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

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Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

Two years after Godzilla vs. Hedorah made reasonable steps in trying to drop the goofy, childish tone that the franchise had slowly erred into, Godzilla vs. Gigan pushes this further. It’s a more violent entry that continues the reinvention of the famous lizard as Earth’s eco-saviour, saving us from the evils of our own creation, but this time with no child protagonist in sight, leaving the adults to carry the story along. Or at least try to…

Godzilla: “GEEZ YER LUNCH MONEY OR ELSE” – Anguirus: “Yeeah… or else”

After some pretty cool laser effect opening titles, Godzilla vs. Gigan follows a simple graphic designer as he tries to sell his Kaiju stories to various comic book publishers with no success. Eventually he gets a lot of interest from the operators of the incomplete World Children’s Land, centred around the life-size Godzilla Tower. Finding himself working alongside the shady businessmen who claim to be working towards world peace, he is accosted by another group of people claiming the same thing. Somewhere in this un-gripping but reasonably fast-paced plot there are illegible audio tapes that somehow are heard and understood by Godzilla and Anguirus on Monster Island. There are a few too many forced attempts at humour from these characters, and when they don’t really offer much else beyond simply forwarding the plot it makes them a bit annoying. At other times the tone of the film is trying to be more serious than the content; a certain big reveal mid-way through is laughably awful, lifted straight from the cheesiest B-Movies of the 50’s, but it’s played straight-faced, as are many of the moments in this film that would have benefitted from the sort of campy tone that made Invasion of the Astro-Monster so great.

SKWAAWK!

Thankfully this film affords the monsters a good portion of the runtime, including a brilliant extended introduction to King Ghidorah’s new ally; the scythe-armed, bandsaw-bellied space-parrot called Gigan. This is probably the best-looking monster rampage of the franchise so far, with explosions and fire aplenty providing much of the lighting for the night-based sequence, and some brilliant shots showing off the monsters. Later battles are almost as good, with some fun tag-team style moves and a surprising amount of blood shed by the monsters. As seen once or twice before, the monsters occasionally “talk”. But with no translators, and with the film not taking place in a child’s dream, inspired moments show comic-book speech bubbles appearing on the screen; a hint of the tone that could have made the main plot of this film so much more entertaining.

I can’t print the translation to that. Godzilla, you foul-mouthed monster!

Confidently proving that vs. Hedorah wasn’t a flukey step in the right direction, this film casts aside the childish elements that were fast running the franchise into the ground, but doesn’t offer much to replace them leaving the human story very bare and unsatisfying, with some themes plastered in that cross the line of feeling almost preachy at times. The monsters once again do their best to rescue not only Tokyo, but the film itself.
6/10

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

Destroy All Monsters (1968) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

By the late 1960’s the Godzilla franchise had become an extremely big deal internationally, and this film seems to be a celebration of the previous entries, reuniting practically every monster from the series plus some from other Toho series’, currently living captive on “Monster Island” . Unfortunately though, aliens take a liking to Earth and remotely take control of the monsters’ brains, making them wreak havoc until the human race bow to their command.

No expense was spared on the aliens’ costumes

It goes without saying that this goes back to the Sci-Fi B-Movie feel of Invasion of Astro-Monster, and it re-introduces King Ghidorah as the adversary. Despite this, it doesn’t feel like a re-hash. For the most part the human story is engrossing; even if characters are under-developed to the point of being practically non-existent, and the plot makes only a little bit of sense, it all feels very involving. I wasn’t too sure what needed to happen and why, nor cared what happened to the characters, but I was nonetheless gripped by the sense that the makers did actually care. There’s no escaping the  fact that the spaceships look… plasticy, but there are some really nice shots, with a strong use of lens flare before J.J. Abrams was even able to lift a Super-8 Camcorder. It doesn’t have the humor or lightness of Astro-Monster either, which works in giving the film it’s own identity, but none of these points manage to keep the human story particularly interesting through to the end; it becomes a bit of a drag eventually.

“Ooh la-la!” etc.

As is always the case, the monster scenes are the point of this film. While it surprises me that, given such a large number of monsters, the human story takes up so much of the runtime, the monster scenes we do have are indeed very good. There are brief scenes of destruction in different countries around the world, giving the threat a much more global feel, quite important when trying to convince us whole world is at stake. It reaches a climax when all the monsters have to team up against the incredibly powerful King Ghidorah for an extended fight scene. Despite Minilla’s presence, and the film following Son of Godzilla’s attempt to push towards a child-friendly tone, this is pretty brutal in places. Monsters coughing up blood, people getting shot in the head, brief surgery scenes and so on – it’s not exactly A Serbian Film but it’s an interestingly sudden shift in tone for the time it was made.

This image overrules the entire review. 10/10.

This is a difficult film to  judge. Given the multi-monster set-up and the apparent effort that went into the making it suffers from weak writing, resulting in a film that is nowhere near as good as it ought to have been. It remains entertaining most of the time however, and with monster scenes that are some of the strongest in the series so far.

7/10

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

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

After the series vastly improved with Mothra vs. Godzilla, I was enthusiastic about going further into the series. However, on seeing that Ghidorah was produced immediately after it, completing in the same year, I did wonder if it may be a rushed effort. Unfortunately it does seem so. While Mothra vs. was completely baffling in an enjoyable, loony way, this film simply makes no sense for the most part. Opening on a UFO Society, they’re spotting UFOs while chastising the non-believers as their brain waves will prevent the aliens from showing themselves. They spot some UFOs but they turn out to be meteors which some other characters spend about a fifth of the movie pointing three different scientific instruments at. Meanwhile, Princess Selina Salno of Selgina (say that quickly ten times) is visiting Japan for some reason, where a policeman is put in charge of protecting her from ‘the opposition’ who are plotting to assassinate her. Incidentally, the inhabitants of this made-up nation look like a really bad Shakespeare society. Her plane is blown up half way, but she is saved by some mysterious voice telling her to jump off the plane. When she finally makes it to Tokyo, however, she has no recollection of Selgina and believes herself to be sent from Venus to inform us of the impending doom the Earth faces – probably something to do with the meteors that landed earlier.

Those tiny twins are back as well, with even less explanation than before

That isn’t actually a particularly spoilerific paragraph – I’ve summed up the first 20 minutes or so. There’s never any explanation about these events; everything is taken at face value and we’re expected to simply accept it, so while so much happens in the time, it makes such little sense that it really drags. If the film ever veers close to being coherent it’s saved by something bizarre, such as one or two songs from The Peanuts that seems to last 15 minutes and have no bearing on absolutely anything. It goes without saying that Godzilla shows up before too long, and Rodan also makes an appearance, as predicted by the Venusian Prohpet/Selginan Princess rising from the ashes of Mt. Aso. It goes further without saying that each creature is none too pleased at one another’s presence, but whenever a fight starts to break out it frustratingly cuts back to the increasingly convoluted plot.

Rodan was particularly displeased

Despite the complicated plot, unexplained events and brief moments of relatively unpleasant violence this feels like an really cheap children’s TV special rather than a “proper” film. Production values are at rock bottom and the lack of refinement to the script doesn’t help. I can’t find a figure for the budget but when the titular (King) Ghidorah eventually appears it does seem apparent where the money went. A brilliant ‘birth’ sequence reveals the awesome creature design as the golden, lightning-spitting, three-headed dragon wreaks havoc.

Too powerful for any one of the monsters to overcome, The Peanuts request Mothra try to reason with Godzilla and Rodan to team up to defeat Ghidorah before it destroys the world. Re-read that sentence if you want. The conversation between the three monsters is hilarious; seeing the monsters’ personalities is at once bizarre and brilliant. The final act is clearly what the film is all about as we see Godzilla become the good guy for the first time, with all the complicated plot threads buzzing around actually having little to no impact on this outcome.

Unimportant. Look at the monsters fight!

As a whole, this doesn’t come close to Mothra vs. Godzilla but it is oddly entertaining for the most part (perhaps not intentionally), due to the human plots being almost impossible to follow and shockingly poor production values. I’d recommend anyone but the most determined to skip through to any scenes featuring the monsters as these hilarious sequences are all I’ll remember this entry for.

5/10

For clarity, before the final act I was thinking I’d be giving it more like 2 or 3 out of 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