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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

The monsters are coming to DVD and Detroit

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

I pray for bad weather.

This summer I hope, I pray, I plead with the shifty governmental agency that seeds our clouds in their black helicopters, whoever you guys are I ask for two, no three, Saturdays of lousy weather and big Japanese monsters. I beg for this because my guilty pleasure is giant monster movies, and the next several weeks is awash in clomping robots and rubber-suited Japanese men laying waste to Mount Fuji.

But my guilty conscience put there by years of Catholic school, of course rarely allows me to see any movie (for enjoyment, not work) when it is sunny outside. It is a malady. I simply can not watch a movie on a sunny day, which is a problem: Those tantalizing trailers for Transformers reveal huge robots tumbling across Los Angeles freeway exchanges. Classic Media, which released the original Japanese-language edition of Godzilla on DVD last year, has just released two of the finer examples of late 60s pop surrealism: Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, and Invasion of the Astro-Monster (both $19.98). And coolest of all, and most in need of a washed-out weekend, the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of the Arts will screen seven double features of giant monster smack-downs, starting Saturday.

That s 14 films, incidentally.

Let s start with the DVDs.

Ghidorah and Astro-Monster are essentially the same story, with almost the same monsters Ghidorah and Astro-Monster are the very same three-headed dragon, in fact but the miniature Tokyos are imaginative, the warbling sci-fi blips and bleeps act like Gen-X Madelines, and, oddly, watching these films for the first time in years, I found myself admiring how straight-faced and unaffected they are. Alien invaders, who steal Godzilla and Rodan and carry them to the moon in space eggs, resemble an Asian Devo, and the appearance of Nick Adams, a B-actor inserted into the American cuts, is as charmingly dim as it is insulting. (Basically, he explains to the Japanese how to protect themselves and the meaning of the destruction, then disappears.)

These movies are roughly 40 years old, but in many ways, they don t even belong to the same century they have the naivete that comes with real ineptitude and a lack of irony so complete you d have to go back a few hundred years to find anything like it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind South Park, are making their own (reportedly earnest) tribute to old Japanese monster movies, but to capture the genuine article, to make a film so feckless and pure, would require a lobotomy and a camera. (The DVDs, by the way, hold both American and Japanese cuts of each movie on one disc.)

Classic Media even went a step further or rather, didn t. Nowhere on the disc (or even the press notes) does it say these films have been restored, and I m certain they were not. Ghidorah, in particular, has that same grainy, saturated quality I remember when it was shown too many times on Creature Double Feature in New England. These movies look lousy, and it s great. If you grew up watching Ghoulardi in Ohio, or heading to the drive-in, you can appreciate it. (Astro-Monster, by the way, was a regular of TV double features, and more usually shown by the title Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero.)

So here s hoping the prints at the Detroit Film Theatre, a ritzy sort of place, are colorful and full of that old gaudy grain. If you have children and wish to hook them early, there s even a nice history lesson here: With each double feature, you get a Japanese monster movie paired with an American classic. So, this Saturday, for instance, Son of Godzilla (1967) is shown with 1957 s 20 Million Miles to Earth, and next week, it s the rarely-seen Battle in Outer Space (1959) paired with the Boomer classic Jason and the Argonauts.

Likewise, the remaining five double features are a treat, and there they are: June 30, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucer (1956) meets Mothra (1961); July 7, The Mysterious Island (1961) meets Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus (2000, from the latest round of Toho pictures); July 14, It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) meets Godzilla (1954, the Japanese-language cut); July 21, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) meets Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (1966); and July 28, First Men in the Moon (1964) meets Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah (1991). For maximum authenticity, sneak in your own bag of Twizzlers, and when exiting the theater, glare into the sun, then rub your eyes.

This summer s Double Feature Family Matinees at the Detroit Film Theatre, 5200 Woodward Ave., begin Saturday at 2 p.m. and continue Saturdays until July 28. Each film is generally G rated, with giant-monster destruction and violence. Tickets are $7.50. Information: 313-833-2323.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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