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

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

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

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

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

Godzilla (mostly) legitimate DVD buying guide

With my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge underway, a few people have brought up the issue of availability of the films. Especially here in the UK where, of the Japanese films, only the original and vs. King Kong have official releases that I could find. Japan is the obvious place to try, and luck would have it that they share Region 2 DVDs with us but their DVDs are often outrageously expensive or have no English subtitles, or quite often, both. That said they have released the glorious Godzilla: Final Box collection from Japan for upwards of £600. It doesn’t have English subtitles, but who cares? If you have £600 spare it’s magnificent. For the average budget, though, a bit more searching is required.

If it had subtitles, I’d probably be in massive debt by now

It’s probably becoming evident that I’m going to tell you that you need a multi-region DVD player, or to hack your current device (you can often get codes online or buy custom-programmed remotes on a certain auction site for more modern ones). Only then is it possible get every film on legitimate release DVD as I am doing (except for Godzilla 1985 / Return of Godzilla, which I will explain later).

Madman Entertainment in Australia have got the rights to 23 of the 28 films and have conveniently packaged them in 4 boxsets complete with Japanese audio and the English dubs (where dubs exist). They’re locked to Region 4 hence the multi-region requirement. These boxsets are very good value; they cost me about £25 each including postage to the other side of the planet. They’re simply but nicely packaged in thick jewel cases with each film on a separate disc, in flip-over disc holders. The covers are decidedly cool, with silhouettes of the different incarnations of Godzilla.

Showa Classics Vol. 1 contains the original Gojira, alongside Mothra vs. Godzilla, Invasion of the Astro Monster, Godzilla vs. Eborah, Son of Godzilla, & Destroy All Monsters.

Showa Classics Vol. 2 contains All Monsters Attack, Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, & Terror of MechaGodzilla.

On to the Heisei collection, which contains Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II, Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, & Godzilla vs Destoroyah.

Lastly the Millenium collection features Godzilla 2000, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, Godzilla Mothra & King Ghidorah; Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla III, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, & Godzilla: Final Wars. Seemingly this boxset only contains Japanese audio as English dubs have probably never been made.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is available on its own or in an excellent boxset alongside the original King Kong, and the bonkers Toho-produced King Kong Escapes in which the oversized gorilla fights a robotic double of himself.

[UPDATE: I’ve since realised that these contain only the American versions; only select bootleg copies currently contain the Japanese version with English subtitles]

Godzilla Raids Again, Ghidorah, The Three-headed Monster, and Godzilla vs. Biollante are available on Region 1 DVDs from USA, meaning the only missing one is Return of Godzilla / Godzilla 1985. I spent a long time trying to get hold of this; the only release with English subtitles I could find mention of was released in Hong Kong on Region 3 but has since gone out of print. Regardless of price I simply couldn’t find a single copy available for sale to ship to the UK. Perhaps someone else will be more successful, but I had to resort to getting a bootleg copy available on the unnamed auction site I mentioned previously.

I don’t think anyone will have any trouble getting hold of the 1998 American remake (why you would want to may be the biggest question).