubs.

The lack of properly translated subtitles is one of many disappointments with the audio on this double feature. At a glance, it does look as if there ought to be cause for celebration. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla both feature 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in English and Japanese. As somewhat of a purist, it's additionally appreciated that the films default to their original Japanese. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II features a six-channel Japanese track and a stereo English dub, while both soundtracks on Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla are delivered in 5.1. The English dubs are...well, pretty much what you'd expect from a couple of Godzilla flicks, although I would've opted to experience these movies in their original language no matter what.

Both of the Japanese 5.1 tracks are awfully underwhelming. Very little is lurking in the lower frequencies. It doesn't matter if Godzilla is wreaking havoc at a power plant and flinging tanks around as he is in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II or when those blasts of energy come crashing to Birth Island at the outset of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla; the LFE can barely be bothered to belch. In those scattered moments when the subwoofer really makes its presence known, such as Mechagodzilla stomping his way onto the frame against Rodan, bass response tends to be dull and rumbly. The presentation of dialogue is passable but thoroughly unremarkable. Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II more effectively seizes hold of the surround channels, bolstering Akira Ifukube's score as well as reinforcing such effects as a maniacally whirling chair, Rodan soaring through the sky, and even a rockslide. The rears throughout Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla don't leave nearly as much of an impression. Looking down at my notes, I didn't jot down a single standout moment.

The shorter answer is that the Japanese audio in both films is listenable but well below average. French subtitles round out the audio options.

The only extras are around 7 minutes' worth of teasers and theatrical trailers. If you're wondering about the technical end of things, this footage is presented at 1080i30 rather than the usual 1080p24.

The Final Word
As double features go, I've seen better. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II delivers some of the greatest battles royale of the entire Heisei era, while Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is a meandering slog that just about puts me to sleep. Pairing a lackluster double feature with a set of severely disappointing presentations doesn't leave much of anything to recommend. Rent It.

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