Varan : 2 of 5
This movie was the third DVD included in the Toho Pack I recently purchased, and although this is a pretty weak kaiju film, I still enjoyed watching this 1958 black & white classic. Actually the first thing I noticed was the incredible Ikufube score, which features lots of drums and chorus vocals (and even some unexpected piano), and also includes a few themes that would later be re-used in Godzilla movies. The main characters are scientists (what else?) plus a cute reporter named Yuriko, but unfortunately there's almost no character development. Sine Varan was made only a few years after Godzilla, it's interesting to see how movies from the same genre can be so different (perhaps aggravated by the fact that Varan was originally planned as a TV release). The monster himself appears at about 25 minutes into the movie (with no mysterious build-up, unfortunately), and he's designed mostly as a traditional lizard (on all fours). At times the costume is so convincing that it looks like a real reptile, with detailed skin texture and cool spikes. Varan's unusual power is he can fly with arm/leg membranes like a flying squirrel, which is pretty creative, but he only does it once! There are some interesting attacks both in the sky with planes and even underwater with depth charges, but truthfully the battles are quite slow moving and drawn out. The final showdown occurs on a nice miniature Haneda airport set, where poor Varan is tricked into swallowing bombs (because he likes to eat flares)! The DVD includes a great Japanese commentary track with one of the special effects artists, who loves to talk about the various techniques he used, as well as a fascinating Japanese TV show where the same artist demonstrates how Varan's skin was created (an incredibly long process that really shows the devotion of the special effects crew!). Although this movie isn't high on my "watch again soon" list, I'm still enjoying experiencing these Toho classics for the first time!