Friday, July 29, 2016

SHIN-GODZILLA シン-ゴジラ REVIEW


The first part of this review contains mostly common information about the film along with a brief SPOILER-FREE synopsis, my opinions and a couple new images. If you don't want any spoilers, there is a big SPOILER WARNING below my initial review. You were warned :)

I just returned home from watching Shin-Gojira (Godzilla Resurgence) at my local cinema here in Tokyo. My wife and kids joined me, although I was a bit hesitant to bring my kids at first due to the fact that the trailers for the film looked fairly dark and knowing the writer/director Hideaki Anno's previous work on not-so-child-friendly projects like Neon Genesis Evangelion and his previous collaborative effort with co-director Shinji Higuchi on the terrifying short film Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo. But my kids absolutely love Godzilla, especially my 4 year old son Lyoto, so I had no choice... right?

Unfortunately, maybe I should have waited a few years before showing him the film...


Shin-Gojira definitely proved to be a film not made for young children. The majority of the movie focuses on various members of the Japanese government as they struggle to grasp and deal with the impending threat of Godzilla. Most scenes take place in government offices with the Prime Minister of Japan present while dozens of government and disaster management officials rattle off information and suggestions. Several scientists are also brought in to give more insight on the creature. Each scene is filled with an exhausting amount of political, scientific and technical dialogue that even my Japanese wife couldn't follow entirely, definitely a bore-fest for most children. However, most of the actors were extremely engaging and delivered very honest performances all around. There was one Japanese female character who spoke English in many of her scenes, but her lengthy lines were nearly unintelligible at times and a bit annoying. The director should have given her less English parts and focused on her delivery of them. Other than that, I think all of the actors did a tremendous job.

Now for the meat and potatoes. Godzilla himself. 


A lot of people have criticized Godzilla's new look in this film after seeing the trailers, mainly his undersized skeleton-like arms, but I have really enjoyed this re-design from the get go. Godzilla looks as haunting as ever and being so damned tall, the tallest that Godzilla has ever appeared on screen, there really isn't much within arms length at that height for him to grab onto anyway. Actually, there is a damned good reason for his arms to be so short, but I will save that for the spoilers below the end of this review.


Also, let me make it clear that Godzilla is the villain of this film. He simply does not give a damn about the human population, well at least until humans start trying to take him down.

My favorite part of the entire movie was Godzilla's rampage from Kamakura beach into central Tokyo, the first part of which was featured heavily in the trailers. Eventually the sequence moves into sometime after sundown and that's when some of the most badass stuff I've ever witnessed in a Godzilla movie occurs. Again, as much as I want to talk about it in detail, you'll have to scroll down below this review to my spoilers section, complete with new images from the film, if you want to find out. I will say that the sequence is beautifully shot and contains some truly awesome special effects.


Speaking of the special effects, I was surprised to learn that a large majority of the shots of Godzilla in this film were purely digital or at least heavily enhanced, utilizing motion capture techniques over the traditional man-in-suit style. I am aware that several practical effects were used, but after watching a very short making-of segment on television a couple nights ago and then seeing the entire film, it is very clear that Shinji Higuchi, the special effects director, decided to go 90% digital when it came to most shots containing Godzilla. The vast majority of these digital shots look amazing, especially by Japanese film standards (which are more than often sub-par), in both harsh daylight and during the night sequence.  There were a few digital shots that looked awkward or incomplete, but when compared to the digital sequences from the Godzilla films released between 1999-2004, even the off-looking  CG shots looked somewhat better. They could have been improved, but I'm assuming time and budget got in the way of perfecting those particular shots.

Overall, this is an awesome Godzilla film. It's mood and story recall Godzilla's origin while injecting a lot of the national tension in Japan during the Fukushima disaster. Nothing will ever replace the original 1954 classic, but Shin-Gojira manages to pull a lot of new and interesting ideas into one of the longest, if not the longest, running movie franchises of all time, making it fresh again for old fans and new. It's a wonderful return to form but at the same time something very different that will most likely divide opinions among fans. Director Hideaki Anno definitely brought a lot of his trademark Evangelion visual style and audio cues into the film which should excite fans of his previous work.

Shin-Gojira will be making it's international theatrical debut later this year under the title, Godzilla Resurgence and Shin-Godzilla in the USA. So if you live near a cinema that will be screening it, I strongly recommend checking it out on the biggest screen possible.

Also, check out the extremely wicked translucent red with gold glitter theater exclusive Shin-Gojira sofubi toy I grabbed today after the movie was over. Hot as sh*t!


[ SPOILERS & NEW IMAGES BELOW ]


#1) Godzilla starts the film as a giant armless eel-like creature that eventually stands upright and grows arms...

Godzilla's 1st form, writhing armless onto the streets from Tokyo Bay.
Godzilla's 2nd form, standing erect with very tiny arms (not pictured), giant eyes and shorter than his final form.

#2) Godzilla has new special powers...

Godzilla can breath two variations of his atomic breath, one looks like fire, the other is like an ultraviolet ray.
Also if you look closely at his lower jaw, it actually separates when using those attacks.
Not only can Godzilla breath ultraviolet rays from his mouth, he can also shoot them out of his tail...
... and his back...

 ... I could also spoil the ending, but I hate when people do that - so piss off :)
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Monday, July 18, 2016

THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS PROMO PILOT


Many of you are probably familiar with The Real Ghostbusters, the animated series version of the Ghostbusters that ran from 1986 until 1991. It was one of the most popular cartoons of the 1980's and was even nominated for two Emmy Awards. But how many of you have ever witnessed the original short promo pilot that was used to sell the show to the American Broadcasting Company?

Various versions of the promotional pilot have been floating around on the internet for years in varying poor quality. There is also a copy of it on The Real Ghostbusters DVD collection released by Time Warner in 2008. The problem is that all of these version were taken directly from a single VHS copy. 

The original film for the pilot was animated in Japan by the now defunct Studio Kuromi and directed by Kevin Altieri. If there were any chance of tracking down an original version of the actual film roll in order to be converted into proper, true HD, you could possibly have some luck with one of the ex-studio executives or animators from Studio Kuromi somewhere over here in Tokyo. But your best bet would be Kevin Altieri, the director of the promo, who still has the original VHS transfer - that's as good as it's going to get for now.


Upon viewing the promo pilot, which is essentially a glorified music video of the theme song, you will notice a lot of similarities between it and the original opening sequence to The Real Ghostbusters animated series that aired on TV. For those of you who haven't had it visually copied into your brains from repeat viewings as kids, I've posted it below for reference :)


However there are also some major differences in the promo pilot version when compared to the official TV series version above. Firstly, it's much longer than the official TV series opening, running nearly three minutes longer. Secondly, the Ghostbusters themselves look a bit... eh... different, especially Peter Venkman. You will also notice that our four main heroes are not wearing the multicolored suits that they normally have on in the animated series, which help to differentiate them and give them more of a cartoon flavor. Instead they are all wearing the same tan colored uniforms that appeared in the live action film.


It's also apparent that several items from Kenner's 1986 Real Ghostbusters action figure line used the promo pilot as a basis for some of their sculpt designs, including the Ecto-1. The inclusion of a chair on the roof of the Ecto-1 is something that does not appear in the original cartoon's intro or initial run of episodes, however Ray Stantz is shown sitting on the roof of the Ecto-1 in the promo pilot, just as Peter Venkman is shown sitting on Kenner's Ecto-1 box art.


Kenner's proton pack designs were also lifted directly from the versions shown in the promo pilot. Notice the 'smiley face' at the bottom of both the promo pilot version and the Kenner version of the proton packs in the image below, while the TV series version has more of a 'surprised' expression. You will never look at a proton pack the same way again ;) There are some other details that separate them as well, such as the placement of the yellow tubing coming from the bottom center in both the promo pilot and Kenner versions - which was changed to come out of the 'nose' on the 'smiley face' in later runs of the action figures - while the TV series version's yellow tubing connects slightly from the right. The TV series version also sports a couple large cylindrical shapes in the center, while the promo pilot and Kenner versions do not.


I could go into detail about all of the many events and occurrences that happen throughout the duration of the promo pilot and post some more choice screen captures for you to study... but I'm guessing at this point you'd much rather just watch the damned thing.

Below I've uploaded a decent copy of the promo pilot that I've cleaned up and edited slightly for enhancement purposes. It's about as close as I could get to a copy of Kevin Alteri's original VHS transfer. I do not make any monetary gain from it, I've uploaded it as a fan, for the fans. So for those that have never seen it, sit back and enjoy :)

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For more info on the promo pilot check out Spook Central's awesome database on it's history. I got a lot of great information from it as well as the photo of Kevin Alteri's original VHS. Spook Central is an all around great resource for Ghostbusters fans. If you've never checked it out, please do!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

EVOLUTION OF THE ECTO-1


A new "Ghostbusters" movie hit theaters this weekend, however it'll be another month before it reaches me over here in Japan. Currently I have no definitive opinion on the new movie since I haven't had the chance to see it... but I can say, without being a misogynist, that I am not too happy about Paul Feig and Sony Pictures doing a complete reboot/remake of the classic original movie. It was lightning in a bottle that cannot be remade or improved upon, no matter what sex the cast members are. 

With that being said, after seeing the new trailers and promo images, one thing that I have enjoyed is the new 1980's Cadillac Ecto-1 design. It's not as awesome as the original, but it's kind of cool and a bit different, while at the same time being a wonderful homage.


And as much as I love cars like that from the 80's, the original Ghostbusters film from 1984 takes the cake with it's modified 1959 Cadillac ambulance. The very first Ecto-1.


But before it's iconic debut, the Ecto-1 began it's life as the brainchild of Dan Aykroyd, whom also created the idea and original script for Ghostbusters. Initially, Aykroyd wanted the "Ectomobile" to be an all black hearse with flashing white and purple lights. Eventually the production crew went with a 1959 Cadillac ambulance, rather than a hearse. Production designer Stephen Dane, whom was previously the assistant art director on Blade Runner, was tasked with taking the old brown Cadillac ambulance pictured below and transforming it into something film worthy... within only two weeks.


Below are some of Mr. Dane's original design illustration concepts for the Ecto-1.



After all the gadgets and hardware design modifications were made, the production crew had to put into consideration that a large majority of the film would be shot at night. This meant that having an all black Ecto-1 driving around New York would be very difficult to capture on film. So the decision was made to paint the ambulance white with red trim, thus creating a modern film icon.


The critical success of the first Ghostbusters film saw a growing fan base within adults and surprisingly even children. This eventually led to the creation of an animated version in 1986 entitled The Real Ghostbusters. As a kid who grew up in the 80's I can tell you that The Real Ghostbusters was one of my favorite cartoons and still is to this day. I previously wrote an article called THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS ARE FROM JAPAN about the show's creation which includes a video documentary for those who want to check it out.

Of course the animated series also needed to include the Ecto-1, but it needed to be somewhat simplified for the animators. Luckily due to the first episode taking place directly after the end of the 1984 Ghostbusters movie, the Ecto-1 design remains essentially the same. Below is a finalized production design illustration from DIC animation studios and a still screen from the actual series.


But what's a Saturday morning cartoon without an awesome line of toys?! That's where the now legendary toy manufacturer Kenner came into play. Fresh off the success of their massively popular Star Wars action figure line, Kenner began producing action figures, vehicles and playsets for The Real Ghostbusters animated series...

...including the Ecto-1.



The animated series was eventually nominated for an Emmy award and was among one of the top rated children's programs during the 1980's. Kenner kept cranking out The Real Ghostbusters action figures and every kid who was a Ghostbusters fan couldn't have been happier.

Then in 1989, just to put some extra icing on the media induced million dollar action figure high, Columbia Pictures released Ghostbusters II. Finally all of the fans, including the adults, could get another taste of their four favorite heroes busting some ghost butts. However this time around, the filmmakers took some cues from the animated series when approaching some of the look and concepts for the new film. The erotic jokes present in the original film were played down or nonexistent, the horror element was toned down a bit, the ectoplasm went from snot-like to pinkish purple, the secretary Janine Melnitz turned into a living representation of her animated form, Winston lost his mustache as he did in the cartoon, and a few other aspects just got a little more silly. Obviously the film was meant to appeal more to children this time around given the success of the animated series and you can bet your spooky ass that toy tie-ins were on the table...

...one of which was the newly revamped Ecto-1A. Essentially the exact same car with more 'flash', the Ecto-1A is actually a personal favorite of mine. In the world of Ghostbusters you can never get enough extra gadgets and gizmos, and the Ecto-1A definitely upped the ante in that respect, even if it was all just extra flash.

Below is an original concept design for the Ecto-1A, once again by the amazing Stephen Dane, who had designed the original Ecto-1 for the first film. Notice all of the extra decal illustrations along with the little notes for the production crew.


Now here is the final product as well as Kenner's toy counterpart.



Unfortunately this would mark the end of the original run of Ghostbusters movies, cartoons and toys. In 1991, The Real Ghostbusters animated series was canceled, along with it's line of Kenner action figures, which had unfortunately already released a summer catalog filled with a brand new line of Ghostbusters action figures and playsets that never got to see the light of day, like the ones in the image below.


But that didn't mean that there would never be another Ghostbusters or new variations of the Ecto-1. Six years later in 1997, a brand new Ghostbusters animated series was released under the title Extreme Ghostbusters. The series follows the students of Egon Spengler, who is now a college professor, and their training as a brand new team of Ghostbusters. It too had it's own version of the Ecto-1 which remarkably didn't change much from the classic original version. 


Around this time Kenner had been absorbed into Hasbro and the rights to produce Ghostbusters action figures went to Trendmasters, whom produced a number of figures, accessories and vehicles - including the new Ecto-1. 


Now it's 2016, nearly 20 years since the last screen incarnation of our original beloved Ghostbusters and their amazing mode of transportation, bringing us back full circle to the new Paul Feig "Ghostbusters" reboot. It may end up being a very unnecessary and forgettable movie, but it's lasting legacy will be left on the surface of the Earth for many years to come in the form of hundreds of thousands of non-biodegradable plastic Ecto-1 toys that all of the little boys and girls may or many not have asked their parent's for this coming Christmas :)


WHO YA GONNA CALL?!
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