Godzilla is, has been and probably will be in secula secularum the greatest legacy of Toho and its empire of weird monsters. But of course, if the Big G sits at the top of “kaiju mountain”, and other monsters from their own movies have become inscindible part of the Godzilla series, some of them don’t dine at the court at all, and just get called back as jesters for the big monster mashes.
Varan is sadly one of them, and it’s a bit sad when they decide a frigging giant shrimph like Ebirah was worth doing new effects when Godzilla Final Wars came around, instead of just re-using old footage from Destroy All Monsters, like they did for Varan’s (among others) cameo, just happy to be there and cheer from the sidelines, even when Minilla is frigging more useful. Poor Varan.
But of course he did debut in its own movie, Varan The Giant Monster, and yes i’m talking about the original version, not the americanized one that does go under the title of Varan The Unbelievable, and alters the plot to include the american army… because America, that’s the reason. Sighs
(This is a rewrite of the piece written in 2019 on the italian blog Wise Cafè )
The plot see a couple of entomologists investigate in a valley where a rare species of butterfly was sighted, only to stumble upon a mysterious unmarked lake, and almost instantly get killed by an unknown creature. Yukiko, a reporter and also the sister of one of the two deceased entomologists, decides to visit the lake to know more about the incident, with her bumbling and scaredy-cat photographer and a biologist named Kenji.
As they pass through the village near the lake, they learn of the locals worshipping a deity called “Baradagi”. The groups makes it quite clear to the priest that they are quite skeptical about this thing existing and all, but a giant creature – dubbed “Varan/Baran” as it looks like a species of varanopode – does appear from the lake and attacks the people nearby. Thing escalate, the army is called in, but normal weapon don’t work (to no one’s surprise), so it’s up to the biologist and the oddball team to concoct a special explosive and stop Varan’s advance into Tokyo.
Even at its best, Varan The Giant Monster it’s just… incredibly hard to compliment in any fashion whatsoever, as it does perfectly fit the requirements of the stock japanese 50’s monster movie, the generic idea of “movie monster from Toho” that often doesn’t really concretize, with all the clichès you expect, from the army blowing all the ammo on the monster and not even so much as graze it, the giant monster moving by sea (bonus points if the creature is seen by fishermen), the lead characters being a scientist of some kind, and the more international monster movies clichè, like the the heaps of newspaper coming out of the press and then zooming into the main headline, etc.
There’s nothing really wrong with any of this, mind you, but that’s the problem, there’s really not much besides the basic ingredients, and even the star of the movie, the monster that gives the movie is named after… he himself is a generic mish mash, just a more acquatic version of Godzilla (but even Titanosaurus had a more distinct design) that starts as a quadruped then stands on his hind legs, heck, even its roar it’s a pastiche of Godzilla’s roar with other kaiju thrown in.
So it’s kinda a perfect cap to its generic nature how the movie even recycles a bit of footage from the original Godzilla. Sure, Varan can fly/hover… a thing he does once in the entire, but no atomic breath or beam equivalent.
Doesn’t help that this was originally a TV Movie shown in 2 parts then re-edited as a feature for theathers, and it was done with less budget at hand, so it’s in black and white for the same reason the first Gamera movie was, despite color being a viable choice.
I will say that the effects are still good, definitely what you would expect from the company, and better than the one in almost all early Gamera films, that’s for sure.
While going in any more detail it’s kinda pointless given the overall mediocrity of.. well, everything, i found the military march that plays when Varan attacks by sea… oddly jolly and kind out of place, the monster hasn’t been defeated yet, after all.
Mediocre plot, forgettable characters and so-n-so dialogues, sadly Ishiro Honda didn’t have the best script to work with, as some situations often are resolved way too quick, often thanks to random stuff like a dog appearing out of nowhere, or otherwise really convenient stuff that the characters just remember at the last minute to do or have, even if it makes little sense to begin with.
One of the more middling and weaker monster movies from Toho, it’s not unwatchable or a slog, but it’s so defiantly mediocre and generic, like the titular monster itself, as fittingly as it is sad, because Varan feels kinda underused even in its own movie.
No wonder he would re-appear only to watch other monster (including Minilla and the young, larva version of Mothra) kick King Ghidorah’s all in joyful unison, cheering from the sidelines for a brief moment, and to never appear again (outside of stock footage) after Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters.
Wikipedia lists a remake or a new movie simply called “Varan” with a TBA date, but i never found any source to back up Toho even ever considering it, so i’d say this is just wishful thinking from a Varan fan. And while i find this movie kinda of a dud… i understand wanting to see him make an unexpected comeback.
But i don’t see that happen yet, and if Gamera can’t get a new movie not even in the new Legendary’s Monsterverse, chances for Varan are pretty much zero, i’d say.