This piece was originally published September 24th, 2012.
Despite my hyperbole with the title for this week’s Mystery Box column, there is actually a great cause for celebration to the many of us obsessive Godzilla fans.
Finally, an official stateside DVD release for one of the more controversially loved and disliked (and in many cases both) Godzilla films in his entire canon,Godzilla vs. Megalon has appeared.
This past August, after years of subsisting on via poor quality VHS versions, sad expensive bootlegs and Japanese only DVD copies, then after another long, long wait from the time the rumors started, cover art finally appeared, and there were endless promises and pushed back release dates, the prize finally appeared, arriving in my mail.
At long last, for the very first time we have the company Media Blasters’ Toho approved, official release of Godzilla vs. Megalon as a DVD you can hold in your hand and pop into your player.
Front and back cover for Media Blasters’ DVD release of Godzilla vs. Megalon
Godzilla vs. Megalon (Japan, 1973) stands alongside Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) as one of Godzilla’s more misunderstood, most laughed at (Mystery Science 3000) and in many cases most derided films (well, maybe All Monsters Attack wins the award for most derided). It is a part of the early run of Godzilla films (called the Shōwa period in the filmography) which runs from the first Godzilla film Gojira in 1954 to Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1977.
In its original Japanese released version, the first Godzilla film Gojira, is universally acclaimed as a serious classic of cinema, and for the most part a very grim affair.
Darkly thought provoking, it deals with the effects of the post WWII atomic blast and its aftermath. After four more Godzilla films were made, all of which kept things for the most part still serious, Toho Studios, creators and owners of the Godzilla franchise, gave Godzilla and his subsequent films more of a lighthearted style, turning Godzilla into a hero that the kids could rally behind.
Toho Kaiju, 1954-1975 ( The Showa Era ) Thanks to Sal Cipriano for image compilation
When dealing with Kaiju (a Japanese word, translated as “strange beast” but usually connoting “giant monsters,” it is associated with Japanese Tokusatsu film and TV entertainment, i.e. using a lot of special effects, superheroes etc.)
I have always found that a certain acceptance of goofiness and an ability to overlook, or actually embrace, the special effect limitations inherent in the 60’s, 70’s and even the 80’s are what makes the genre so wonderfully entertaining and charming. There was no C.G.I. and instead elaborate small scale models built on giant sets were constructed of cities, vehicles and structures while actors in rubber-based monster suits crashed, stomped and smashed their way through them, the explosion of miniatures and much melting of plastic was involved while things like laser blasts were created photographically in post production.
The technicians used imagination and the limits of the technology available, sometimes at a very costly expense, to the fullest.
The Japanese poster for the film
Godzilla vs. Megalon began life not as a Godzilla film at all, but as a solo film for what was hoped would become a new franchise character for Toho, the humanoid robot Jet Jaguar.
At the time in Japan, robots were the new craze, with characters such as Ultraman, Inframan, Spectreman andMazinger Z all popular with the kids. Toho held a contest asking kids to come up with a new superhero. The winning drawing was for a robot called Red Alert, who was then renamed Jet Jaguar and who would get his own film. He even got a theme song written for him. After some thought however, it was decided that Jet Jaguar could probably not sustain a feature film by himself and Godzilla (plus one of the previous Godzilla film nemesis’ Gigan) were brought in as stars to prop up the story and rope in more viewers.
I won’t run through the plot of the film here, hoping that instead you will seek out the DVD for yourself, but I will say that Jet Jaguar has huge amounts of mesmerizing screen appeal.
Though Godzilla really takes more of a backseat to him in the film, there is a grand bonding between the two. There is plenty of really fun giant monster fighting, some great action sequences, lots of lurid color (although not as much as the psychedelically crazed Godzilla vs. Hedorah) and in the long run, Jet Jaguar is the sort of robot that every kid would love to call a best friend— hooray!
The monster Megalon easily stands out as one of my favorites (also one of the weirder ones, and that’s saying a lot) of all the villainous monsters in Godzilla films—if he doesn’t top the list he at least places in the top four. His methods of attack are pretty special…
Upon its release, Godzilla vs. Megalon did not do as well as the previous Godzilla films in Japan, however when it finally was released in the U.S. in 1976, oddly it was a huge success and smashed box office records over previous Godzilla films. At the time it was marketed heavily to compete with Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kongremake and many kids flocked to the theaters to see the film, causing it to be one of the better known and cherished of the Godzilla 70’s films.
Even decades later, there is a giant shadow created by the film. I know someone who told me he was only allowed to have two films (presumably on VHS) when he was a kid in the early 90’s, and they were Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Megalon.
Different pinback buttons were issued as promos to promote the film, this one features Gigan.
So big a deal was Godzilla vs. Megalon, that for its television debut in 1977, it was given a very high profile prime time slot on NBC with a big ad campaign and a host, John Belushi, who was a fast rising star of the acclaimed hit show Saturday Night Live (still called NBC’s Saturday Night). Belushi, wearing a Godzilla suit, introduced the film and appeared during commercial bumper spots. Fake boulders were thrown at him throughout the bits. Of course, being on network television, the butchers at NBC chopped the hell out of the film to make it fit a one hour viewing slot, still it was the first and only Godzilla film to ever air on a U.S. prime time network.
For this DVD release the licensee Media Blasters had to wrangle at length Kaiju Big Battle-style with the mighty Godzilla mitt that is Toho in order to make a release happen.
It took ages and several Atomic breath blasts later, and it was not an easy fight. This release has absolutely no frills, and not even a trailer for the film, however I love the print quality and the sound, you can choose between the original Japanese language track with English subtitles or the very goofy English dub, and best of all, I can now proudly add it to all my other Godzilla DVD releases.
Why no Blu-ray?
Well the good news is that Toho has compiled a vast amount of material on Godzilla vs. Megalon that they wanted to keep working on and all of it should be made available on a future Blu-ray edition (fingers crossed) as extra features, but the stipulation was to only allow Media Blasters to first release this no frills edition for now.
There are only two Godzilla films that have not seen a U.S. DVD release: The Return of Godzilla (U.S. title,Godzilla 1985 from 1984) and Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989).
With word of the new American Godzilla film in production and slated for a 2014 release things could once again look promising for Godzilla’s exposure to new audiences and the delivering of more unseen treasures for his already loyal fans. As far as it being any good, I still wait and will believe it when I see it, but I doubt it would be as bad as the previous American monstrosity. At least this new film has the involvement of the once maligned (you’ll never direct Godzilla again!) director of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Yoshimitsu Banno as a co-producer.
The monsters of Godzilla vs. Megalon take a break between filming
Until then, I have Godzilla vs. Megalon.
A film that, though it stands as one of the giants in the Godzilla filmography, is still often under-appreciated, maligned and sadly looked at as a huge write off of a joke or a kiddies film (which I guess I have to admit it is). Still, it is some of the purest entertainment out there, and its existence only adds to the appeal of all things Godzilla—a bizarre journey on a path of strange twists and turns made by his giant monster feet.
Long live Jet Jaguar, Seatopia, Gigan, Megalon and long live Godzilla!