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

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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

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…

Mars Attacks! (1996) – Review

Mars Attacks was originally a popular trading card set released in 1964. However, since it was too gruesome for the fragile minds of the children, showing the various imaginative ways the Martians despatched with the humans in their path, production was rather swiftly halted (nothing’s changed since). Becoming something of a cult icon they slowly reappeared through the 1980’s, culminating in a full re-issue, an exclamation mark, and a big-budget movie directed by Tim Burton, fresh off of directing Ed Wood, chronicling the life of cult (read as: “terrible”) director Edward D. Wood Jr. Though I’ve seen this film a number of times it has been a few years since the last, so I decided to revisit it.

Typical women – a spider appears and they lose their he- *Booed off stage*

The opening scene, featuring a herd of burning cattle, is the film setting the scene instantly for the rest of the film to follow – it’s pretty nasty but has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The premise is mostly summed up by the title, and the film follows a number of different individuals from the President to a Trailer-Park family to Tom Jones (Yes, Tom Jones, playing himself) as they witness the invasion of earth by the horrid skull-faced, gooey-headed aliens. Telling these various stories allows the film to run along without ever stalling on the action, but also prevents any of the characters from being fully developed. It does seem though that there was never any intention of having them fully-fleshed characters (Indeed, some of them end up without any flesh at all), so it’s out of place to call this out as a weakness. Obviously paying homage to the B-Movies of the 1950’s, including those by Ed Wood, the film takes a joyful stance, watching the destruction and chaos from afar without putting in anything too heavy to bring the mood down.

Enjoy yourself! Or else!

A brilliant cast was amassed for this film, featuring Jack Nicholson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jack Black, Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Pam Greir, Natalie Portman and Jack Nicholson again. After joking that he wanted to play every part in the film, Burton called him on it and cast him not only as the President but as shady businessman Art Land – both roles he plays instinctively brilliantly, while the rest fit into their roles just as well, as they’re mostly playing caricatures of their typecast roles – Sarah Jessica Parker the ditzy blonde, Pierce Brosnan the suave Englishman, Danny DeVito and Jack Black being loud, etc. Tom Jones is inarguably awful, but somehow that adds to the film, especially when he’s given the final scene of the film which is probably the most tongue-in-cheek ending to a film, and as such provides one of the film’s funniest moments for simply coming out of nowhere and making no sense at all. Much like most of the film really; the aliens’ weakness that’s discovered in the third act; Sarah Jessica Parker & Pierce Brosnan’s storyline; the list goes on.

No one has ever looked this happy

To conclude that this film is “so bad it’s good” would be missing the point of the whole film; this is not intended to be a “good” film, this is meant to be a fun, outrageous  throwback film and it achieves that perfectly, with the B-Movie sensibilities carried excellently by Danny Elfman’s brilliant, Theremin-heavy score. Perhaps looking a bit dated now, the extensive CGI effects are nonetheless very impressive for a film that’s almost 20 years old. Not only are the character designs and visuals lifted directly from the source, but the myriad of characters and consistently inventive action/comedy set-pieces does ring true the trading card origins of the franchise. This isn’t often remembered as a Burton classic, but I think it deserves to be.

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

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

There was a bit of a break in these Godzilla reviews as I tried to find a DVD containing the Japanese version of this film – unfortunately it’s practically impossible to find with English subtitles so I had to settle for watching and reviewing the American version.

This review is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

After Toho rushed Godzilla Raids Again through to make a quick Yen after the wild international success of Gojira, the franchise was all but abandoned for 6 years before various Japanese studios decided they wanted to make a King Kong vs… movie. After trying and failing to wrangle rights for Frankenstein they made the logical step that he should instead face off with Godzilla. Early wishes to have full stop-motion effects were soon eschewed in favour of the cheaper, Toho trademarked suitmation, and so King Kong vs. Godzilla emerged.

The film does quite well in introducing the two monsters with their own storylines – Godzilla rises from the ocean, once again helbent on destroying Tokyo. Meanwhile a band of explorers are travelling to an unexplored island where the natives reportedly worship a giant god. It’s quite quickly apparent that this film takes itself much less seriously, with a number of main characters being nothing more than comic relief. However, in this version of the movie the events are frequently interjected by soulless ‘United Nation Broadcasts’, where American reporters blankly inform us about what is happening and why, in the laziest and cheapest exposition imaginable. The original sections of the movie are depicted as live coverage from their ‘communications satellite’ which makes absolutely no sense and is the stupidest thing ever.
With Godzilla having second billing in the title, he is almost the secondary monster in this movie. So much of the first half takes place on this mysterious island, inhabited by what I think may be the least racially sensitive depiction of “natives” – it is simply lots of Japanese people painted brown, wearing grass skirts. The paint doesn’t always cover them completely, so not only do these scenes provide a moral quandary but they are nearly unwatchable anyway. The explorers bring gifts, but upon discovering they forgot sweets for the children, cigarettes somehow serve as a suitable alternative. Thankfully a monster soon appears to crush the majority of the chracters, improbably and unexplainedly a giant octopus. Effects are startlingly realistic, largely because it is a real octopus (4 were used, one of which the director ate that night). Some inserts of stop motion and absolutely dreadful composites of people break the illusion somewhat, but this is a decent sequence before King Kong arrives to single-handedly save the day and ruin the film.

NEXT.

All that portraying King Kong required was a gorilla suit, a really straight forward task I’d imagine. But for some reason here we have a gorilla suit that looks nothing like a gorilla. Perhaps if a gorilla had been put through a mangle the result may be similar to what appears on screen here, but I can’t say I’ve witnessed this for myself (sorry, Peta, put the pitchforks away). As the film progresses, the plot becomes less and less important as the makers clearly acknowledge that all that matters is the final fight. Disappointingly, the setpieces therein don’t come close to those of Godzilla Raids Again, but the fights themselves are marvellously ridiculous. Apparently the suit actors were given reign to improvise their moves and it certainly shows; the monsters tumble around, throw scenery at each other & throw each other around. This is the first glimpse of what I originally considered Godzilla to be about; it’s a long shot from the original film’s brilliant realism and meaning, but it’s wildly entertaining regardless.

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3…

The tacked-on American segments manage only to make the movie feel horribly uneven, but what is visible of the original Japanese version still seems like no masterpiece. While the comedy element is actually a lot more bearable than it could have been, the bad definitely outweighs the good but the main event – the face-off promised by the title – certainly doesn’t disappoint, just as long as you aren’t expecting anything that makes any sense.

4/10

Battlefield Earth (2000) – Review

[This review contains plot spoilers.]

Battlefield Earth is a movie that I had heard much about; its practically universal reputation as a terrible film despite a (reportedly) big budget and some big name stars intrigued me, making me wonder if I had achieved my goal; that I may be about to discover the pinnacle of ‘So bad they’re good’ movies…
The film opens in a desert camp, 1000 years after aliens took over earth, where some of the last remaining humans live a primitive, tribal existence. Instantly the film’s absurdity is beyond comprehension – what should be simple exposition is plagued by consistently ridiculous statements and clichés. When our hero (with the vomit-inducing name Jonnie “Goodboy” Tyler) is debating the future of the tribe with the apparent leaders he breaks into some sort of fit, writhing his limbs and kicking dirt around to accurately portray his opinion that they may not be safe. Why they are reduced to such an eccentric yet primitive existence isn’t entirely clear; a couple of sentences in the opening crawl were seemingly enough to fob off these fundamental questions in the filmmakers’ eyes. This primitive aspect reaches a new, hilarious height when Tyler meets members of another tribe; they disagree and so make loud monkey noises at each other for 2 minutes. At multiple points in the production; the writing, the shooting, the editing, test screenings and so on; never did someone decide this may, just perhaps, be unbearably stupid, that any tension therein may be ruined by grown men, all with facility to have intelligent conversation, making howling noises at each other when faced with a dispute.

‘Me… act?’

Some more nonsense happens before the aliens appear; the ‘Psychlos’, supposedly named by a writer’s 9 year old child. The main Psychlos featured in the movie are played by John Travolta and Forest Whitaker, otherwise good actors here hamming up their roles in such a way that you sincerely hope it is a self-aware act of ridicule. Like I say, I hope, but there’s not much to inspire hope in this movie. Despite wandering around looking like members of a terrible Klingon Death Metal band, we’re lead to believe they’re greatly successful in harvesting entire planets of their metals, but our insight into their world proves them to be completely inept. Tactical meetings descend into petty infighting & taunts, and they usually struggle to control a group of 50 non-educated, unarmed humans; who knows how they managed to wipe out nearly 6 billion of us with the entire world’s military forces at hand. Half of the time these dramas are completely pointless because, since they’re all the baddies anyway, we simply don’t care who’s stabbing who in the back. Even ignoring that point, they’re usually such tame yet contrived schemes that the implied twists are non-existent and John Travolta’s ‘character’ is so eccentric that it’d seem like he was a comic relief character, if not for the fact that he’s the main antagonist. He’s wisecracking (or indeed ‘dumb-cracking’) one minute, then coldly killing a secondary character the next. Are we supposed to fear him or laugh at him? The makers clearly didn’t know so good luck figuring it out for yourself.

“Yes, this is the film that’ll restart my career”

The plot is at once so drudgingly boring and wildly incoherent that recalling it is more like a series of horrible memories than one single thread. Lowlights come when the religious tones barge in like a particularly obnoxious bull in a china shop as Tyler manages to unite the thousands of humans the Psychlos have as slaves then discovers science (these events do actually happen as flippantly as I write them). Put to mining gold; the most precious intergalactic commodity; Tyler’s newfound knowledge allows them to break into Fort Knox to steal their quota and use the rest of their time to plan an assault with the US Air Force jets that somehow still function after 1000 years lying dormant. Given the unexplained ease with which they break into Fort Knox and the Psychlo’s combination of massively advanced technology & extreme desire for gold it seems odd that they didn’t think of going in for themselves sometime in the last millenum but perhaps that’s just nitpicking.
The final battle sequence seems to last about 6 hours; it’s a near-unwatchable mess where it’s never entirely clear what precisely is happening, who’s winning or losing, or which characters have died. This is all accompanied by effects that I can only describe as truly unacceptable. Many Sci-Fi films have the odd questionable effects shot, but there is not a single one in Battlefield Earth that looks anything less than appalling. I genuinely think that some shots would be rivalled by a PlayStation 2 game for realism. This brings into question the matter of the budget. I had glanced at a publicised budget of about $75 million. Turns out that was a lie; the producers told everyone that figure when in fact it was far less than half that; $44million; which, once Travolta and other people had got their pay checks, left about $10million for the actual film’s production and effects which is less than nothing in Hollywood terms, not least a Sci-Fi epic. They were sued for fraud; a lawsuit I am considering following up on based on the only critics’ quote on my DVD;

“Fantastic special effects”

-popcorn.co.uk (now defunct)

Yes, “fantastic”

In addition to the horrible acting, plot, effects and script, I had heard about the film’s overuse of Dutch Angles (where the camera is held at a jaunty angle). Still I was unprepared. In moderation Dutch Angles can have great effect; Sam Raimi makes great use of unusual camera angles for example; but literally EVERY shot in this film has a Dutch Angle; scenic shots, long shots, close-ups, establishing shots, interior, exterior, moving camera, static camera. Near the end of the film, the following completely static shot of a building appears. Accuse me of OCD if you will, but this shot, after having already endured the majority of the film, was the last straw; every millisecond that the image burned into my retinas pushed me closer to tearing out my own eyes.

WHY.

I think it may be apparent that I did not particularly enjoy this film. No, I would sooner wade through electrified barbed wire than force myself to endure this film again. It has countless components that should make it a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie, and indeed some hilarious moments, but it goes too far; it’s so brainlessly sombre, so unaware of how ridiculous it is, that after just half an hour it is not at all enjoyable, even from the perspective of a lover of good-bad films.

Since it’s my own site, I am allowed to give it 0/10 as it has absolutely no redeeming qualities.

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

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985) – Review

Star Wars is certainly one of the biggest franchises around, not just in terms of money made, but the sheer volume of content. Beyond the 6 movies (for now), there are animated series, video games, books, comics and various other sources of information. Somewhere in this pile however lie a couple of lesser-known live-action features. Other than the infamous Holiday Special there are two Ewok made-for-TV movies. Battle for Endor is the second of these, though it soon became apparent that not having seen the first wasn’t too much of an issue as there really is little in the way of plot padding out these 90 minutes. George Lucas is often derided by Star Wars fans for his late-‘90’s tinkering of the original movies and for his prequel trilogy featuring 38 hours of political ‘drama’, Darth Vader being a whiny little girl, and Jar-Jar Binks. However, long before any of this, the Ewok movies were made. This film’s sole writing credit is to Lucas himself, meaning he is single-handedly responsible for what lies within. We open on Endor where a young girl called Cindel and “Warwick Davis” Wickett are going about their day. Without any real sense of consequence her family is killed before a reasonably brutal battle scene for a children’s movie results in the abduction of her and her furry companions. Inexplicably escaping the clutches of the evil army they befriend a cantankerous old man and his friend – a thing called Teek that at first glimpse could set the fear of death into the sturdiest of souls.

One person I watched this film with screamed in terror

It soon transpires however that Teek is the single greatest thing about this film, with his hideous yet somehow friendly face, mannerisms that eschew the other critters of this film by not prompting you to wish another character would wear them, and more convincing puppetry than anything else that graces the screen. Many if not all of the Ewoks are obviously borrowed from Return of the Jedi, whereas the original villains in this feature would be more at home in a Power Rangers episode. With no mention of The Force (or anything Star Wars related really) a main villain, menacingly named Morag, is a witch who uses her magic ring for evil; including, but not limited to, turning herself into a crow. Because apparently crows live on Endor too. Along with the horse she often rides. When the second act takes place mostly in a medieval castle it really compounds the feeling that this is not a Star Wars film at all.

George Lucas, WHY!?

After the villains are disposed of by means that makes absolutely no sense and the credits begin to roll you’re left remembering the fact that most of the film was completely irrelevant and/or nothing actually happened – a hazy recollection like a fever dream. Particularly unsettling memories are probably topped by the scene in which Cindel sings the song her Mum used to sing. It lasts far too long and is in contention for being the most awkward-to-watch movie scene in cinematic history. Oddly though, for this bizarre, barely watchable randomness I actually enjoyed it. It’s like the children’s equivalent of the trashy action and horror flicks of the 1980’s that make absolutely no sense but are horribly enjoyable.

3/10

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