Terasawa wrote:What does Varan do well? I think it’s nearly without merit.
I actually maintain that the first half of Varan is very good. The build-up to Varan's first emergence from the lake is quite well done. We see shadows, we hear roars, there's a sense of eerie mystery to the whole thing. And when Varan does actually appear, the sequence is actually a lot more effective than the grand reveals in Godzilla and Rodan. Godzilla just stands there and roars over a mountain; Rodan just flies away; Varan destroys a village.
I enjoy the remote setting of Varan. It's the first kaiju film to have a remote setting, and the only one to have a remote setting that isn't a made-up island. One could argue that Rodan has a remote setting, but this setting is abandoned once the titular kaiju actually comes into play. Let's be honest, if creatures like Varan actually exist, isolated wilderness regions like the one in this film is where they'll be. The whole thing has a "Lost World" vibe to it that makes it stand out from other early kaiju films.
I think being black and white helps Varan a lot. I admit, I'm a sucker for black and white sci-fi/horror movies; I think they generally do a better job of creating atmosphere, and I think sometimes monsters look better in black and white. Varan definitely
looks better in black and white. In fact, I'd argue that Varan is the best looking black and white kaiju. The '54 Godzilla suit looks great in long-distance shots, but falters in close-ups. The '55 Godzilla and Anguirus suits are pretty awful. Ditto for the '65 Gamera suit. But Varan consistently looks good.
The musical score for Varan is great; Ifukube never disappoints. The title theme, in particular, is pretty epic. Nuff said about that.
The most common complaint registered with Varan is that the titular creature isn't interesting. That's somewhat unfair. The scene where Varan first unfurls his flying squirrel-esq membranes and takes flight is very memorable. I also enjoy the mysticism associated with Varan by the villagers, who believe him to be an evil nature god. The Odo Island natives held similar beliefs about Godzilla, but this is taken farther in Varan, with a shrine devoted to Baradagi. Obviously, Mothra did a mystical kaiju better, but Varan tried it first.
Now the other big complaint with Varan is one that I agree with: the second half of the film is pretty boring. The naval assault on Varan drags on, and the film loses its lost world aesthetic once it abandons the Kitakami River valley. The final attack on Haneda Airport is modestly entertaining, but overshadowed by the urban rampages in Godzilla and Rodan.
In summary, I think the first half of Varan has a lot of merit. The second half, maybe not so much. I think Varan would be a better film if it had stuck to its remote setting until the end, or at least close to the end. The movie loses its charm once Varan takes flight.