Dragon Wars – Hollywood Premiere

An evil serpent destroys the U.S. Bank building - the tallest in Los Angeles

Thanks to the American Cinematheque and Freestyle releasing, Hollywood horror fans got a sneak peak at DRAGON WARS, the Korean produced fantasy film opening Friday. A premiere was held at the venerable Egyptian Theatre, home of the Cinematheque, with many of the cast and crew in attendance: writer-director Hyung-rae Shim and actors Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, and Robert Forster.
Outside the theatre, the courtyard was filled with paparazzi snapping photos and shooting video of the celebrities, posed in front of a wall of poster art from the Korean-produced film. The usual casual attire seen at Cinematheque screenings was replaced by sleek, black suits and swanky dresses, creating the aura of a genuine event – the people behind this film really seem to think it will do some business.
Inside, Keith Aiken (of scifijapan.com) briefly introduced the film. Two representatives from Freestyle Releasing, the film’s American distributor, made some comments, filling in details about how D-WAR (as it’s known in its native land) managed to earn a wide release stateside. The gist of the tale is that, after the release of THE HOST (which did okay on the art house circuit but did not break out to wide circulation), someone brought a DVD of D-WAR to Freestyle, hoping for a 1,000-theatre opening. Initial skepticism on the part of Freestyle gave way after viewing a sample of the spectacular effects scenes, but what really sold the company was when D-WAR’s debut in Korea earned $20.5-million worth of tickets in its first five days, going on to tally over eight million tickets sold – enough to indicate that the film had the makings of a blockbuster. Consequently, the proposed 1,000 theatre release was expanded to over 2,000.
After the prefatory remarks, DRAGON WARS unspooled for the enthusiastic audience. Without getting into a full-length review here, it became apparent all too soon that the most compelling story about DRAGON WARS is the behind-the-scenes tale of how the Korean film managed to secure a wide release in the U.S. It’s unusual for a foreign production to receive this treatment, but DRAGON WARS is not your typical art house effort. Shot largely in Los Angeles, with English-speaking actors, the film seems deliberately designed to avoid the fate of most foreign hits (e.g., RING, JU-ON): that is, having the remake rights sold while the original is shunted off to video. DRAGON WARS is obviously intended as an American-style blockbuster; unfortunately, the film suffers from the flaws that mar American spectacles: the story is weak when it’s not outright silly; there is little if any attention lavished on the characters and performances; and all the real imagination seems to have been devoted to the special effects.

The good news is that, despite the dramatic weaknesses and gaping plot holes (no doubt due to removing fifteen minutes to speed up the pace of the U.S. cut), DRAGON WARS works because it delivers spectacular monster action. The special effects set pieces are brilliantly conceived and executed; it not utterly convincing, they are less cartoony than similar footage in many American films, and there is an impressive attempt at using light and shadow to make the beast seem truly like a part of the environment.
The audience ate it up, delivering ringing rounds of applause, and actor Robert Forster, who was sitting across the aisle from me, expressed his enthusiastic endorsement. (Despite his short screen-time and a conflict with a current acting gig, he had made a special effort to attend the screening.)
At the reception afterwards, most of the comments were positive, although the flaws did not go unnoticed. The general consensus was that DRAGON WARS is front-loaded with complex exposition that might not be clear to American viewers, and some of the big dramatic moments might have more resonance with Korean viewers (as when a mystical talisman, at a crucial moment, comes to life with a powerful, glowing burst of energy that saves the hero). I eagerly championed this theory, based on the evidence of two Korean gentlemen who had been sitting beside me during the screening: they had gasped in awe-struck simultaneous whispers recognition at each such juncture as we were describing: “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I remembered feeling vaguely jealous that they were obviously getting more of the film than I was.
Of course, premiere audience reactions, with the filmmakers – and their friends and family – in attendance, can be misleading. It will be interesting to see how DRAGON WARS goes down with a general audience, but it does have the potential to be a sleeper hit with audiences eager for more TRANSFORMERS-type battle action in the streets of a major city. And we all know that the rest of the country – jealous of Los Angeles because we have the film industry, good weather, beaches filled with beautiful women – are probably eager to see the town destroyed by rampaging reptiles.

Seeking the next fantasy blockbuster

Hollywood Reporter’s Martin A. Grove has an interview with John Hodge (TRAINSPOTTING), the screenwriter of the upcoming THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING. Based on a series of books by Susan Cooper, the film hopes to launch the next family-friendly fantasy film franchise, in the manner of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and HARRY POTTER. The film version stars Ian McShane, Frances Control, Christopher Eccleston, and Alexander Ludwig as the young central character- the Seeker of the title, who discovers he has secret powers that enable him to battle the forces of darkness. According to the interview:

Writing a fantasy genre script was something new for Hodge: “There are some fantastical elements to ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ (his 1997 romantic crime comedy directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz and Holly Hunter), but not to the same extent as with this film. For me the challenge was liberating myself from the notion of constraints because most of the time you’re writing scripts thinking you should have one eye on the production and practicalities of it, but when you’re into fantasy to a certain extent you have to let that go. If something is too expensive in the end, the producers come back and say, ‘We can’t do that. That’s too big scale. Just bring it back a little bit.’ But on the other hand, no one’s going to give you a reward for writing something (really unchallenging). In this kind of genre and this market you have to move beyond interiors and low budget exteriors, you know what I mean? You’ve just got to say, ‘Right. Imagine anything can happen. What can happen?’

What Dreams May Come (1998) – Film Review

[NOTE: WHAT DREAMS MAY COME comes out on HD DVD today, so we are posting this review, which first appeared in Cinefantastique when the film was released in 1998. The review has been slightly updated with the benefit of hindsight.]
Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Comeis such a wonderful novel that one approaches the filmization with a combination of anticipation and dread: anticipation, because there is great potential for an excellent film; dread, because there is so much room for disappointment.For the first fifteen minutes, dread outweighs anticipation. Whereas Matheson got to the main point of his story (killing off protagonist Chris Nielsen and placing him in the afterlife) on the first page, the screenplay by Saul Bass begins with a scene of Chris (Robin Williams) and his future wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) meeting on vacation, followed by the death of not Chris but of his children; only after several scenes of the grieving couple getting their life back together does Chris finally step over to the other side, thanks to a terrifyingly staged automobile accident. Continue reading “What Dreams May Come (1998) – Film Review”

Sense of Wonder: Genre films keep movie-going alive!

Spider-Man 3 smashed its way to the top of the box officeI’m a little bit old school when it comes to enjoying genre movies: I believe they deserve to be seen on the big screen, where the special visual and sound effects can really blast your senses into another dimension. Yes, I own a big screen TV and a DVD player (and even a laserdisc player for those titles not yet available on DVD), and my computer is set up to download movies from Netflix. Yet, when push comes to shove, I want to go to the theatre to see a film, even if it’s not a great one.
Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see this column by Peter Part in Variety: “Spree of threes defies doomsayers.” The gist of Bart’s piece is that, two years ago, doomsayers were predicting the death of theatre movie-going, thanks to the disappointing box office results of Summer 2005; however, this year sees ticket sales up 10%, with eleven films earning over $100-million and four passing the $300-million mark. Continue reading “Sense of Wonder: Genre films keep movie-going alive!”

The Other Side is the El Mariachi of horror – Film Review

The Ferry Boatman who transports souls to the Afterlife. 

This action-packed horror-thriller combines elements from THE TERMINATOR, THE HIDDEN, and even SUPERMAN II, placing them in a supernatural context and wrapping them up in an intricate plot that weaves together a murder-mystery with a touching love story. Writer-director Gregg Bishop’s action-packed opus – about souls that escape from hell and are tracked down by almost unkillable “Reapers” intent on bringing them back – may be the EL MARIACHI of horror films: a low-budget calling card intended to open doors to Hollywood, allowing for a big-budget sequel-remake down the road.

With its seemingly non-stop action and supernatural thrills, THE OTHER SIDE certainly delivers the goods that will please audiences looking for a rip-roaring good time, but more impressively, the film also tells a complex story without ever dragging the pace to a standstill. The movie begins with Samuel North (Nathan Mobley) returning on a break from college to reuinite with his girlfriend back home. The reunion never takes place, because Sam is murdered, his soul landing in Nether World just long enough to be dragged along on the after-life version of a prison break: he returns from the dead along with a batch of other souls escaping from Hell. With the help of his new comrades, Sam sets out to unravel the mystery of his death, but there’s a big complication: Reapers – a trio of undead hunters whose job is to recapture the souls that belong in Hell.

There is another mystery lurking on the edges of the narrative: Why did Sam, who seems like a nice guy, wind up in Hell when he died? And if Sam truly belongs among the damned, how can the film resolve the love story between him and his girlfriend? Amazingly, instead of glossing over these nagging questions in favor of emphasizing only the action, Bishop’s script addresses them all in turn, tying them together into a tight conclusion that wraps everything up satisfactorily, while still leaving plenty of room for a sequel. In fact, the screenplay is practically a model of efficient story construction; it almost seems designed to prove that gunplay, firepower, and special effects need not be synonymous with brain-dead psuedo-entertainment.
Of course, many a good script and floundered on the shoals of a low budget; fortunately, that is not the case here. The stunning action, stunts, and make-up effects totally belie the financial restrictions of this independently produced film (which was shot in Georgia). But even more impressive is the way the flashy camera work serves the story, deftly juggling the many plot elements without ever dropping the ball.
Bishop pulls off several nice visual touches, not all of them featuring action set pieces. In a nice, sly shot, one of the dangerous Reapers lurks in front of a Neighborhood Watch sign, his upturned collar and furtive movements perfectly matching the iconographic image of the burglar on the sign.
Even better is virtuoso sequence portraying the death and resurrection of one of the Reapers (who take possession of dead bodies in order to do their work on the Earthly plane). When one of the Reapers is run over by a car full of Hell’s escapees, the Reaper’s signature hat falls off his head and rolls away. The camera floats from the body, indicating the soul searching for a new vessel – and alighting upon a passing ambulance, whose doors rip open as the corpse inside burst back to life. Encased in its new body, the Reaper walks by the parking lot where its previous host body died – just in time to grab its hat, which comes rolling down the stairs. The perfection of the timing is laugh-out-loud funny and totally brilliant.
Even without star power, the film features great performances all around, although lead Nathan Mobley is perhaps overshadowed by his supporting players (perhaps because his character is stuck in a situation that he cannot control and is therefore mostly along for the ride). If the film misses perfection anywhere, it is in the resolution of the love story, which relies a bit too heavily on a clichéd happily-ever-after limbo that looks like something out of a perfume commercial. Also, the film never really wrestles addresses the moral question regarding the Reapers: because they are pursuing our protagonist, they come across as the villains; but technically, their job is to retrieve evil souls escaped from Hell, which seems moral and just. Hopefully, the moral implications will be addressed in a sequel.

Samuel North (Nathan Mobley) evades the Reapers.
Samuel North (Nathan Mobley) evades the Reapers.


The film earned a nod for Best Feature film at the 2006 Shriekfest film festival in Hollywood.
The inspiration model for THE OTHER SIDE was Roberto Rodriguez’s EL MARIACHI, a low-budget independent film that launched two slick, big-budget sequels. One of the running gags during the Question-and-Answer session after the screening at Shriekfest was which stars would replace the excellent cast of the original, with names like Ewan MacGregor and Michael Clarke Duncan thrown around.
THE OTHER SIDE (2006). Written and directed by Gregg Bishop. Cast:

Box Office: Harry knocked off by Chuck and Larry

It was a rare summer weekend when the #1 slot at the box office was not occupied by a fantasy film. Last weekend’s winner HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX was knocked into second place by the arrival of the Adam Sandler comedy I KNOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY.
ORDER OF THE PHOENIX still managed to earn $32.2-million in its sophomore session, for a whopping two-week total of $207.5-million.
TRANSFORMERS mutated into fourth place, just behind the weekend’s other big debut HAIRSPRAY, which landed in third. The Transformers film added $20.5-million to its three-week total of $262.9-million.
RATATOUILLE scampered from third to fifth place, where it cooked up $11-million. Including leftovers, that comes to $165.6-million after four weeks of release.
The only other genre title in the Top Ten was 1408, which closed its doors on another $2.6-million, good enough for eighth place, down from sixth. After five weeks, the film has earned $67.5-million in U.S. theatres.
Read the complete Top Ten here.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Film & DVD Review

Among fans and critics, this is generally considered the best Godzilla sequel from the original series of films, which ran from GOJIRA in 1954 to TERROR OF MECHA-GODZILLA IN 1975. (The monster was revived for two subsequent series, beginning in 1984 and 2000, respectively, plus the 1998 American film produced at TriStar.) MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA shows the Toho team (director Ishiro Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, composer Akira Ifukube, and effects expert Eiji Tsuburaya) working in top form. Although the dark and serious tone of the original GOJIRA is long gone, the series had yet to descend into the juvenile antics of the 1970s. Only occasional penny pinching (fewer composite shots and elaborate miniatures) and a handful of minor gaffs mar this colorful, elaborate fantasy film, which is thoroughly enjoyable for fans and children, and might even impress a few non-fans.

The story follows a reporter, Ichiro (Takarada), and his female photographer Nakanishi (Hoshi), who are covering a story about a giant egg that washed ashore after a typhoon. A greedy businessman buys the egg from the local fisherman and, along with his investment partner, plans to build a theme park around it. The Shobijin (twin fairies from Infant Island, home of Mothra) arrive and ask for the return of the egg; the reporters, along with a sympathetic scientist (Koizumi) try to help, but they are unable to persuade the egg’s new owners to relinquish their legal rights in favor of doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Godzilla was also washed ashore by the typhoon; the monster arises from the sandy plain where he was buried and goes on a rampage. The reporters and the scientist head to Infant Island to beg the natives for Mothra’s help. The natives and the Shobijin, whose island was decimated by nuclear testing, are unsympathetic; after all, the so-called civilized world did not help them in their quest to return the egg. The men are ready to give up, but Nakashina makes a heart-felt, emotional plea, which convinces Mothra to join the fight. The giant moth dies in the battle with Godzilla but manages to protect her egg, which hatches not one but two young larvae. The greedy businessmen die while fighting each other in a hotel, which Godzilla trashes. The larvae pursue Godzilla to an island close off shore, where they cocoon him in their sticky web until he falls off a cliff, disappearing beneath the ocean.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is a virtual remake of 1963’s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA: In both films, Godzilla is a radioactive monster threatening Japan, and his opponent is an over-sized animal living on a South Seas island where the natives revere him/her as a god. Both films feature island natives distinguished by their strange skin color (green in the previous film, orange here). Both films feature none-too-subtle attacks on corporate greed that puts profits ahead of morality. And both films end with Godzilla defeated by his foe, falling off a cliff and disappearing beneath the ocean (until the next film, of course).


The chief difference between KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is that the previous film was a deliberate satire that poked fun at its corporate villains and played its monster battle for laughs, including much anthropomorphized wrestling action. MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, on the other hand, features some comic relief but generally plays its story straight, and the monster action remains mostly animalistic in nature, avoiding the jump-kicks, somersaults, and back-flips performed by Kong and Godzilla.
Thanks to her colorful wings and graceful movements, Mothra creates a wonderful visual contrast to Godzilla’s scaly reptilian appearance, making her perhaps the best foe ever to square off against the nuclear monster. MOTHRA VS GODZILLA lacks the gravitas of the original GOJIRA; this is not a believable science-fiction story but an imaginative fantasy that requires a suspension of disbelief. Taken on its own terms, it works wonderfully well, even though it’s well past the time when Godzilla could frighten an audience as a walking metaphor for nuclear destruction and the horrors of war.
The result is fast-paced, exciting fun. The film is even moving, when Nakanishi begs the Infant islanders for help in spite of the wrongs they have suffered. The human cast take their roles seriously; the script delivers its message clearly (that humanity should work together for a better world) without being heavy-handed. The elaborate production, with its large cast, numerous locations, and extensive sets, is wonderfully helmed by Honda. And the special effects, though not always convincing, are beautifully done and always entertaining to watch.

Godzilla attacks - a blend of live-action and effects.


In one of the greatest scenes in the series, a coordinated military attack strikes Godzilla with canon blast from the ground and napalm bombs from above. When the smoke clears, we see Godzilla with his head thrown back, roaring; as he lowers his face, it suddenly becomes clear that the top and back of his head is on fire! Amazingly, the shot continues a moment longer as Godzilla turns and strides away; it’s hard to believe that half a dozen crew people did not immediately rush into the shot with fire extinguishers instead of allowing suit-actor Haruo Nakajima to continue with the action.


Just before Godzilla leaves shore for the showdown with the Mothra caterpillars, there is a long shot of Godzilla striding along a miniature shoreline that we assume to be on the mainland. Moments later, after Godzilla has crossed the water to a nearby island, the same miniature shoreline is used to represent the island. Clearly, the miniature was built to represent the island. For some reason, the editor took a brief trim from this footage and used it to augment Godzilla’s appearance on the mainland, which otherwise consisted of live-action shots of actual locations, with Godzilla optically inserted into the background.


The Godzilla suit for this film is one of the favorites among fans. It is lighter and less bulky, allowing for greater movement. The face loses some of the reptilian features from Godzilla’s previous appearances, in which he somewhat resembled a T-Rex mutated by atomic radiation. Its furrowed brows convey a sinister appearance, suggesting a bit more malevolent intent (as opposed to animal instinct) that helps contrast Godzilla with the benign Mothra.
This version of the Godzilla suit is also memorable for another reason: apparently through some kind of accident, the top jaw came loose during filming; it can be seen wobbling during Godzilla’s early scenes. Although an accident, this actually lends a bit of animation to Godzilla’s usually expressionless face.
As with the previous films in the series, a hand-puppet head was used for some close-ups of Godzilla. Typically, the close-up head does not completely match the head worn by Haruo Nakajima, the actor inside the rubber suit.

For some long shots of Godzilla crossing the ocean to a small island, the old suit from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was used. The suit was also used for the shot of Godzilla, covered in Mothra’s web, tumbling over a cliff and into the ocean for the conclusion. This was done to avoid wear and tear on the new suit, as past experience had shown that the foam rubber Godzilla suit did not hold up well in water.

Mothra grabs Godzilla's tail.

Although the flying moth puppet from MOTHRA (1961) was reused for some shots, new puppets were built for Mothra in moth and larvae form. This was because the original puppets were created in a different scale and would not have appeared the correct size if photographed in the same shot with the Godzilla suit.
There is less building-bashing in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA than in previous films. In an effort to keep the budget down, Godzilla briefly attacks a city after his first appearance, then heads to rural areas for most of the rest of the movie. His fight with Mothra in moth form takes place near a sandy beach; his fight with the larvae takes place on a rocky island.
The original title is “Mosura tai Gojira,” which translates as “Mothra versus Godzilla.” The U.S. distributor, American International Pictures, retitled the film “Godzilla Vs. The Thing” and mounted an advertising campaign to create a mystery regarding exactly what sort of foe Godzilla would fight. To justifying the title, the English dubbing includes a few lines of dialogue in which “Shobijin” (small fairies played by identical twins Emi and Yumi Ito) refer to Mothra as “The Mighty Thing.”
This is the only Godzilla film that contains more footage of Godzilla in the export version than in the Japanese original: the English-dubbed U.S. prints contain an early sequence in which the American navy attacks Godzilla on the beach with “Frontier” missiles, knocking the monster down but not killing him. Exactly why this scene is in the American verson but not the Japanese version has never been definitely explained. A common assumption is that the sequence was added to please U.S. distributor, but according to author Steve Ryfle (Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star), the scene existed in the original script, even before a U.S. distribution deal was signed. What is clear is that the Frontier missile sequence was not simply cut out from Japanese prints and retained in U.S. prints: two versions were filmed of the scene that immediately precedes the Frontier missile attack. In the Japanese version, a group of officials sit around a table discussing strategy, and a messenger arrives to report on Godzilla’s movements; this is followed by a shot of Godzilla walking through a hilly area, suggesting that he is moving away from the city. In the American version, the shot of Godzilla appears immediately after his first attack on a city; then the film cuts to the strategy meeting, with a slightly different group of officials, including a handful of Americans, sitting around the same table and discussing plans to use the new missiles. The fact that two versions of this scene were filmed suggests that there was a deliberate attempt to create an “alternate” version for U.S. consumption.
Emi and Yumi Ito were well known in their native land as the singing duo The Peanuts. Here, they sing both the “Mothra” song composed by Yuji Koseki for MOTHRA (1961), plus a “Lament for Infant Island” composed for this film by Akira Ifukube.Despite a few minor editorial changes (the addition of the Frontier missile sequence, the deletion of a shot of one villain with a bloody head after being gunned down by his partner), the Americanized GODZILLA VS THE THING remains mostly faithful to the Japanese original. In fact, this is the first Godzilla film to reach U.S. shores without major alterations: there is no new footage added by the American distributor; the dubbing retains most of the story and dialogue, and Akira Ifukube’s score is left intact (except for a brief edit to the Shobijin’s lament for Infant Island).

Singers Yumi and Emi Ito as Mothra's twin fairies.


In the U.S., GODZILLA VS. THE THING has been released several times on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD (often with title on the box art changed to “Godzilla vs. Mothra”). Perhaps because this film was not heavily altered for U.S. release, there was less urgency from fans for obtaining a DVD that restored the original version, complete with Japanese language and English subtitles.
The Toho Master Collection DVD , released in the U.S. by Classic Media in 2007, includes both the Japanese-language MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (with optional subtitles) and the Americanized GODZILLA VS. THE THING (with optional audio commentary). The disc comes in a silver slipcase that resembles a small book. The front cover features colorful poster artwork from the Japanese release; the back has three color images from the film; and the interior includes a black-and-white publicity photo that composites Mothra flying over Godzilla, who is waist deep in the ocean, to create a scene that does not appear in the film. Bonus features include an audio commentary, a poster slideshow, and a biography of Akira Ifukube.
The DVD menu features a collage of poster art from the film. The American and the Japanese version are each divided into 11 chapters, accessible from nearly identical menus: Both versions display the “Godzilla vs. the Thing” title card for the first chapter. However, Chapter 6 of GODZILLA VS THE THING, which begins with the alternate scene that introduces the Frontier missile sequence, is titled “Send in the Fleet.” Chapter 6 of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, which begins with a different version of the scene and omits the Frontier missile sequence, is titled “Military Orders.”
The slideshow features fifteen advertising images, backed by audio from the opening credits (including the main title music and the typhoon sound effects). One lobby card, from a 1980 reissue of the movie, features the anachronistic image of the goofy-looking Godzilla suit first seen in 1974’s GODZILLA VS. MECHA-GODZILLA.
The Ifukube biography consists of text that provides a brief rundown of the symphonic composer’s career, emphasizing his work on science-fiction film scores. It ends with a moving tribute from producer Shogo Tomiyama, who worked with Ifukube on Godzilla films in the 1990s.
The audio commentary by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski is insightful and informative. The duo discuss the changes made to the film for U.S. release, praise the dubbing, point out the film’s message, and offer up interesting tidbits about the techniques used to bring Godzilla and Mothra to life (e.g., special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya talked Toho Studios into purchasing an optical printer, a device that facilitated combining live-action with miniatures, in order to create smoother composite shots of Godzilla appearing above the real city skylines).
Although fans, Ryfle and Godziszewski are willing to point out flaws, such as the high-speed photography that makes Mothra’s wings beat fast enough to show her take flight – but which also makes Godzilla tumble over like a silent movie comedian. They criticize the artificial look of the Infant Island exteriors and report that director Ishiro Honda regretted not fighting for more elaborate island sets. Ryfle also notes that the story is mostly wrapped up by the time the larvae hatch from Mothra’s egg, so the screenplay is forced to gin up a crisis (some school kids left on an island in Godzilla’s path) to fill up the final reel.

The newly hatched Mothra caterpillars head for battle.

If there is a problem with the commentary it is that the word “realistic” crops up too often in regards to the effects work. By this point in the Godzilla series, it is clear that there was less effort to make the monsters look big and convincing on screen; the scenes of Godzilla battling Mothra or miniatures tanks and airplanes are always exciting and eye-catching, but they are seldom truly convincing.
With all this, the Toho Masters DVD might sound like a must-have item for your collection; unfortunately, the disc falls short in one significant way: image quality. The American print is decent but slightly soft, with colors a tad faded, plus some noticeable scratches and speckling. The Japanese print is better, with a somewhat sharper image and less visible speckling.
The big problem is not colors or scratches but letterboxing, which does not do justice to the widescreen compositions of the original theatrical presentation. MOTHRA VS GODZILLA was shot in a 2.35 anamorphic process that filled the movie screen with special effects, action, beautiful locations, and elaborate sets – some of which are cut off on the DVD.
The American print is framed at approximately a 1.85 aspect ratio that omits large sections of the picture from the left and the right. This problem is most obvious during Godzilla’s brief raid on a metropolitan center. In one elaborate long shot, the camera pans from right to left across a crowd of fleeing people to reveal Godzilla in the far left background – except that he remains off-screen in this version, thanks to cropping off of the edges of the frame.
The Japanese print is considerably better but not perfect. The aspect ratio approximates the theatrical version, with only a minimal loss of picture information on the left and right. In the shot mentioned above, sharp-eyed viewers can catch a glimpse of Godzilla nosing his way into the left side of the frame just before the camera cuts away to another scene.
In this regard, the Toho Masters Collection DVD is inferior to the 1990s Scimitar DVD release of GODZILLA VS MOTHRA, which actually featured a widescreen and a full screen transfer of the English-dubbed GODZILLA VS THE THING.
The widescreen Scimitar transfer framed the image in the correct 2.35 aspect ratio. The print was perhaps darker and grainier, but the speckling was less obvious (except during composite photography). Although far from perfect, the Scimitar version presented the full image to the viewer, so that Godzilla’s dramatic entrance into the panning special effects shot in question was plainly visible.

The newly hatched Mothra caterpillars head for battle.

Because of incorrect letter-boxing, the Toho Masters Collection DVD cannot be considered an adequate replacement for the out-of-print Scimitar DVD. The Toho Masters disc is essential for American fans who want to obtain the Japanese version of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA on DVD. The bonus features make it a nice addition to the collection of any G-Fan, even those who prefer the English-dubbed GODZILLA VS. THE THING. But cropped image transfer prevents this disc from being reckoned as the definitive DVD presentation of one of Toho’s most highly regarded classic monster movies.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (Mosura Tai Gojira, a.k.a. “Godzilla vs. The Thing,” 1964). Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka. Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Shinichi Sekizawa. Cast: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, The Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Ito), Yoshifumi Tajima, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki, Kenzo Tabu, Haruo Nakajima.


Premonition – Film Review

This feeble attempt at a mind-bending thriller has a vaguely interesting premise, but its potential is soon lost thanks to dreary execution that blunts the emotional impact, rendering the story as an academic exercise in convoluted plot structure, without offering any compelling reason for viewers to be engaged in the puzzle.
Linda Hanson (Bullock) is confused by a telephone message from her husband Jim (McMahon) who refers to a conversation she does not remember having; moments later, a sheriff knocks on the door to inform her that her husband died on the road to a business trip the day before. Linda’s shock and grief soon turns to confusion when she wakes up the next morning and finds Jim alive and well. Her relief is short-lived when she wakes up the next day and finds Jim’s funeral in progress. Her attempts to explain her situation to her mother (Nelligan) and her best friend (Nia Long) only convince them that she has lost her mind with grief, so they have her committed to the care of a psychiatrist (Stormare). The psychiatrist is surprised to learn that Linda’s husband died on Wednesday, because he says Linda previously showed up at his office on Tuesday, seeking help dealing with the emotional fallout from Jim’s death. The next time Linda wakes up to find Jim alive again, she realizes that her experience of his death is a promotion of things to come, and she soon finds herself living through events leading up to the fateful crash. Her attempts to understand the situation lead her to find that Jim was on the verge of launching an affair with Claire (Valletta), a woman at work, and Linda briefly considers giving up her quest to prevent Jim’s death. After consulting with her local priest, who recounts historical cases of people who foresaw the future, Linda gives Jim another chance. Unfortunately, he insists on attending the business trip even though he gives up the idea of sleeping with Claire. Linda pursues Jim in her car, calling him by phone and trying to get him to avoid his appointment with a big-rig truck… Continue reading “Premonition – Film Review”