Talkback: Varan (1958)

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GojiDog
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by GojiDog »

Everything about Varan feels like a lesser version of what came before it.

Its in black and white like Gojira, but doesn't have the same meaning or sense of dread that film does.

He's a sea monster that rises from the depths, like Godzilla, but doesn't feel quite as hellish or destructive.

He's got spines and walks on all fours like Anguiras, but nowhere near as cool or striking.

He flies, but is not nearly as cool as Toho's main resident flier, Rodan.

I think part of the problem is that this movie really does feel like a collection of scenes rather than a full narrative. When I think of Toho's best monster flicks, like Gojira, Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, etc, those are the ones that some kind of purpose or meaning behind everything beyond just having the monster tear stuff up. Gojira works as an allegory for nuclear weapons gone awry. Rodan works as a horror movie with real victims and they feel like a real threat, and the monsters in WoG actually have personalities and development of their own to serve as the heart of the story. And even the more spectacle driven monster movies, like Destroy All Monsters, are wild and bombastic.

This film just feels...ordinary. Even starting the movie off with a hunt for butterflies feels disconnected from everything else, like nothing really matters except the monster. That just leads to a cycle of scenes: Monster attacks, Military responds, it doesn't work, they try something new, Varan retaliates, and that pretty much goes all the way through to the end without any raise in stakes or interesting characters to carry it.

I'll give the American version this, at least they tried to connect the scientific experiment to the monster in a way that made sense, and at least I felt a little something for Myron Healy's character and his wife. I almost don't blame the US distributors for basically shooting a new story to go around the special effects scenes because there was no story to work with beyond that in the first place. Sure its a sloppily put together mess and the editing is atrocious, but they had at least a nugget of an idea that could have resulted in a better movie.

That said, Varan does have somethings going for it. For one, its unique due to its rarity and Godzilla fans like myself will definitely be interested to check out a movie featuring that one monster that had a 5 second cameo in Destroy All Monsters. Varan himself is a cool monster. I mean I compared him to Godzilla and Rodan, but he was sort of the first triple threat kaiju. He can attack on land, sea, and air and the design is interesting. The monster scenes themselves are fairly well done, if not up to the level of Godzilla or Rodan. Also, this goes without saying, but Akira Ifukube's music works well too. (Speaking of which why did US distributors insist on changing the music in some of these films? Seriously, the music is great as is, the work is done for you. Give it a rest!).
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by mikelcho »

GojiDog wrote:Everything about Varan feels like a lesser version of what came before it.

Its in black and white like Gojira, but doesn't have the same meaning or sense of dread that film does.

He's a sea monster that rises from the depths, like Godzilla, but doesn't feel quite as hellish or destructive.

He's got spines and walks on all fours like Anguiras, but nowhere near as cool or striking.

He flies, but is not nearly as cool as Toho's main resident flier, Rodan.

I think part of the problem is that this movie really does feel like a collection of scenes rather than a full narrative. When I think of Toho's best monster flicks, like Gojira, Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, etc, those are the ones that some kind of purpose or meaning behind everything beyond just having the monster tear stuff up. Gojira works as an allegory for nuclear weapons gone awry. Rodan works as a horror movie with real victims and they feel like a real threat, and the monsters in WoG actually have personalities and development of their own to serve as the heart of the story. And even the more spectacle driven monster movies, like Destroy All Monsters, are wild and bombastic.

This film just feels...ordinary. Even starting the movie off with a hunt for butterflies feels disconnected from everything else, like nothing really matters except the monster. That just leads to a cycle of scenes: Monster attacks, Military responds, it doesn't work, they try something new, Varan retaliates, and that pretty much goes all the way through to the end without any raise in stakes or interesting characters to carry it.

I'll give the American version this, at least they tried to connect the scientific experiment to the monster in a way that made sense, and at least I felt a little something for Myron Healy's character and his wife. I almost don't blame the US distributors for basically shooting a new story to go around the special effects scenes because there was no story to work with beyond that in the first place. Sure its a sloppily put together mess and the editing is atrocious, but they had at least a nugget of an idea that could have resulted in a better movie.

That said, Varan does have somethings going for it. For one, its unique due to its rarity and Godzilla fans like myself will definitely be interested to check out a movie featuring that one monster that had a 5 second cameo in Destroy All Monsters. Varan himself is a cool monster. I mean I compared him to Godzilla and Rodan, but he was sort of the first triple threat kaiju. He can attack on land, sea, and air and the design is interesting. The monster scenes themselves are fairly well done, if not up to the level of Godzilla or Rodan. Also, this goes without saying, but Akira Ifukube's music works well too. (Speaking of which why did US distributors insist on changing the music in some of these films? Seriously, the music is great as is, the work is done for you. Give it a rest!).
Did you know that in an issue of G-Fan, the first story in George Thomas' six-part fan fiction saga The War Against the Wild Gods was called Godzilla vs. Varan and was based on that same American version of the film? The couple from that film also appeared in it and were also the main characters in the five sequels, which were (in order) Godzilla vs. Yog, Godzilla vs. Dogorah (yes, that's how he spelled it), Godzilla vs. Starman, Godzilla vs. the H-Man and Godzilla vs. Manda. It's one of my favorite Godzilla fan fiction storylines and it's also available in its entirety on fanfiction.net if you want to read it all and not have to worry about getting all of the G-Fan issues that had all of the parts (most of which are, sadly, out of print and unavailable). Actually, Varan made two five-second cameos in DAM. It probably would've been better not to have included him at all, it was so bad for him. In fact, according to what I've heard somewhere, most of the budget on that particular film went to the new Godzilla and Anguirus suits, so Varan suffered as a character in the long run (Baragon had it a little bit better-he, at least, appeared and/or was mentioned more than once (except for that large mistake in the Paris scene). But I digress...). Personally, I'd have liked to have seen both Varan and Anguirus appear in GMK as originally intended (by the way, shouldn't that actually be called GMKG? King Ghidorah is two words, not one. But I digress again...). We would've had Anguirus come back that much sooner and Varan would've finally had a chance to make it into the big leagues at last! Ah well, what might have been and all that jazz. Finally, you are right-Varan was the first triphibian kaiju to appear on the scene and he appeared long before the Gappas ever did.
Last edited by mikelcho on Mon Oct 15, 2018 7:39 am, edited 9 times in total.

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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by SoggyNoodles2016 »

Bumping because Varan turned 60 today.
Any thoughts?
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Ivo-goji »

Man, he's old enough to be my dad.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Spuro »

GojiDog wrote: He's got spines and walks on all fours like Anguiras, but nowhere near as cool or striking.

Speak for yourself, mate, I love Varan's design!
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Godzillian »

Vastly underrated Ifukube score. Hopefully Varan gets sometime to shine in Godzilla world. He is a much more interesting choice for a solo film than gorosaurus or anguirus
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by edgaguirus »

Happy birthday, Varan.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by LegendZilla »

Varan truly deserves to make a comeback as much as the likes of Anguiras. I also hold his debut film as a guilty pleasure of mine.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Pkmatrix »

Happy Birthday, Varan! I'd love to see them do something new with him. :)

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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by KillCrites »

Yeah I am in love with Varan as a monster but his movie is kind of hard to sit through for me. I wish he was in GMK along with Anguirus as originally planned and I really wanna see him appear in whatever Toho has planned for the future. He's probably the most underutilized Toho monster.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by edgaguirus »

I like Varan as well. He just needed a better movie. The first and third parts of the film are allright, but that middle part moves slowly and almost made me drowsy once.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Grievous »

I think this film has its moments...but overall its a little flat
& most of the kaiju elements have been done better elsewhere
with other kaiju.

I'm still happy to have it in my collection & I would like to see
Varan get another run on the big screen.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by LSD Jellyfish »

Just re-watched this. I appreciate it a little more. Still dull and easily one of the worst Toho films of the era, but I think it's clear they were trying something different, it just didn't work out too well.

I think the film at first does a really good job at establishing a creepy atmosphere in Uber-rural Japan. I think the villages with their masks, are downright creepy, especially with the brief shot of the Varan statue and ominous chanting. When you combine that with the heavy mist and secluded area, you get a real "ghost story vibe". One thing I noticed about Varan's design, is although it's quadrupedal, there's plenty of moments where it walks about upright. Honestly, some of the low angle shots of the Varan suit, given how humanoid it is when it's upright, really do give the sense of a demon roaming around. With it's large hands and skinnier frame it also looks unique enough from Godzilla. It has a unique creep factor, which unfortunately sort of grows old quick when Varan starts walking on all fours and does a lot of screaming. The film would've been better if the first half focused and handled the creep factor a bit better, and maybe have a few shots of Varan stalking the characters before everything else.

After the military gets involved it just becomes a boring farce. Pretty much at that point we get excessive amounts of shots of Varan and the military, but nothing happens. Easily the most boring Kaiju action ever. None of the shots really do anything, and Varan just crawls forward. He destroys a truck, by accident. Later when we get to the ocean, there's some cool stuff when he attacks a fishing boat, and later is attacked by planes, but again it gets really excessive. Way too much screen time, but so little actually happening. Seriously, watch the film again and note how much time is spent focusing on the military getting set up and firing away, only for missiles to barely connect, and Varan just chug along with nothing around him. I appreciate it more because I realized that this was the first time they tried doing something at sea and have a monster attacked there. Sure Godzilla had a few shots of Godzilla coming out of the water, but we didn't get Godzilla directly confronting them or Godzilla swimming a long in the same way. Still not much is done with it, and later films Mothra 1961, the Godzilla films, and WOG would improve on this way more. Varan doesn't glide at all beyond his initial gliding scene as well. The military actually ties a variety of tactics (poison, standard weapons, planes, boats, depth charges) but due to how poorly it is handled it leaves little impact.

Kenji and Yuriko are pretty bad too. No development, and the early butterfly stuff is so un-important. The only thing Kenji does in the film is save Yuriko, and then later in the airport drive the bomb towards Varan, which fails. It isn't his idea to use the flares and bombs to kill Varan, nor did he create the bombs. They have such little impact on what's going on, you could cut them from the film and it wouldn't make a difference. I think this is a great example of exactly why well written characters are important to these films and we can't just have excessive monster action.

I also skimmed through the TV cut, interesting that it feels like two episodes of tv programe, though I'm not sure if it's better or worse. It removes a lot of the unique creepy stuff, but also turns into into a more generic monster movie that still suffers from the same problems.

Overall the film is the weakest monster entry. But I don't hate it anymore, and I see it's part of larger growing pains.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Voyager »

IMO one of Honda's worst. I wish they put as much effort in as they did with Godzilla, Rodan and The Mysterians. They did Varan dirty.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by GodzillavsRayquaza »

This movie’s atrocious. Worse than any Godzilla movie imo, not just of the era but overall. Endlessly boring.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Terasawa »

IMO, of all the Toho tokusatsu movies of the Showa era, only The War in Space is worse than Varan. Maybe Bye-Bye Jupiter, too.
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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by LegendZilla »

For all this movie's faults, you got to admit that Ifukube's score is a major saving grace.

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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by edgaguirus »

I agree, but I enjoy all of Ifukube's scores.
Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a 7 1/2 foot long, 54 inch wide....Gorilla! Is that what you're telling me?

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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by Lesko »

Ah Varan. Pretty much a top kaiju on a lot of fans' underrated kaiju lists. Me among them. I actually think Varan's self titled movie is one of the best Toho kaiju films not featuring Godzilla. I am actually surprised how many seem to dislike it. It doesn't really try to impress and that is the beauty of it. It is just fast faced and very fun without really bothering to be anything deeper than that. As for the titular monster itself come on. How can't you like Varan? Cool and unique design. Awesome roar, even if it is just stolen from Godzilla. Catchy name. Etc. The only problem I have with this movie is that Varan lacks a beam weapon. So watching Varan slowly trudge forward destroying buildings just feels kind of awkward. That and the fact he has to slowly walk up to military installations to destroy them. I feel like that, or at the very least making him utilize his glide ability more often would offset this.


Anyway back to the movie itself. The plot pretty much serves just to get Varan as a kaiju going in this entry. It isn't a lame copout with needlessly complex plot points that result in plot holes like the MV. Rather, it is basically bare bones and minimalist. It really is only to support the action but does so successfully. A previously unknown butterfly species showing up and travelling to where it is known to be endemic too makes sense. You soon forget about that anyway as the plot quickly shifts into stopping Varan. Of course the characters aren't really well developed but they are obviously not the focus. Varan is. That is what I love about it. The acting is also good as well. Not award winning stuff but definitely enough to carry the film forward to get to Varan. One interesting thing I like to note is that this is really the first kaiju movie we got to see that has shown the monster adept in all three biomes. We get to see Varan walk around, glide, and spend some time underwater. It is a subtle but sweet experience if you ask me. Finally Ifukube's score is great. Not his best work but definitely great and it only helps the movie. If you don't care about plots or characters but want to see a cool kaiju go rogue watch it!

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Re: Talkback: Varan (1958)

Post by MogeGoji1994 »

Toho really needs to re-release Varan soon. Right now, you can either find it online...somewhere, buy a TERRIBLE version of the American cut on Amazon, or, if you're very lucky, find a TokyoShock DVD for cheap on Ebay (shoutout to my mom for that awesome Christmas present)

Seeing as Mothra has gotten her own steelbook as well as her trilogy on bluray, as well as that Battle in Space/H Man Blu Ray set, i'm hoping we'll be able to get Varan, Rodan, War of the Garganutuas, Atragon, Mysterians, and other Toho sci fi flicks on bluray/steel books soon
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