DVD REVIEWS: GODZILLA: MONSTER EDITION and GODZILLA: THE SERIES
The American Godzilla Is Featured On Three New DVDs
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
On November 3, 1998, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s American remake of GODZILLA was first released on DVD. Next Tuesday, in an effort to capitalize on the expected “monster enthusiasm” for Universal’s DVD of the Peter Jackson KING KONG, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release a new version of their GODZILLA disc entitled GODZILLA: MONSTER EDITION. Also coming to DVD are the second and third volumes of the animated television spin-off, GODZILLA: THE SERIES.
The new DVD cover art features a nice shot of the maquette sculpted by creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos for the initial GODZILLA pitch presentation to Toho. As for the disc itself, the big improvement this time around is a new HD, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the movie. The film looks great…but beyond that, the presentation is surprisingly anemic considering this DVD is billed as the MONSTER EDITION.
Devlin and Emmerich’s GODZILLA was planned as the big film for 1998, and was accorded a massive promotional campaign that ran for nearly a year. Publicity included an electronic press kit (some of which was used for last year’s Godzilla documentary on Animal Planet), a dozen or so TV commercials for the film, tons of merchandising tie-ins, a great New Year’s Eve promo, a televised world premiere, DVD spots, and several television specials… none of which are on this disc.
The menus (minus the animated Godzilla foot) and most of the features were simply carried over from the earlier GODZILLA DVD. They include a feature length audio commentary by GODZILLA visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Karen Goulekas with Patrick Tatopoulos; “Heroes”, the music video for the Wallflowers’ cover of the David Bowie song; a 6 minute-long featurette hosted by Harry Shearer in his “Charles Caiman” role from the film (edited down from a longer GODZILLA: THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES television special done for Showtime), “Godzilla Takes New York” (a still image gallery showing how the fx were composited with location footage); and a publicity stills gallery. Missing from the previous release is a selection of theatrical trailers, director and producer biographies, and cast filmographies.
The new features for the MONSTER EDITION are a huge disappointment. The poorly named “All-Time Best of Godzilla Fights Scenes” is nothing more than an advertisement for Sony’s selection of Godzilla/Toho DVDs. It includes 10 minutes of random scenes from GODZILLA (1998), SON OF GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS HEDORAH, GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA VS GIGAN, GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH, GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 1 and 2, GODZILLA VS MEGAGUIRUS, GMK, GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH (using footage from GMK), and GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. None of the battles are shown in their entirety, much of the footage included is not of fight scenes, there are scenes from the non-Godzilla Mothra films, and everything is played to techno music and silly narration (“The monster of waste is about to get wasted”). One funny thing from the featurette is that the FINAL WARS footage includes the American Godzilla getting killed by the original Godzilla… and interesting choice for a DVD devoted to the American beast.
Also included are three episodes of GODZILLA: THE SERIES, but again Sony drops the ball by making selections designed to promote their line of G:TS DVDs. With 40 episodes to choose from, there were a lot of options for this DVD but instead we are treated to WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, MONSTER WARS PART 1, and WHERE IS THY STING?; all of which are already on DVD. It would have been nice if someone had cared enough to include the first two episodes of GODZILLA: THE SERIES since they pick up directly from where the feature film leaves off and would have been of particular interest to fans of the movie.
The one new feature that feels like more than an ad is the Production Art Gallery, which consists of 50 images focusing mostly on locations and military hardware. While a nice extra it is not enough to recommend the GODZILLA: MONSTER EDITION disc.
For completists only.
GODZILLA: THE SERIES
GODZILLA: THE SERIES premiered on the morning of Saturday, September 12, 1998. Despite the box office disappointment and critical drubbing the film had received, the animated show was a ratings success that also proved popular with many longtime Godzilla fans. The producers and writers had insisted that the cartoon Godzilla retain many of the Toho Godzilla’s attributes (including the radioactive breath, glowing fins, and fighting spirit) and fans were quick to notice and appreciate that the character was treated with respect.
The first DVD collection was released on August 24, 2004. Entitled GODZILLA: THE SERIES – THE MONSTER WARS TRILOGY, the disc featured the three-part adventure from Episodes #115-117. A year and half later, volumes two and three will finally be released; GODZILLA: THE SERIES – MONSTER MAYHEM and GODZILLA: THE SERIES – MUTANT MADNESS. The two new DVDs have a SRP of $9.98 each.
As was the case with THE MONSTER WARS TRILOGY, the discs are bare-bones releases that still look and sound as good as anyone would possibly hope for. Each episode of GODZILLA: THE SERIES is presented uncut and in the original 1:33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio. The image quality is excellent with sharp colors and no artifacting. The English-only audio is in 2.0 Dolby Surround Stereo, and English subtitles are also provided. The 3 episodes on each DVD can be viewed separately or as one 65 minute-long feature (though the individual episode titles and credits are still shown). There are 4 chapters for each episode making for 16 chapter stops per disc. Extras are non-existent unless you count a color insert for other Sony family DVDs, the theatrical trailer for the upcoming CG movie OPEN SEASON, and DVD previews for STUART LITTLE 3: CALL OF THE WILD, ZATHURA, and JUMANJI: THE DELUXE EDITION. The DVD packaging features some rather generic production art, as well as stills that are not from the episodes included on these discs.
One major flaw is that, unlike the previous release, the new DVDs do not feature a sequential run of episodes but rather a random mix of shows. While a DVD of the episodes in the proper order would have been greatly preferable, there are some real gems in the shows selected for MONSTER MAYHEM and MUTANT MADNESS, and these discs are recommended. The contents of the DVDs are as follows…
GODZILLA: THE SERIES – MONSTER MAYHEM
#108: WHAT DREAMS MAY COME
Writer: Len Wein
Director: Frank Squillace
Original FOX Air Date: 11/7/98
A giant energy monster called the Crackler suddenly appears in New York. Using blasts of electricity and its massive fists, the beast destroys an apartment building and the MTA bus yard, and even battles Godzilla to a standstill.
Searching for a common link between the locations of the Crackler attacks, Randy and Elsie learn of a MTA employee named Sidney Walker. The pair tracks Walker to the Manhattan Neural Research Center, where he is undergoing Theta wave therapy to cure his insomnia, and learn that Walker is a meek 45 year-old who has suppressed his anger all of his life. The experimental therapy has put Walker in a deep sleep and unleashed his subconscious rage in the form of a terrible monster.
The episode was written by comic book legend Len Wein, who has worked on most of the major characters from Marvel and DC Comics. He is also the co-creator of DC’s popular Swamp Thing as well as Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus of the X-Men.
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME featured the work of a pair of great character actors. Estelle Harris has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows and is best known as George Costanza’s mother on the hit series SEINFELD, and ‘Mrs Potato Head’ in Pixar’s TOY STORY 2 (1999). Also performing in this episode is the late Steve Susskind, whose credits include FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1992), MARRIED WITH CHILDREN (1987), MR SHOW (1998), and MONSTERS INC (2001).
#110: BIRD OF PARADISE
Writer: Neil Ruttenberg
Director: Alan Caldwell
Original FOX Air Date: 12/5/98
A giant flying lizard, believed to be the legendary Quetzalcoatl, emerges from a dormant volcano in Southern Mexico. When it begins destroying local villages, HEAT is called into action by rugged ornithologist Lawrence Cohen, who happens to be Elsie’s ex-fiancé. As the team approaches the volcano, Quetzalcoatl strikes with its napalm fire breath, and Elsie is captured by the creature.
Cohen discovers that Quetzalcoatl is nesting and its eggs are about to hatch. As Godzilla arrives to battle the flying monster, Cohen and HEAT attempt to rescue Elsie from a brood of ferocious hungry Qs.
As an in-joke, the character of Elsie’s fiancé was named after the writer/director of the movie Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982), which featured a giant Quetzalcoatl nesting in New York. Lawrence Cohen is voiced by actor Tate Donovan, whose has appeared in films like LOVE POTION NO. 9 (1992) and SWORDFISH (2001), and performed the title role in Disney’s animated movie HERCULES (1997).
Writer: Steve Hayes
Director: Sam Liu
Original FOX Air Date: 2/6/99
HEAT receives a scratchy videotape from scientist Dr. Hugh Trevor, who claims his research institute has been attacked by the Loch Ness Monster. Nick thinks it’s just a publicity stunt to increase tourism, but Elsie is a gung-ho believer, and she convinces the team to make a trip to Trevor’s Pisces Institute on the shores of the famous Scottish lake.
After something huge attacks a submarine piloted by Nick and Randy, Nick is forced to admit that there is a creature in Loch Ness – although whether it’s the mythological beast or a new mutation remains to be seen. Elsie believes the Loch Ness Monster is not one immortal creature, but part of an ongoing race of living dinosaurs that surface every twenty years to breed. When Nick and Randy discover that Dr. Trevor has kidnapped Nessie’s baby and plans to sell it, they signal Godzilla, who winds up helping the Loch Ness Monster free her offspring in a show of monster cooperation.
DEADLOCH revisits the familiar concept of a monster looking for their stolen offspring, an idea previously used in the British film GORGO (1961) and again in Nikkatsu’s GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER (1967). Two notable voice actors worked on this episode; Clive Revill (best known as ‘Alfred Pennyworth’ on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES) and the legendary Roddy McDowall. McDowall’s incredible list of credits include the classic film LASSIE COME HOME (1943), TWILIGHT ZONE (1960), CLEOPATRA (1963), FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1989), PINKY AND THE BRAIN (1996), A BUG’S LIFE (1998), and, of course, the PLANET OF THE APES movie series (1968-73). His final performance was as Dr. Trevor in GODZILLA: THE SERIES, as Roddy McDowall sadly passed away shortly after recording the role.
GODZILLA: THE SERIES – MUTANT MADNESS
#132: WHERE IS THY STING?
Writer: William Stout
Director: Frank Squillace
Original FOX Air Date: 2/26/00
At Fort Armstrong, New Mexico, Col. Charles Tarrington has been experimenting with genetic mutations as a weapon for the government. The “First Wave” program has resulted in Ts-eh-GO, a giant scorpion with poisonous claws and a tail that spits out acid, while the “Second Wave” has created an army of dog-sized scorpions. Sensing the new mutations, Godzilla heads to the desert with Major Hicks and HEAT in hot pursuit.
Tarrington wants no interference with his plans, so he arrests HEAT, and accuses Hicks of being too soft on Godzilla. But the colonel must change his tune when Ts-eh-Go and the Second Wave scorpions go on a rampage, and Godzilla becomes the only hope of stopping the monsters. He admits his mistakes to Hicks, then immediately orders the “Third Wave” into production.
Writer William Stout is the author and artist of the acclaimed book The New Dinosaurs. He has also provided production art and storyboards for the films CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982), FIRST BLOOD (1982), CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984), RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and the unmade GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS IN 3-D. Guest voice actor Michael Chiklis is currently the star of the hit FX television series THE SHIELD. He also played Curly Howard in the TV biopic THE THREE STOOGES (2000), Chihiro’s father in the Disney dub of SPIRITED AWAY (2001), and Ben Grimm/the Thing in the movie FANTASTIC FOUR (2005).
#134: THE TWISTER
Writers: Lara Runnels and Patti Carr
Director: Andy Thom
Original FOX Air Date: 2/12/00
An accident at a power plant mutates a small shrew into a giant ravenous beast surrounded by a swirling twister which it uses to devour everything in its path. Dubbed “The Shrewster” by Randy, the beast tears through several oceanfront locations before it is driven off by Godzilla.
HEAT devises a machine to counteract the Shrewster’s wind funnel. They attempt to use it against the monster when it returns and attacks New York City, but Nick is sucked into the twister before the device can be activated. As the Shrewster heads for a crowded reggae concert in Central Park, Nick is able to turn on the machine from inside the swirling chaos. The twister dissipates, revealing the mutated rodent inside, but now Godzilla and Nick must contend with an incredibly fast – and hungry – foe.
One of Devlin and Emmerich’s key marketing points for the film GODZILLA was that their Godzilla could run at speeds up to 200 mph, and this show spun that concept by having the monster face a much faster opponent. The Shrewster makes a return engagement in CASH OF THE TITANS, the final episode of the series.
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Director: Chris Berkeley
Original FOX Air Date: 10/2/99
In Miami, Godzilla, HEAT, and Major Hicks battle Skeetera, a mutated bloodsucking mosquito-like insect who adapts the powers of the creatures she feeds on. As they attempt to contain the creature they are interrupted by the mutation rights fringe group known as S.C.A.L.E. (Servants of Creatures Arriving Late to Earth). Led by the beautiful but fanatical Alexandra Springer, S.C.A.L.E. believes that monsters are the next wave of evolution and should be protected at all costs.
After capturing Skeetera, HEAT agrees to accompany Hicks to Monster Island, a secret government holding area for captive mutations that was established in the wake of the “Monster Wars”. Looking for a story, Audrey and Animal stow away on the trip. But they get a bigger scoop than they were hoping for when S.C.A.L.E. infiltrates the facility and releases Skeetera, Crustaceous Rex, King Cobra, and the Giant Bat. It’s a race against time for HEAT, Hicks, and the military to stop the extremists and regain control of the island while Godzilla uses his own methods to prevent the monsters from escaping to menace the outside world again.
Easily one of the best episodes of GODZILLA: THE SERIES, the show was told entirely through the perspective of cameras. Every shot in the episode is either from Animal’s news camera or the security cams on Monster Island; a great concept that resulted in a very unique show.
Many comic book fans would know writer Scott Lobdell from his work on X-Men and Wildcats. Another recognizable guest would be EXORCIST (1973) star Linda Blair, who provides the the voice of Alexandra Springer for this episode.
S.C.A.L.E. was publicly shown for the first time anywhere as part of a GODZILLA: THE SERIES presentation at G-Fest 1999 in Burbank, CA.
In initial treatments for the episode, Springer’s group was called “Fist of Godzilla”. That moniker was dropped before the final draft of the script was written, but was still mistakenly included in early publicity material for the series and led to the incorrect title being used for the DVD packaging.