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DVD Review: Godzilla vs. Megalon

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Godzilla vs. Megalon isn’t totally incompetent. After the underground kingdom of Seatopoia (headed by Robert Dunham in a killer toga) sends their 150-foot tall robot beetle to the surface, it attacks a dam. Megalon stands proud in regards to his upcoming destruction, then barrels though the center of the structure in a miniature effect that even makes the water convincing. That’s tough.

The rest? Total incompetence. It’s not one of those films you can throw squarely in the lap of the filmmakers, sort of a skeleton crew from the heyday of Godzilla offerings back in the ’60s. Gone were most of the background leaders, leaving director Jun Fukuda to take the blame despite Toho’s shrinking budgets.

Also lost was Haruo Nakajima, retiring from his role inside the Godzilla suit, replaced with an unknown in Shinji Takagi. Any essence of the original monster had long since been removed, turned into a doughy-eyed beast that romps playfully into battle. Maybe Godzilla considers these his weekend excursions, but Takagi doesn’t even try to emote from the confines of the suit. He even walks casually across the miniature stage, arms down at his side, almost giving up.

Toho was near their breaking point too, having only a few more greenlit sequels after Megalon (before a mid-’80s revival), which showed some signs of trying. Megalon was little more than a marketing effort, situating a towering humanoid robot fit for parody alongside Godzilla in a tag-team environment. The colorful Jet Jaguar is inconceivably stupid, included for its ability to change the rules on the fly and make it easier on the script-writing team in a rushed time frame. After all, Ultraman-obsessed kids would flock to the theater anyway.

For all of the mayhem – which is mostly stock footage from previous monster epics – Megalon still thinks it can carry a message against nuclear weapons, even though that train had left the station. Seatopia is a picky nation when the surface dwellers take their pot shots, and despite being at war with an entire civilization, the outcome comes down to two brothers plus their… nephew? It’s never explained.

Jinkawa (Yutaka Hayashi) is billed as a race-car driver, a mere excuse to create a time-killing chase sequence, undoubtedly cheaper than more visual effects. Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) is the inventor of Jet Jaguar, living in a home that screams the future with video cameras and computerized mechanisms, yet still looks an awful lot like a mid-’70s loft.

Despite the nonsense, including Godzilla’s infamous leaping kick that sees him floating over the ground on his tail, Megalon is deliriously enjoyable. It’s a black spot on every Godzilla fan’s heart, yet a must for any purveyor of low-rent cinema. And, to jump into defense mode for a second, it’s a crying shame Megalon would shape America’s opinion of these wild Japanese fantasy films. They truly were the comic book movies of their day, at least the good ones, and colorful entertainment… except for this one.

Megalon’s U.S. history has never been positive. Cruddy VHS copies lined bargain bins from one-off public-domain companies, and it continued even into the DVD era until Toho finally locked down ownership. Media Blasters becomes the first to treat the film right, not only by issuing it on something other than a faded, multi-generational 16mm print, but in widescreen and uncut. That means a bit of nudity inside a truck cabin, and some bloodshed during a human brawl.

What it boils down to though is a genuinely beautiful effort with minimal source damage and solid compression. Aside from the opening credits which are backed by escaping steam, MPEG-2 artifacts are free from the image. Video is stable without judder, and even the stock footage which can be a few generations behind the (then) freshly shot material exhibits few problems.

Colors have been given a makeover they’ve needed for decades, and without making the film appear overly saturated. There’s a slight fade that looks conducive to the age of the feature. After Destroy All Monsters, Media Blasters has also taken note of the black levels. While still far from perfection, they’re denser, deeper, and more satisfying.

Quirks? Yes, and a major one. Most edits come with a glaring flub towards the bottom of the frame. If you’re unable to spot it during general dialogue scenes, skip to the sequence where Megalon puts Jet Jaguar into a spin. Editing becomes frenzied, and almost every cut comes with a black line that sprouts up for one frame. It’s cable-esque in nature, similar to the caption buzz that can occasionally be visible during broadcasts. Media Blasters is (was?) planning a Blu-ray eventually, and hopefully this isn’t part of the master, just a flub of the DVD pressings.

Audio options are a trio on the disc, beginning with a familiar English dub in two channel mono. Original Japanese is given the mono treatment too, as well as a 5.1 mix, which is what we’re dealing with in this text.

Megalon opens with a spacious, wide score that splits the stereos and moves into the surrounds. Fidelity is clean and precise with little age layered on the top. Dialogue is precise as well, with a bit of patina that indicates natural degradation and minimal clean-up.

The complaints only stem from the 5.1 work, so it’s best to stick with the mono choice. Sound effects tend to blur together as they exit the center channel, not so much adding directionality as they are noise. Explosions have no specific location in the mix. They just exist in each channel all at once. Action becomes jumbled and chaotic, honestly annoying to hear. The only genuine improvement is some low-end activity, bass sprouting up as islands collapse, dams fall, or Godzilla throws a punch.

Media Blasters found themselves in a legal rumble with Toho over bonus features contained on their Destroy All Monsters release. Despite having materials for Megalon, those circumstances led to a bare-bones release, with the potential of a new edition should that battle ever see closure.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.