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Premier Systems, Inc. Godzilla Movie Studio Tour Hybrid CD ROM for Windows and Mac

by Bob Schneider - (2/7/2000)

Probably every Godzilla fan shares a common dream: to someday tour Toho Studios, where 22 Godzilla films and countless other kaiju eiga and scifi / fantasy genre movies were produced. For most of us, the Godzilla Movie Studio Tour, a multimedia CD-ROM designed by Premeir Systems, Inc., is as close to fulfilling that dream as we'll ever get.

True to its title, the CD-ROM really does take you on a simulated tour of a movie studio, which is depicted using 3D modeled, vividly rendered graphics rather than photographic images. I seriously doubt that this virtual reality studio is an accurate representation of Toho's actual facilities -- if it is, the real studio is equipped with such extravagances as life-size statues of Godzilla and Mothra and a spectacular sky walk that encircles the property. As presented here, the place looks more like a high-tech amusement park than a film studio. Though the details may not be accurate, the space-age architecture perfectly captures the style of Toho's classic movies, evoking the feel of the Monster Island control room in Destroy All Monsters, for example, or perhaps the theme park in Godzilla on Monster Island. A rousing, heroic musical soundtrack further adds to the effect.

After a brief introductory segment narrated by a synthesized electronic voice, you are seated in a sleek looking tram that transports you through the studio's entrance. Once on the grounds, you "move" from one building to another by clicking on navagation icons that appear on the screen. Instead of just jumping to your destination, the on-screen view neatly pans and dollies from one location to another, thanks to smoothly executed 3D animation. The sky walk tour, which takes you on a panoramic stroll above and around the entire complex, is a particularly impressive animation sequence.

To access the various features of the program, you visit different buildings. The Museum, for example, contains biographies, pictures, and sound clips of Toho's many famous monsters; the Sound Studio lets you add sound effects, such as monster roars, explosions, or crowd noises, to footage from several Heisei films; and so forth. At the Godzilla Shop and Kid's Shop, you can print out greeting cards, stationery, and other paper products. A few of these items will be of particular interest to serious fans: there are autographed sketches by art designer Kouichi Kawakita and monster designers Shinji Nishikawa and Yuzuru Yoshida, and a storyboard excerpt from Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. In the Publicity Department building, you can combine backgrounds, titles, and clipart images of several monsters to create your own custom designed movie posters.

Though the program makes no mention of the film King Kong vs. Godzilla or its simian hero (no doubt because of license restrictions on the big ape's name), the Publicity Department portion of the program features clipart of two monsters you might not have expected to see. One of these is none other than Bagan, the shape-shifting villian that was slated to appear in a couple of proposed films that never made it into production. The monster is depicted as a slightly hunched, reptillian thing with spiked shoulders and fanged jaws, ideas that may have been subsequently borrowed for Space Godzilla and/or Destoroyah. The other monster, besides Godzilla, featured in the Publicity Department section is Dogora, but it looks strikingly different here than it did in the '64 film. This version of Dogora is equipped with long, snake-like tentacles, nasty looking jaws, and a horn on its forehead, reminiscent of the Battra larva. Toho apparently went to the expense of licensing the designs for both of these monsters -- the copyright blurb on the package includes 30 of those little pictorial monster icons that Toho is so fond of, and sure enough, both Bagan and Dogora (in its redesigned form) are represented. All of this makes me wonder if Toho may yet be considering using these two monsters in a future production. We can only wait and hope!

Naturally, one of the major features of the Godzilla Movie Studio Tour is footage from classic Godzilla films, presented in Quicktime format. Oddly, no films prior to Godzilla '85 are represented, perhaps because Toho felt that the inferior production values of these earlier films would pale compared to the newer releases. However, you can view five or six clips from each of several Heisei films in the Library. The video clips play in a tiny window, which was probably a necessary limitation to ensure compatibility with the widest possible range of computers. To take up some leftover screen space, though, the programmers chose to stack up three of these windows on top of one another vertically with a sprocket-pattern border on either side, suggesting a strip of film. When a video clip begins, it plays in all three windows simultaneously, an effect that I found extremely distracting. I would have prefered to see a single window, even if it left some additional blank space on the screen.

Along with the movie clips, there are a few brief segments shot backstage, showing the film makers at work. Two of these clips, depicting carpenters working on a rather non-descript piece of scenery, are nothing special. But the third clip shows a stagehand spraying gold glitter into the air while another operates the wire and pulley controlled Mothra puppet during the filming of the climactic confrontation in Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for Earth. This is exactly the sort of behind the scenes tidbit Godzilla fans -- or movie buffs in general, for that matter -- will eat up. Too bad Toho didn't supply more goodies like this.

Of course no movie studio tour is complete without a visit to the Film Studio building itself, where you can assemble clips from popular Heisei films into your own custom-made mini-movie. This appealing feature isn't implemented as well as it could have been, however. You can't combine clips from more than one Godzilla movie, and for each scene in your production, you're given a choice of only three different segments, often consisting of the same action shot from different camera angles. Still, a finished production contains a sequence of 30 scenes totaling several minutes in length, which is enough to give you a decent range of creative options. Best of all, when you finish your masterpiece, you can attend a debut screening in the Theater, where you will be awarded with cheers and applause from the audience after the movie ends -- an amusing touch. It would have been nice if you could have exported your finished movie as a Quicktime file to distribute to real audiences (ie. your friends), but Toho probably would have immediately nixed this idea since the studio tends to be extremely protective of its copyrights.

In conclusion, the Godzilla Movie Studio Tour isn't exactly what I expected, in both negative and positive ways. I was hoping for plenty of inside information on special effects, monster design, and other elements of production -- after all, this is supposed to be a movie studio tour, isn't it? Outside of the three brief production clips I mentioned earlier, this sort of information is conspicuously absent from the CD ROM. Perhaps Premier Systems felt that customers would be bored by lots of technical details, or maybe background material was omitted simply because that's the way Toho wants it. While I can understand the studio's reluctance to ruin its mystique by revealing too many secrets, die-hard fans will be expecting a closer look behind the scenes and may be understandably disappointed when they are denied.

On the other hand, I can't help being impressed -- and largely won over -- by the thoroughly professional design of the program, especially the 3D renderings and animations. Really, this CD-ROM looks and sounds comparable to some state of the art adventure games like Riven or Zork Inquisitor, in spite of the fact those titles appeal to a much larger audience and were probably budgeted accordingly. More important, though, the style of Godzilla Movie Studio Tour neatly reflects the slightly quirky, futuristic atmosphere that made the Godzilla movies themselves so exciting. The folks who designed the program are obviously Godzilla fans who understand and love their subject matter, and they've clearly approached this project with reverance and enthusiasm. Because of their imagination and dedication, any Godzilla fan is bound to find the Godzilla Movie Studio Tour highly entertaining, if not especially informative, and well worth the price of admission.

NOTE: The Godzilla Movie Studio Tour is no longer in distribution, but copies can still be purchased direct from Premier Systems at:

Premier Systems
30 Corporate Park Suite 307
Irvine, CA 92606
Tel: 949-475-9742
Fax: 949-475-9743
http://www.premiersys.com