Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Farscape S1 Ep12: Rhapsody In Blue

It's time for another Moya adventure and its crew of far out space nuts compliments of one Brian Henson and company.

Rhapsody In Blue might suggest the obvious that this episode of Farscape is indeed Zhann-centric. Despite my love and affection for Virginia Hey, this was potentially my least favorite entry to date. Still, the latest Farscape does have its moments and the story unveils more regarding the mysteries surrounding Hey's character P'au Zotoh Zhaan.

Ultimately, my adoration for Farscape is boundless. It's an easy show to love in the way one loved and has an affection for Star Trek: The Original Series. Both series have much in common. They both are bold and colorful and the personality of each series is defined by a cast chemistry that ranks second to none. Even the weakest episodes have something considerable to offer or something worthy of your time. Not many shows can make those claims. Undeniably, ST:TOS and Farscape always give us something of quality even in their least successful moments.

Obviously, there's always something for the fangirls. In Farscape The Illustrated Companion, Hey jokes about the many Delvian female characters who appear in the entry having hair. The conceptual design of her character was wise since Zhaan, from the beginning of the series, has essentially subdued her dark forces, found an inner calm and offers a purity and cleansing that her Delvian people appear to be at odds, in conflict or struggle with especially based on the information revealed here. Her bald, pure, good looks truly speak to the centered-nature of her character, one that is philosophically a work in progress. So where did the writers take Zhaan? Let us get lost inside Farscape, Season One, Episode 12, Rhapsody In Blue.

The entry opens with John Crichton sleeping with a bangin' hot blonde, Alex. He plans to ask for her hand in marriage before she informs him she will be relocating to Stamford University clear across the country. He slides the intended ring back under the bed. Nevertheless, while disappointed, a healthy libido thus commenceth once again.

The dream concludes with Crichton hurled from his bed aboard a shaking, Starbursting Moya. Shots pleasantly reveal an undie wearing Crichton to an undie wearing Aeryn Sun for fan girls and boys alike. Fanatics everywhere revel. Aeryn is wearing Crichton's Calvin Kleins.

Rygel reveals to Crichton that he too was dreaming of his many wives before the shakedown. D'Argo even dreamt of his lost love Lo'Lann.

Pilot reveals Moya was sent a distress signal. The deception was sent from fellow Delvians hoping to contact Zhaan.

On the planet below it is discovered the Delvians have established a missionary colony. Crichton and Sun have accompanied Zhaan to the planet. Zhaan is suspicious of the intentions of one Pa'u Tahleen. Zhaan tells her "You invaded my soul last night." Apparently it was the Delvians who influenced the entire crew of Moya. The militant-minded Sun questions the "serenity" of this place.

The trio returns to the Delvian ship that is at once beautiful, unique, incredible and creepy according to Crichton. Despite Aeryn's cautious nature, John is like a wide-eyed little boy open to the discovery of each new surrounding. Our viewing experience is similar and we identify with Crichton's journey. We are awed by the creations that are depicted in Farscape. "Almost everything we see, almost every day is brand new to both of us."

Claudia Black can look at the tag on her underwear and she's sexy. Tahleen asks Zhaan for the secrets to her power. We are given a sense of Zhaan's history. She has somehow managed to overcome hatred, anger and madness suppressing insanity and the dark impulses through control and power of which Zhaan cannot relinquish. Even Zhaan cannot understand how she survived those "early cycles." The Delvians seek to understand how Zhaan co-exists with such feelings. In exchange, the Delvians will teach her great powers. To demonstrate her powers, Tahleen alters Crichton's mind expressing her ability to willingly manipulate. Zhaan demands that Crichton be returned to his original mental state. His reactions are the result of manipulations, but Aeryn is unaware and looks at Crichton telling him, "You are thee most bizarre creature I have ever met."

More terrific mattes from the world of Farscape. On Moya, D'Argo is concerned "Delvian trickery" may be in play.

A old, wizened Delvian named Pa'u Tuzak warns Crichton to be vigilant and that Zhaan is in danger. He warns Crichton despite the fact he is going insane and believes Crichton to be a Peacekeeper. Apart from Crichton being advised not to touch the sanctity root, Aeryn is ushered out of the temple. She flies back to Moya.

Zhaan admits to Crichton she dreamt of her last lover on the eve of their arrival. Zhaan asks Tahleen to show Crichton.

Crichton is presented a vision of Zhaan locked in an embrace with Pa'u Bitaal and Zhaan killing her Delvian leader and lover like some mating mantis.

It was that action that imprisoned Zhaan. Crichton, despite keeping an open mind, is repulsed. "You killed a guy you were having sex with." There it is again - sex! Farscape is synonymous with sex. The series is indeed infused with a healthy sexuality and unabashed exploration of the act. Zhaan pleads with John to understand. She requires judgment from someone she trusts. She needs his help because the Delvians have asked her to do it again.

As it turns out Zhaan killed Bitaal because he would not yield his power to someone else. The conservative Delvian and others entered into an agreement with the Peacekeepers for external security. It changed her homeworld forever. "A Delvian coup d'etat," as Crichton calls it. The Peacekeepers rounded up liberal thinkers and placed them in camps. Zhaan's father was one of those thinkers. Zhaan loved the man she killed. The Delvians in question here are looking to Zhaan so that she might reinstate their power. Zhaan explains the dark impulses can overtake the Delvian like an infection. "Is that what happened to grandpa Looneytoons?" Zhaan submits the madness is threatening Tuzak's followers. Crichton wonders how Zhaan has remained sane as "twisted" as she is. Zhaan explains it is the fusion of two minds through unity. It is the sacred union of two minds, two spirits, two souls. Queue the Rick Springfield track Souls. Well, he was from the land down under too. Springfield and Hey are indeed two of Australia's finest.

Meanwhile, the Delvians learn of Aeryn and D'Argo's intentions to return to the planet. It's the last thing they want.

It's becoming quite clear that the Delvians are equipped with great mental powers as a people. They may manipulate Moya's crew at will. "Their minds are weak. Preoccupy them all as you would children. Attack them with their own hopes and fears." Tahleen orders Lorana and Hasko to handle Zhaan's companions.

Crichton's mind is visited once again by his Earth lover.

Zhaan pays a visit to Tuzak who tends to the Sanctity Root field. Zhaan rightfully suspects Tahleen's intentions to be unjust or ignoble. Zhaan asks Tuzak if she will harm people. "Certainly, but she may also free a planet from tyranny," admits Tuzak. The suggestion of both good and evil as part of the fabric of a people is an interesting one here and certainly speaks to the dichotomies found in human nature. The Delvian people need freedom from the Peacekeepers, but not enslavement through control by one of their own.

As D'Argo prepares for departure he tells Rygel to retrieve them immediately if they do not return. Rygel's reply, "Yes of course, my thought exactly." And from the planet below, the Delvians are messing with Aeryn aboard Moya. Her deepest fears, as a warrior, plague her as her weapon appears disassembled. D'Argo envisions Jothee aboard Moya being chased by Peacekeepers. Meanwhile, Rygel becomes a tiny little Hynerian amplifying his lack of power and stature within his new found family in flight.

Zhaan meets with Tahleen. She is a deceptive one feigning humility before Zhaan. Within mere moments of their union, Tahleen attempts to extract more than "the smallest seed" instead opting to rape Zhaan of her power and capabilities. "You betrayed me" as Zhaan exits from the union. Her eyes are now bright red. "I made a mistake," she decries.

Zhaan's dark impulses are now free. Tahleen stripped Zhaan of her ability to control them. She is a ferocious beast within as she clamps Crichton's head with her hands.

Crichton looks for Tahleen and makes efforts to remain unswayed or unmoved by his former Earth lover. The crew of Moya continues to be affected by The Delvians. Despite groping from his lover Crichton appears the most disaffected by the Delvians' influence.

"This isn't about freedom. It's about power," says Crichton to Tahleen. Crichton quietly, with almost a whisper, urges Tahleen, "You put it right." Crichton expects her to repair Zhaan.

Tahleen informs Lorana to destroy Crichton's mind. She also confesses to her people Zhaan held onto her secret, her secret of controlling the madness. Zhaan didn't relinquish all of herself.

Crichton's quest to make things right as only Crichton can is interrupted by his Earth girl who holds up her hand complete with wedding ring. "I never gave you that," he realizes, but Crichton flashes to another sequence suggesting he did give her the ring. Crichton's confusion grows. His visions are convincing.

Meanwhile Tahleen pays a visit to Tuzak, her father. Tuzak points out that Tahleen, a symbol of today's generations, moves to fast, "pillaging knowledge without the wisdom to control it." Tahleen is willing to bypass that which is important. Tuzak calls her decisions "worse" than the insanity she wishes to control. Tahleen quashes her father's mind silencing him as he falls to the ground. It is an extreme case of power without responsibility of which Tuzak falls prey.

Zhaan plans to join with Tahleen once more. Crichton suspects she will kill Tahleen. Zhaan calls Crichton the "most clever one on Moya." Zhaan is hungry for retribution and calls that drive "intoxicating." Unleashed Zhaan is thirsty to feed her unchecked hatred of Tahleen.

Crichton seems to flip seamlessly between reality and visions of wife Alex. He is lucid in both worlds. Alex reveals herself to be Lorana. Crichton asks the only logical human question, "How in God's name do you call yourself a priest?" Lorana admits the Delvians have lost their way as she refers to their Sanctity Root as a symbol of purity of thought and intent. Crichton references the twisted root as symbol of the twisted nature of their beliefs and the crooked root is the perfect representation of their lost faith.

Hasko contacts Moya to set the crew straight. Pilot delivers perhaps one of the most caustic, sharp observations of Rygel. It's stunning to hear because Pilot, despite his feelings, is a creature built to protect Moya and her crew first. This revelation appears born of the loss of his arm in DNA Mad Scientist. Here Pilot tells Rygel, "Your eminence, you're never any smaller than your current stature." Hasko asks the crew to stay put while they set things straight below.

Lorana confronts Tahleen pointing out her actions as wrong. Tahleen belittles Lorana as "easy" and "pleasurable" referring to their previous unions. Lorana, dubbed "foolish" by her mentor, plants a false seed that Zhaan and Crichton are heading to the surface to reach Moya. Once again, the deceptions continue.

Zhaan finds Crichton in the temple. She feels she would kill Crichton, but he calls her a chicken. Zhaan says she is curious about what goes on inside his mind. Crichton offers one of those classic Farscape retorts. "Not a lot, I'm a guy."

Human and Delvian unite. Zhaan urges Crichton to refrain from absorbing her rage. He sees kindness and a gentleness about her. It's still there. The two disengage and Zhaan's eyes fade from red to cool blue. Crichton has saved one of his own. "Thank you John."

Later, Crichton chops down the Sanctity Root calling the Delvian colony "a bastard sect in any religion." He urges Tahleen to "burn down the temple sister." Tahleen attempts to destroy Crichton, but Zhaan saves him. As a result of Zhaan's union with Tahleen she has moved from 9th level Pa'u to 10th level Pa'u "able to protect." Tahleen implores that they want the same thing, but Zhaan rejects that belief. Zhaan knows that Tahleen embraces the dark side, the dark impulses within that Zhaan chooses to suppress. Tahleen is left with much with which to reconcile within.

There's one thing you can expect from the wonderful writing of Farscape and that is philosophy and its ponderance of existence. Take this lovely closing sentiment between Zhaan and Crichton. Farscape continues to bring some terrific moments of closure to the end of its entries.

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The episode is long on complexity, much like the contorted sanctity root, but short on the brisk-paced fun normally associated with a Farscape excursion. Again, it does have its moments, but Rhapsody In Blue left me a little cold and the series goes and its complex weave of Delvian nature was less than engaging for my tastes.

Zhaan is an easy character to love, but to date I have enjoyed the character in portions complementing Sun and Crichton rather than taking central stage. Bringing her character to the fore as the show's focus slowed things down a bit. Character development is fine, but it felt like a dense weave a little too quickly. In fact, in Farscape The Illustrated Companion Director Andrew Prowse discusses his abrupt approach at shocking viewers by exposing Zhaan in this radical transformation. Admittedly, for me, the approach sacrificed pacing for an overly heavy dose of the internal and external struggle within Delvian culture. Rhapsody In Blue may have been necessary to develop character, but it felt a little too clinical to be fully embraced. I would have preferred a more gradual approach in presenting the information. The jolt was a touch distracting to me. Nevertheless, Virginia Hey is stunning in her role as Zhaan. She is not only a beautiful woman, but her delivery of the character is indeed very special. Hey plays such a strong female character also in touch with her feminine self. Despite my lack of appreciation and my reservations toward this particular installment, at the very least, there is still much to consider as the titular work would suggest in its contrast of mood, color and tone. There is indeed a poetic, emotional form to the entry's composition as the rhapsodic might suggest. The episode's emphasis on all things Delvian and Farscape's unabashed approach to female perspectives throughout the series certainly lends itself to the cerebral. It's highly literary style can sometimes be ambitious, if not entirely successful in execution. But in keeping with the spirit of what the writers were probably aiming for, Rhapsody In Blue no doubt hits the mark. Like poetry, it's not for everyone, but you'll be blue with envy.

Rhapsody In Blue: C-. Writer: David Kemper & Ro Hume. Director: Andrew Prowse.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tracy Reed [1942-2012]

It's FAB FRIDAY, but it arrives with little fanfare and a certain tinge of sadness as we look at one of the bright, shining stars from the world of Gerry And Sylvia Anderson and beyond to hail from England.

English actress Tracy Reed [1942-2012] passed away in early May. She was the object of desire for many men through the years in her film and TV appearances.

Reed was the featured FAB FRIDAY photo not once but twice here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic following timely coverage in February of her major guest starring role in UFO, Episode 7, The Dalotek Affair.

The ever beautiful Reed co-starred in Series One of Man Of The World [1962]. She was once considered a replacement for Diana Riggs in The Avengers. Of course, she was renowned for her role as Miss Scott in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb [1964]. She also appeared in the spy comedy Casino Royale [1967]. Reed was also noted as Miss Foreign Affairs in a nude photo for Playboy [1962]. British, brunette beauty really never looked better than the gorgeous Tracy Reed.

Reed passed away May 2nd of liver cancer at age 70 in West Cork Ireland. She will indeed be sorely missed by those friends and family closest to her.

This respectful update comes by way of Ladypama who visited a previous FAB FRIDAY Photo post noted above. I wanted to post this unfortunate news last FAB FRIDAY, but had some difficulty finding information corroborating Reed's passing, but that has since been verified this week.

Rest in peace Ms. Reed. You were a FAB beauty!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Varan The Unbelievable Promo

These posters for Varan The Unbelievable [1958] capture images employed for the bastardized US version of the film. American actors with plenty of new exposition supplants much of the original Japanese footage.

The DVD cover of the film is more faithful to the Toho picture and director Ishiro Honda's Japanese vision. The original version is easily the preferred film.

Though, Varan The Unbelievable was originally a US/ Japan co-production that fell apart on the American side. But, as always, the US inevitably bought the rights and edited their own dubbed and butchered version of an ultimately different film. Many writers like Stuart Galbraith IV [Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films] and the folks over at Toho Kingdom have offered a nice assessment of the American version in their coverage of the film.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Varan The Unbelievable

Are you prepared to suspend disbelief? Are you braced to hear The Sci-Fi Fanatic overuse the word unbelievable? You may need to reach back for something extra on this one. The description on the back of the DVD reads: For centuries, it slept... Man, ever searching, disturbed its peace... Fear The Unknown. You have to love the big sell on this kaiju eiga picture. With Varan The Unbelievable [1958], surprisingly, be afraid, be very afraid.

Varan may indeed be little known outside of Japan, because the film really never made the kind of splash Rodan, Mothra or Godzilla made stateside. Varan, as a monster, is simply not well known outside hardcore kaiju eiga fan circles, but it truly is unbelievable. Could it be more unbelievable that this film quietly registers chronologically under the kaiju eiga radar somewhere between Gojira [1954], Rodan [1956] and Mothra [1961]? It's also black and white, a potential budgetary issue, following the colorful Rodan. Would it seem unbelievable if Ishiro Honda phoned it in or agreed to film this script by Shinichi Sekizawa [one of his weakest]? What about Eiji Tsuburaya? Is Varan The Unbelievable as bad as many have suggested all these forgotten years? We find out.

Returning for this one last black and white foray in Tohoscope, director Ishiro Honda, special effects Eiji Tsuburaya, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and composer Akira Ifukube return for a plunge into monstrous unbelievability. I know- I'm really having fun with the unbelievable Varan. The team, surprisingly, returns with a cast outside the usual cadre of characters and not normally connected to most Toho/ Honda success stories for this unusual attempt at Godzilla-lite. This fact may be due in part to Varan The Unbelievable being a planned Japan-USA co-production for television stateside [ABC]. Unfortunately, like the outcome for Latitude Zero [1969], US backing fell apart and Honda and company were left picking up the pieces. Thus, in part, why Varan The Unbelievable feels mildly disjointed and ultimately fails. All of this plus, according to Stuart Galbraith IV in his book Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films, Toho had its creative team spread thin by working on The Three Treasures [1959] with Toshiro Mifune as well.

The mattes in the film are beautiful as always. The score is sufficiently booming and classically brilliant as one might expect from Ifukube. The effects are good, but not overly complicated, still they satisfy. All of this teasing potential aside, we are informed very early on to be prepared for the most mysterious story ever told and therein lies the problem. The story is simply flat, unconvincing and overly simplistic when compared to successes like Mothra or King Kong Vs. Godzilla [1962].

The story begins when butterflies, exclusively native to Siberia, are surprisingly discovered in Japan. Two institute researchers will investigate. Honda and scriptwriter Shinichi Sekizawa would one day prove their fascination with the butterfly or moth with Mothra. Was the idea born from Varan The Unbelievable?

In an area referred to as the Tibet of Japan, two researchers arrive at Iwaya Village and discover a group of semi-primitive villagers. A sign post with Japanese script indicates a gateway to the God of Baradagi. An earthquake ensues. What should be essentially a day of discovery for two butterfly researchers grows ominous. "It's too early for monsters," declares one of the men, almost preparing us for the overly simple-minded monster movie that lies ahead. No worries kaiju eiga fans, Varan is coming, but not soon enough.

The pained cry of a monster, suspiciously too close to the sound effect implemented for Godzilla, standing to reason of course, warns of an imminent attack and the men are killed in the remote mountains. Could it have been the legendary God of Baradagi? The aping of Godzilla's roar aside, the film also props up a suspiciously close set up in the belief shared by these islanders toward Varan that mirror a similar idea put forth in Gojira [1954].

The villagers led by the village priest pray to Baradagi in a ritual reminiscent of the King Kong mythology but on a much smaller scale. A trio of two researchers and a reporter arrive to investigate further. The priest implores them to leave. They ask blasphemously if anyone has ever seen this Baradagi. Once again the deep growl of Baradagi permeates the air. Fearing the great creature will awaken praying recommences.

Varan The Unbelievable was clearly channeling Gojira [1954], but presenting itself to be not much more than a very pale imitation. Nevertheless, the title reflects the brazen acts of outsiders from Tokyo skeptical of Baradagi's existence despite evidence of a massive beast.

The "ever searching" researchers ultimately defy the wisdom of the villagers and the elder priest and seek to chase down a boy and his dog, despite ovations to stop. The Tokyo outsiders call the elder's beliefs "foolish" and exhibit a general disrespect for village lore. Of course, that's never good for anyone in kaiju eiga.

That's a great idea! A series of generally illogical actions takes place particularly when the two men manage to convince the entire village to head out into the thick fog to find their missing boy. Here were these primitive, very superstitious villagers warning the outsiders and being adamant not to go beyond the fence line that separated their world from that of Baradagi suddenly throwing their hands up in the air and joining them. It just seemed to defy the philosophy of an entire people in one fell swoop.

The group eventually finds Yuriko, a reporter, with the boy as the fog lifts.

The whole thing feels a little too conveniently and illogically established to get us to the swirling lake where Baradagi rises from the depths. Kaiju eiga rising from the depths is always a highlight.

Varan the flying squirrel. The breed of creature is the resulting, uninspired mix of "Godzilla, Angilas, and a giant squirrel," according to author Steve Ryfle in Japan's Favorite Mon-Star. In fact, you can make that a flying squirrel. I'll even add part toad in the face. Galbraith called it an "amalgam" of Godzilla, Angilas and Rodan. But yes, this here creature can fly like a flying squirrel.

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A shadow effect against a screen. Much running and hurrying ensues. And Baradagi or Varan, for me, too closely resembles Godzilla's voice effects for me to take this thing seriously. One can only imagine, back in 1958, there was no real certainty anyone would notice such a move entirely as a franchise had hardly been born at that point, but given all of the films, that iconic lizard and his equally iconic voice, it's a tough sell seeing it today. It's simply hard to believe.

Koreya Senda would also appear in H-Man. No amount of forgiveness requested from the elder will satiate Baradagi. He has arrived. He is well pissed and people will and must die. There's simply nowhere to hide as the village is wiped out. This is clearly a very petty, slumbering god beast because the villagers hardly did anything to upset it other than find their boy in its sacred land. Varan could only be considered a light sleeper or a bully. It's got unbelievable gall. It's a bit like throwing a Frisbee in the neighbor's yard and out comes the owner with a shot gun. Whoa! Take it easy big fella.

Even the fine Akihiko Hirata can't save this one. The reporters suspect the creature is a Varan suggesting this creature from 185 million years ago is just one of many that existed. Varan is a Varanopode. It is of the Triassic or Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Whatever you do, don't do your homework on this one.

Given the size and destructive capabilities of the creature this is a job for the Defense Agency. All manner of tanks, chemical weapons and military equipment make their way back to the remnants of the village in preparation to destroy Varan ... The Unbelievable ... where it sleeps at the bottom of its lake. Of course no one has any proof that the creature is at the bottom of the lake it's merely an unconfirmed hunch.

So fish die and all manner of human fury is launched against the lake. Varan emerges. Let the onslaught begin. Of course people run and run and run and keep running when it is determined that the creature might better be dubbed Varan The Unbeatable or Varan The Unstoppable, because conventional firepower isn't cutting the mustard against this Varanopode. Clearly there are a whole of believers now. There are so many believers the title of the film was almost modified to Varan The Believable.

Inexplicably, winds kick up around all of the people, apparently the result of Varan, yet there is no wind anywhere to be seen around Varan. There's not a single gust amidst the inconsistent editing. Galbraith noted that new material was shot and was poorly integrated with older footage [Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films] and it shows.

Yuriko is trapped and Kenji, a fellow researcher from the expedition, saves her.

Suddenly, without any visual cues to suggest the existence of flight, Varan spreads its arms to reveal membrane material similar to that of the aforementioned flying squirrel and off it goes into the wild, blue yonder at about mach 1.5. Absolutely uncanny, unexpected and certainly, you guessed it, unbelievable.

If the film wasn't so poor a scene like this would be scary. The Defense Agency is stumped on how to repel and defeat Varan. They sit around a table, groupthink-style, debating whether Varan's skin is tougher than steel. It's all quite silly really.

When Varan is next spotted he is no longer flying like a squirrel, but rather swimming much like Godzilla across the Pacific waters and thus ripe for carpet-styled, rocket bombing accompanied by a patriotic Ifukube score. As Varan makes its way to Tokyo much attacking is levelled upon the great Varan. Like the final battle in The Mysterians [1957], some of the festivities tends to go on a touch too long, but at 87 minutes what's an effects director and director to do? Depth charges anyone?! Up next, depth charges!

It's funny, but several times people shout, "standby for action!" or "ready for action!" and yet somehow I kept waiting for characters and a story to care about amidst all of the commotion. No kidding around, I fell hopelessly asleep during the film when I started watching it on a Sunday afternoon. Normally, Sunday afternoon is prime time creature feature time and yet, sad to say, Varan The Unbelievable just wasn't getting it done.

After all the weapons fail, Varan surfaces and its onto Tokyo. Hundreds of Japanese men, women and children flee in trademark Toho fashion.

Dr. Fujimora has a special weapon, much like Hirata's character counterpart in Gojira. The weapon is essentially dynamite, twenty times stronger, and must be detonated from inside Varan to be effective.

Varan is seen swallowing flares in an absolutely comical looking moment. It is thus determined, the flares shall be the delivery system to detonate the ultimate weapon within Varan.

Varan slinks off into the sea and explodes. Let's face it, if you're an effects director, it's much easier to detonate water than a man in a suit. The film ends on a wholly ungratifying, unbelievably bad ending. Where is EMF when you need them to sing Unbelievable [1990]?

Despite all of the trappings of a classic kaiju eiga, it never quite gets its footing or momentum, because the foundation for its story is shaky and never materializes into anything substantive. The editing is jerky, poorly cut and some of the scenes just look plain disappointing. The horrendous depth charge scene comes to mind. The idea is good, but the execution is okay. The acting is a little flat. Not even a small appearance by the uber-cool of Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Fujimora, minus the patch, yet with a special bomb [sound familiar?], can save this lackluster monster epic. Tension never quite mounts in the intimate scenes in ways many of the Honda productions succeed particularly surrounding a core of three characters, two men and one woman. It simply never manifests the magic of Honda and Tsuburaya's work to some surprise. The film sort of lumbers along like the titular prehistoric creature. Oh well, everyone is allowed a mis-step now and again and Varan The Unbelievable would likely be theirs focusing solely on their source material, not their efforts.

Depth charge explosions and water footage superimposed over a resting monster. Steve Ryfle called the foray into Varan a "lackluster" and "dull yarn" [Japan's Favorite Mon-Star, p.66].


Stuart Galbraith IV found the film "disappointing" and "cheap-looking" as recorded in his fine book Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo [p.179] but also noted Ifukube's score as the exceptional exception eclipsed by a poor film. Galbraith is unabashed in dubbing Tsuburaya's work here as "unambitious" when compared to his normally superior outings. He calls Varan itself "undistinguished." Galbraith expanded on his reflections in his excellent reference Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films [p.41-44]. Galbraith discusses the "mystery" surrounding Varan's production. The flaws are essentially compounded generating "a hurried, sloppy look to the film." He fairly considers Varan to be Toho's "least interesting science fiction film of the 1950s." He refers to the film as "boring," but judges the American cut more harshly.

Miles Imhoff over at the fantastic Toho Kingdom thought the viewing of the American version of the Japanese original made the original look like "Seven Samurai." Well, here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic we watch the originals and it's not in the same arena as Akira Kurosawa's film, despite Imhoff's humor that points out how the subbed and dubbed English versions are normally abysmal to their kaiju eiga Japanese counterparts. He even calls the American version a "failure." Though Imhoff offers a great rendering of the English version of the film.

Toho Kingdom's Anthony Romero also noted the highlights of Tsuburaya's effects and Ifukube's score, but points to facets of the film that are "lackluster," "bland," "uninteresting" and "rather boring." Romero correctly notes one problem, "the story's chief fault is simply that the human cast is extraordinarily dull." Their performances are certainly forgettable. Romero recounts a number of the problems between the cast and the script they were forced to work with. Romero wonders amusingly, "So how does Varan fare as a solo kaiju antagonist? Not very well, and certainly the most unmemorable of the Toho kaiju to be given their own film."

Truthfully, there really isn't much of a story here, which is so surprising because screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa would remain a mainstay of Toho working with Honda on some legitimate classics like the upcoming Mothra. He would pen some of our favorites, which is why Varan The Unbelievable is so unbelievably disappointing. It's not without its merits and for those who enjoy kaiju eiga of any kind, it's still worth a look even if it is a relatively messy, uninspired clunker. The whole production feels a little less polished, a little half-hearted, a little lifeless and quite frankly, based on my love for Honda, Tsuburaya and company, that is pretty, well, I won't say it. To think this was nearly the same team behind the wonderful Rodan just two years earlier does come as a slight surprise. One thing Varan proves, is that there's magic in those Godzilla films. Disappointment aside I'm pleased Varan The Unbelievable was made available because it allows us to truly appreciate Gojira, Rodan and Mothra that much more. It also demonstrates as fantastic as the films of Honda and Tsuburaya were for years, as heralded as they were as creators, they were still human and that makes them extraordinary. Varan The Unbelievable: D. Director: Ishiro Honda. Writer: Ken Kuronuma/ Shinichi Sekizawa.