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Director: Yoshimitsu Banno
Columbia TriStar

Director: Jun Fukuda
Columbia TriStar

Director: Jun Fukuda
Columbia TriStar

Critics and fans of giant monster movies tend to feel that the Japanese Godzilla series from Toho took a nosedive in the 1970s in terms of quality. The films certainly looked cheaper, often substituting carefully constructed model skyscrapers with barren soil for the monsters to battle on, and the plots aimed at a more juvenile audience, with the big green guy being a mammoth superhero and a friend to all children (much like the flying turtle Gamera). Still, the 1970s Godzilla films can be good old fashioned Saturday afternoon man-in-rubber-monster-suit fun, and Columbia TriStar has unleashed three prime examples of the era, here given their first proper U.S. home video releases, uncut and widescreen!

GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) was originally given a major U.S. release by AIP (on an infamous double bill with FROGS), under the title GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. Columbia's DVD is the International version, so the English dubbing is different then it was in the more charming AIP cut, and the American interpretation of the memorable song, "Save the Earth," which is sung during the opening credits and heard several more times throughout, is now only heard in Japanese. Opening up with a woman singing the aforementioned tune amongst a psychedelic background, intercut with shots of devastatingly polluted waters, you know you're not in for the usual Godzilla fare, and this is one of the most unusual ones for certain.

Hedorah, or "The Smog Monster," is a unique, shape-shifting monster. Best identified as a dark blob with red beaming eyes, it not only gets larger during the course of the film, but it emerges from the sea and later flies like a saucer. Hedorah devours pollution, automobiles andfactory smoke, and wipes out people with its acid touch. It also emits heaps of sludge, as well as sulfuric acid-based smog, which poisons plants, rots metal and disintegrates men into fleshless bones. Thought to have evolved from mankind's ecological carelessness, a scientist (badly burned by Hedorah) discovers a way to destroy it, while Godzilla attempts to bring him down in his usual wild wrestling manner.

GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH features a more jazz/rock-tinged score, funky animated inserts, a hipster tripping out in a discotheque and visioning everyone sporting fish heads and a background of dancing skeletons, teens rebelling by singing and partying on Mt. Fuji, and other off-the-wall motifs not found in previous entries. Although there is the common cute kid who adores Godzilla, the film has such mature sights as a small baby drowning in sludge, a construction worker having his face crisped, and the very violent fighting between the monsters, with lots of muck and unidentified Hedorah innards being tossed around. In other words, a surreal monsterpiece!

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972) has a premise in which alien creatures in human form (get this, they are actually mutated cockroaches!) arrive on Earth and take over an amusement park with a "Monster Island" theme. Hired to work for the aliens-in-human-guise (as well as orange game show host attire), a young cartoonist stumbles upon their dastardly plans to destroy the earth and claim it for themselves. He and his pals (which include a female martial artist and a hippy fascinated with corn and bananas) sneak into a secret base to stop the annoying invaders. Keeping with the ecological themes of the previous film, these aliens come from a distant planet ruined by industrial waste, pollution and decay, and they summon the three-headed dragon King Ghidorah, and another monster called Gigan (a beaked, clawed creature with a buzz saw in its stomach), to do their dirty work. They both do battle with "good" monsters Godzilla and Anguirus.

Most of the monster action here is saved for the ending of the film, but their clash in Tokyo Bay makes for a pretty awesome spectacle, with Godzilla really taking a beating before emerging triumphant. Godzilla and his buddy Anguirus apparently can cross communicate, but in the English dub of the film, they are actually heard talking to each other in ridiculous grunting voices in some jaw-dropping, hilarious scenes. The film originally played in U.S. theaters as GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND, but like many of the 70s Godzilla films, suffered poor distribution and was released years after it was actually made.

Like GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, 1974's GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA also centers on alien invaders on earth in human guise. Two new Toho monsters are introduced here, the first is King Seeser, a shaggy lion/dog thing worshipped by the people of Okinawa who believe in the ancient prophecy that he and another monster (good old Godzilla of course) will surface to save the earth. That belief sure comes in handy when the second new monster Mechagodzilla arrives. Appearing to look just like Godzilla at first, and violently wounding poor Anguirus, Mechagodzilla later sheds its scaly green synthetic screen to reveal its super-cyborg self. This metallic menace is equipped with a number of destructive weapons, including reloading missile fingers and laser beams that fire from its eyes, making it a challenge for the authentic Godzilla and the floppy King Seeser.

The subplot involves an ancient statute of King Seeser (which causes the real thing to wake from its ancient slumber), which the aliens attempt to steal at any cost. These invaders are led by a smirking guy with a shiny birthmark around his eye, who also enjoys a good cigar. But in true form, the aliens have greenish gorilla-like faces, which are revealed at the time of their death. Mostly during the climax, there's some great, violent monster fighting that highlights the show, with lots of blood spurting everywhere--but King Seeser is probably the silliest-looking creature ever to appear in a Godzilla flick. When this was released in the U.S. in 1977, it was initially called GODZILLA VS. THE BIONIC MONSTER to cash in on the popularity of "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman," but the producers of the two TV series complained and the title was changed to GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER. Mechagodzilla would return the following year in THE TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.

Columbia TriStar's transfers on all three titles are superb, presenting the films in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement. The source prints are in pristine condition, and colors and picture detail are excellent. You are given the choice of English (the "international" dubs) or the original Japanese language with solid Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks. There are also optional English and French subtitles.

The only extras are trailers on all three titles, which include a Japanese "teaser" for the upcoming GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S., GODZILLA THE SERIES - MONSTER WARS, KAENA: THE PROPHECY, STEAMBOY, THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA and the Godzilla "Save the Earth" video game. (George R. Reis)