Wednesday, February 29, 2012

REVIEW: Varan the Unbelievable

Varan the Unbelievable
Director: Ishiro Honda
Year 1958
Varan the Unbelievable is quite frankly, Unbelievable. I mean that in the most respectable and positive way imaginable, because this fun little kaiju flick is a blast. As an offspring of sorts to the great monster movie Godzilla, Varan has a lot of original aspects to the production while still following that similar plot line that made Godzilla such a huge success. When it comes to Toho produced kaiju flicks, you really can’t go wrong and this one keeps that excellent track record alive and thriving.
The monster mayhem starts when a two person team of entomologists die in a land slide while searching for a rare breed of butterfly in the remote and uncharted regions of Japan. This tragedy occurs because they accidentally encroach on a sacred land reserved for a monster god that is worshipped by the local tribe of the area. Their presence awakens the giant lizard named Varan, an indestructible beast that is truly unbelievable. The army sends in the cavalry, including another entomologist named Kenji and a reporter named Yuriko. Together they bare witness to the awesome might of Varan as he defeats the army and destroys the local village on his way to storm the city of Tokyo. Watch out Tokyo, there’s more then one giant monster out there who loves to wreak havoc on your city and this particular lizard is unbelievable. Let the madness commence.

Directed by the legendary Toho filmmaker Ishiro Honda, Varan has the distinct advantage of having that already established name behind its production design. Honda’s crafting of Godzilla is felt throughout this film, almost mimicking it in parts, making you feel the familiarity of the plot but allowing for some unique aspects to come slipping through here and there. What results is a kaiju film that feels like a companion piece to the famous original Godzilla movie, which in my opinion isn’t a bad thing at all. The similarities are actually comforting and the quality of the production is astounding to say the least. It may not be as explosive as Godzilla, but what it lacks in destruction it more then makes up for in pace and placement within the world it creates.
I enjoyed the mystery behind Varan and the slow build up to his reveal. The fact that there is a village just a short walk away from the lake that he inhabits is a wild notion, and the realization that these villagers worship him as a god is a real treat. How Varan has never stumbled onto their village and has remained secluded to his area is beyond me, but I guess that’s the fun of movie magic. All I know is don’t look for butterflies on his property because Old Man Varan gets mighty pissed when you mess up his lawn.

The action of the film is also enjoyable, especially when you get to see tanks, jets, and everything in between, shooting all they have at this bastard of a creature and having all of their efforts do absolutely nothing to his hardened exterior. It’s also fun to see the desperation of the men and women fighting this giant, knowing there’s nothing they can do to stop him, but still trying over and over again to break his resolve. The film does a good job in making you believe that Varan is truly unbelievable in the sense that he just cannot be stopped by anything of this earth.
The special effects are also exceptional for the era of filmmaking and there’s some believable work in there that helps suck you into the film and make the unbelievable a reality. Genuinely speaking, the movie isn’t the most explosive kaiju film to ever grace the cinematic screen, but some of the set pieces and camera movements of the attacks on Varan really sweep you up in the action. The destruction level on Varan’s behalf also pales in comparison to Godzilla romp on Tokyo, but the atmosphere and tension that Varan’s doom march towards the city has in the film is rather tremendous and filled with hopelessness. That’s probably one of the best compliments that I can give the film.
There was always a sense of despair about the approaching monster to that metropolitan area and even though he never really reaches that destination or is able to wreak havoc on the metro landscape, you still feel the film had a satisfying ending because of all the tension that was created while trying to take him down. You almost feel the same relief as the inhabitants of the movie, when you finally see that the unbelievable Varan is maybe as not unbelievable as first thought.

Varan the Unbelievable is a great kaiju entry and another excellent film directed by Ishiro Honda. The movie has got the goods and the talent behind it to make it one hell of a fun ride. The mystery of Varan and the indestructible nature of the beast is intriguing and enjoyable, not to mention that the design of the creature is dynamic and iconic to boot. The blending of various successful elements of the original Godzilla film is a nice touch and the inclusion of some more original ideas are mixed perfectly into the structure of the film.
I’ve always enjoyed the monster mayhem of Japanese kaiju films and I’m glad to say that Varan is another one of those flicks that really stands the test of time in my eyes. It’s the hand crafted nature of these films that really get me and you can really see the efforts of all on board and the true dedication that the crew must have had in making this larger then life creature feature. If you’re a fan of kaiju films or need an innocent introduction to this wacky new world, then give this one a shot. It’s an iconic premise to a very successful genre of films, never straying too far from the norm but giving enough new concepts to warrant it a place among the greats of the genre. Varan the Unbelievable is truly…..

I can't take it anymore! I have to find a bathroom now!

This peaceful town is about to have one hell of a shitstorm.

Will you look at that. I stepped in gum again!

Someone's about to get a glimpse at something unbelievable.

Hello everyone.

Roger big daddy.... Calling to confirm that Varan is infact Unbelievable.

What's up party people!

Varan can fly?!?! Unbelievable!!!

These guys don't have a chance in hell of surviving this encounter.

My word! Even his action figure is unbelievable!

Well hey there. Need a lift?

Well I think he's unbelievable. I disagree.. He's most certainly believable.

Wang! Pay attention!

What an unbelievable way to make an enterance.

Look! I told you he was unbelievable!

Hi everyone at home. I'm still unbelievable.

The entire cast had the opportunity to say farewell to Varan. How sweet.

The End.

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