Tag Archives: recollection

A Brief Look at Christmas 1997

I’m working on a big huge end-of-year post, so this won’t be a long one. Even though it’s now the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for some of yous), two events occurred recently that made me think “hey, I can get a post out of this!” 1) I was digging through old family photos, admittedly with the purpose of an update in mind, and of which I had several prospects up for consideration. Of course I didn’t find the pic I had set out for, but this one here actually works better. 2) My brother went and picked himself up a brand new Nintendo Switch earlier today, and as he hooked it up for the first time, I was reminded of the same sort of feelings from Christmas 20 years ago. I had waffled back and forth on doing this post beforehand, and had finally decided to can it, but that event earlier today changed my mind.

And so here we are, with an absolute blast from my childhood’s past. Behold!

First off, that’s not quite everything received that day. The stuff to the left, with the exception of the TV, was mine. Everything to the right, which in actuality was in the middle of the floor, was “share.” (The TV was share as well.) I cropped out everything beyond, because those were my brother’s gifts and consequently I had little to say about them. He got a bunch of Beast Wars stuff, okay?

Why even bother with this post? Well, it felt a little strange not getting a ‘proper’ Christmas article up this year, but more importantly, I’m forever nostalgic and Christmas 1997 was one of the biggies for me personally. When I found this old photograph the other night, well, it fired the memory machine up – the very purpose of old photographs, I suppose.

While digging, I also found some pictures from Christmas 1998 and beyond, and there were some other good memories attached, to the point that I set a bunch aside and thought about giving each one a spotlight, but meh, I’ll just stick with this.

Here’s “my stuff.” Yes, I know it’s a little blurry; look, digital cameras wouldn’t be on our radar yet for a few more years. Plus, I obviously did some cropping.

So what are you seeing here? Starting from bottom-left, you’ll note that I too fell victim to the Giga Pet/Tamagotchi craze of the late-1990s. Yes, I got my very own Giga Pet! For those “not in the know” (do people still use that phrase?), these were little devices with an LCD screen that presented an animal of some sort. You were charged with taking care of said animal, with feedings and walks and so on and so forth. If you didn’t properly maintain your pet, it would up and die on you. No kidding, these things might seem pretty quaint today, but they were a big fad at the time. I don’t think I ever used mine much, and as such, my Giga Pet was probably constantly dead.

I’ve got no idea what the thing behind the Giga Pet is. I *think* it might have been a Tamagotchi carrying case of some sort. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Ah, but behind that are three VHS tapes that I still own to this day. From front-to-back, I received Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Creature From the Black Lagoon. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was very much into old horror and sci-fi films at the time (still am, too), and while it’s hard to fathom today, there was a time when a lot of these eventual-standards were still new and unknown to me, as these three movies were. I was (am) a big, big Godzilla fan, devouring any new old entry I could, so Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Godzilla vs. Megalon, I just loved it. And Creature From the Black Lagoon? You just can’t fault that flick! Like Godzilla, it was so great seeing new old Universal monster movies; I couldn’t get enough of ’em! (I know you can’t see Creature‘s cover, but trust me, that’s what it is.)

Next, I’m not sure what exactly the big Star Wars thing is, but look closely at what’s sitting in front of it: The Special Edition trilogy VHS boxset! Okay, even back then I wasn’t big on George Lucas tampering with the original films, but that did get them back in theaters, allowing me to see A New Hope on the big screen. So altered or not, that was cool. And besides, while in retrospect the Special Editions were the first indication that the Star Wars series could do wrong, the massive hype surrounding them in those pre-prequel days was certainly a lot of fun to live through. An extreme late-1990s throwback? Sure, but nostalgia can go a long way towards overlooking whatever problems a property may have had, and that’s the mindset I’m going with there.

Beside the Star Wars stuff: A pewter Superman statue, honoring the cover of the first issue of Superman proper. Next to that, a big two-in-one book, featuring the complete Frankenstein and Dracula novels back-to-back. I was (and am) an avid reader, and I did indeed read the Frankenstein portion, though I  never did much with ol’ Drac.

Finally, on the floor: I’ve loved praying mantis’ for years, so there’s some kind of wooden mantis kit there. Also, an Archie book of some sort. More importantly though, and I know you can barely see it, is what’s beneath both of those things: It’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide! I was a massive MSTie even then, but having discovered the show on the Sci-Fi Channel, the Comedy Central years were almost entirely a blank slate to me, save for the few VHS releases out there. The episode guide did much to fill me in. Not only was in ridiculously informative, but it was also (of course) very, very funny. I loved learning about the different MST’d movies featured on the show over the years, some of which I had seen unMST’d and some of which I would specifically check out later. It’s wild to realize that at that time there were only a few episodes released officially on VHS, and now we’ve gotten very nearly the entire series!

So, that was “my stuff,” which means we’ve come to the “share pile…”

Look, I’ve got severe memories tied to all of this, but man, this is where the nostalgia goes into hyper drive.

In the very back was one of those tabletop pinball machines, this one for Donkey Kong Country. Neat, but impossible to not be overshadowed by what’s right in front of it: A brand new Nintendo 64 console! I don’t even remember asking for a ‘next gen’ system, but man, N64 was just such a leap forward compared to the 16-bit era I had been stuck in. In fact, in the very front of this pile is a brand new Super Nintendo power supply (the old one had bit the dust) and Super Star Wars, which, 1997 or not, was and is timeless. But really, it was all about the N64 here.

Obviously a spare controller is present, and behind Super Star Wars is Super Mario 64 – I may not be able to find the words to properly describe Super Mario 64. The game was just so unbelievably great! The hours my brother and I spent on that during Christmas break and beyond, I’m not sure I want to know. There was so much to see and do in the game, and aside from a sometimes-wonky camera (hey, this was basically uncharted territory), it played fantastic. Heck, I think it still plays fantastic! Indeed, Super Mario 64 would absolutely find its way into my top ten favorite games list, should I ever be required to make one.

Even though the N64 would lose that respective console war, and there are any number of complaints gamers can (and will) lobby against it, you won’t find me among their ranks. Simply put, very rarely have I been blown away by gaming the way I was that Christmas 20 years ago, taking that first true plunge into the 32/64-bit era. The original PlayStation may have been better, but for as much as I love it, I could never love it more than the Nintendo 64.

(Oh, that Daewoo TV seen to the far left in the first picture up above? That was for the N64, so we could have our own TV to play it on without tying up the main one in the living room.)

So anyway, as my brother hooked up the Nintendo Switch earlier today and we played Super Mario Odyssey, to me the whole event recalled our first experience with Super Mario 64 (the similar controls didn’t hurt, either). As I said, that was the final thing that spurred me into writing this post. I wasn’t trying to break any new ground here, just trying to share some personal memories of one of my favorite Christmases. And 1997 was absolutely near the top for yours truly.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday. I’ll see you again before the year is out!

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Blockbuster-Branded (and Subsequently Autographed) Godzilla 2000 VHS

The time is right for this one.

I guess I got the inkling for this a few weeks back, when I covered that widescreen ’98 Godzilla VHS. As a follow-up to that post, I initially planned on dragging out a copy of the regular, full-screen edition of the movie; not so much for the sake of comparison, but rather because it was a used VHS, re-sealed and branded by Blockbuster video, as was their habit back in the day. Found for only 60 cents at a thrift store, it was an impossibly cool artifact of the late-1990s video store era, one that I was going home with the instant I found it. I’m a sucker for tapes with old Blockbuster stickers all over ’em.

That post obviously never happened, though it still could at some point, depending on how industrious I feel.

Instead, for several reasons, not the least of which being personal memories, I’m going with this tape today, the US VHS release of Godzilla 2000. It’s got the same late-1990s/early-2000s-ness about it, and the same Blockbuster-factor, but it’s a different movie – and it’s signed. Take note of that, because that’s where the personal memories part come in.

First though, the tape (and movie) itself. Godzilla 2000, was released in Japan at the end of 1999 and in the US in August 2000. Unlike many (most?) of the then-new entries in the series, Godzilla 2000 was released theatrically here, and coming off the controversial ’98 Hollywood product two years prior, it almost seemed like a “here’s your real Godzilla!” move. Maybe it was intended that way?

For my part, I did indeed see the film in the theater. The chance to see my first “real” Godzilla movie on the big screen? I almost never went to the movies then, or now for that matter, but I made an exception for ‘Zilla.

My fandom, which was only a few years old at that time, was still evolving, and the sad fact of the matter was that it was probably around that point that I realized I just wasn’t real big on the “new” entries in the series. The Columbia/Tristar VHS releases of movies from the 1990s (heretofore unavailable in the US, to the best of my knowledge) were coming out, Godzilla 1985 had been re-released on tape, there was 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante (released by HBO with absolutely stunning cover art), and the one thing I took away from all that was this: They just didn’t do much for me. I’m an “original series” guy; that is, I dig the entries from the 1950s through 1970s, but after that, I must admit my interest wanes. That’s probably anathema to admit to any serious kaiju fan, I know, but I can’t lie to you, my bored reader. (In all fairness though, I haven’t seen the film since that visit to the theater back in 2000; maybe it held up better than I’m expecting?)

So anyway, Godzilla 2000. It was neat, it was cool to see in theaters, but truth be told, it didn’t blow me away. As such, I committed the previously-inconceivable act of not picking up the VHS release as soon as it came out.

As you can see, I eventually wound up with a copy, the circumstances of which I’ll get to momentarily. Say what you want about the film, you can’t deny it was given a positively striking release on VHS. I had to tilt my camera a bit when taking the picture, lest the flash overwhelm the artwork, and that’s why the image above isn’t “straight on.” Still, this worked out; it gives you a good impression of the textured front cover. The regular edition of Godzilla 1998 featured a textured cover too, but this one is so, so much cooler; it’s got the real ‘Zilla on it, amidst the carnage you’ve come to know and love from him, and let’s be honest, adding “2000” to a title makes anything sound cooler.

The only part I personally would have dropped is the “GET READY TO CRUMBLE!” tagline. Yes, I know it was used in the promotion for the film’s US release, but it’s too pun-y; it sounds like something that would’ve wound up on a low budget, direct-to-video release. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. (Full Disclosure: I can’t get “REST IN…BEAST” via 1996’s Werewolf out of my head here.)

There’s the back cover. Ah, that tagline again!

My (probably arbitrary) qualms with that aside, it’s a perfectly serviceable back cover and synopsis. It’d be even more serviceable if Blockbuster hadn’t obscured ‘Zilla’s head and Lou Lumeni-somebody’s quote with their big huge used VHS sticker. The price? Uh, “$*”. I no longer recall what that means, if I ever did, but it probably meant “cheap.”

The synopsis certainly sells the movie adequately. It’s exciting, hyperbolic, and it’s got that little registered trademark thing after every utterance of “Godzilla.” Though, it does point to one aspect that I later became increasingly irritated with: The usage of UFOs/aliens/etc. as antagonists. By the 1970s, nearly every movie in the series used that to drive their plot, and the trend seemingly continued in the revived series. Once in awhile is fine, but frankly, I grew tired of it. That’s probably another arbitrary qualm on my part.

(The outstanding Toho Kingdom site features a gallery of Toho VHS art, and in their section for this tape, they state this was the last ‘Zilla flick to see VHS release in the US – which I have no problem believing.)

The Blockbuster sticker sez this was placed out for sale on April 16, 2001. That’s not when I got it though. In fact, this tape doesn’t even hail from Northeast Ohio. So where did it come from?

Chicago, believe it or not. I wasn’t there all happenstance, either. Nope, it was Godzilla himself that got me to Chi-Town back in the summer of 2001.

How so? G-Fest 2001, that’s how!

G-Fest is an annual Godzilla and general kaiju convention celebrating, uh, Godzilla and general kaiju. My fandom for all things ‘Zilla may have tapered off somewhat from its late-1990s zenith, but I was (and am) still a huge fan of this stuff. So no, there was no need to resort to blackmail to get me there; I was no regular convention-goer by any means, but this was too neat to pass up!

It was a neat show, with plenty to see and do. I was mainly interested in the memorabilia, of course, and I picked up some cool tapes (we saw one before), both there and at a nearby Japanese mall, as well as some other assorted bits; indeed, the original lobby card for Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster I scored for $15 was a particular boon. (We also stopped at a yard sale one night; I picked up a couple old comics and a vintage Mattel handheld Basketball.)

By the way, the show was actually held July 13-15, 2001, and had I been on my game, I could have posted this on the anniversary date. But, I wasn’t so I didn’t.

I didn’t pick up this Godzilla 2000 at the show, though. Nope, we actually sought out a local Blockbuster, who just happened to have a used copy – which needless to say is why this article is happening. Somehow we found the place, the Godzilla 2000 VHS finally became mine, and I was prepared for the next day…

This section from the official program, which I dug out just for this post, explains all. They had special guests, and I wanted autographs.

I already had a copy of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, the 1991 flick that had only seen a VHS release in the US in, I don’t know, 1998 or so. So, I was ready to get Robert Scott Field’s signature on it (he played M-11 in the film), but I was woefully unprepared for Shinichi Wakasa, who as per the program, was responsible for the Godzilla suit in 2000.

The trip to Blockbuster solved that problem, and I met both guys on the Saturday date of that convention, ready to roll.

I want to say we got pictures with both. Either way, both were super nice guys I’m glad to have met. I was more familiar with Robert Scott Field, simply due to his on-screen presence in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, (I’ve still got my signed VHS, but that’s a subject for another post, another time), but there’s no denying it was cool to meet Mr. Wakasa, the man behind the Godzilla of Godzilla 2000. Even if I wasn’t huge on the movie, there’s no doubt his suit, and the special effects in general, were darn impressive.

So anyway, that’s Shinichi Wakasa’s signature you’re seeing at the bottom of the front cover of my Godzilla 2000 tape. I’m not sure anyone other than kaiju fans would know that unless I pointed it out, but I’m absolutely glad it’s there.

In summation, it was a neat experience, and the story of how I came to get the tape to be signed is, to me, even more interesting than if I had just picked it up brand new upon release. I’ve got a tale to tell along with the signature on it, and in addition it still exhibits the remnants of a now-gone video rental era. I dare say it’s a pretty cool piece of my collection thanks to all that!