Saturday, March 31, 2012

Godzilla: The Criterion Collection

The booklet cover art from the Criterion Collection's "Godzilla"

The news that the Criterion Collection would be releasing a remastered version of Godzilla (54) along with "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" was extremely satisfying, to say the least. While I was a big fan of the Classic Media DVD release, and still think it is one of the best in terms of picture quality and extra features, I was underwhelmed by Classic's Blu ray release. So the idea of Criterion "doing it right" made me very hopeful for a definitive version of this classic film on Blu ray.

Having explored most of the features of the Criterion release, it is my opinion that they have delivered on that hope. Both versions are included, and they look and sound wonderful. I'm not one to pay extremely close attention to the technical specifics, so all I can tell you is that the team at Criterion has done an excellent job tweaking the film for this particular format. In many ways it reminds me of the print that was shown at G-FEST a couple years ago, when Mr. Akira Takarada was in attendance.

The thing I enjoy the most about this release, however, is the audio commentary provided by David Kalat. He turns in two commentaries--one for each film--and they simply are two of the most engaging audio commentaries I've ever heard for any cinematic work. Since the Classic release had audio commentaries of their own, Mr. Kalat did not mine the same territory, but took his thoughts in different directions, to outstanding effect. For example, for the original Japanese film, he delves into the cultural context of Godzilla, applying the "Lucky Dragon" incident to the opening scenes in a way that makes the history come alive. His commentary on the American release gives a highly detailed account of the process through which "Godzilla" went before it was presented to Western audiences. I was fascinated to learn that at the time of its release, dubbing was only done to films that distributors thought had a chance of making a dent at the box office. Today there is a perception that dubbing equals "cheap hack job," but according to Kalat that is certainly not the case with "Godzilla."

Not only is Kalat's commentary literate and substantive from a content standpoint, but it is also delivered with polish and enthusiasm. To put it tactfully, audio commentaries do not always live up to their potential; Kalat's efforts on this release demonstrate that an excellent commentary track can not only enhance the viewing experience, but also be enjoyable on its own terms.

Other fantastic extras are included, such as interviews with Akira Takarada and Haruo Nakajima, which are very well produced and presented in high definition. A concise documentary about the "Lucky Dragon" incident is informative and well worth watching, as is the longer-form interview with composer Akira Ifukube, whose musical themes are synonomous with the character of Godzilla. There is even more included that I have yet to explore, such as featurettes on the special effects of Godzilla. Even the packaging itself is worthy of comment, with part of it folding out into a Godzilla pop-up image! I am admittedly a sucker for this kind of attention to detail--and Godzilla, in both of these incarnations, deserves it.

By its own reckoning, the Criterion Collection is "a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films." To see "Godzilla/Godzilla: King of the Monsters" regarded as such is not just exciting, but also is a vindication of sorts for those who have long thrilled to its dark, visceral vision. Moreover, it is gratifying to see names such as Honda, Tsuburaya, Ifukube, Takarada, and Shimura where they belong--among the best of world cinema.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Three Generations at G-FEST

This summer's G-FEST was already highly anticipated, with the recent announcement of stellar guests Akira Takarada and Bin Furuya. But we have learned that another special guest will be attending: my dad and Andy's grandpa.

It's only appropriate that he should come to G-FEST; after all, his dad took him to see "It Came From Beneath the Sea" when it was in the theaters. Years later my dad would take me to see "Star Wars," "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla," and "Godzilla vs. Gigan" at the movies. So now, the chance to share his first G-FEST experience with him will be pretty special. Hopefully, these next four months go fast!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Monsterland Ohio Finds Bigfoot

Face to face with the cast of "Finding Bigfoot"

In mid-January, Andy and I had an unusually unique experience: we participated in the filming of an episode of Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot" that took place less than an hour from our home. It was a remarkable day--one that we will not soon forget.

I found out about the filming session through a notice in our local newspaper that I happened to see about two weeks in advance. I kept it quiet until the day before it happened, so that Andy wouldn't get overexcited, or let his hopes get too high, lest fate intervened, and we could not go.

And that is almost what happened; the night before the taping we got one of the worst ice storms of the year--not much, but enough for the local sherriff's office to issue a Level One Snow Emergency that morning. We seriously contemplated not making the 45-minute drive, but then decided to give it a try, rather than not. It was a great decision. Once we got to the expressway, it was relatively smooth sailing, and we soon found ourselves pulling into the parking lot of Deerasic Park, a nature preserve near the entrance to Salt Fork State Park.

James "Bobo" Fay and Andy

We had given ourselves plenty of extra time to get there; so much so that we were probably the first audience members to arrive. What this meant for us soon became clear, when Ranae Holland approached us, noticed Andy's "I Believe" Salt Fork T-shirt, and generally made us feel very welcome. It was a cool precursor to the day's activities.

Within minutes, the other members of the cast trickled in, and we were able to meet and speak with Cliff Barackman and Bobo. Andy, in particular, got to spend some quality time with Cliff, as they talked about what makes for good Sasquatch habitat and places in our region where they have been sighted. Bobo was just as approachable and laid-back as he appears on camera; in fact, one thing that stood out is that the stars of FB aren't acting. They truly seem to just be themselves whether the cameras are rolling or not.

Cliff Barackman and a young bigfooter

As the crowd began to swell, we found good seats near the front and got to know some of the folks around us. I was surprised to see a couple who had appeared in the "Ohio Grassman" episode of MonsterQuest, and got to talk with them at length about their experiences. Folks brought in artwork, alleged Bigfoot casts and photos. It was a festive atmosphere. Then we started to learn some of the trade secrets of "reality television."

This episode of FB was to be a "clip show," or a "best-of," so the cast would be introducing and commenting on footage from Season Two episodes, some of which had not yet aired. If you've seen the show, then you know that one element of FB's formula is the "town hall meeting," during which people share their opinions and encounters. However, to prompt the best responses from the cast, the production crew handed out index cards with questions already printed out, and asked members of the audience to ask them as if they were their own. Our excitement reached a new level when both Andy and I were invited to participate. My question was in reference to the "Baby Bigfoot" episode, and Andy's was about the "Canadian Rockies" expedition. We did our best, and could only wonder if we would make it into the final cut.

BFRO Founder and former Ohio resident Matt Moneymaker with Andy

All told, the recording took about five hours, which was whittled down to about 20 minutes of footage once the episode summaries/previews were added. So much interesting stuff was left on the cutting room floor, including Bobo's in-depth description of a controversial Bigfoot kill and the cast's candid opinions of Todd Standing, whose Slylvanic project purports to have clear footage of Bigfoot. (Matt made it pretty clear that he thinks Standing is a charlatan.) As someone who is a public speaker by vocation, I must say that I came away from this experience very impressed by the entire cast's ability to speak extemporaneously. Even Bobo, who some might consider the least polished of the foursome, is, in his own way, a master storyteller--someone to whom you can't help but listen, and his natural humor endears him to his fans. This series benefits tremendously from the cast's success at articulating their viewpoints, whether you agree with them or not.

Ranae Holland with Andy

Once the filming was done, the cast members stayed until every last hand had been shaken. Ranae Holland had special promo cards made up especially for young fans, and Andy got the signatures of the Big Four. We shared a really nice moment with her, as our father/son connection brought to mind memories of her father, who is repsonsible for her interest in the Bigfoot phenomenon. More than anyone, I think she understood what we were doing there.

Did I mention the catered meal? We were served pizza, hot Italian subs, salad, just for showing up!

And in case you were wondering, "Finding Bigfoot: Secrets of the Search" aired February 26th, and Andy and I both appeared on screen, asking our respective questions. Thank you, "Finding Bigfoot," for the legendary memory!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Crypto-Kaiju Connection

Alleged Sasquatch foot and handprint casts

photographed at Finding Bigfoot recording near Cambridge, Ohio

It's pretty interesting when two worlds collide.

I have been a fan and highly interested devotee of both Japanese sci-fi and cryptozoology since childhood, and they recently came together again in a fascinating way.

Preeminent cryptozoologist Loren Coleman posted on his Cryptomundo blog today, reminiscing about the Toho feature "Half Human," and how it inspired him to explore the legend of the Yeti, propelling him down a path that he is still traveling. A prolific author in a variety of disciplines, Coleman's "Mysterious America" remains one of my absolute favorite books.

In his post, Coleman also references the interview he gave Brett Homenick for G-FAN magazine with regard to "Half Human" and its influence on his life's trajectory. It is gratifying to see his kind words for both Mr. Homenick and G-FAN. Could the possibility of meeting the star of this seminal film (Akira Takarada) lure Loren Coleman to G-FEST XIX this year? We'll have to wait and see. What a photo opportunity that would be!

To read Loren's Coleman's post, go here.

To see Brett Homenick's reaction to the Cryptomundo post, click here.

And yes, there is more to the story of the photo and it's caption which you see above. All will be revealed soon!