Varan the Unbelievable
- Category: Reviews
- Written by Dave Kosanke
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VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE - (1958)
This may be a silly thing to admit, and I’m sure some may not believe me, but truth is I’ve never seen the American release of this film known as VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE! So in essence I’m doing things backwards by seeing it for the first time in its uncut, Tohoscope glory with English subtitles! So in essence this version is officially known as DAIKAIJU BARAN. Either way this is the film (in this version I mean) most people probably have not yet seen.
In the kaiju circles, most people seem to agree that KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was butchered the most when released here in the States. But it is VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE that ranks right up there with the "films that were destroyed by the American man!". So as I stated in the opening sentence I’m at a loss here since I cannot compare both versions. But I will also add that after viewing Varan, I probably never will see the aborted American version.
The film is notable as being one of the first (probably the first kaiju picture, but correct me if I’m wrong) films to utilize TohoScope. The wide ratio (2.35:1) was certainly a must in these monster films. Especially when the filmmakers wanted to convey a sense of height and width to support the suspension of disbelief that the monsters were indeed HUGE!
So Varan starts out with an opening scene of two scientists going to a jungle to search for a rare species of butterfly. What they encounter is much more rare and needless to say, it costs’ them their lives (although the deaths are actually never shown). Upon learning of the tragic event, the sister of one of the deceased men, Yuriko, and several others travel to the remote place to find evidence that supports the natives theory of a legendary god, called BARADAGI which they claim was angered by the intrusion of the two scientists. What follows is the general disbelief of our group until rising out of the lake is none other than BARADAGI! Soon the whole public of Tokyo is aware of the giant monster. Dr. Sugimoto is the head "brain" we meet with the answers to the monsters existence. He states it is the last of the extinct (not anymore!) Baran species of dinosaur. What he doesn’t explain is its unnatural ability to sprout wings and fly!
This leads to one of my main gripes with the film. Why is it that no one can explain the flying technique of the monster? Maybe it could be because the Dr. is so laid back and unassuming in the film he probably doesn’t care! I mean I thought he would fall asleep during mid-sentence a few times! In essence the only thing we learn is that they want to prevent Varan (note that the film calls the monster BARAN, but so as to not confuse readers I’ll use the general name VARAN) from coming to Tokyo. However it is ironic that they want to keep Varan from invading Tokyo when it is really the military's fault that Varan is headed there in the first place! By bombing and blasting Varan in its native lake, they simply force him to fly off to better grounds! What better stomping grounds than Tokyo for a giant monster to waste!? What follows is countless (futile) efforts by the military brass (as well as the main characters) to prevent said destruction of Tokyo. The ending does show an efficient end to monster or does it? While I won’t say how they defeat Varan, I will say all we see is a large explosion that takes place underwater. But since that is all we see, who is to say that Varan is really finished? Take for example the monsters brief cameo in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. If it was really dead and gone, why bring it back? What I’d like to see is Varan make a great comeback in its own film, or perhaps against a foe, like ANGILAS (which is a similar looking monster to Varan).
The Japanese version remains a decent monster film filled with no boring filler and lots of monster scenes. The main drawback is that the story remains fairly non-existent. Even the human characters do nothing but talk. No real immediate action is taken by the characters to the situation. The only true humans who display any real emotions or impulses are the native villagers who worship Varan. But such a drawback is probably minor to the legions of monsters fans who couldn’t give a Kaiju’s ass if a film has a story or not, just as long as mass destruction is dealt out, and in this instance it succeeds. In fact this film is far superior to GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (A.K.A. GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER) released three years earlier. But like I said the original Japanese version is the only way to go.