Sunday, January 31, 2016

Video Backlog: “Godzilla Vs Biollante”

Publisher: Echo Bridge Entertainment (Miramax, USA)
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 105 minutes
Production Date: 1989
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

In the climax of the 1984 film "Godzilla" (released in the west as "Godzilla 1985"), everyone's favourite giant monster destroys Most of Tokyo and the nifty looking mecha the Super X, Godzilla is lured out to Oshima island and then into the volcanic Mount Mihara. In the aftermath of the destruction, many of Godzilla cells lie in the rubble. The Japanese government sends out a military team to collect these cells as they have an amazing regeneration properties and could be used to create an anti-nuclear bio-weapon. However they are not alone in thinking this. A US company called Bio Major has sent out a team to recover one of the cells. In the process of recovering a cell, the Japanese team discovers them and a fire fight breaks out. The Bio Major team manage to wipe out a Japanese army platoon whilst in the process of escaping down in the bowels of the Tokyo subway system with a cell. But just as they think they've got away with the cell, an agent from the middle eastern country Saradia shoots them dead and steals their cell.

The agent then smuggles the cell back to Saradia, where the government has set up a laboratory for Dr Genichiro Shiragami (played by Koji Takahashi) and his daughter Erika (Yasuko Sawaguchi). The government has hired them both to work on developing wheat crops that can grow in the desert. The Godzilla cells regenerative powers would help in this regard. But tragedy strikes when Bio Major bomb the lab, destroying the cell and all the their work, and killing Erika in the process.

Five years pass, and it seems that Godzilla is awaking from its slumber. Teenage schoolgirl Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka), an esper, has predicted his return as well as the other children in the Japanese government's physic program. Though some in the government are sceptical of their abilities, they duly prepare for Godzilla's return with the construction of the Super X2. The second part of the plan involves the Godziila cells. The government hope to produce Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria in an attempt to kill Godzilla. But the only scientist who can create the bacteria is Dr Shiragami, who wants nothing to do with Godzilla cells after the death of his daughter. An earthquake triggered by an eruption on Mount Mihara changes his mind. The earthquake destroys the glasshouse containing a rose bush, resulting in the destruction of the plant. Dr Shiragami agrees to create the bacteria if he can have a Godzilla cell for a week. Unbeknownst to the Government, Dr Shiragami is crossing the Godzilla cell with the rose bush to create a plant which cannot die. The rose was originally creation of his using  his dead daughter's cells, so in effect it contains her spirit.

While Dr Shiragami is away, two Bio Major agents ransack the house looking for info on the Godzilla cells. The Saradian agent plans to take them out, but the rose bush, which has now mutated into some horrible monster, takes out one of the Bio Major agents, with the remaining agent barely escaping. The creature then breaks out of the house and grows into a monster rose plant in a local lake causing the military to block off the area. The remaining Bio Major agent refuses to give up and blackmails the Japanese government in order to obtain the Godzilla cell. He warns if they don't hand over their Godzilla cells, he'll set off an explosion on Mount Mihara which will free Godzilla. The government complies, but the Saradian agent intervenes again, killing the Bio Major agent in his truck, and in the process destroying the equipment that controls the bomb, and steals the cells. The bomb goes off and Godzilla is released from his molten lava tomb.

The self defence force attempt to thwart Godzilla from reaching the mainland but fail. During the evening, Godzilla arrives at the lake to battle the giant rose monster, now called Biollantie. A fierce battle ensues, but even though Biollante gets the upper hand at one point, Godzilla burns the plant monster to a crisp. It sends it's seed high into the air as it dies. Godzilla then heads off to recharge itself at a nearby nuclear reactor, but the self defence force makes a terrible error. They gamble that that he will land in Nagoya, but he instead ends up in Osaka where does terrible damage to the city and completely destroys the Super X2. I The only positive in the battle is that the army manages to inject the bacteria into Godzilla via bazooka missiles. The problem is that his body temperature is too low to make the bacteria active. n a last ditch effort to stop Godzilla from reaching Tokyo, Miki attempts to battle the monster using her psychic powers, but loses. As Godzilla head towards Yokohama, the self defence force plan another attack. This time they plan to use the secret Thunder Cloud System. In theory the lightning strikes on Godzilla should increase his body temperature. Luckily this turns out to be true, but even though the bacteria seems to be taking effect, it's still not enough to kill him or even stop him. But before he can take another step forward, Biollante resurrects itself, in an even meaner, more vicious form. A fight begins that Godzilla may lose.

After Godzilla's successful return to cinemas in 1984, Toho certainly took it's time releasing a sequel. In 1986, Toho held a public competition where budding script writers could send in their own script for the next Godzilla film. The wining script was by an American named Jim Bannon. In his script, Godzilla would fight a giant super computer and a tank-like robot. I think it would have been a great film to see. Somewhere along the line Toho thought otherwise. Jim's script was made into the much maligned "Gunhed" (sans Godzilla elements), and although the effects were great, plot-wise the movie was a bit of a mess. The runner up in the screenplay competition was a Japanese entry written by a dentist by the name of Shinichro Kobayashi. But in the end it seems only elements of his screenplay made it into the resulting film, "Godzilla Vs Biollante".

Godzilla's opponent in this film, the giant rose monster Biollante, is probably the most original monster seen in the long running series since Hedorah. The two versions of Biollante are quite amazing and look like a real menacing creature, and not like a guy in a suit as previous monsters have. Godzilla too has never looked so mean and threatening. He actually looks a like an actual monster and not like a man in a costume flaying about like some of the late 1960's and early 1970's Godzillas. It's a real far cry from the "defender of justice" Godzilla who batted away and roasted wave after wave of a seemingly unending supply of alien invaders and their monsters during the 1970's. The effects overall are spectacular. In particular the self defence forces have never looked so realistic in a Godzilla film. Models and stock footage are blended almost seamlessly to create rather realistic battles. The other element I liked in this film was the Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria. It's a very clever and original device to kill Godzilla, though with just about everything the humans try to use to kill the beast, it fails.

For the most part, the plot and story are pretty good. For the first time the esper, Miki Saegusa, appears in the series. The character would make quite a few more appearances before the final film in this series, "Godzilla Vs Destroyah". Her telepathic duel with Godzilla was one of the highlights of the film and quite inventive and original. Some have complained that the movie contains too many characters, but I didn't have many problems with this. Some could have used a bit more development of their characters, but overall it didn't really over complicate the film or make the story hard to follow. One of the most disappointing elements of the film is the acting by the film’s foreign actors and their terrible English dialogue. Luckily you can watch the film in Japanese with English subtitles. However the worst aspect of the film hands down is the ending, which after being probably the most serious and well thought out Godzilla film in twenty years, turns it into complete cheese. The chase sequence with the Saradian agent was unnecessary too. It just seemed tacked on for no apparent reason other than to tie up a loose end which really didn’t need to be tied up.

Echo Bridge’s blu-ray is pretty damn good. The video is more than acceptable (some dark scenes are a bit murky) but the audio is only OK. It is better than anything we’ve seen before in an English language version of the film. The disc comes with two extras. The first is a fantastic one hour making of featurette which is sourced from the 1992 Japanese laserdisc box set of the film. Apart from behind the scenes footage and interviews, it includes several deleted special effects shots and an alternate ending. It’s rather interesting hearing that the effects drove and shaped the final script of the film. The second feature which is runs only a few minutes, also sourced from the laserdisc box set, shows off maquettes of the various concepts for Biollante.

Wrapping up, the plot is solid for the most part and the effects are pretty stellar for a Japanese film of the time and stands up and even surpass some of the effects in the last film in the millennium series; "Godzilla: Final Wars". I found it very disappointing that the follow up film to this movie, 1991's "Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah" ended up as corny and camp as the 1970's Godzilla films. It was a direction in the series I wished they hadn't taken. I hoped Toho would have done more Godzilla films in the same vein as this one. 8 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Nine series, four movies, two OVAs also waiting for second parts for three shows to be released before viewing them.

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