Monday, December 24, 2012

Godzilla vs Biollante (1989) Review

A surprising release on Blu-ray shows off the most experimental Godzilla film ever made in all its odd glory.Over the years, the radioactive goliath has fought and conquered other mutants, dinosaurs, giant insects, alien monsters, giant robots, and even King Kong. But nothing can prepare even an unstoppable force of destruction for the dangerous power of a giant rose bush. No, I’m not kidding.

Godzilla vs Biollante Title

Serious kaiju fans and kids of the 1970s will recall a dark period with no Godzilla movies coming out. This was horrifying to those of us who enjoy a good city trampling and so it was a big deal when Godzilla 1985 (or Return of Godzilla outside of North America) arrived in theaters. It did not do remotely as well as expected in the U.S.A., so the next film in the series had some trouble getting released here. It didn’t help it bombed in Japan, but it did truly begin the Heisei era of Godzilla.

That movie was Godzilla vs Biollante and it may be the closest thing to an art house movie in the long cinema career of the monster. Words are insufficient to describe how weird this movie is, even for a kaiju flick. Still, I am going to try my best.

Godzilla vs Biollante MercenariesGodzilla vs Biollante Dr Shiragami and Erika

Right off the bat, the movie crams a dense amount of information before the credits stop rolling. It starts with the oh so 1980s high tech computer text describing different levels of Godzilla alerts which are somewhat along the lines of severe weather bulletins. Next, a montage shows a condensed version of the events of the previous film which ended with Godzilla imprisoned in a volcano. When this and the credits end, we get to see a very blond and Anglo reporter covering the devastation in Tokyo. She’s also speaking in English with very large Japanese subtitles on screen.

Amidst the wreckage, a group of men in military gear and protection suits are looking for Godzilla cells. Why? It will get explained by the copious exposition in the movie. The big surprise is that they are all Americans speaking English and I had to pause playback for a moment to see if I had enabled the correct audio track. Yep, it was the Japanese one and I was still waiting to hear any Japanese.

They find what they are looking for and are found in turn by Japanese soldiers, who rightfully wonder just what they are doing there. Did I mention the Americans all look like Ken dolls? It looks like they hired male models since they are completely unconvincing as murderous mercenaries with itchy trigger fingers. Grimacing and firing their machine guns from the hip, they mow the hapless soldiers down with impudent ease. It is so very ‘80s.

So I did enjoy it when a mysterious Middle Eastern type offs them without warning and steals the Godzilla cells. Be warned, the script is so filled with the words “Godzilla cells” that anyone playing a drinking game involving them will end up in the hospital. Seriously, don’t drink and watch this movie.

The film has hardly begun and I’m already losing sanity points despite being a nondrinker.

An abrupt change of settings takes us to the land of Saradia, a fictional oil rich country in the desert. This is where the Godzilla cells have ended up to be put into the hands of a Japanes researcher, Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takashima). He’s there with his assistant and daughter, Erika (Yasuko Sawaguchi) to kick start genetic based biotechnology in the country. You find this out through a painful conversation all in poor English. It is a strange decision by the film makers, as if they didn’t want you to think it is a Japanese film.

Godzilla vs Biollante Erika's DeathGodzilla vs Biollante Miki and Rose Bush

An explosion mercifully interrupts the exposition, but not so mercifully kills Erika. A sudden change in setting happens again without any warning. It is now five years later and a young woman is staring intently at a rose bush in Japan. So far, this may be the most normal scene in the movie.

Well, that is until she complains that the bush won’t talk to her.Her name is Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) and she happens to be a 17 year old psychic brought there by Asuka Okouchi (Yoshika Tanaka) at the request of Dr. Shiragami. He doesn’t explain why he wants her talking to the plant, but does say he has abandoned his daughter’s dream of transforming deserts into green pastures.

Godzilla vs Biollante American SpyGodzilla vs Biollante Saradian Assassin

So far the film has been something of a techno thriller and this is reinforced by a spy vs spy reveal. American agents are pulling surveillance duty on the doctor and in turn they are being watched by the nattily dressed assassin from five years ago. The Americans are crude and cocky – no stereotype there, right?

Godzilla vs Biollante Kirishima and AsukaGodzilla vs Biollante Children's Drawings

Another sudden shift to Tokyo and yet another character is introduced, Kazuhito Kirishima (Kunihiko Mitamura). He’s another genetic researcher and also Asuka’s boyfriend, though they are having some issues. It mainly has to do with her wealthy father who happens to be their employer. Ethical issues over biotech research is the conflict with the morality of creating chimeras at the core.

It was at this point I realized they were going for a deadly serious film and weren’t aiming at children like the 1970s Godzilla films. Deadly serious with this script is the kind of thing that simply should not be done. But they went there…

The volcano where the big lizard is trapped begins to show some seismic activity, which of course concerns the government. In addition to that, children at the Japan Psyonics Center have all been having dreams about one thing. So has Miki. I’ll give you a clue. The dreams are about a character who is supposed to be the star of the movie, but has yet to have a scene.

Godzilla vs Biollante Dr ShiragamiGodzilla vs Biollante Stealing Research

Another major character makes his debut and is one of two to represent the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) and their special division to handle Godzilla. Colonel Goro Gondo is new to the job and has to be brought up to date on all the weapons at his disposal. They range from a high tech flying drone called Super-X 2 to a mysterious project to develop Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria.  It’s capitalized and shown on a computer screen, so you know it is important.

Now who would be the foremost expert on creating something like that? Yep, it is time to start tying some of the plot lines together. Dr. Shiragami refuses to help though. The trauma of his daughter’s death has soured him on all genetic research, especially the kind that uses Godzilla cells. It turns out Asuka’s father has some stored away for the government. How convenient.

An eruption of the volcano housing Godzilla causes consternation and earthquakes. The latter hits Shiragami’s house and knocks over the rose bush in the greenhouse there. Badly damaged, its plight upsets the doctor far too much and he vows that he will save Erika. Okay… that’s a little creepy. He’s clearly gone off the deep end.

Just in time too. Now he’s willing to help with the bacteria as long as he gets to have possession of the Godzilla cells (stop drinking, please) for a week. Also involved is Kirishima, who has delayed plans to move to America in order to work on the project. Man, this feels like a soap opera there are so many characters with unlikely connections.

Given all sorts of goodies to work with, what is a mad scientist supposed to do? Work on the bacteria that could kill Godzilla once and for all? No! He’s fusing rose cells with Godzilla cells instead, because that’s a brilliant idea. Nothing bad could come of that, right?The thunder and lightning in the background is an obvious homage to Frankenstein, so we all know better.

This all sets up a return of the ugly Americans to commit burglary and make sure the token black suffers the fate of all tokens in horror films. Did I say horror film? Yes, the spy vs. spy techno thriller now changes gears and turns into a horror movie complete with slimy green tentacles. The dapper assassin returns to cause trouble too and has an amazing ability to show up out of nowhere.  He’s a living plot device.

Godzilla vs Biollante Biollante in the BayGodzilla vs Biollante Mutant Rose

Some of the mad scientist’s motives are soon revealed because his rose bush hybrid has escaped. Apparently it can move on its own as a cartoon like hole in the wall shows. All sorts of things start happening, as if the movie hadn’t been busy enough already. These things include terrorist threats, psychic premonitions, politicians, and sight seers.

The last show up to take photos of the huge apparition that shows up overnight in a bay. A skyscraper sized plant with a gigantic rose bud on top dominates the area and I have to admit it is a nice piece of compositing effects work.

Still, it’s a giant rose. That sounds like a humpback whale. It also is a combination of Erika’s cells as well as the rose and Godzilla cells, which means her spirit is in the abomination. Yeah, Dr. Shiragami really is a mad scientist with an emphasis on the crazy. He dubs the plant Biollante after a Norse plant spirit.

For those curious, it has been said to be a corrupted translation of Violan, a Norse nymph, but I can’t find any evidence of that name either. I believe it was all made up by the script writer, personally.

I can’t believe I actually researched that. There go a few more sanity points.

Godzilla vs Biollante Colonel Gondo CountdownGodzilla vs Biollante Freed from Volcano

More spy vs. spy antics turn into government vs. spy vs. spy. I should clarify that the spies are not agents of foreign powers, but of foreign corporations. Oddly, Kirishima and Gondo are paired up for the field operations. The military guy makes sense, but the scientist dweeb can’t be plausibly assigned to situations where bullets fly.

Am I arguing that something isn’t realistic in a Godzilla movie? I’ve lost more sanity points than I thought.

Anyway,the big ‘G’ still hasn’t shown up. A ransom demand leads to more action movie stunts and a timer counting down on a bomb. Of course it will be defused just before it counts down to zero.

Err, that didn’t go too well, did it?

Now the Godzilla cells are gone and so are the hopes to make the bacteria. Not that it matters, Godzilla still hasn’t shown up. Oh wait, there he is striding in like a pro wrestler toward the ring – complete with fireworks. Finally freed it is time for some proper kaiju destruction of life and property.

Godzilla vs Biollante Super-X 2 ArrivesGodzilla vs Biollante Super-X 2 Attacks

The puny humans aren’t going to roll over, however. After a couple of destroyers engage Godzilla in a fairly impressive battle scene, the new drone Super-X 2 is sent on its first combat mission to stop the beast. Where the original Super-X had lasers and wasn’t very effective, the new one has a synthetic diamond mirror!

Why are you looking at me like that? I promise it is more impressive than it sounds. And looks.

The Super-X 2 is not an attractive piece of hardware. It vaguely looks like a flying sea cucumber with a conning tower. Looking at Godzilla’s expression, he’s not impressed with its appearance either. When the drone fails to stop Godzilla, it is used to follow him underwater since it is a submarine too.

It’s alright, I didn’t need those sanity points anyway. Who needs logic?

By the way, yet another character has joined the story, an officer named Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima). He’s young, but in charge of the combat effort against Godzilla. He’s also unflappable and the epitome of stoic. That’s a little redundant, but so is his character. We already have Gondo after all.

Godzilla vs Biollante Ugly BlossomGodzilla vs Biollante Watching the Battle

While the humans try to plan for the inevitable carnage to come, Biollante senses Godzilla’s approach according to Miki and Asuka. The mutant rose isn’t looking too pretty and has developed a serious dental problem since we last saw her. An attitude problem has come with the uglier appearance, with the plant sending tendrils out to smash things and menace humans nearby. She seems to dislike reporters especially. I can’t say I blame her.

Godzilla senses Biollante as well, homing in on their shared cells, apparently. He enters the bay only to have her attack him with tentacle like tendrils, some of which have mouths on their ends. Still the battle is between a stationary plant and a moving animal, which is not a recipe for excitement.

Godzilla vs Biollante Breath of DoomGodzilla vs Biollante Burning Bush

The battle is completely lopsided since one of the monsters came packing a radioactive heat ray for breath and the other… umm, tentacles. Soon the mutant rose goes up in flames which turn into a golden spores that head into the sky. It’s a pretty visual and one that leads Shiragami to oddly conclude that Biollante is immortal.

She looked pretty mortal to me, but I’d lost a lot of sanity points by this point. Though, come to think of it she did look like a flower child Cthulhu. Hippie Cthulhu? Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it.

Godzilla vs Biollante Destroyers and Super-X 2Godzilla vs Biollante Miki Faces Godzilla

With Biollante dispatched easily, it’s time for Godzilla to go do what he does best, which is destroy Japanese cities. He’s going to need a snack (nuclear reactors preferred), so the Japanese government has an idea of where he might head. A hastily repaired Super-X 2 deploys with the navy, scientists scramble to create the Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria with Godzilla cells, and a teenage girl with ESP decides to take on the bane of Japan by herself.

Can Godzilla be stopped? What really happened to Biollante? Will I get my sanity back if I finish the movie? All those questions will be answered in the final act.

Thoughts

Forget Biollante, the movie itself can be called a chimera being a mix of different genres thrown together to create one very weird movie instead of a monster. Techno thriller, spy, action, war, horror, science fiction, and melodrama genres are all thrown into the mix. I’m also fairly sure there is a kitchen sink in there somewhere that I failed to see.

The end result is a wildly uneven movie that is more like an experimental indie film, albeit one with a large budget. There is actually a reason for this: the movie was something of an experiment. In an effort to establish a new direction for the revived Godzilla franchise, Toho allowed the director Kazuki Ohmori more leeway to try new things out. Everything from new effects to a radical concept for Godzilla’s opponent were tried out to make an edgier and less silly movie.

In fact, a lot of footage was filmed that never made it into the movie and I’ll be covering some of that in the extras and spoilers sections below this. Some of it worked, some did not, and some was simply very strange. No matter what your view of the end result is, you will not forget what you just watched and I have to say it is a truly unique film.

You may have noticed that I haven’t used the word good to describe it. In my opinion, it is not a good movie and not even a good Godzilla movie. Yet, I am strangely fond of it mainly because it took some risks. Godzilla vs Biollante could even be considered daring for trying to move it away from the children’s films the franchise had become.

It was not a success domestically or abroad, so it is unusual that Miramax imported the film in 1992. It landed with a thud here and the rest of the Heisei series languished for years before finding any kind of video release in the States. It wouldn’t be until the millennial series hit DVDs in 2004 that we got any more from the period.

The soundtrack is not terribly memorable, other than the main orchestral Biollante theme which is okay. Be warned, there is a lot of cheesy 1980s pseudo rock/pop guitar noodling laced throughout the film. I do not miss that in movies, I must say.

The movie is rated PG “for traditional Godzilla violence” which may be the most awesome rating explanation I’ve ever seen for a film. There is more to the rating, however. Mild profanity is peppered throughout the film and always in English. It has that late ‘80s early ‘90s EXTREME!!!! attitude in places that can be very annoying.

I recommend Godzilla vs Biollante to Godzilla and kaiju diehards only. Kids may become bored with the very slow build up and immense amounts of exposition.

Technical

Echo Bridge Home Entertainment is a producer of mainly low end movies on DVD and Blu-ray, but awhile back they acquired the Miramax library of films. Fortunately for Godzilla fans in North America, this included Godzilla vs Biollante. Even better, I can happily report the Blu-ray release is a very good one. I particularly liked the menu design.

The picture quality is very good considering the age of the source material, but the contrast could be better. Colors are generally very good and any dullness has more to do with how the film was shot rather than how the disc was mastered. It is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and looks great on a 1080p HDTV.

Audio is superb for the original Japanese track, which is available in both DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS 2.0. The Honk Kong made English dub is Dolby Digital Mono and is not nearly as nice in quality or accuracy to the story.

Subtitles are available in three different flavors of English. The first is taken from the dub script, the second is a new translation from the original dialogue, and the third is English SDH from the dub script. There are big differences between the dub script translations and the newly commissioned subs. I highly recommend the new translations which make a lot more sense without the dumbing down of the dub.

Special Features are a whopping two, but they are good ones:

Godzilla vs Biollante Toho Water TankGodzilla vs Biollante Stop Motion Test

Making of Godzilla vs Biollante – This 49 minute Japanese documentary goes behind the scenes of the production from the genesis of the project through the filming. New ideas for effects are shown extensively including such simple things as using light reflectors to make the scale waves look more realistic. Test footage of a stop motion animation test is particularly fascinating, since this was a technology considered and rejected for the first film, Gojira. Once again, it was rejected.

Godzilla vs Biollante PuppetGodzilla vs Biollante Osaka Model Set

The practical side of effects for these movies is always interesting to see. One of the things I appreciated about the suit design was how expressive the face was in close ups. This was accomplished using a sophisticated puppet run by several men. For the city, the sets were built to a specific scale of 1/50th which is a scale that once was used for model airplane kits in Japan and Europe.

Also in the documentary are scenes that were cut out of the final movie and I’ll discuss them in the spoilers section.

Godzilla vs Biollante Concept Model 01Godzilla vs Biollante Concept Model 02

Behind the Design – This three minute short showcases the concept designs for Biollante and Super-X 2 rendered in sculpture. As strange as the plant creature ended up being, I think the best design won out.

BEWARE! HERE BE SPOILERS!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Godzilla vs Biollante Attack on Osaka

After watching Miki try to take on Godzilla with her psychic powers we are told she expended as much power on him as he normally does in an attack. But it doesn’t do anything but make him blink and give a baffled roar, so I’m not impressed. Especially since it doesn’t deter him from striding into Osaka.The set is pretty, but the rampage is not one of the better ones.

Godzilla vs Biollante Gondo in TroubleGodzilla vs Biollante End of Gondo

Gondo is quite the character and easily the most likeable in the story. So it was sad to see him go down so easily. His big mistake? Firing off an action hero line after shooting a bazooka down Godzilla’s throat. The scene also shows off the mixed bag that the Osaka set was. The exteriors looked too clean and fake, but the debris looked convincing during the destruction of the tower the soldier was in.

Godzilla vs Biollante Military BuildupGodzilla vs Biollante Laser Cannons Fire

What would a Godzilla film be without the tanks rolling out for yet another futile battle? It makes you wonder how many soldiers start writing their wills when they are assigned to armor. The laser tanks usually fare about as well, but at least they seem to annoy the monster with their attacks.

Godzilla vs Biollante AH-1 Attack Helicopter

Being a scale model builder, the model work always interests me. I thought the AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters were a little disappointing. This was made worse by the cuts back and forth with the real thing.

Godzilla vs Biollante Gold Spores Rain DownGodzilla vs Biollante Biollante Evolved

Biollante’s return from the clouds didn’t make a whole lot of even pseudo scientific sense, but it does when the spiritual component hinted at is considered. Having “evolved” into a more animal looking creature, the plant/Godzilla/human hybrid is uglier than ever. Not to mention a whole lot bigger.

Godzilla vs Biollante New Ability

I don’t recall seeing Godzilla exhibit this new power before or after. Somehow the big galoot channels his energy through his skin and fries the tendrils wrapped around him. It happens quickly and isn’t dwelt on for long. Another experiment in concepts, I suppose.

Godzilla vs Biollante Final Battle

There are some really nice looking shots in the movie and this is one of them. The compositing is well executed and adds a human dimension to the final fight.

Godzilla vs Biollante Acid VomitGodzilla vs Biollante Big Bite

The acid vomit thing Biollante does is supposed to mirror Godzilla’s fiery breath, but it just comes off as disgusting to me. It does make the plant a little snakelike, though. Her attempt to bite the lizard leads to a predictable reaction of point blank blasting. I think we have definitive proof that animals are smarter than plants here.

Godzilla vs Biollante Collapse

The bacteria finally taking effect on ‘G’ was kind of amusing, if you ask me. Falling face down in the water has to be one of the most embarrassing scenes for Godzilla in his entire film history. Not quite up there with flying by using his breath, but pretty close.

Godzilla vs Biollante Return to SporesGodzilla vs Biollante Erika's Spirit

In a film full of “what the?!” moments, the supreme one has to be the victorious Biollante turning back into golden spores and revealing Erika’s face. She really was Dr. Shiragami’s daughter the entire time in a bizarre bioengineered reincarnation.

Godzilla vs Biollante Shirigami Shot

What was supposed to be a warm, sentimental moment ends abruptly when Shiragami is shot dead seconds after seeing his daughter rise into the sky. I think it was supposed to be highly dramatic, but it was hysterically funny instead. Following it with a car chase and fight made it even more ridiculous. That unnamed assassin certainly made his presence felt every time he showed up.

Godzilla vs Biollante Kuroki Ends Things

Kuroki, this screen capture is to make up for not using any others with you in it. At least we know when someone is needed to push a button to kill an unkillable bad guy, you will be there.

Godzilla vs Biollante Rose in Orbit

So during the end credits after multiple endings almost as bad as The Return of the King, Biollante is revealed to be in orbit in the form of a giant rose blossom. By the end, I was insane enough to think that this made perfect sense.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Biollante Osaka wgah'nagl fhtagn.

Now some comments on the scenes that didn’t make the final cut.

Godzilla vs Biollante Cut Scene Boat

The soldiers going out to approach Biollante and getting killed was an interesting idea, but poorly executed. I imagine it looked good on paper and in the storyboards. However, the footage wasn’t convincing looking at all.

Godzilla vs Biollante Cut Scene Blossoms

After the first fight with Biollante ended, some of the spores would have fallen on the hills surrounding the bay and giant rose blossoms would have sprung up. This was actually filmed and scored. In a strange film, this would have been even strangers, so it was cut. There is something lovely and haunting about the scene that almost makes me wish it had been left in. It would have foreshadowed Erika really being in Biollante a bit more.

Godzilla vs Biollante Cut Scene Super-X 2 Damage

The damaged Super-X 2 repair scene was originally longer and showed how badly damaged the drone was from the first fight. While interesting to look at, it really didn’t add anything to the story.

Godzilla vs Biollante Cut Scene Anime Ending

Originally, the director wanted to use an anime/life action hybrid scene for the finale of the movie. It was even more surreal than what was used and the feeling was the finished product didn’t fit with the rest of the movie. No kidding, it would have been incredibly jarring. This illustrates just how much they were experimenting with the movie.

2 comments:

Hanny said...

Would Godzilla's last words be, "Rosebud," if the rose bush won? (Sorry for the pun.)

Patrick Boone said...

I was so tempted to go there myself so no apologies needed. It fits one scene way too perfectly.

Now the temptation to link a Godzilla flick to Citizen Kane is almost overwhelming...