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MOVIES | FILM CLIPS: OL' FIRE BREATH RETURNS

Vintage Godzilla Roars Back Into Video Stores

April 19, 1998|Donald Liebenson | Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-based freelancer who writes about home video

'Godzilla," Japan's fictional prime minister says with a sigh in "Godzilla 1985." "I was hoping I would never hear that name again."

Prepare yourself, prime minister. You haven't heard or seen the last of "wonder lizard."

Video suppliers, in anticipation of TriStar's monster remake, due in theaters May 20, are unleashing vintage Godzilla titles produced in Japan by Toho Studios.

Simitar Entertainment just released on video and DVD the original 1954 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," "Godzilla vs. Mothra" (1964; also known as "Godzilla vs. the Thing"), "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero" (1966), "Godzilla's Revenge" (1969) and "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" (1974, also known as "Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster"). Each retails for $12.95, and includes such bonus features as a collection of original "Godzilla" previews.

"King of the Monster" and "Godzilla vs. Mothra" are two good examples of why in his native country, Godzilla is a pop culture icon comparable to Mickey Mouse or Snoopy.

"There is a bit of nationalistic pride associated with him," noted J.D. Lees, co-author of "The Official Godzilla Compendium," recently published by Random House. "He is a movie character made in Japan who has become world-famous."

In the United States, Lees said, Godzilla is more a "lovable B-movie monster." Most people's exposure to him has come only through television and less-than-excellent movies such as "Godzilla's Revenge."

Anchor Bay Entertainment has released a five-film collection that includes "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster" (1964), "Godzilla vs. Gigan" (1972; also known as "Godzilla on Monster Island"), "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla," "Godzilla vs. Megalon" (1976) and"Godzilla 1985," which is worth buying just for the bonus animated short, the cult classic "Bambi Meets Godzilla." Each is available for $9.99 or in a box set for $49.95. Anchor Bay's catalog also includes "Son of Godzilla" (1966).

On April 28, HBO's wide-screen edition of "Godzilla vs. Biollante" (1989), which revitalized the franchise in Japan and was the last Toho-produced Godzilla epic released in the United States, will be re-priced to $9.94.

That same day, Columbia's home video division weighs in with two of Toho's 1990s' Godzilla thrillas: the never-before domestically released "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" (1991) and "Godzilla vs. Mothra" (1992), which revives the giant moth first introduced in 1962. Each will retail for $9.95.

So why does Godzilla still rule after more than 40 years? One reason certainly is his distinctive roar, which was produced, Lees says, by rubbing an oiled glove over the strings of a bass fiddle.

There is also a campy charm to the dubbed dialogue, such as this exclamation in "Godzilla vs. Mothra" when the behe-moth's gigantic monster egg floats up on a beach: "Look out there. It's a gigantic monster egg!"

Perhaps it is Godzilla's complex character. He's no one-dimensional beast. In "King of the Monsters," he is our Atomic Age nightmare come to life. In "Godzilla's Revenge," he is a doting father teaching his progeny the art of breathing fire. In "Ghidrah," "Megalon" and "Mechagodzilla," he's a hero. And in "Godzilla 1985," he is described by the American reporter portrayed by Raymond Burr as "a strangely innocent and tragic monster."

"It's his near-human personality that allows audiences to connect with him," Lees suggests. "He acts out things that we inhibited human beings would like to be able to do. Maybe we see a little of ourselves in Godzilla."

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