DVD Review: Godzilla Vs. Megalon
Released By: Media Blasters – Tokyo Shock
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Number of Discs: 3
Approximate Running Time: 80 Minutes
Special Features: None
Suggested Price: $16.99
The Source: Godzilla and new robot pal Jet Jaguar battle the beetle like Megalon and returning bad monster Gigan to protect the Earth from an invasion by the subterranean kingdom of Seatopia.
The Fanboy Factor: The original Godzilla movie series was winding down in 1973 when Toho churned out this cheap and pedestrian entry. Godzilla vs. Megalon would be nothing more than a footnote in the original Godzilla series pointing to a perfect example of why the returns for those films were declining were it not for the release of Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong remake in 1976. The crafty entrepreneurs at Cinema Shares International recognized an opportunity when they saw one and headed straight for the Godzilla film catalog, which had not seen a theatrical release in the US since 1972’s Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, to supply a monster hungry public with product. Even though the plan was to cash in on the publicity surrounding the pending release of Kong at the end of that year, Cinema Shares still spent a considerable sum of money on their own promotions and Godzilla vs. Megalon ended up with the largest release campaign of any US Godzilla film.
Thanks to television, newspaper, and radio saturation, Godzilla vs. Megalon became the first Godzilla film that many 70’s kids became aware of and it was certainly the first one many of them saw in the theater on the big screen. Having been slightly ahead of the curve and weaned on kiddie matinee revivals, I had already seen several of the Big G’s films in the theater although Megalon would be the first one I had the pleasure of watching at the drive-in. This heavy promotion and wide distribution has led to many people remembering Godzilla vs. Megalon more fondly than it really deserves strictly for nostalgia purposes rather than on its merits as a Godzilla film.
Godzilla vs. Megalon was originally conceived as an entirely different film that didn’t even have Godzilla in it! According to legend, Toho held a contest for children to design a new monster character and the winner would star in his own film. The winning child submitted a drawing of an Ultraman style robot that Toho proceeded to significantly remodel into what eventually became Jet Jaguar. In the 70’s, superheroes were popular in Japan and shows like Zone Fighter and Kamen Rider drew large audiences on television so a feature film with this type of character probably seemed like a sure thing. The very Ultraman style villain of Megalon was created to keep the vibe going and the film moved into production.
At some point after filming began, Toho began to question their judgment and feared that Jet Jaguar could not support a feature by himself. Godzilla was proving to be a popular guest star on the Zone Fighter television series so it seemed logical that he could be used to save the film. The recent Godzilla enemy Gigan was brought in to help Megalon in much the same way that Gidrah was added to Godzilla vs. Gigan the previous year in 1972. The end result is a slow moving film with almost no Godzilla involvement until the final act and the long awaited battle of the monsters is weak even by 70’s Godzilla film standards. Godzilla vs. Megalon also makes extensive use of stock footage so we get no less than three different Godzilla suits and recycled scenes of Gidrah’s laser breath filling in for Megalon’s head beam.
Why Cinema Shares chose Godzilla vs. Megalon to shower their publicity dollars on is anyone’s guess. By 1976, Godzilla vs. Gigan as well as the last two films in the original Godzilla series, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Counterattack of Mechagodzilla were all gathering dust on Japanese shelves unreleased in America. While Gigan may have been roughly on par with Megalon, aside from a far more formidable villain, both of the Mechagodzilla films were superior and would have been much more appropriate candidates. Cinema Shares would eventually release Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in 1977 (as Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster and then Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster after a threatened lawsuit from Universal) and then dig out Godzilla vs. Gigan (as Godzilla on Monster Island) in 1978.
The Product: Godzilla vs. Megalon is the last of the original Godzilla film series to see a legitimate home video release in the United States. “Gray area” copies of the film that ranged in quality from acceptable to abysmal have circulated on VHS and DVD for years but a genuine release never happened. In 2011 Media Blasters announced that they would release deluxe editions of both Godzilla vs. Megalon and Destroy All Monsters on DVD and Blue Ray by the end of that year. Only DAM appeared and it was quickly recalled when Toho claimed they had not approved the extras. Due to these hassles, Megalon was pulled from release until Toho could be sorted out. When it did finally appear almost a year later it was a no frills DVD only release with just the film.
The transfer of the film on the release edition looks and sounds fine but after all this time it is almost insulting to not make this the comprehensive edition it could be. A few of the original versions did make it on to the market and the extras included make up for the fact that the underlying product is so weak. If Toho had minded their own business, fans would have been treated to a feature length commentary, multiple trailers, and an extensive stills gallery with a ton of publicity material from all over the world. The stand out among these extras to me is a very rare trailer for Cinema Shares “Evening with Godzilla” marathon that put Megalon, Cosmic Monster, and Monster Island on a triple bill. For some strange reason this and other US television trailers are presented inside a mat of a television set rather than full screen but it’s still great to have them.
The Bottom Line: Godzilla fans will have to pick up a copy of the Godzilla vs. Megalon DVD just to complete their collections with an at long last legal version. Chances are though the disc won’t see many trips to the DVD player. If at all possible, keep your eye out for the original release if you can find one. Even at an inflated collector’s price, the extras on this disc make it worth the extra cost and this may be the only time they will ever be available.