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So I finally got around to watching the new Godzilla movie and after thoroughly enjoying it, I realized I wanted to go back and revisit the rest of the franchise. It's been ages since I've watched the classic movies and it'll be fun to compare them to their later incarnations as well as look at the various themes that pop up in the series. Just in case you haven't seen these movies, I will be spoiling plot points, so be forewarned. With that being said kick things off with... Gojira (1954) I realized I had never watched the original version of this film, only the Americanized version. So thanks to the Criterion Collection I finally got to see the uncut version. I'm really glad I did because it is definitely the best movie in the franchise. It's not only good on the sliding scale of Godzilla movies, but I would argue it stands on it's own as a film. The first thing that had my attention was the intro. In most modern movies we get very flashy intros with music and fancy effects while the names of various cast and crew scroll by, a lot of Godzilla movies aren't any different as they tend to lean on Akira Ifukube's classic score for their intro. But here we get a black screen with white text and the only sound is Godzilla stomping about and roaring. It's an awesome, bleak intro and lets us know that the titular character won't be talking to kids or flying through the air via radioactive breath. Godzilla movies are pretty much a tale of two parts; you have the human element and you have the monster scenes. In most of the films the human element just serves to drive the film from monster scene to monster scene; because let's be honest, we're here to see monsters and cities get wrecked. However this film has arguably the strongest human element of the series (right now I'd say that the 2014 Godzilla has the second best). Ogata and Emiko are the two characters we spend the most time with and they are likable and believable as a couple struggling to come to terms with an arranged marriage that is blocking their true while they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the events on and near Odo Island. This isn't award winning acting here, but considering what gets passed off for acting later in the series (especially the Heisei movies) it's pretty good. The man that steals the show here though is Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Serizawa. In a way his presence in the film is handled a lot like Godzilla's; at first he's mentioned in name, then we catch a glimpse of him in a crowd, showing his scarred face and stern appearance. Next we see him interact with Emiko and he comes off like a mad scientist, secretly studying something that horrifies poor Emiko. And finally we find out the truth, that he had hidden himself away because he was afraid that what he had created would become a monster in it's own right. Whether it was intentional or not we'll probably never know, but it's a interesting parallel to Godzilla starting as a legend and ending up a destructive force by the film's end. A lot of that was cut out of the US release, since it was thought that the audience wouldn't relate to the concept of arranged marriages and that they wanted to splice in the Raymond Burr scenes; which I think is a real shame. The other thing that stuck out to me was the sheer carnage and death in this movie. In most Godzilla movies they just sort of go "Yeah, everyone just happened to evacuate in time, everybody's okay"; but here Godzilla strikes mid-evacuation and a lot of innocents pay for it. There were two scenes in particular that stuck with me, the first being a mother and two children cowering in the corner of a building as Godzilla closes in on their location. The children are panicking and the mother hugs them both dearly and tells them "It's okay, we'll be seeing father soon"; followed by Godzilla razing the building with his atomic breath. The other is shortly after that scene where there are a group of TV and radio reporters who are on a broadcast tower, warning evacuees of Godzilla's position and where fires had broken out. Godzilla turns to destroy the tower and the announcers broadcast to the very end, hoping they'd helped people escape. It reminded me a lot of the stories you heard after the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami where radio announcers and emergency services would broadcast warnings right up until the waves swept them away. Also there are scenes that take place in the shelters after Godzilla's initial attack where you see broken and burned people just trying to hope and hang on. It'd be quite a few movies before that sort of thing was seen again. Of course you can't discuss the movie without bringing up it's message about nuclear testing. A lot of smarter people have discussed this in depth. so I will just say that I didn't find it to be anti-American (which is why a lot of it was cut from the US release); but rather to preach that we need to be more responsible when we push the envelope of science. In the film Doctor Serizawa had developed the one thing that would kill Godzilla for sure and yet he was against using it just because he knew if it was used as a weapon it would be more then just Tokyo that would be destroyed. So having discussed the human element, let's get to the monster element. While later films would get the practical effects down much better, you have to tip your hat to how ambitious this film was. Godzilla spends the latter part of the movie taking on planes, tanks and ships while laying waste to a very detailed model of Tokyo. It produced some iconic images like Godzilla crushing the train in his mouth as well as Godzilla stomping through the ruins of Tokyo only lit by the fires left in his wake. Considering the difficulty of wearing the suit and the pace required to film those scenes I tip my hat to Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka, the stuntmen, for their efforts. In the end Gojira is a damn good movie and certainly the gold standard for the franchise. If you haven't seen it, you really should go out of your way to watch it.