By 1973, the Japanese film industry was suffering through severe economic doldrums. It not only took a severe beating from television, but also from imported American movies which often competed and won out over home grown product. As a result, studios like Daiei Motion Pictures (Gamera’s home studio) went bankrupt while Toho Company Ltd. significantly reduced staff, actors and budgets on their productions. Even the great Godzilla was not immune as that particular series suffered from reduced budgets and much lower quality. One such film is GODZILLA VS. MEGALON which is particularly reviled by Godzilla fans as being the worst of the original (“Showa”) series. Whether or not this is true is in the eye of the beholder, however the film itself finally gets a well-deserved official release from Media Blasters as a companion to their recent release of 1968’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
Underground nuclear tests in the Pacific have been causing great destruction
to the undersea kingdom of Seatopia. Eventually, their leader Antonio (a side-burned
Robert Dunham) leads the survivors to a revolt against the land dwellers. To
that end, he unleashes Megalon, a gigantic, cockroach-like monster with drills
for arms to attack the Earth. Meanwhile, brilliant young inventor Goro Ibuki
(Katsuhiko Sasaki) has invented a colorful Ultraman-like robot, Jet-Jaguar,
to protect Japan from nefarious menaces such as Megalon. Eventually Jet-Jaguar
is sent to Monster Island to ask Godzilla for help in battling Megalon while
the evil monster is joined by our old friend Gigan (from the previous year’s
GODZILLA VS. GIGAN). The result is an absurdly funny battle in the final act
of the film.
GODZILLA VS. MEGALON is widely considered to be the worst of the original Godzilla series. The death of the original special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya in 1970 left a gaping hole in the quality of the special effects. This is hardly the fault of his successors for without Mr. Tsuburaya’s powerful influence over the Toho brass, effects budgets were largely reduced to the point that Teriyoshi Nakano and his team were forced to rely on stock footage from such films as GHIDRAH—THE THREE HEADED MONSTER (1964); MONSTER ZERO (1965); WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966); DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968); and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972). Unfortunately all this recycled old footage lends a very cheap and uninspired look to the film. In addition, according to Mr. Nakano, screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa only finished his screenplay right before shooting began, adding to an already hastily constructed production.
The cast of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON is primarily composed of Toho’s younger (i.e. cheaper) talent. Katsuhiko Sasaki headlines as the inventor Goro Ibuki and he is likable if a little bland. Sasaki’s father Minoru Chiaki appeared in 1955’s GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN as the heroic pilot “Kobayashi.” Mr. Sasaki would also go on to appear in the last Showa Godzilla film, 1975’s TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. Hiroyuki Kawase makes his second appearance in a Godzilla film following his 1971 performance as “Ken Yano” in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. He does a fairly good job in the acting department although his dubbed English voice is a laugh-riot. The aforementioned American actor Robert Dunham makes one of his last appearances in a Toho science fiction film as the Seatopian ruler Antonio. Mr. Dunham appeared in such Japanese science fiction films as MOTHRA (1961); DAGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER (1964); and the Japanese/American co-production THE GREEN SLIME (1968).
After AIP’s release of GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER in 1972, a cheap distribution outfit (Cinema Shares International) released GODZILLA VS. MEGALON in the summer of 1976. In one of the most bizarre and crass examples of false advertising campaigns ever seen, the film’s poster featured Godzilla fighting Megalon atop the late World Trade Center towers in New York City. This was Cinema Share’s blatant attempt to cash in on all the publicity surrounding the forthcoming December 1976 release of Dino De Laurentiis’ remake of KING KONG. In addition, there was no attempt to re-dub the film using United States’ based sound studios like Titra in New York or Glen Glenn Sound in Hollywood. Instead, the film was theatrically released using the Toho provided dubbing done by Omni Productions in Hong Kong led by Ted Thomas. These dubbed versions are generally considered by Godzilla fans to not be anywhere near the quality of work done by Titra and have contributed to the ridicule these films have received for the vocal performances.
On a personal note…this reviewer has a vivid memory of seeing GODZILLA VS. MEGALON in July 1976 at the Oasis Theater on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens. My dad took my sister and myself and it was exciting getting the four page color comic book version of the film (in which Jet Jaguar is called “Robotman” and Gigan is rechristened “Borodan”) as a keepsake. Unfortunately, that particular item was not saved by yours truly however, it was a great afternoon of double fun as the co-feature was a re-release of Toho’s KING KONG ESCAPES.
GODZILLA VS. MEGALON also holds the distinction of having a prime time television debut on NBC in 1977. The late John Belushi hosted the event in a Godzilla costume and the film was cut to a mere one hour long (including commercials). In addition, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON had its television life extended through countless showings on local late night and Saturday afternoon television in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s. In the New York City/Long Island area, the film was a veritable staple on WOR-TV’s (Channel 9) annual day after Thanksgiving “Godzilla-thon” which ran from 1976 through 1985. GODZILLA VS. MEGALON was broadcast as part of this event from 1978 through 1984. Thanksgiving Day was WOR’s annual marathon of KING KONG (1933); SON OF KONG (1933); and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949).
As has been well-reported over various fan sites over the past few months, Toho was reportedly not satisfied with some of the extras included on Media Blasters’ release of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS last fall. As a result, a major downgrade was imposed on this release of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON before Toho would grant its approval. Such extras as the already recorded audio commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV and Steve Ryfle, were not included in this edition. In addition, the movie is being released on standard DVD only at this time. Having said this, Media Blasters’ DVD presentation is on par with their other excellent DVD releases of Toho product. The video presentation is a gorgeous anamorphic 2.35:1 high definition transfer showing sharpness, clarity, and detail illustrating deep and rich colors. This is the absolute best this reviewer has ever seen of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON as far as picture quality goes. As for sound, this release boasts sonorous and rich sounding Japanese tracks in 2.0 and 5.1 respectively. The English audio track is actually pretty well cleaned up for this release as it was always tinny and badly recorded even when this was new in 1976. It is definitely not as good as the Japanese audio, but it is a significant improvement over what it was.
As good as the visual presentation is of Media Blasters’ GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, many die-hard fans will probably pass on this initial DVD release and wait and see if Toho ever approves a Blu-ray disc loaded with extras. (Joe Cascio)
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