Frankenstein Conquers the World Review
One of the less positive influences of cinema is the loss of interest in literature as a mass media. I point this out as the reason why the world starts to rely on rocky recollections of great novels and how stories become bastardised through cinematic adaptation. The latter phenomena is the reason why films now style themselves as "Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice" or "Bram Stoker's Dracula" as the discerning cinema viewer wants something closer to the literary source than the usual adaptations, even if the films in questions do wander some way from the original author's intentions. This dimunition of the literary in our cultural lives has also led to misunderstandings passed off as fact, and here I mention the movie under review here. As every pedant knows Frankenstein is the name of the creator of the monster and not the monster's name, but Hammer, Universal and many others have blurred this distinction terribly. The result of the blurring is that the original novel's sensitivity and revelation of a feeling, loving monster alongside a monstrous driven human being, the Baron, is lost and the Modern Prometheus becomes pantomime horror with a lumbering beast. At least with Ishiro Honda's Frankenstein Conquers the World there is no pretence at literary value but it does work on the level of sympathy for the monster with the fear and mistrust he inspires in the panic ridden human race. The monster here is an outlandish Kaiju re-imagining which mixes up history and fiction and throws in the less than illustrious collaboration between the Japanese and the Nazis in World War Two. There may be people who find that a bit tasteless but personally I think that Mary Shelley wouldn't have taken it very seriously given that it occurs in a film where two short men dress up in rubber suits and pretend to be angry giants. Frankenstein Conquers the World definitely adds to the level of anti-literate dumbness in the world but it is still a cracking slice of cinematic cheese for the kind of people who really want to know if Shelley's monster would be able to take on peers of Godzilla and emerge victorious. It ain't art but it is fun.
Set 16 years after the end of the second world war, Frankenstein's remains, his heart that won't stop beating, have regenerated in the foothills of Hiroshima due to the effect of the H-bomb. Stowed away after the war when Germany knew it was losing, the remains were seen as the key to making soldiers who would never die. Looking much like a savage boy, Frankenstein is taken and in and studied by radiologist researchers Bowen, Togami and Kawaji. They seek information about the boy's background by publicising his capture and learn from former serviceman Kawai about the exporting of the remains at the end of the war. After consulting with a former Nazi scientist they know that the boy is Frankenstein if his limbs grow back after amputation. This plan shocks cutie scientist Togami who has taken a shine to the now colossal boy and before they can test this idea, Frankenstein is disturbed by thoughtless TV journalists and breaks free from his cramped cage and heads for the hills. Panic strikes the Japanese nation and when reports of monster attacks make their way back to the capital Frankenstein is suspected. The three scientists track the giant and realise that he is not the only monster in town, but can they stop the military from destroying him and can he protect the human race from this new monster?
Keeping the team of producer, special effects wizard, director and composer that made the excellent Gojira, Frankenstein Conquers the World is the first Kaiju co-production between American and Japanese studios. This is reflected in casting that places US actor Nick Evans as the lead and requires him to make penitent speeches about how science can make progress from the atrocity that was the H-Bomb on Hiroshima. The fact of Nazi and Japanese alliance also leads to some strange moments especially when a WW II submarine commander sadly states that "Germany is finished" and the equation of the dire experiments of the Third Reich and concentration camps with modern research is a somewhat tasteless one. As an example of Kaiju or Japanese Scifi, this film is not the best you could choose with its exceedingly childish script, unappealing humans and a central battle which takes rather too long to resolve itself. The direction is not sure whether we should sympathise with the monster, the researchers or no one and this leads to the story being rather makeshift and lacking human interest. Instead the audience is left to marvel at the fights and the model effects which forty years on are not cutting edge. Eiji Tsuburya has done better with his effects and there have been better more exciting monster rucks than the ones on show here. Still it is all wonderfully excessive and the mixture of monster traditions between the Gothic and Kaiju is worth any admission fee just for its weirdness and the occasional nonsense it causes to happen.
Gojira is a film of an entirely different rank, but for sheer cartoon wackiness Frankenstein Conquers the World is a bit of a special movie. The mixture of the production, the cast and the story give the film a hybrid feel which is intriguing if not entirely successful. Gojira has better drama and interest in the human condition, and the Honda Godzilla movies are more coherent on the level of flicks for kids and pure entertainment, but Frankenstein Conquers the World is worth your time if only to marvel that it got made. The DiscsTokyo Shock/Media Blasters give the film a two disc release involving three cuts of the film. The first two cuts, the international and the theatrical, are contained on the dual layer disc one and are presented in Japanese mono and 5.1. The second single layer disc contains the bulk of the extras along with the AIP cut of the film which played in the US and is here presented in English mono and 5.1. The two Japanese cuts of the film are essentially the same with the exclusion of the giant octopus sequence which ends the International cut, and the AIP cut is 5 minutes shorter still with excised footage of models and the initial skirmishes between Barugon and Frankenstein, it also has a different score. The AIP cut finishes the same as the theatrical cut and may be a rare example of a shorter edit improving the film for pacing. All three cuts are presented in 2.35:1 and there are some differences between the versions with the US title sequence being less dark and obviously in English but generally the transfers are the same. All three versions are sharp with excellent contrast levels, but the colour balance is merely very good as skins do look a little red at times. For a MB release this is exceptional and I would compare the visual quality with some of the R4 discs of the Godzilla film series.
The audio tracks come in 5.1 and original mono mixes and while my taste was for the original mono, the surround tracks are just as clear with excellent separation of voice, effects and music. The 5.1 tracks do not represent true three dimensional sound but they are a good approximation which covers the speakers whilst keeping dialogue at the front regardless of where it is coming from. The tracks have very minor imperfections, a slight rumbling in the Japanese title sequence for instance, but the quality is again impressive overall. The English subtitles which follow the Japanese audio are perfect in terms of grammar and typing and are of the usual large font yellow favoured by R1 manufacturers.
The extras includes footage which was cut from the individual cuts and some other deleted scenes which are largely longer versions of scenes still present in the various cuts. The deleted scenes include some extra model shots of tanks which are silent, longer versions of Frankenstein's escape from the city, and a longer police chase. On the second disc there is also a subtitled teaser and trailer. On the first disc there are trailers for other Japanese Sci Fi flicks available from Tokyo Shock such as Atragon, Dogora, the Mysterians and Matango but the main extra is that of a commentary featuring Sadamasa Arikawa who worked on the film as assistant to the great Eiji Tsuburya. The commentary is in Japanese and quite stilted, and it starts poorly as the interviewer asks about the difficulties of being an international co-production only to find out that his guest knows nothing of this! Subtitled commentaries when you are watching a film in Japanese don't always work as the dialogue becomes untranslated and you are left with whatever the commentators decided to blather about, this works well on the recent Ichi the Killer release but on this disc the information passed onto the viewer isn't lively or interesting enough to keep the attention. I am sure that Kaiju experts will be more interested than I was, but this commentary isn't exactly thrilling for the casual viewer.
This film is clearly crackers and a bit tasteless with some wobbly miniatures and dodgy politics, but in my book that is the joy of Kaiju flicks. Not every monster movie can be as dramatic as Gojira but this is a very entertaining popcorn flick. The set on review here is better than such a cult film may deserve, so treasure it.