Monday, July 15, 2019

Mothra (1961) Steelbook Blu-ray Review


Mothra is here!

Directed by Ishiro Honda, the man who brought Godzilla and Rodan to audiences in the fifties, Mothra is a classic film in every sense of the word. Though the title monster (which is hardly a fair term for such a regal creature) would arguably become far more well known from an endless string of films in which it was pitted against (and sometimes alongside) the King of the Monsters himself, this is the movie that presents the world to the keeper and protector of an island that's brimming with life.

What I love about Mothra (depicted as a "he" in this film, but a "she" in many future films) is that the giant monarch is not motivated by malice or anger, but by instinct. Furthermore, the destruction that occurs within the film is a side effect of greed left unchecked by outsiders who do not respect nature and each other. It's like King Kong with an even more scathing expose on avarice and profiteering at the expense of human interest. Mothra is packed with themes of balance, progress at the expense of ethics, and maintaining an awe of mother nature. And also, yes, it's about the spectacle of seeing Tokyo demolished by a big bug.
Though modern audiences may find this 1961 film to be a bit slow with Mothra not showing up until well into the film's running time, the structure used here is similar to that used in many other earlier fifties and sixties monster films from Toho. We spend most of the film with human characters who have their own motivations and arc and who must carry the story forward when there isn't a monster on screen, which is often. The action unfolds in short bursts during the first two acts, and all hell break loose in the third.

Another thing that sets these early Japanese monster movies apart from similarly-themed Hollywood offerings is the extensive use of models and puppets. This is something that, again, might be off-putting to those who have grown up in the age of CGI blockbusters that cost 200 million dollars, but the hand-crafted nature of this film is actually quite charming. The miniature buildings, cars, tanks, and airplanes are absolutely breathtaking from a craft perspective, and the meticulous detail used in recreating Tokyo on a micro scale never ceases to impress. Similarly, the puppet used for Mothra is absolutely beautiful, even though the strings can often be clearly seen. It's amazing to see what could be achieved in the early sixties with ingenuity and hard work.
Mothra arrives on Blu-ray with a nice HD transfer that shows lots of beautiful grain and reveals the dirt and noise in many of the effects-heavy scenes, such as the composite shots depicting crowds of people running as buildings crumble. This dirt and grain seems baked into the source material, and is balanced by solid detail and color representation. Mothra on Blu-ray is definitely a step up from DVD-era transfers and one that feels true to the original film presentation. Shot in TohoScope (essentially identical to Cinemascope), this film offers a wide image that uses the framing for maximum effect. By the time Mothra has transformed into the flying creature we all know, it's wingspan fills the screen.

There are two versions of the film on the Blu-ray: the original Japanese release (with English subtitles), and the U.S. release version, which runs approximately 11 minutes shorter than the Japanese theatrical cut. Supplementary features include a photo gallery, trailer, and a commentary by two Japanese monster movie aficionados and authors, who seem to be reading facts from their upcoming book at a rapid clip. The commentary is jam-packed with facts and history, but the info feels more like a college-level lecture, rather than an appreciative conversation from fans. This is not a knock on the track, rather than a head's up for commentary fans to set expectations accordingly.
The Steelbook packaging is gorgeous, with the metal package arriving in a protective plastic sleeve, as has become the standard for Mill Creek Entertainment's Steelbook releases.The classic original artwork adorns the front of the book and a still shot of Mothra in action decorates the back. Inside, we're treated to the expedition team from the film as they look upon the twins of Infant Island. Mothra has arrived on Blu-ray with a huge splash, and monster movie and sci-fi film fans are in for a treat.



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