Godzilla vs. Megalon (1974) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

In 1972 Toho ran a competition for school children to design their own Kaiju; the winner would have their creation seen on the big screen. In a decision that I refuse to accept as truth, the ‘best’ entry was a humanoid robot named Red Alone. The name was changed to Jet Jaguar and his feature film went into development with him facing off a new monster; Megalon. During pre-production however they realised how terrible Jet Jaguar was, so the obvious solution was “Let’s just put Godzilla in it”. Production started immediately, reportedly lasting just three weeks. It’s fairly clear how this is going to go.

“Look, I’ll give you an autograph only if you promise to stay out of my films”

Godzilla vs. Megalon opens with a nuclear test practically destroying Monster Island, upsetting the inhabitants as well as the citizens of Seatopia ; an underwater nation whose presence isn’t questioned or explained, and is portrayed in a manner that can only be described as ‘Greeks in a 1950’s spaceship set’. They’re so angry that they summon their ‘beetle with drills for arms’ God Megalon to wreak havoc on earth who bursts out of a riverbed in a sequence that is actually very effective. I fear the budget may have been blown with this moment though, because many of the monster sequences are painful to watch. This feeling is made all the worse by Jet Jaguar, who is the invention of our earth-based protagonists that manage to get themselves knocked out by goons all too frequently but have a number of entertaining scenes. In a first for the series, this means the human story is actually more bearable than the monster scenes. Light relief comes courtesy of Jet Jaguar’s ridiculous arm gestures that apparently prepare him for flight, and seeing him getting punched repeatedly. The highlight of the film is without question the bizarre, hilarious moment Godzilla discovers a new gravity-defying fighting move.

10/10

This is far from the worst Godzilla film I’ve seen so far, but it does have rather few redeeming features. One great sequence early on (the river draining) and some enjoyable moments in the human storyline aren’t enough to save this film. It manages to make the most fundamental, usually most reliably entertaining part of these films – monsters fighting each other – boring. Ultimately it was clearly made in a hurry, to try and squeeze a bit more money from the commitment to make a Jet Jaguar movie.

3/10

Advertisements

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

After the abomination that was All Monsters Attack I found it a bit wearisome to see how many Godzilla films I had left. Encouraging is the general consensus that it is the worst one of the lot, so onwards and upwards hopefully, onto 1971’s offering; Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

Awesome.

The general tone of this entry casts aside the children’s matinee feeling that had the last few films slowly nudged the franchise into, this is an evasive eco-awareness story, opening with a cheerful-sounding song typical of the era. The subtitles alert us however to the fact that the lyrics paint a brutal image of pollution to the sea and air eventually causing the demise of mankind, with the refrain being a desperate plea for the sun to return to earth. A pretty sombre message considering the previous film was about a little boy running around with a talking mini-Manilla (I’ll try to eventually stop moaning about All Monsters Attack). Continuing the theme, the titular monster, while looking actually pretty awesome, is basically an enormous pile of sulfur-exuding, smog-inhaling sludge that literally represents the effects of pollution on the earth. Godzilla here turns eco-warrior, not only setting upon Hedorah as the title hints at, but getting pretty miffed at the nasty piles of junk and muck floating around the Japanese coastline. Theme tune aside the message doesn’t feel like it’s being mashed into the film forcefully, it’s more clever than that, making “pollution is bad” an integral part of the story. The monster scenes are considerably slower-paced, with more time featuring them facing off, building up to the fights, and letting us see a much more intelligent Godzilla as he measures up his foe and eventually employing tools to defeat him.

Mmmm… cars.

All this seems very dark, serious and almost adult again, and a number of scenes showing Hedorah’s effect on people are pretty unpleasant, but somehow we once again have a small child as a main character who inexplicably knows what Godzilla’s up to & comes up with all the answers the scientists can’t figure out. It’s a complete contradiction of my previous comment that it chucks out the child’s matinee tone, and that’s the biggest issue with this film; it is in itself a constant contradiction. It flips between dark and grim, to childish and almost whimsical. And that’s before I begin to mention the weird moments that sit in a tone of their own such as the few brief animated sequences. Or the subplot where, basically, a group of hippies have a party in the middle of nowhere for no reason (complete with electric guitars and keyboards somehow). Or the new hidden talent that Godzilla reveals very near the end…

Wait, what?

It’s largely a decent return to form for the Godzilla franchise, with a strong purpose, some great scenes of devastation & monster mayhem and some awesome “hero” shots of the lizard. Hedorah’s design is fantastic, somehow making a monster suit that both actually looks like a gloopy pile of sludge, and is quite a horrific sight for the right reasons.  However, the enjoyment and involvement is frequently broken by odd events that make you wonder what you’re actually watching, and shifts in tone that suggest they couldn’t quite commit to a return to a more adult film. Despite it’s issues, it represents a massive step back in the right direction, and certianly enough to rekindle my interest.

6/10

All Monsters Attack (1969) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

1969’s entry saw the Godzilla franchise return to the child-friendly tone of Son of Godzillahere telling the story of Ichiro, a young boy who dreams of visiting Monster Island (the location of the previous year’s Destroy All Monsters) to see Godzilla and co. for himself. Meanwhile there are two gangsters on the run who’ve just robbed a bank of 50 million yen (about £300,000 in case anyone was wondering). I’ll leave it up to you to guess whether or not their stories eventually collide. While the childish tone is far removed from how I normally picture Godzilla, I did really enjoy Son of Godzilla so I was willing to let myself enjoy this similarly. Unfortunately it’s utterly appalling.

Oh great, the giant spiders are back *shudders*

The film opens with the strangest, most painful-to-the-ears theme tune I think I’ve heard. It’s apparently called “Monster March”, and it accompanies the first 5 minutes of the film, setting up what turns out to be a test of endurance; something that feels less like an actual film, more a bad dream. Ichiro is bullied by his peers and lives a pretty lonely life with his parents having to work all hours to not only make ends meet but to try to move out of the city for a better life. He retreats to his dreams where he visits Monster Island with Minilla as his guide. It’s hard to decide where to start with these sequences; firstly, Minilla is inexplicably the same size as Ichiro, and talks in Japanese to the boy throughout the film. Yes, yes, “it’s a dream” and all that, but the first time Minilla opened his mouth I was ready to burn my entire Godzilla DVD collection.

SHUT UP YOU MINISCULE MONSTER!

A large number of monsters challenge Godzilla in this film, however the majority of the fights are stock footage from various previous films in the series, with just one entirely new Kaiju; Gabara, who looks like a mix between a traditional Japanese dragon and a deformed cat, covered in pea soup. It embodies bad dreams or something. There is one scene where Ichiro, still in his Monster Island Dream, it grabbed by a couple of leaves. It turns out this is a canon monster too, named Maneater. It doesn’t do anything else, and it doesn’t feature in any other scenes, so that’s that.

“Kill me.”

Ultimately this is a film about a boy and a couple of gangsters. None of the monsters have any bearing on the plot as they exist purely in the boy’s dreams. While some of the Godzilla films have skirted the realms of quality, this is the first one that I’d say is completely “so-bad-it’s-good”. I can’t say anything good about it, even the stock footage fights are re-cut and mashed in purposelessly that they make very little sense. The newly filmed visual effects are totally ridiculous, the highlight being Minilla jumping from a great height to catapult Gabara in the air. There are glimmers of some deeper themes about providing for your family in a couple of  depressing, melodramatic moments that feel completely out of  place. The film finishes on a reprise of the unbearable Monster March, leaving the best point of this film being the mercifully short 66 minute runtime.

1/10

Son of Godzilla (1967) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This Post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

Following from Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, Godzilla has really been pushed towards Saturday Matinee-style movies, with a stronger appeal to children. Here this trend is compounded by Godzilla’s son Minilla being introduced. It’s an enjoyable film, but far removed from how Godzilla has been portrayed up until now.

In reality this woman would be headless in 2 seconds

Perhaps lazily, with many of the same people people working on both films, the set-up is somewhat similar to Ebirah here, with everything taking place on an island where scientific experiments are being carried out, unfortunately in the vicinity of some large monsters. Unlike Ebirah though, Godzilla is very much the star, featured in the opening scene. The creatures Godzilla and Minilla encounter are large insects rather than unique monsters. It’s another factor that makes this feel like a completely different film to the previous ones despite the similarities in the plot. On a personal note, I’m incredibly unkeen on insects so the images of enormous spiders and mantises were actually rather unpleasant for me even though this is essentially a children’s film…

My reaction would be the same as Minilla’s in fairness

Though it’s totally unclear as to where the egg came from (Is Godzilla actually female? Is there a female somewhere else? Is Godzilla basically a seahorse like in Emmerich’s version?), Minilla’s hatching proves to be the turning point of this film as Godzilla raising him becomes the main focus. It’s easy to be resistant to these scenes as a fan of Godzilla being a terrifying force of destruction, but I let go of that and came to see them as they are: they’re genuinely funny, giving a surprising amount of character to both creatures. Minilla especially, as it’s undeniably funny to see a baby giant monster having a tantrum when Godzilla tells it to go home. I’ll be glad to see Godzilla return to how he should be, but hoping this is a one-off for a while I see it as nothing more than a bit of light relief in the series.

“That’s enough: we’re leaving”

The human story is fine. It’s largely predictable, ultimately serving little more purpose than building up setpieces for the monsters, most impressively the final fight which takes place in a blizzard, but never drags, moving along at a reasonable pace. The interaction between humans and the monsters is improved again; a few of the composite shots are very impressive in making a man in a suit look enormous! In all, this is definitely unlike any of the previous films, but as long as the attempts to cutesify Godzilla aren’t continued too much in future installments this is a silly but enjoyable twist on the Godzilla mythos, I choose to see it as an entertaining spin-off rather than a ‘proper’ part of the series.

7/10

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

Ebirah

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge.

Another release within a year of the previous entry, this installment ditches the space-age, sci-fi feel of Invasion of Astro-Monster in favour of… well, I don’t really know what this film is. It opens so suddenly that you wonder whether you’ve just accidentally skipped 10 minutes, as a woman struggles with the loss of their fisherman son, refusing to accept he’s dead, before her second son vows to find him. He instantly attends a dance competition where competitors have been dancing for three straight days to music that sounds just like the Batman theme in order to win a luxury yacht. He’s too late to enter so he is driven to the docks by two failed competitors who show him a nice boat that happens to be occupied by a shifty bank robber. The following morning an argument breaks out between the robber and the clueless duo before they realise they’re already halfway out into the ocean as the young man has commandeered the boat. A completely unexplained whirlwind, all this happens in about 10 minutes. Reading the above description might in fact make more sense than actually watching the film’s opening.

“Hi Mum!”

It slowly becomes slightly less chaotic as we focus on the four travelling across the sea hoping to bump into the missing brother somehow. Unfortunately they instead bump into Ebirah, the monster of the title. The effects in the initial attack are actually really good, even if Ebirah amounts to little more than a really big lobster (one character actually refers to it as such). Washing up on Devil Island they encounter the shady organisation by the name of Red Bamboo, who enslave natives of Infant Island; Mothra’s home. It may be less chaotic, but never does the plot stop for a minute to pretend it makes any sense, nor do any of the characters make us particularly care what happens. It’s well into the film that we get our first glimpse of Godzilla who is lying dormant. His awakening offers a weak promise to shift the film into a more straightforward Godzilla feature.

Mothra just lies there for most of the film

This promise of mostly met, while the human story doesn’t get forgotten about it certainly takes second billing to the monster scenes. I’m just going to write off the human story now as a failure and get to the main point. The monster scenes in this film seem much better quality than in previous films; something about how they’re shot & lit makes it much more realistic and more exciting. Similarly, interaction with the scenery and composites with actors are much better making Godzilla and the other monsters seem much bigger than they ever have. Naturally Godzilla is angered Ebirah’s presence leading to some awesome sea-based fights, including some parts that take place completely underwater. The music for these scenes is incredibly frustrating; surfer music like taken straight out of an episode of Scooby-Doo that is as well-suited as Jeremy Clarkson speaking at a Greenpeace convention. Bizarre moments come in the form of the two monsters doing some sort of volleyball with boulders, and a moment between Godzilla and the female lead that err close to a King Kong-esque humanising scene, but thankfully this is never followed through as Godzilla is distracted by some pesky fighter jets, which would be cool if it wasn’t for more shocking surf music.

I’d forgotten about this fight. I don’t know what it was, or why. Answers on a postcard.

I had one other confusion about Mothra’s appearance. Godzilla fights her briefly which makes no sense given they teamed up in the last 2 films. Turns out this film was never meant to feature Godzilla, that it was written for King Kong but changed at the last minute. This may explain why it feels so different to the previous entries. Oh well, on to the next film I guess.

5/10

Godzilla (2014) – Review

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

Precisely 60 years since Toho’s Gojira burst from the ocean to terrify Japanese audiences and became King of the Monsters! for a worldwide audience, the radioactive reptile has gone through various iterations; a total of 28 Japanese movies and already one American attempt in Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film that Toho themselves were so displeased with that the monster featured is not officially “Godzilla” but a standalone Kaiju called “Zilla”. Gareth Edwards was the unlikely yet inspired choice for directing Godzilla Version 2.0, headhunted purely from his horrific, yet beautiful and restrained home-made monster movie of 2010, cunningly titled Monsters. After endless publicity (which I made every effort to avoid), the day has finally come – is this a return of the King of Monsters himself, or another unwelcome, overgrown iguana?

“Did I switch the oven off?”

The film’s opening credits make it clear that this is a straight-faced take on the story, and that the nuclear origins remain intact. With plenty of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it in-jokes set against the partially fictional archive footage this film manages to make even the opening credits exciting. Straight in to the main plot, everything moves at a constant pace without ever feeling rushed – there’s plenty of time given for reflection and genuinely emotional scenes, but never too much to slow down the action or dissipate the increasing sense of impending doom. The globe-trotting plot makes the threat seem much more real as the destruction focuses on more than just one city, but also allows some brief clever reflection on the numerous natural disasters of recent years, showing how the horrific devastation in one city is little more than a news headline in another. Admittedly the image of gargantuan monsters destroying cities is never going to be realistic, but the important thing in this film is the reaction. The fear, the panic, the desperation, all the way up to the military’s mixture of bullishness and helplessness make it feel genuine, if it wasn’t for the protagonists always managing to find themselves in close proximity to main events. Without “Hollywood coincidences” practically every action movie ever wouldn’t exist, but more than once or twice they are really rather convenient (for us at least – the characters themselves must’ve be bloody tired of their bad luck by the end).

It’s bugging me that his pen is the wrong way round. I had to share this with you all.

As for Godzilla himself everyone knows the adage that ‘less is more’, but with such a film it’s important to realise that not enough can be terribly frustrating. Suffice to say that, eventually, this film will satisfy those wanting to see wide shots of the rampages. There is enough restraint to make every shot of Godzilla & co. exciting, without leaving you wishing you’d seen more at the end. As every piece of marketing has heavily implied, the world has more to worry about than Godzilla alone, and without spoiling any details, the design of “it” is quite unique and genuinely rather unsettling. The Japanese movies very quickly came to be all about the final face-off between Godzilla and whatever was invading his territory, and there are no disappointments here. My friends and I clearly weren’t the only Godzilla fans in the cinema as I caught a few other people punching the air at certain moments (and remember, this is Britain where no one ever expresses excitement).

90% of the press images are people looking up & out of shot, bemused. But this one has Elizabeth Olsen in it.

All the cast are great in this, even if characters can sometimes be a bit “2.5-dimensional” – not cookie-cut, but not fully-fleshed either. It sweeps this under the carpet quite effectively though, with a wide range of different 2.5D characters that interact well through the film, with only a small handful of “action movie cliché” lines and some decent discussions hearkening back to the nuclear themes of the original movie. Genuinely brilliant effects show Godzilla as much more than a man in a rubber suit, while incredibly large he is considerably smaller than the art department took the liberty of depicting him in the above poster. In fairness, a monster that big wouldn’t make much of a film as he’d flatten the city if he decided to take a nap.

Rising from the depths; thirt- erm… three hundred stories hiigghh

This is a film that doesn’t let the pace or grimness slip for the whole two hours. It may seem overwhelming but that’s surely better than it being boring (or reducing itself to featuring baby ‘Zillas slipping on marbles). This has taken everything that was wrong with Emmerich’s version and a lot of what was good about the Japanese films and thrown it in with a great cast, and a Godzilla-sized budget to produce a film that will satisfy Hollywood action-types as well as Godzilla fanboys, a film that is as good as we could have hoped for; with strengths where expected, a small number of predictable weaknesses, but at least as many unexpected strengths; and undoubtedly a film that’s great deal better than we had feared. The King of the Monsters has returned.

8/10

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no telling whether the next Godzilla film is going to be any good. The quality has fluctuated so much thus far that I’ve given up trying to guess. It is with this newfound inner peace that I approached Invasion of Astro Monster, released the year after Mothra vs. Godzilla & Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Since the latter movie saw the conversion of the catastrophic lizard, previously embodying post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear tension, into a good guy, this film looks to the newly discovered ‘Planet X’ for adversaries, accompanied naturally by a monster; King Ghidorah (again). This planet-hopping plot is coupled with borrowing the tone from the American B-Movies of the space-obsessed era and pulling it off brilliantly. In fact, Godzilla & his apparent sidekick, Rodan, are basically secondary to much of the main plot, which focuses on the interplanetary relations and human side-plots. In previous instalments these human plots have been tiresome; carelessly passing the time before the main event, but here they’re actually enjoyable in themselves. It’s hitting the mark with the tone that makes it work – it’s not taking itself entirely seriously but it’s barely ever trying to be funny. To say it’s well written would be a lie, but it’s an engaging plot with some surprises and it thoroughly entertains.

The new Apple Store was proving successful.

The large number of effects in this film can rarely be accused of being good, but the visible strings, plastic UFOs, and action figure stand-ins for characters somehow work with the general campiness for reasons I can’t accurately place. Despite this, the production values in the ‘real life’ scenes feel far higher than the horrible handheld camera work in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Everything is much more controlled and it feels like care was put into the making, albeit with a limited budget, rather than it feeling like a rushed cash-in. However slight it may seem on paper, I think it’s the most important difference between this and some previous entries, affecting the feel of the whole film. Despite not being at the centre of the plot, Godzilla and Rodan do eventually get a number of great scenes. Godzilla’s ever-changing nature sees him now rather agile, fighting like a boxer who’s taken 20 caffeine pills and leaping around all over the place. Fair enough I suppose. The oddest, and therefore greatest moment of the film comes when, with Planet X’s greatly reduced gravity, Godzilla celebrates a successful fight with a bizarre floating dance that lasts a few seconds longer than it ought to. The general personification of Godzilla, and Rodan to a lesser extent, is admittedly ridiculous but still great.

“How did it make you feel when they were firing missiles at you?”

Further confirming my realisation that there’s no way of knowing whether these films will be good, this is better than Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster in practically every way despite featuring the same monsters (Mothra was omitted due to budget issues), and being made immediately afterwards. There’s no point in picking fault with the silly science talk, or the effects, this is a fantastic B-Movie, entertaining from start to end, and as such my favourite Godzilla sequel yet.
8/10

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

I’ll be completely honest. After Godzilla Raids Again King Kong vs. Godzilla I was beginning to fear for my precious remaining sanity at the thought of having to get through another 20-odd Godzilla movies. Next up however was Mothra vs. Godzilla which changed everything. The franchise has left Gojira’s realism behind, this much is apparent, but not yet have the sequels seemed to commit to a new tone. This film finally feels confident in being a mix of comedy and awesome monster movie, and throws in being completely mental for good measure.

It’s just a really big butterfly. “IT’S A MOTH! AS IN MOTH-RA!!! GET IT?”

Mothra’s egg floats up on a small village’s shore very early in the film and a greedy businessman purchases it, to make it the centre of a theme park. Having not seen Mothra I was unaware of this monster’s origins but this film seems to be fairly standalone in that sense. That doesn’t mean everything has to make sense though,especially true with the introduction of Mothra’s guardians of sorts; twin ladies who are about 9 inches high and constantly speak at the same time. The question “Why?” is never really answered for their existence or actions, but they communicate to Mothra via some catchy, yet almost creepy songs, and follow the heroes around for much of the film, prompting some really neat visual effects showcasing their tiny size. The funniest moments of this film come simply because it is so unashamedly ridiculous; the script for example has lines every few minutes that are logically unfounded. Some allowance must be made for things being lost in translation, but the explanation for the businessman paying precisely 1,224,560 Yen for Mothra’s egg is laugh-out-loud insane, and there are no end of moments that can only be knowingly stupid, finally allowing the franchise to dive head-first into the B-Movie tone.

Mostly creepy.

Not too long after, Godzilla appears in a scene that is at once extremely cool, but also manages to reinstate some of the sense of terror from the first movie. I couldn’t say there’s ever any illusion that it’s not a man in a suit (except for in the brief stop-motion shots, pedants), but the rampage he goes on is pretty extreme and they’ve made the nice addition of superimposing him in some ‘real’ city shots, giving it a bit more credibility than the all-cardboard cityscapes featured in the previous disappointing installments.

Atomic breath. Check.

While the set-up is greatly entertaining, the final battle is what matters. Here the showdown lasts most of the last half hour, giving us plenty of time to try to come to terms with the image of Godzilla fighting an enormous moth and equally enormous brown caterpillars. It’s all totally ridiculous, and occasionally impossible to comprehend, but never anything less than entertaining and the 90 minutes go by quicker than 20 minutes in either of the previous two sequels. There is a revelation in this movie, half a century before Michael Bay patented the formula, that more explosions = better movie, in lieu of any reasonable plot or logic. This film marks the franchise finding its footing in the barmy-yet-incredibly-entertaining tone it has become known for, and I’m more excited than ever to see what lies ahead.

7/10

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This review is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

After the massively successful Gojira this sequel was rushed into production and released only a year after the first. In my review of Gojira I mentioned that it would be interesting to see how the transition was made from a powerful atom-bomb allegory to the stereotypical Godzilla that fights a seemingly unlimited onslaught of beasts. It turns out that the transition was rather sudden, as Godzilla Raids Again introduces Anguirus; a dinosaur awoken by the same atomic bomb tests that awake Godzilla who, we are told through some painfully blatant & unexplained exposition, is extremely aggressive towards other similarly sized reptiles.

I’d be annoyed if an atomic bomb woke me up too

This film, probably due to its hurried production, has nothing like the careful, restrained effects of the first; fights between Godzilla and Anguirus are occasionally reasonable but the majority of the time less than good. Some sequences are sped up making them look nothing less than laughable, and the quality of the suits really doesn’t allow the fully-lit, long shots that make up these sequences. Inbetween these sequences are various human stories. The main plot is about two pilots who first discover Godzilla and end up in the teams trying to stop him. This is a pretty straight forward plot, with a Saturday matinee mix of light comedy and light romance, with a few brief but intriguing moments thrown in that seem to challenge some misogynistic ideals of the era. One or two other plots appear without warning that on one hand give the film a wider scope, showing some different perspectives on the city’s destruction, but on the other hand make very little sense in context, meandering along for 5 or 10 minutes without a clear purpose before disappearing from the movie, having created a setpiece for more key characters to be involved in. It’s an interesting way of telling the story but the way it’s pulled off here feels very disjointed and setpieces feel quite forced rather than organically forming as this style could have allowed. That said, regardless of how they’re created, the setpieces in this film have a great sense of spectacle that foreshadows the very visually-charged stylings of more recent Japanese films (not just Kaiju films).

“We need a sequel written by the end of week”

While I was completely aware that my expectation had to be held back as I moved on from the brilliant first movie, I was still disappointed to find this film sitting uncomfortably between the darker, more realistic tone of Gojira and the spectacular, outlandish tone the latter movies are known for, never willing to commit to one or the other. In the context of the series it serves as an interesting transition, but as a standalone movie I had difficulty finding much to enjoy, ultimately being glad of the relatively short 80 minute runtime.

4/10

Gojira (1954) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

Godzilla is a franchise known primarily for men in rubber dinosaur suits fighting each other. However, to start my marathon review of every single Godzilla film I naturally go back to the first one and though I have seen it before, it always manages to surprise me with just how good it is. Much more than ridiculous giant monster action (that I’ll no doubt soon be reviewing with glee nonetheless), this film has a very strong dramatic presence. It’s no secret that this is a thinly veiled way of dealing with Japan’s shock from the then-recent Nagasaki & Hiroshima atomic bombings. It was taboo to make a film directly depicting the bombings or indeed war at all at the time, so Toho produced Gojira which manages at once to transpose the frenzy, horror, and despair of the events into an awesome monster movie.

The reptile in question isn’t actually visibly present for the first half an hour or so, with his attacks being presented from a personal, human perspective. It isn’t clear what is causing the disasters to happen and the civilian hysteria is coupled with a mixture of bemusement and arrogance in the political world, instantly hitting some very raw nerves from World War 2. The building tension throughout this section is brilliantly executed too. Some pretty horrific disaster scenes for the time and the complete mystery of the cause all comes to a head when our main characters first witness Godzilla looming over a mountaintop. This first glimpse is… well… actually, it’s pretty terrible.

It’s a shame that this first glimpse is so poor as many later scenes have pretty convincing effects, especially in longer shots where careful lighting and composition coupled with some great composite shots and miniatures really sell the difficult image of a 50-metre reptile destroying Tokyo. Close-ups do suffer in the same way as the first sighting we have, but the content of the film is good enough that these shots only take you out of the action for a brief moment. And you can’t be too harsh on a film that was made 60 years ago which pioneered the new ‘suitmation’ style of effects.

That’s more like it

The destruction of Tokyo is certainly on a wide scale but never creeps over the line to be sensational as there are constant glimpses of the true, human horror of it, again echoing scenes from the real-life bombings. A particularly poignant scene featuring reporters broadcasting literally till the end stands out amongst many and when the destruction ends, truly affecting scenes in makeshift hospitals are painfully reminiscent of documentary footage from the real-life aftermath. The strongest hint of B-Movie styling comes from Daisuke Serizawa, the ‘mad scientist’, complete with eye-patch and pseudo-scientific babble. In practice though, Serizawa is a well fleshed out character and in the wider context of the film doesn’t simply avoid being corny; he provides the more difficult moral discussions in this film.

“Bring me a Dutch angle, STAT!”

It’s fascinating to see how the campy monster movie was dissected to create a pretty balanced account of Japan’s recent history that would otherwise have been frowned upon. So too it will be interesting to see how faithfully these origins are treated in the following films. As for this film in itself, that the only real negative point I can make is about a few dated effects shots proves that it’s actually a fantastic film, not just for fans of monster movies – I would call it a truly essential classic, a precursor and template to the blockbusters that fill cinemas nowadays.

10/10