Friday, 5 October 2012

Godzilla vs. Biollante (Film Review)

Say what you will about the series but for a franchise which is best known for mindless wanton violence the Godzilla films are far from unwilling to attempt the unusual. While the premise near constantly came down to “monster vs. monster” the writers really seemed to go out of their way to spawn some weapons grade insanity for the big green fire-snortin’ lizard to beat up.
So instead of the giant god month or gold three headed dragon, what’s he fighting this time? A radioactive homicidal plant made from his cells! … It’s better than it sounds, trust me.

The plot for this one actually starts from the unique position of Godzilla already having been defeated. As he was taken down by a grand plan involving the military and sealing him a volcano in the last film Japan is relatively at peace. While rebuilding efforts have largely controlled the damage he did in his last rampage, the JSDF still fears the monster’s potential return and with good reason as it turns out. With tissue samples having been recovered from the irradiated ruins of Tokyo several factions are fighting to gain control of any genetic information which might be used for their own benefit. These range from a US genetic research corporation to a mad scientist grieving over the death of his daughter, trying to bring her back and obsessed with both genetics the psychic energy of roses. 
Guess which one makes the monster.

Well, before long there’s a hundred meter tall killer weed lurking in the middle of a lake, semi-docile but far from contained. After which the corporation drops threats that Godzilla will be released and you can guess where this is going.

As with the last review of an instalment of this franchise the titular monster doesn’t show up in the flesh for a long time. Unlike Final Wars though this one actually makes good use of his absence. The film preceding this one, Return of Godzilla, had no monster for him to fight – only the JSDF which he utterly reamed with very little effort. He was only beaten by foresight and more luck than any scientific team should possibly possess, and even then it was by the skin of their teeth. Japan has only just been rebuilt and countless people are still dead – As such the scenes where they realise there’s another monster loose and Godzilla might be released again help to raise the tension prior to the creature’s attack. They’re still extremely ill prepared to face any sort of threat on such a scale and the tactic they used last time won’t work again. This is something the films rarely did, usually just having Godzilla show up without much build-up because hey he’s what the audience wants to see; but here it works.

Sticking with Japan rather than the monsters for a moment, the film did introduce one of the more popular aspects of the Heisei series: The advancing technology. In the previous Showa era there was no real sign of anyone getting better at combating kaiju and the Millennium series’ near constant reboots prevented there being any sign of the military adapting.

Here though there’s constant signs of the JSDF improving and trying to match the giant monsters, building upon what they previously had. The previous film showed Japan sending a Cold War era superweapon and a pair of prototype laser cannons on trucks to fight the radioactive lizard. In this one an upgraded version of the superweapon is deployed alongside detachments of maser tanks. They fail to halt either monster but it was the start of developments which would became an underlying seriestheme even resulting in a few robotic monsters the big G would end up fighting. The battles in this case stand out really well due to this with large lightshows and explosions to the point where you almost begin to ignore the film’s big flaw – Biollante is barely in it. 
The monster only has two major appearances and for much of the film it seems to be outside of events. It seems to be more used as a plot device than a plot focus with the items of its creation serving as both the reason for the early conflict and Godzilla’s release. However once he finds the plant and they initially fight, Biollante withdraws and goes missing for a big chunk of the film; in terms of total screen time I think the it only appeared for ten minutes tops. In addition to this while the creature’s design is original and fairly menacing, it’s hard to ignore it’s literally rooted to the ground. Each time they brawled the film relied almost entirely upon the editing to give any degree of manoeuvrability or halfway decent pace. Even then they end up being a cluster of close-ups and semi-coherent actions.

Actually when it comes down to it the cinematography tended to have quite frequent dips in quality. Most of the time it’s at least passable but it felt like whenever the film got to a fight which didn’t feature Godzilla vs the military the director was determined to use as many awkward shots as possible. It just ended up making the film as a whole feel much cheaper than it really was and that wasn’t helped by some of the lighting choices. This might seem a really odd criticism to make but in many of the shots at night had this odd backlit effect which just made it look all the more clear the monster fights were on a sound stage. What’s more is there seemed to occasionally be this odd vaguely blue/green tint which simply comes off like some pointless half-hearted day for night effect.

Really the film is divided in just about every sense of the word. From the story to the camerawork the films just veers back and forth between being great, weird and memorable to things so confusing you’re wondering if the crew were high during the production. Similarly the script has a good set-up and weirdly original ideas but it seems not to know what to do when it comes to Biollante or the human characters. While you might want to watch it as a follow-up to Return of Godzilla or its series significance you’ll probably have more fun just finding something else to watch.

Now, some of you might be wondering why, if this is the second in the series and I keep mentioning the first so frequently, i've not made an effort to review the Return of Godzilla. Well the truth of the matter is I don't have much to say about it which hasn't already been said by another far more knowledgeable reviewer, Greg of Poparena. As such if you want to get an opinion of that film's quality i'd suggest watching his video here.


Godzilla vs. Biollante and all related characters and media are owned by Toho.

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