By 1989, Japan learned to cope with giant monsters. After dunking Godzilla into a volcano just prior to the events of Godzilla vs Biollante, the country established a four-tiered warning system. It’s based on Godzilla’s presence, activity, and sightings. Smart, as they’re treating Godzilla as a natural disaster likely to return.
Not smart is continually sending the military to egg on the creature, missiles harmlessly falling to the wayside in an otherwise exciting sea battle. Ships and helicopters do their best to ward off the monster, only to become incinerated by radioactive breath.
For the most part, Japan and a young military Major Sho Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima) have a plan of action for when those menial efforts collapse. There’s the souped-up Super X II, a war machine designed with a synthetic diamond mirror to reflect rays back towards the beast. An artificial weather system is in place to shock and heat up Godzilla, this inserted into the script as what feels like a last minute replacement.
The crux of Biollante’s often cluttered narrative is ANEB: Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria, a biological cleaning agent that could, in the wrong hands, wipe out nuclear arsenals and leave countries vulnerable. Interspersed in the script are agents for numerous countries, converging on Japan for their piece of this genetically crafted bug. A rogue Arab nation called Saradia is at the helm, muddying the waters of the film’s often clustered character roster.
Biollante is all over the place, with sharp edits that intersect action, sloppy human fights, and boisterous visual effects that rank among the best in this franchise. Rarely settling down, Biollante is forced to deal with its human element, capsizing the pacing and breaking down the energy of the monster brawling.
A personal angle is unique, a lonely scientist working with the memories of his dead daughter while he experiments with Godzilla, human, and rose DNA. The result is Biollante, spirited even in the annals of the franchise hall of fame. Initially a full plant with mouthy tentacles, Biollante morphs into a marvelous, toothy monstrosity completed with a guttural roar. She/it towers over Godzilla, impressive not only within the lens, but on set too. It’s spectacle.
So to is Godzilla, the design settling down compared to Godzilla ’84, consistent in looks whether with distance or in close. It’s a heavy, bulky, and fearsome design, with uncaring, inset eyes. That’s not a negative, merely selling Godzilla as a reckless demon who exists only to destroy. The effect is total and complete.
This would be one of only two Godzilla outings from the ’80s, the series forging ahead with lighter fare in 1991, headlined by more familiar monsters and kookier concepts. Two years later, fans were left trying to wrap their heads about a time travel scenario that explained Godzilla’s origins, only continuing the headache caused by Biollante’s international affair. Grim and dark, this would mark a high point for the franchise on almost all levels even if certain decisions nearly cause it to crumble.
Lost in the realm of DVD – seeing Stateside release in dubbed versions via VHS and Laserdisc only – Biollante’s first truly digital offering comes from Echo Bridge. Ditching their super, crammed releases destined for the bargain bin, Biollante receives some star treatment, at least on the Echo Bridge scale.
Encoded with AVC, there are two things holding the film back, the first being compression, the second being a master that falls short of being completely up to date. Fans will probably take what they can get in terms of official releases and run with it, but that doesn’t immediately cure the ills. What begins as a surprisingly clean encode quickly runs into a minor roadblock. The difficulties of mixing fog, smoke, and source film grain is noted, as is the immediately apparent banding. Moving into the various war rooms, walls are scattered with a broken grain structure, more noise than grain.
What’s odd is that Echo Bridge has issued the film on a BD-50, and yet leaves half the disc empty. The entirety of the disc is barely over 26GB. There’s more than enough room to kick up the bitrate and massage the grain into a stable, more natural looking state. That would still leave a master of lesser quality, although one that would be almost entirely clean. A stray blue line during the first monster on monster rumble and dirt near the bottom of the screen are the only notable offenders. That’s solid preservation when you see all of the multi-pass effects.
The weakest element is definition, the print slightly faded from age and since the master almost assuredly comes from Toho, incorrect IRE levels. The latter is almost tradition for Godzilla flicks once ported over, leaving black levels dim or even gray. Still, that’s veering off course. Biollante lacks the kick needed for it to shine, close-ups of humans or suits producing fair levels of high-fidelity detail at their peak. There’s not much to see otherwise. Even in consideration of softer source photography and age, there are glimpses of something else hiding behind the layers of haze. That never comes through.
A few primaries will find their zone – the reds pouring from the roses striking – while the rest appears naturally muted. While the ’70 affairs and anything post-Biollante are ripe for saturation, the lack of dominating hues seems in line with the end product. Flesh tones have a little kick, while sparks and explosions will create some definite contrast.
Biollante is here. Let’s be glad it finally happened.
Audio options galore, including the raw Japanese track with full-on broken English dialogue in often hilarious states. If you’ve only heard the dub (also included here), you’ll be in for a shock. Focusing in on the Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 mix, this will come through as a center-heavy stereo affair with the off effect panning into the surrounds. The Super X will pass overhead, some waves will crash, and explosions will dryly echo into the rears. Little is distinctive.
That’s fine, because despite the lack of weight and positioning, fidelity is outstanding. You can do the comparison yourself, switching between the dub and original language. The dub’s effects are flat and lifeless in comparison. The Japanese track is brighter, and not in an artificial manner. There’s a crispness to the audio, from firing missiles to monster roars, that benefit this mix.
Also mingling is Koichi Sugiyama’s bold little score, lacking in the weight of an Ifukube masterpiece, yet still carrying the action with chipper military themes. They’re full, with wide expanses and pitch perfect fidelity. There’s a lot that can be lost to age with a score so rich in highs, but this doesn’t miss.
Echo Bridge pulls two bonuses for the Blu-ray, the first being a look at some conceptual models for Biollante (2:58), and the second a wonderful behind-the-scenes peak at how the film came together. Owners of import DVDs will find the 50-minute feature familiar, although now with subtitles.
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