Perhaps no other form of cinema -- or storytelling in general -- enjoys such a wide array of themes, story patterns, or social significance as Science Fiction. Whether the genre began in ancient mythology with tales of men in flight and preternatural Gods or didn't appear properly until speculative fables found their way in print, Sci-fi as a genre has been responsible for our species' most powerful and critically scathing entertainments. Coming into its own with the help of the pens of such authors as H. G. Wells, Edgar Poe, and Jack London, early Science fiction explored such motifs as technological wonders, alien invasion, and extrapolated world crises with varying degrees of maturity. In the cinema, sci-fi's seriousness was joined by a sense of boyish adventure, merging camp and cultural criticism. It wasn't until the 1950s that Forrest Ackerman coined the phrase 'sci-fi,' and it was during that same period that the classic science fiction film saw an explosion of creativity. As two world governments underwent a space race, atomic power threatened to annihilate the very world, and advances in science often turned out just as often horrible as they were beneficial, sci-fi films -- both straight faced and pulp -- served as releases for our increasing cultural, political, and individual anxieties.

Of course one of our chief fears during this period centered around the power of the atom, the threat of nuclear warfare, and the dangers of nuclear energy. These anxieties were expressed most potently yet fantastically in Gojira (Godzilla: King of the Monsters). Coming after such Creature Feature titans as King Kong (1933) and Bradbury's Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Gojira ushered the genre deeply into the nuclear age, mirroring in its plot such controversial themes as the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the effects of super science, and personal culpability. Merging fun with fright, serious social examination with sensationalism, such monsters as Varan, Mothra, and Rodan followed, became icons for a lost generation -- archetypes of unsolved mysteries and unrestrained scientific experimentation. Toho was one of the chief companies behind these terror titans, with US producers/distributors often dubbing these Japanese films into English, adding home-grown stars, and too often butchering prints for Saturday matinee consumption. While these films have their own dubious charms, full of color and thrills, a new level of storytelling maturity and escapist enjoyment was ushered into being when producer Henry G. Saperstein established a co-productions with Toho, resulting in Frankenstein Conquers the World. Also known as Frankenstein vs. Baragon, this kaiju eye-opener combined the classic structure of mad science with a truly unique pairing of giant monsters, brining both a camp sensibility and unparalleled creativity into a formula large enough to make even the ridiculous appear possible. Media Blasters brings fans of this rarely seen film an early summer gift with this technologically superior, superbly packaged edition. Beating even the quality of the recent Classic Media Godzilla releases, Media Blasters delivers a package that simply cannot be improved upon!

When the original Frankenstein Monster's heart is smuggled into war-time Japan, a scientist working at a Hiroshima clinic believes that the late Frankenstein's cell regeneration theories could be utilized in World War II Japan to replace damaged cells. Before the theory can be tested the city is obliterated by the Atom bomb. The war is effectively over, and the heart of Frankenstein is destroyed. Or is it? Fifteen years later in post-war Hiroshima, scientist Dr. James Bowen (Nick Adams), a well meaning American struggling to help people suffering from radiation poisoning, is assisted by Dr. Seuko Togami and Dr. Kenichiro Kawaji. These folks stumble on to reports of a wild boy child who resembles a savage in both appearance and action, killing and devouring animals. Drs. Bowen and Togami persuade the savage boy to accompany them to their clinic, where, similar to the films of Burt I. Gordon, the child grows at a fantastic, frightening rate. To make matters worse, he begins to resemble the Frankenstein monster. While no theory is ever truly supported or adopted by the filmmakers, a variety of possibilities suggest themselves as to why this travesty of nature has occurred, with radiation standing at the forefront. When 'Frankenstein' reaches ridiculous proportions, he escapes from the lab and flees to the mountains. Meanwhile, a series of earthquakes release Baragon, a monstrously large lizard, who, determined not to be left out, proceeds to go on his own rampage. It isn't long before the two meet one another in a titanic battle, with wonderfully surreal special effects and an experimental sensibility.

In a plot that combines classical thematic tropes of the giant monster sub-genre with the archetypal Frankenstein monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World is both challenging and fun, throbbing with the moral sense of a fable without reaching the despair or seriousness of the original Godzilla. A spirit of Camp also permeates the action, but without ever winkling at the audience. The sterling cast, the themes, and the plot all take themselves seriously, even if we're allowed to snicker at times. Thankfully, the story and its structure -- as well the suspenseful pacing -- keep events on a level of serious fantasy. At times a sense of tragedy is felt, as we're reminded by such themes as radiation poison and scientific experimentation of the very real, very tragic occurrences which these films embody. Nick Adams does a commendable job with his role but the heroes are without doubt the monsters, looking as outrageous as the premise suggests. A monster mash of epic proportions, the occasional lapse of logic of story continuity is easy to overlook, as this is a picture of effects and general concepts, of spectacle and feeling, not of intellectualism or subtle dramatic undertones. Sure the monster looks a bit ridiculous, there is the expected hammy acting, and the dialogue is often stinted, yet these elements themselves can be charming in the right attitude. More impressive are the several moments of tension and awe that the film achieves successfully, including the various scenes of carnage, and the suggested alienation and misery of the titular creature.

If the film is enjoyable yet riddled with faults of logic and aesthetic effect, the technical perfection of this disc cannot be questioned. In fact, the technological quality of both the picture and sound are more impressive than the actual feature. A two-disc love letter from Media Blasters to Kajia fans, Frankenstein Conquers the World features both the Japanese and American versions, both of which are offered in anamorphic 2.35:1. The transfer is pristine, with sharp bold colors, sharp blacks, and a crystalline picture quality. No grain or scratching is noticeable. Audio is just as impressive, featuring subtitles on the Japanese version and an audio track featuring Nick Adams' own voice.

Extras are simply astounding, including the International Version (in Japanese with English subs) which features the legendary alternate scene wherein Frankenstein's monster battles a giant octopus. Also included is the standard theatrical Japanese version, ending the monster's reign of terror with an earthquake. Disc One features the original Japanese version, and Disc Two sports the US Release and further special features. These include an Audio Commentary by photographer Sadamasa Arikawa, an Alternate Scene featuring the giant octopus, and a Photo Gallery. Other choice bits include lobby cards and posters, a Japanese Trailer, a Teaser Spot, and the usual if exciting previews of additional Toho features, including Atragon, The Mysterians, Varan, etc.

Review by William Simmons

Released by Media Blasters
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review