DVD Title
Varan the Unbelievable
International Title
Varan
DVD Length Original Length
87 Minutes 87 Minutes
Company Year of Manufacture
Tokyo Shock 2005
Language Subtitles
Japanese English
Region Number of Discs
1 1
Aspect Ratio Sound
2.35:1 (Anamorphic) 2.0 Mono, 3.0 Stereo, 5.1 Surround
Extras
. Menus (English)
. Chapters (16)
. Trailers: Varan (#1, #2), The Mysterians (Tokyo Shock), Matango, One Missed Call, Sky High
. Commentary with Keizo Murase (Japanese, English Subtitled)
. Lecture from Keizo Murase for High School Molding Seminar (29 minutes)
. Restored Television Broadcast Version (54 minutes)
Captures
Review

Tokyo Shock packs another worthy release under their belt with Varan the Unbelievable, and are quickly becoming one of the chief companies, alongside Criterion, to look toward for quality Toho releases. Almost across the board, Varan is a fantastic DVD, boasting great video quality, a decent audio presentation, and an outstanding collection of extras.


 Video:

Given the source material, the video presentation here is almost flawless. As with Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, the video, and most of the content on this disc for that matter, is a direct rip from Toho's region 2 release of the film. As with Toho's other releases, their only real down fall is how they handle the coloring on their discs, and this is a aspect which is void on the black and white Varan, although some other inconsistencies are introduced due to the age of the film itself. The brightness level isn't one of them though, as it's set at just the perfect level here, with all of the intended scenes being readily visible. The black levels could serve to be a little more refined, but it's handled well enough. Another aspect of the disc that is handled exceptionally well are the amount of noticeable digital inconsistencies. Artifacting, for example, is hardly visible, while edge enhancement is handled well too, with the film looking generally sharp for most of its duration.

In regards to the shape of the print used in the transfer, it's in truly amazing shape. On the negative side, light shimmer, a unnatural fading from light to dark during a single scene, does occur here once or twice, but not enough to become distracting. Beyond this though, the print looks nearly flawless. There isn't a scratch present anywhere, while the grain on the print is very low, with the exception of a few scenes. The stock footage shots, those culled from Godzilla (1954) or military stock footage, aren't in the best of shape though, often featuring lots of scratches and other print damage, but this isn't entirely to be unexpected. One last blemish here is that the film ends a little prematurely, only by several seconds, as the music cuts abruptly as Tokyo Shock's own credit sequence then starts to roll.

On a closing note, the viewing area of the film itself has been reduced for those watching the film on a DVD-Rom, with large black areas added to the left and right of the picture. Although those viewing the film on a TV have no need to worry, as the disc will play correctly, without the added black areas, on a regular television set. On a positive note, Varan is presented on the disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, or Toho Scope, and is Anamorphic for widescreen TVs.


 Audio:

The audio presentation here is a mixed bag; however, there are so many options available that it's hard to be cross with it overall. In fact, there are three audio tracks present: a 5.1 surround mix, a 3.0 stereo mix, and a 2.0 mono track of the movie, all three of which are in Japanese. Sadly, the 5.1 mix has its fair share of problems. Speaker distinction is apparent here, although, at times, the audio will simply blare through all of the speakers. Sound effects and dialogue have also been given an unnatural pitch, with the volume being increased and decreased at odd times, most likely in an attempt to better utilize the surround format. The 3.0 mix fares better here, as it does feature some speaker distinct, but has its own set of problems. For one, it's been recorded much lower then the other two tracks, which makes switching between them cumbersome. The second is that the music track has been tampered with; at times, the music sounds even flatter then the mono mix, while at others it pitches unnaturally to try and give a "stereo experience" to the music.

All in all, the 2.0 mono track is the way to go here. As with the limitations set forth by a mono presentation: it sounds flat, but it's the original audio format of the film and doesn't share any of the problems that the other tracks do. The audio track has been well preserved here as well, featuring no pops or crackles during the course of the film, and with dialogue and other sound effects sounding very clear.

As expected, the film is accompanied by, removable, English subtitles. The subtitle job on this disc is fairly faithful as well, certainly a step up from the one that accompanied Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People.


 Extras:

Taking the extras directly from Toho's own release, Tokyo Shock has another winner on their hands here, as Toho has handsomely equipped Varan with a number of notable additions. As with quite a few other Tokyo Shock releases, a audio commentary is included here, this time provided by suit maker Keizo Murase. Murase's commentary, spoken in Japanese and subtitled in English (a few typos persist, but not enough to detract from the experience), is very insightful into his experience working on Varan and his own living conditions at the time.

Another interesting supplement on this disc is the inclusion of a "High School Molding Seminar" video. The video in question has a special quest appearance by Murase, where he and a assistant show the process that went into making the Varan suit, and demonstrate how the shell and spikes were created. A odd addition, one can be sure, but makes for interesting viewing material. The short is featured in Japanese and includes, removable, English subtitles.

Of course, the star attraction here is the resurrection of the Television Broadcast version of the film. Sadly, the disc doesn't go into detail what this extra is, and will likely make for a confusing inclusion for some. To briefly explain, Varan was originally intended as a made for TV film that was a joint venture between Toho and AB-PT, a part of ABC, that was going to be showcased in America. Like Latitude Zero (1969), the US backing fell through, but instead of scrapping the film, Toho instead heavily adapted the product and released it theatrically in Japan. For those curious, this is why the film appears in black and white, despite being released after a slew of other sci-fi films by Toho were shot in color. So the inclusion of this feature is fairly significant. The total running time is 54 minutes, although its broken up into two smaller episodes, the first running up to 26 minutes in length and ending as Varan first shows his ability to fly. There is a brief "last time on Varan" segment, before the second portion starts. As expected, the condition of this extra does leave some to be desired, as the print features numerous scratches. There are tons of scenes that are missing as well, replaced with a little "Sound Only" cue card. Digital inconsistencies are more common here compared with the main film as well, with artifacting and edge enhancement being noticeable. Still, the amount of material that did survive to be constructed like this is simply astounding. A lot of this footage was used for the final product, while there is also a wealth of never before seen footage and audio cues present here to make it a worthwhile watch. It also gives a good idea at the large amount of adapting that was required in turing the made for TV movie into something acceptable for the theater crowd. However, this feature has already been cropped to the Toho Scope aspect ratio, and is not present at its original full screen dimensions. This feature is in Japanese with, removable, English subtitles, and contains 5 chapter stops.

Rounding out the added content on this disc is a collection of trailers and previews which include: The Mysterians, Matango, One Missed Call, Sky High and two trailers for Varan. The trailers for Matango and Sky High have, removable, English subtitles. The preview for The Mysterians is something different altogether, though. It seems someone at Tokyo Shock got bored, and decided to construct their own, very cheesy, preview for the film, which calls Moguera "Mogra!!!" among other things. Hopefully this isn't a sign of future added content, I certainly wouldn't want to see something like this done for Matango, but one can only wait and see.


 Overview: Star Rating
Bottom line, Tokyo Shock has done it again. The same care doesn't appear to have been placed here as with their The Mysterians or Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People releases, the lack of a dubbed track here is evidence enough of that, but those two releases were so above and anyway that this disc still deserves a solid recommendation for those who are fans of the kaiju genre.
- Anthony Romero  
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