In case you’re just joining us, my son and I have been watching and reviewing a lengthy list of kaiju films before the new Godzilla film comes out next year. We’re only a few in.
Today’s movie is Varan the Unbelievable (1958). Toho Triple Threat in effect: directed by Ishiro Honda, special effects by Eiji Tsubaraya and music by Akira Ifukube.
There is an American version that features American actors and a new plotline. Only the kaiju scenes are untouched. Plus, Ifukube’s score has been replaced by Albert “Make It Louder” Glasser. Needless to say, we avoided this version.
James’ thoughts up first:
Well, the music in the middle (one ocean scene) sounded like JAWS music but with more than two notes. It FREAKED me out!!!!
And Varan is … a….flying squirrel and he sounds like a jet. He saw a stupid kid wanting his dog back. At the end a truck bomb exploded in his balls (i felt so bad for the guy in the suit)! Varan also like to eat flares rigged w/ bombs and that made him run away.
So now, i’m going to give it 3.9 Atomic breaths of awesomeness!!Now here’s mine:
Having become a kaiju film fan over the last few years, I’ve seen people online rag on this movie, saying Varan didn’t deserve his own movie. Well, at that time, Toho was trying new things and introducing new characters and new monsters. They had no way of knowing what would or wouldn’t stick. Tangentially related, I’ve discovered that, originally, this was supposed to be an American television movie, but Toho’s partners over here departed the project. With so much work already done, they made it a film.
All that being said, I really like this movie. The black-and-white is a bit disappointing after the Tohoscope quality of the last two films. And the monster himself, while visually interesting, doesn’t really have that je ne sais quoi that a good kaiju should. He can fly around like a draco lizard, but at Mach 1.5 … and that’s about it. His roar is essentially half of Godzilla’s roar. The “skree-” part of “skreeonk.” No flaming breath or laser beams from his crystal-looking spikes. Nothing. Shame.
The story is basic enough: rural villagers are afraid of a lake and the god they believe lives there. Monster gets roused and tears stuff up. Seems almost pedestrian, but I’ll say it again: I really like this movie.
Here’s why. The music and the effects. Effects-wise, this is Tsuburaya doing what he does best. There are great models to play with and loads of fun destroying. The airport set is great; the ships at sea; the flares; the rampage through the forest … loads of fun.
If for no other reason, you should watch this for the music. You’ll likely recognize quite a bit of it because Ifukube used several of the themes he made here in later Godzilla films. You’ll recognize a prototype version of King Ghidorah’s theme easily. It’s just really good hearing his music played well and to hear the history of what we’ll love to hear later on.
The Varan suit was, unfortunately, damaged, thus limiting his appearance in future films. He appeared again in Destroy All Monsters, but only as a background cameo.
Varan … I liked it. 4 out of five atomic breath blasts.And here’s the trailer for the Japanese version:
For comparison’s sake, here’s the American version:
Next up: Battle in Outer Space.