Godzilla vs. Biollante Region 2 DVD Review

After a successful revamping of their star attraction in 1984 (or 1985 here in the States), Toho was quick to realize that there was a ton (no pun intended) of life left in the franchise. A direct sequel to the film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, was created in 1989 much to delight of G-fans. The Heisei series is generally dissected amongst G-fans while arguing over Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah's time travel storyline, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla's explosive kaiju battle, and of course the series finale showing the demise of the beast in Godzilla vs. Destroyah, but rarely does anyone thoroughly discuss Biollante.

This is arguably the "lost" film of the series, one that simply never received the massive marketing muscle of its prequel or the large theatrical release. Here in the states, it was quietly brought to home video by HBO in a masterful widescreen print (VHS and laserdisc) and tolerable dubbing, a first for the G-films. Still, the film never really seemed to take off with fans as much as the later films did, but those who enjoy it realize it's enduring qualities.

Godzilla vs. Biollante was the first film to introduce us to Miki Segusa (Megumi Odaka), who would end up in each of the Hesei series films. Her character remains relatively minor in the film with her only major sequence coming when she attempts to stop Godzilla from approaching the mainland. Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) takes over the films first half, mixing his daughters DNA with a rose and Godzilla cells, creating the title creature. Young Colonel Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima) leads the military in their never-ending quest to defeat the beasts in the second half, his age and inexperience adding weight to his already burdened shoulders.

Numerous other actors, some returning to the Godzilla series, including Katsuhiko Sasaki (from Megalon and Terror of Mechagodzilla), weigh down the human drama at times, convoluting the story and confusing viewers. The sheer volume of characters never lets any one of them truly become a part of the story. Gondo's (Toru Minegishi) heroic shot of the ANB into Godzilla's mouth should be a moving moment, but since his character never really gets a chance to build up like it should, his death does not evoke the proper response. Once the giants began their battle however, none of this truly matters, as it seems the story is simply unnecessary until the final act.

Godzilla, revived by a blast from a bomb planted inside his supposed tomb deep within Mount Mihara, explodes from his confines with a fury never before seen in a G-film. His initial entrance is awe-inspiring with lava, fire, smoke, and sparks pouring from the volcano's mouth behind him. His facial features have never been more expressive and the later films actually struggle to catch up with this performance. Animatronics prove they are a viable addition to the suit-a-mation process.

During Godzilla's battle with the navy and newly re-designed Super X-2, it becomes obvious this is not the same Godzilla we have been exposed to. The way in which Godzilla turns his head to follow his latest adversary, shakes while his murderous ray shoots from his mouth, and slams his hand down into the water (infuriated with the reflector on the Super X-2), are just the beginnings of the best performance any actor has pulled off inside the confines of the suit. There are more than just a few moments when you'll actually begin thinking this Godzilla is truly an animal, not just a special effect. Even his tongue has been animated for this feature. Kanpachiro Satsuma's performance is by far the best of the series and has only been matched by the recent GMK.

Making things even more believable is the suit itself. The whites of the eyes are gone, replaced with a yellow-brown hue that simply screams horror. The elongated neck and small head looks to be a throwback to the original suit from 1954, but the body has been weighted down to give G a sense of strength never before put on film. The double rows of teeth inside his mouth are a touch that some may not even notice, but the addition is remarkable, adding the final piece to the perfect Godzilla.

Biollante is an entirely different story. By far the most unique kaiju ever conceived, the mix of a rose and Godzilla DNA doesn't appear very menacing at first, but once agitated, its true violent streak is shown. The tentacles waste no time is clamping down on Godzilla, whether under the lake or above. Biollante's initial form proves to be a nearly worthless adversary to the newly revised Godzilla, and at one point forms a shield with its vines, cowering in fear. Once Godzilla lights up, the battle is over, until Biollante reappears for the final fight.

The second form hardly resembles the first. The towering beast required wires, suit-a-mation, and even wheels to give it life. This is the largest monster Godzilla has ever tackled, and the sheer size and ferociousness of the mutant is unparalleled. Teeth fill the mouth with no space left for anything else. The acid spit blinds Godzilla with one shot and the vines puncture Godzilla's body in numerous places. Even the creature's roar is different; a sound never heard anywhere else but in Toho's universe. When the creature moves, the screen shakes violently and thundering of the ground crushing beneath it's girth is something not even Godzilla himself has ever matched.

The vast majority of the effects are unparalleled, thanks to newcomer Koichi Kowakita. While not new to the world of special effects per se', this was his first foray into the world of Godzilla and thankfully he would stay on board for the remainder of the series. Though Godzilla has increased in scale, the miniatures hardly suffer. During the creature's battle with the Super X-2, there is a unique overhead view of the action, focused on the dead center of the battle. Unless the models are perfect, this type of shot will not work, but here, with the expansive detail, it does.

The Super X-2 resembles its predecessor in almost every way, the major addition being the synthetic diamond "fire mirror" located on the front of the ship. There are no pilots inside this time around, as it is now controlled from a secured location via joystick. Computer graphics make their first appearance in the series with some nifty vector shots that show the placement of troops and Godzilla himself. It does date the film, yet it's a unique moment in the series.

One of the more impressive scenes occurs in the rainstorm (created by the military's latest invention, the "Thunder Control System") with tons of military personal and gunnery. The mazer tanks make another appearance in this direct sequel and the optical effects are flawless here. Godzilla's ray has never looked better when wiping out hundreds of troops, especially when the accompanying explosions are so large. In addition, some of the matte shots, particularly Biollante's first full revealing at Lake Ashino and Miki stopping Godzilla on the heliport, are flawless. This process would only improve in the future additions to the series, but this title was the benchmark.

The final fight between the two kaiju is staged beautifully. Since the major part of the fight is fought between Godzilla and wire operated vines (or tentacles if you prefer), it's stunning to see how well this sequence turned out. In every instance, it actually seems like Godzilla is struggling to fight off the attack. This effort took not only extreme coordination, but dedication as well. This battle is a testament to Toho's usage of the suit technique and that it can still work in a day filled with countless computer FX shots.

Though the famed Akira Ifukube didn't helm this movies soundtrack, a few of his more famous pieces make themselves present. Koichi Sugiyama took over this one and made it his own, for better or worse. The opening gun fight features a near heavy metal remix of one of Ifukube's classic tracks and it will either make you cringe or delve deeper into the action. The original theme for Biollante is very calming, almost dream like at times.

The Super X-2 also gets it's own theme music, but compared to the previous films theme for the first Super X, the only word to describe this track is "generic." You have to get the feeling that the track could have come from any other war film, or worse yet, you'll think you've heard it before. The re-used Ifukube tracks intermix flawlessly with the rest of the soundtrack and provide a nice connecting point to the rest of the series, which would mostly be done by Ifukube himself.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is not a perfect film, but none of the Godzilla films are. Some of the attempted effects simply do not come off like they should and do show that Japan is a few years behind us in the effects department. For instance, during the final battle between the two beasts, a vine from Biollante penetrates Godzilla's hand. This is quite obviously NOT the suit actor's hand, but one created simply for this sequence and was to be edited in without anyone noticing. It didn't work.

Also, when controlling the new Super X-2, the cheap "clicking" sounds of the joystick sound like it was bought at a local Wal-Mart. There are also a few moments when the camera gets a bit to close to the miniatures, making the usage of the technique obvious. Biollante's acid spit is impressive late in the movie, but the addition of the optical animation was unnecessary and seems out of place in the struggle. Biollante's charge on Godzilla is repeated within a matter of minutes using the same exact footage.

The other major issue of the film is the storyline. The first 15-20 minutes of the film are horribly confusing as everyone simply starts shooting with no identification given. Later, the lab is destroyed by a terrorist bomb, but there is no indication of who did the act, which is a necessity since the clash for the Godzilla cells is a major part of the opening moments.

Then, the Super X-2 is brought in with no prior indication that it existed. It almost seems like it was hastily written into the script with the purpose being to connect it with G '84 even more so than it already was. Worse, the same thing happens when the TC field is brought into play, a technology "not yet tested." This is almost an exact replay of the original Super X debate. On a side note, the dubbing brings in a few choice words not exactly appropriate for the younger set and seem unnecessary to the film on most occasions.

The overall effort put into this film to make it as much of a spectacle as the film that preceded it is obvious from the opening moments. The dedication of the suit designers shows with the expressive and downright frightening Godzilla suit, the calm yet moody design of the first stage Biollante, and the ferocity of the final form. This is one of the most stylized Godzilla films of all time, but also one of the best.

Though the script can try to cram too much meaning into itself at times, the overall spectacle more than outweighs the minor story issues. Besides a few minor plot holes, the story does come together after the initial moments and can be followed. You simply need to pay attention. No matter how long this series runs, Godzilla vs. Biollante will always remain the pinnacle of the series up to Final Wars. (***** out of *****)

This region 2 disc is of course the best way to view the film, assuming you know Japanese. There are no subtitles and Japanese language is the only option. The video, when compared with the US laserdisc, is an improvement. Disappointingly, it's not much of one. The video is oddly cloudy and out of focus, while the backgrounds feature aggravating noise. Small details are impossible to pick out. The print is still in fantastic shape, and there are very few moments where you'll be able to see any flaws. Shame the same can't be said for the transfer. (**)

As with most of Toho's DVDs, the film features a newly mixed 5.1 track, alongside the original stereo. Listening to other films in this same series only makes this remix as disappointing as the video. There's nothing going on in the rear speakers, even when bullets and missiles litter the screens. Bass sounds forced and unnatural. The soundtrack will occasionally find its way into the rear speakers, and that's the only work they'll get. (**)

There's a reason people pay exuberant amounts of money for these import DVDs: The extras. Biollante comes with plenty of information (even more if you speak the language) and some fascinating behind the scenes footage. The 48-minute documentary covers everything during the production, even pointing out mistakes left in. There are deleted scenes (including a truly beautiful one as Biollante's death covers a field in flowers, which were out of proportion explaining the cut), and a stop motion animatic test for the tentacle attack. You see miniature work, suit work, pyrotechnics, and the actors. It's worth the price alone, regardless of the language barrier.

Model design showcases both finished and pre-visualization mock-ups. A narrator discusses the pieces as the camera provides every view possible. One of the Biollante designs is interesting, putting the beast on four legs. A trailer collection includes the teaser which showcases some slightly colorized footage of the original Godzilla. Poster and lobby card galleries round things off. (****)

This film was one that started a trend, at least somewhat. Besides the dubbing, there's no Americanization included anywhere. The film is intact in US prints, and in widescreen. It would take a little while longer before became standard, but at least Biollante was the first. They couldn't have picked a better Godzilla film.

*Note: If my review of the film sounds familiar, that's because it appeared in G-Fan a few years back. No better time like the present to ressurect it. If not, you're reading it for the first time along with the all-new DVD review itself.

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