Judge Bill Gibron is still waiting for the Criterion Collection version of My Dinner with Mothra.
The Super-Beast battle of the century!
You can forgive Godzilla for being a bit…schizo? After all, he began his cinematic career as an oversized baddie, graduated to savior of Japan and the always put-upon Tokyo, and then quickly reverted back to villain status. Unlike Gamera, who was (apparently) always the "friend of children," our leaping lizard more or less maintains his destructive bent, though he will step in to stop the occasional nuclear monstrosity when need be. For many, the entire franchise is filled with badly dubbed disasters highlighting man-in-suit special effects and a weird social commentary by way of Kaiju schlock sentimentality. Even as the various updates and reboots arrived, Godzilla has maintained his place as a scaly Asian institution. This 1989 delight, making its way onto Blu-ray for the first time, may be a bit talky and uptight. It may also have a less than successful message about Man Playing God (Jeez-don't they all???). But Biollante is such an intriguing foe, and the creature battles are so brilliantly staged, you'll gladly stomach all the spy games goofiness and sloppy scientific handwringing.
We begin with Godzilla being buried in a volcano. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, a group of US-based soldiers are picking through the rubble of his previous attack trying to find bits of monster DNA. Someone ambushes them and steals the samples. Over in the Middle East, a scientist (Koji Takahashi, Tokyo, The Last Metropolis) and his daughter (Yasuko Sawaguchi, Spirited Away) are working on a secret project when a terrorist bombing leads to tragedy. Advance five years and the dour doc is working on cloning Godzilla cells for some surreal purpose. In essence, he is trying to make some Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria that will, supposedly, defeat the monster. He is also working with a psychic (Megumi Odaka, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) on the ESP properties of plants?!?! Tossing a whole bunch of genetic matter into a sci-fi mixer, he comes up with Biollante: part Godzilla, part flower, and part Erika (yep, some of her chromosomes have been mixed in as well). An assassin's plot releases Godzilla from his mountain prison, he confronts and then supposedly defeats our title terror, and then heads over to Osaka to finish off the island once and for all. Of course, Biollante is ready for a mad, mutated rematch.
Unless you like long, drawn out conversations overflowing with exposition and leaving no science speak speciousness unspoken, there will be parts of Godzilla vs. Biollante that will drive you to drink…and drink heavily. Before the last act, where a more mobile baddie takes on our reptilian rogue, the movie seems locked in "you better listen" mode. The military talks. The science community talks. The spies talk. The evil empires talk. Heck, there's even a moment, late in the film when Biollante talks. No one in this movie can shut their pie hole. It's as if, knowing that miniature work and a lumbering stuntman in a monster outfit won't float the late '80s believability boat, the filmmakers fall back on the time honored tradition of yakking the audience into submission. In between the chatter and challenges, we get some intriguing moments with our title titans. The first confrontation between Godzilla and Biollante is memorable for how horror movie-esque it is. Taking place in a darkened lake, the encounter reveals that our plant-based enemy is creepy. Once things shift to the standard cityscapes, however, it's the typical stomp and chomp.
From a Blu-ray standpoint, the Echo Bridge release is excellent. We get a wonderful, near hour-long making-of documentary that tries to explain the film's international political context, as well as the intricate and often fragile F/X used to make the Godzilla vision come to life. Visually, the movie looks very good, the 1.85:1/1080p image showing little wear and tear over the last 20-plus years. Yes, the color scheme is a bit muted, there is obvious stock and borrowed footage, and the battle scenes show their cinematic fakery, but for the most part, the transfer is terrific. Sonically, we are given a non-HD option of a 5.1-DTS mix in the original Japanese (though there are lots of moments when participants speak English) as well as a 2.0-DTS stereo track and a typical 1.0 dub. There is some immersion, and the mayhem always bring the boom, but that's about it. The dialogue is centralized and can be a bit thin and reedy. Toss in a final featurette dealing with the creature design, and you've got a nice bit of Blu.
For some, the definitive Godzilla exists somewhere between the '50s and the '70s, when audiences were less demanding, suspension of disbelief-wise and monsters could be made up of sweaty dudes in foam rubber. By 1989, such shortcuts wouldn't fly. So Godzilla vs. Biollante substitutes speaking. The fiends are fabulous. The abundance of dialogue…not so much.
Good, if a glutton for oral explanation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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