THE BOOTLEG FILES: “GODZILLA VS. MEGALON”

It is a delicious irony that the Godzilla film least deserving of wide release has become the most widely seen thanks to bootleg videos. That film is the 1973 opus “Godzilla vs. Megalon,” which many Godzilla buffs consider to be the worst of the series.

By the time those sons of fun at Toho Studios got around to making “Godzilla vs. Megalon,” the imagination well for the Japanese monster genre had become bone dry. So had the budgets. The film recycles several ideas from earlier films, not to mention the footage from the previous films, into yet another inane Godzilla-saves-the-Earth adventure. This time, the enemies come from below the Pacific Ocean: a hitherto-unknown population called the Seatopians are upset that atomic testing at the nasty humans and they decide to punish their neighbors upstairs by having the insectoid creature Megalon attack Japan. The fact that the Japanese are the last ones to be dropping H-bombs is lost on the Seatopians – when it comes to Earthlings, the Seatopians believe everyone looks alike.

To aid Megalon in his havoc, the Seatopians establish contact with their extraterrestrial pals the Nebulans to send the monster Gigan down to Earth. With a tag-team of Megalon and Gigan, the only hope to counter their destructive power is the Big G himself, Godzilla. Teaming up with Godzilla is Jet Jaguar, a human-sized robot that somehow has the power to grow 50 feet tall in order to participate in the mayhem of monoliths. It is a slam-bang smackdown event and the fate of the world (or at least Japan) is at stake.

“Godzilla vs. Megalon” was clearly designed for a kiddie audience, so any attempt at analysis by someone above the age of 10 is futile. Unfortunately, the majority of filmgoers are above the age of 10 and any adult sitting through this shabby monster epic cannot help but laugh at the idiotic plot and bargain basement special effects. There is a somewhat-queer human subplot involving the good-looking inventor of the Jet Jaguar robot, who lives with his best friend (a good-looking race car driver) in an ultra-modern (for 1973) house. The fact these two very pretty guys don’t have any girlfriends or interest in girls might spark off the gaydar for the homo-obsessed in the audience, though admittedly the Godzilla series rarely gets quotes by gay activists.

“Godzilla vs. Megalon” was a commercial flop in Japan, a rarity for this series, and it did not come to the U.S. until 1976 when a company called Cinema Shares International acquired the rights (and deleted three minutes of mildly offensive footage in order to secure a G rating). Cinema Shares International tried to piggyback on the excessive marketing for the Dino De Laurentiis remake of “King Kong” by literally aping that simian lollapalooza’s marketing campaign: the U.S. ads for the film placed Godzilla and Megalon atop the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which King Kong climbed for the 1976 film version. Never mind that New York is never mentioned, let alone featured, in the Japanese film (and, strangely, the advertisements with the monsters on the World Trade Center rooftops have an unintentional poignancy in this post-9/11 environment).

American audiences followed the lead of the Japanese bretheren and avoided “Godzilla vs. Megalon.” Logically, that would be the end of the story. Yet the film could not be kept down. It returned in 1977 when NBC, incredibly, gave it a prime time spot (albiet in a severely truncated version), with John Belushi in a Godzilla suit hosting the presentation. That was also a major flop.

What happened next is a bit murky. Cinema Shares International went out of business and something odd occurred with the U.S. copyright to “Godzilla vs. Megalon.” For no very clear reason, the film somehow wound up in the public domain. Without the protection of the copyright laws, the film was open to piracy. As luck would have it, this coincided with the rise of home video in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thus, “Godzilla vs. Megalon” became one of the most ubiquitous titles in the early video market. It was often impossible to walk into a video store and not see copies of this film from a multitude of different video labels – all of them bootlegged from the public domain prints of the Cinema Shares International version.
Even the TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ got into the act, incorporating a public domain print into the program’s trademark sarcastic commentary. This episode actually became one of the most popular and was even included in the advertising for the series.
By the late 1990s, changes in the global copyright law enabled Toho to regain the rights to the film. But it was too late. “Godzilla vs. Megalon” is still the most widely-available Toho monster movie on video and even on DVD, and despite Toho’s cease-and-desist efforts the bootlegged versions can still be found in retail and online sales channels. No officially licensed Toho version has been released in the US home entertainment market.
Bootleg aficionados can still find plenty of decent unlicensed videos for this wacky flick. It ain’t a classic, by any stretch, but the price for these videos is more than satisfactory and even half-assed Godzilla is better than none. And let’s face it – the Bootleg Files would be sorely incomplete without Japan’s biggest movie star!

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The Bootleg Files will be on hiatus for the next few weeks while we search out the best and silliest bootleg video titles for you. See y’all in the near future!

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Posted on May 14, 2004 in Features by
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