When it comes reviving the past, timing and presentation is everything.

Sony’s first wave of “The Toho Godzilla Collection” of second- and third- generation Japanese Godzilla films on Blu-ray came out in May, timed to the theatrical release of the American remake (the discs are reviewed on Cinephiled here). This second wave arrives the week before the American 2014 Godzilla arrives on disc and digital formats.

Godzilla2000After Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla flopped, Toho took back their home grown movie monster turned cinema hero for the second reboot of the franchise and the third generation of movies. In Japan it was called the Millennium series and like the previous reboot, The Return of Godzilla (titled Godzilla 1985 in the U.S.), Godzilla 2000 (1999) swept away a generation of sequels and pretended that most (if not all) of the films since the original Godzilla never actually existed. Though clearly a landmark in the Japanese franchise, I can only guess that Godzilla 2000 (Sony, Blu-ray) wasn’t included in the first wave of Blu-ray upgrades because it, quite frankly, is not one of the better films of the series.

Godzilla is on the move again just as an ancient UFO is dredged up from the ocean. In a fitting bit of turnabout, the script appropriates Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, though on a significantly smaller scale and with a Japanese giant monster sensibility: a lone silver spaceship parks on a Shinjuku skyscraper, drains the city of all computer information, and transforms into a mutant monster the resembles something between a skyscraper sized Predator and Jabba the Hut’s dungeon ogre from Return of the Jedi. Meanwhile an all-volunteer force of science nerds called the Godzilla Prediction Network, run by peacenik professor Yuji (Takehiro Murata) and his precocious adolescent daughter, clashes with their arch rivals, the Crisis Control Institute, a government strike force armed to destroy Godzilla run by Yuji’s bloodthirsty nemesis Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe, whose eyes bug out in glee every time he launches a missile).

'Godzilla 2000'

‘Godzilla 2000’

The film’s saving grace is Godzilla himself, the James Bond of giant monsters, looking more fierce and royal than ever. Screaming his roar while stomping through modern cities like some avenging force of nature, this isn’t Emmerich’s post-Jurassic Park garden variety dinosaur of the blandly Americanized 1998 Godzilla but a lizard king with dignity, stature, and personality. The final third is a giant monster version of a WWE match between the Big G and the alien upstart, with the pug ugly alien mutating on the move. Digital effects are added to the Godzilla formula to sweeten and tweak the spectacle but it still features the crunch of lovingly detailed buildings rendered to splinters in a single step, the rubble and dust left in the wake of a prehistoric body slam, and the noble profile of the scaly gray one in action. It’s a juvenile thrill that CGI can’t touch.

The American Blu-ray debut features both the original Japanese version (with English subtitles and close captions) and the American version (which is 8 minutes shorter and features cartoonish English dubbing that dumbs down an already goofy script), plus new commentary on the American version by stateside producer Michael Schlesinger with editor Mike Mahoney and sound editor Darren Pascal and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette carried over from the previous DVD release, and includes a bonus UltraViolet Digital HD copy.

GodzillaMothraGhidoraGodzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack / Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Sony, Blu-ray) offer the third and fourth films, respectively, in the Millennium series (the second film, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus from 2000, was released in May). Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), directed by Shusuke Kaneko (of the superb Gamera revival of the nineties), brings back some of the greatest monsters from the series past and reinvents the thunder lizard as the avenging angel for Japan’s World War II dead. It’s darker and more sober than Megaguirus and brings a more supernatural bent to the series along with the ferocious giant monster mash promised in the ungainly title. Then the giant robot monster gets the Millennium makeover in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), this time around built by Japanese scientists as a Robotech-style tank over the skeleton of the original 1954 Godzilla and armed with the most powerful weapons on earth.

Each film is presented on a separate disc. Both feature original Japanese and English dub soundtracks and optional English subtitles and close captions, the original trailers, and a bonus UltraViolet Digital HD copy.

RebirthofMothraAlong with these three Godzilla films is Mothra Trilogy: Rebirth of Mothra / Rebirth of Mothra II / Rebirth of Mothra III (Sony, Blu-ray), the spin-off movies from the Heisei series of the 1990s featuring Toho’s second greatest creation: the giant rainbow colored moth with the Lilliputian girl group sidekicks. Where Godzilla is either angry threat to mankind or ferocious guardian against rival monster invaders, Mothra is a peaceful planetary protector on gossamer wings, and her films are more fairy tale than monster movie.

Rebirth of Mothra (1996) finds an eons-old space monster named Death Ghidora on the loose while dark fairy Belvera, astride her pint-sized dragon, searches out the magical seal that will make the three-headed energy-sucking monster her servant. Twin pixies Lora and Moll sing out for the aging Mothra and her progeny, a giant squishy larva, and the two engage in a tag-team hide and seek. Rebirth of Mothra carries its share of giant monster collisions: Death Ghidora stomps forests and screams energy rays from his three dragon maws, while Mothra shoots lasers from her antenna and lightning bolts from her wings. But there’s an ethereal quality to the marionette models and explosions of sheer beauty to many of the effects, which makes up for often visible strings and wires, and a lesson of ecological protection.

Rebirth of Mothra II (1997) continues the conservation themes with Japan at the mercy of the dreaded sea monster Dagahra, a rampaging junior league Godzilla that feeds off pollution and infests the waters of the Pacific with choking plague of putrid starfish. Three schoolkids are enlisted by a bouncing furry creature named Go-Go (looking like an unholy union between a Tribble and a Furbee) to join forces with Mothra and her pixie sidekicks. Their adventure takes them on a mythic quest to an underwater city where they search for magic treasure and battle dark fairy Belvera and her dim-witted treasure hunting henchmen. More fantasy epic than monster mash, this family friendly adventure draws inspiration from Star Wars (the underwater pyramid is like an ancient stone Death Star) and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The battles between Dagahra and Mothra combine a sprinkling of magic with tried and true epic creature collisions and Mothra transforms to the hornet-like Aqua Mothra for the underwater battles.

'Mothra II'

‘Rebirth of Mothra II’

Rebirth of Mothra III (1998), the final film in the nineties trilogy, pits Mothra against Godzilla’s fiercest foe, King Ghidorah, who has returned to destroy Earth. There a decidedly juvenile bent to these films, with their adolescent heroes and slapstick asides, but the funky monsters and pixie co-stars buzzing through the movie keep the energy level high and add a visual beauty to the giant monster quotient.

The first film is on one disc and the two sequels share a second disc and each film features original Japanese and English dub soundtracks with optional English subtitles and close captions, plus original trailers and a bonus UltraViolet Digital HD copy.

Each film is an upgrade from the previous DVD releases but don’t expect the kind of loving restoration that Universal gave its classic monster movies. They are mastered from good, clean sources and color is vivid and bright on all the films. The sharpness and clarity is a noticeable improvement on the DVDs but they are little softer than you would expect, especially compared to the upcoming 2014 American Godzilla (coming out next week). Is it worth an upgrade if you already own the DVD editions? Depends on your system and your standards. But if you are a fan of the Japanese giant monster movie culture and do not own these yet, they are a great deal at $20 retail each (less with discounts, and you can always find a discount).

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD

'Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla'

‘Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla’