Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 29th 2006
Negadon: The Monster from Mars
The year is Showa 100; use of nuclear weapons in the terraforming of Mars has exposed an ancient menace: Negadon, the monster from Mars. When Negadon makes his inevitable call on downtown Tokyo, all that stands in the way of total destruction is the haunted Dr. Narasaki and his giant robot Miroku No. 2. The sides have been set. Let the showdown begin!
Without a doubt, writer/director Jun Awazu's fully CGI short film Negadon: The Monster from Mars is one for the fans. Kaiju eiga fans to be specific (that's giant monster movie fans to the uninitiated). Awazu's love for the kaiju movies of old bleeds from every scene in this film, and for fans of those films, it's infectious. Others, however, may be less than enthralled.
Negadon's greatest weakness is probably its length. At 25 minutes, there's precious little time for niceties like character development or thematic underpinnings. This isn't to say that they are ignored. The obligatory nuclear explosion at the beginning could be interpreted as an anti-nuclear statement a-la Godzilla (or merely an homage), and Awazu wisely spends the better part of the first half focusing on his characters. OK, make that character in the singular. Dr. Narasaki is really the only character in this film. Other characters, of which there are three—a former assistant, Narasaki's daughter, and a TV announcer, are little more than means to ends. Narasaki's daughter provides him with motivation, his former assistant provides crucial information on the past, and the announcer... well, what would a kaiju movie be without a TV announcer?
If all this talk of characters is making kaiju fans leery, worry not, the second half serves up the goods. The giant monster goods. Every destructive staple of the genre is in place here. The SDF makes a futile attempt at stopping the monster (using weaponry that seems awfully outdated for a time 20 years in the future, almost as if it were left over from a previous era, like say, the 50's). Negadon fries large portions of Tokyo, Miroku No. 2 and Negadon slug it out, with massive corresponding collateral damage, and it all ties up with a nifty little space battle. Not bad at all for 15 or so minutes worth of run time.
By the way, if any of the preceding sounded even remotely like spoilers, then this probably isn't the movie for you.
Awazu's CGI artistry is top-notch in most aspects. His most notable achievement is the way in which he uses computer graphics to evoke the world of the classic kaiju eiga. Everything in this film is calculated to that end. There's the dirt, nicks and scratches added to the images to impart an aged "film" feel. There're the plastic-model movements of the monsters, robots, and spaceships that recall the cheap, back-lot special effects of days gone by. Even the simulated camera movements seem to be calculated to this end. Of course, Awazu does update some things. The destruction is animated for maximum "wow" factor, there're little surrealistic touches such as a slowly flapping moth and a complicated mechanical eye, and the care lavished on the animation of rain really shows. Textures and surfaces are rendered in minutest detail; Narasaki's face in particular is a wondrous canvas of creases and scars. The limitations of the technology are still apparent however, especially in the animation of human movement. The complicated movements of hands are still out of reach for CGI artists, and faces have always been a problem. CGI characters still have problems emoting effectively, caught as they are in some limbo between artistic representations and living actors. In Negadon, the quality of character animation appears to be a reflection of the character's importance, with Dr. Narasaki being very well animated indeed, and his daughter—the worst offender—looking far too like a moving doll to be even remotely believable.
Negadon's music is likewise designed to evoke Awazu's beloved kaiju movies; from the tinny opening to the bombastic orchestral compositions that accompany the monster bashin'. Quiet piano and woodwind-based tunes are used to underline some of the more introspective moments, but these times are rare, and are more remarkable for their use of silence and small incidental sounds than the music. All in all it's a thoroughly effective score.
Those looking to replicate the American kaiju movie experience via the dub (i.e. those looking for an awful dub) will be rather disappointed, as Central Park Media has done a thoroughly professional job here. The script sticks very close to the original, except where variation is necessary to match the movements of the characters' mouths (which, sorry folks, they manage to do quite well). As Dr. Narasaki, Sean Schemmel gets the lion's share of the dialogue, and he gets kudos for interpreting him into English with all his dignity and gravitas intact.
CPM does their best to make up for the short running time of the movie with copious extras, and there are some real goodies to be had as a result. Along with the usual extras (manga and anime previews, an art gallery comprised of movie stills, US and Japanese trailers) the only disappointment is an initially interesting, yet ultimately repetitive, demonstration of the building and integration of the CGI models used in the film. Also included are an informative talking-heads interview with Jun Awazu and an exhibit of kaiju fan-art designs submitted during a CPM-sponsored contest. However, the real treats are two more crudely animated, yet highly entertaining, shorts by Awazu (Magara: The Giant Monster, and Magara: The Final Showdown) and the Digital Liner Notes, a very funny subtitle track that is crammed with obscure trivia and snarky asides.
Negadon is, at heart, a distillation of everything that Jun Awazu loves about the kaiju eiga. At only 25 minutes, there isn't time for anything else. Of necessity, this means jettisoning much of what gives the best kaiju movies their resonance; character depth and interaction, social commentary, and (as silly as it sounds) any depiction of the human cost of fighting a giant monster are all excised, inherently limiting the scope of the intended audience. This isn't a movie for everyone; Negadon is instead aimed squarely at those of you who stand up and cheer when a giant robot breaks out its drill arm. You know who you are.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Short, sweet treat for fans of the destructive elements of giant monster movies.
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