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Film / Varan, the Unbelievable

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Varan, the Unbelievable, aka Great Monster Varan, or Varan, Monster From the East.

Varan is a Kaiju movie produced by Toho Co, Ltd. in 1958. The film originally began life as a made-for-TV movie developed by Toho for American audiences. When the American producers backed out, Toho took what was left and decided to make a theatrical film out of it, while filming new sequences and removing some other ones of little consequence. Because the film was originally intended for television, and this being the 1950s, the film was shot in black-and-white. To make sure everything matched, the new footage for the film was also shot in black-and-white, making this the last theatrical monster movie to be released by Toho in black-and-white.

Also of note is that, because the film was intended for television, it was filmed in the aspect ratio of 4:3, and so the theatrical version of the film features a cropped image, being the world's second and last instance of a movie released in Toho Pan Scope, the first being a 1957 Japanese re-issue of Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, but that's a different story.

The film had already had a television score composed by Akira Ifukube, but with the movie being refit for theaters, he was given the chance to go back and rework the score to make it fit for a theatrical film. The result is one of Ifukube's most influential and recognizable scores ever...if you've seen the Japanese version of the film, that is. The American version, released in 1962, absolutely butchered the score...and everything else. Ifukube would reuse pieces of this score in countless other movies, with modified varations of certain pieces found in Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Frankenstein vs. Baragon, Battle in Outer Space, Godzilla vs. Gigan (although all of the music in that film was stock music, except for one piece at the end which wasn't composed by Ifukube) and many more.

This film contains the following mysteries of the twentieth century:

  • Americanization: One of the worst examples of an American cut of a Kaiju film, which kept only the SFX footage, and completely removed Akira Ifukube's music score, as well as changing the plot completely. Even Varan's roar was changed to sound like screeching tires on a bad road.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Varan is attracted to lights such as flares, which is how the military gets him to eat the bombs.
  • Dub Name Change: In the American version, Varan is referred to only as "Obaki," which comes from the Japanese word "Obake" for monster.
  • Feed It a Bomb: But you have to attach those shiny flares to it first.
  • Giant Equals Invincible: Pretty much. Although it doesn't help Varan when a bomb detonates inside of him.
  • Immune to Bullets: As is the standard for most kaiju, Varan's hide is very much impervious to bullets. His insides, on the other hand...
  • Intrepid Reporter: Yuriko Sinjo, who, after Steve Martin from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, helped establish the reporter character found in monster films afterwards.
  • Leave Me Alone!: Just stay out of Varan's forest and lake, and you should be fine, but does anyone listen? Nnnoooooo.
  • Meaningful Name: Varan's name comes from the word Varanopode, the same family as monitor lizards and Komodo Dragons. Varan himself looks like a giant lizard anyway, so the name fits.
  • Not Quite Flight: Varan is capable of gliding great distances, but cannot actually fly.
  • Oh, Crap!: After convincing the villagers that Baradagi is not real and that they shouldn't believe in such nonsense, the villagers huddle around Gen and his mother reuniting with one another...and then Varan emerges from his lake, proving that he is real to everyone's horror.
  • Out of Focus: After the first half the film, our three heroes are left on the sidelines, with only Kenji's truck action having any significance.
  • Physical God: Varan, or Baradagi as the villagers called him, was indeed worshipped as a god. Desptie Kenji's dismissal of superstitions, Varan is very much real, and he is very territorial.
  • Spell My Name With An S: The Japanese name is Baran, but the species name is Varanis, hence the name Varan.
  • Stock Footage: Stock footage from Godzilla (1954) is used during the evacuation of Tokyo, the military preparing for Varan's arrival, much of Varan's destruction of Haneda Airport, where Godzilla's tail makes an appearance. Almost every shot of the jets attacking Varan is lifted from Godzilla, along with a shot of a particular building crumbling, which is reused at least twice.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: Varan, like Godzilla, tends to stay underwater for really long periods of time, with no ill effect.