Jump to content
DVDVR Message Board

Recommended Posts

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.  

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Back in the day when I had more free time, I wrote a capsule review for Gojira and Them for Movie Feast.

 

http://moviefeast.blogspot.com/2009/02/fallout-3-reviews-gojira-1954-and-them.html

 

To paraphrase my review.  I am not sure how many people realize just how brave a production that the original Gojira really was given the time it was released.   People need to put all of the rubber suit stuff in its proper perspective and admire the story and the intent behind it.  I think it is one of the most important films released in the 1950's.

 

There are no people on earth so intimate with concept the atom gone awry more than the Japanese are, so when they decide to tell a cautionary tale about the peril of nuclear energy, we all should listen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Double post.

There is a decent bbc doc about godzilla on youtube, made around time of the matthew broderick version.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Back in the day when I had more free time, I wrote a capsule review for Gojira and Them for Movie Feast.

 

http://moviefeast.blogspot.com/2009/02/fallout-3-reviews-gojira-1954-and-them.html

 

To paraphrase my review.  I am not sure how many people realize just how brave a production that the original Gojira really was given the time it was released.   People need to put all of the rubber suit stuff in its proper perspective and admire the story and the intent behind it.  I think it is one of the most important films released in the 1950's.

 

There are no people on earth so intimate with concept the atom gone awry more than the Japanese are, so when they decide to tell a cautionary tale about the peril of nuclear energy, we all should listen.

 

I really liked the idea of Godzilla as the European Dragon, it's a very subtly jab at the western world.

 

 

I was going to actually post my thoughts in that thread at first, but when I decided to try and take on the entire franchise I thought it made more sense to start a thread.

 

I grew up only knowing the US re-cut of Godzilla, so on the one hand I understand where Jingus is coming from.  Raymond Burr could have easily coasted and picked up a paycheck but he really did give it his all; and it is good as a monster movie.  But to me Gojira is so much better as a movie on the whole.  Now granted 8 year old me might have totally missed the actual point, so maybe after I run through everything I'll go back and look at the US version again.

 

But for the sake of these reviews most of the Showa era movies will be the original Japanese cuts I got during a VIP tour of Toho Studios a few years ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah the concept of Godzilla as an Eastern ideal corrupted by Western science thrown as a not so subtle barb at the US has been hotly debated for years in some cinematic circles.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah the concept of Godzilla as an Eastern ideal corrupted by Western science thrown as a not so subtle barb at the US has been hotly debated for years in some cinematic circles.

Since you were gone, do you see my note about the nww movie and its protagonists?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I noticed that the character of Dr. Seizawa got a face lift.  I think I was the only person in my theater that marked out when his name was mentioned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (Hedorah) is a favorite, despite the funky music in place of the classic cues and bad rubber suit.  It has some of the best brawling, that's why. 

 

Godzilla vs. Destroyah is awesome.  My boys have been watching some of the ones I own in preparation for me taking them next week for their birthdays (both in June) as they're both big Godzilla fans.  My 4 year old had legit tears at the end of Destroyah (no spoilers, but it's emotional).  It's the best treatment of the big guy since the original. It's most definitely the best of the 90's and on ones. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Destroyah is awesome, no doubt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah the concept of Godzilla as an Eastern ideal corrupted by Western science thrown as a not so subtle barb at the US has been hotly debated for years in some cinematic circles.

 

Huh, that I did not know.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First monster I can remember seeing as a kid is Monster Zero. Quickly became my favorite monster. Godzilla 1985 is another one worth watching, that and it's sequel Godzilla vs Biollante.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Man, I wish an unedited subtitled version of 1985/The Return would actually be commercially released in America one of these fucking days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a kid, we had an 8mm projector and one of the movies was the ghidrah.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (Hedorah) is a favorite, despite the funky music in place of the classic cues and bad rubber suit.  It has some of the best brawling, that's why. 

 

This movie is, even by the standards of being from the 70's AND from Japan, incredibly fucking weird.  The random pop art animated sequences, the amount of time spent at a night club, the hippie protest to try and make the monster go away...

 

But Hedorah is legitimately pretty creepy at times, the fights are really good, and "Godzilla uses his radioactive breath to fly after Hedorah" is just on the right side of "goofy awesome" vs. "goofy stupid."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

 

 

Let me get this out of the way right now, this film is Godzilla 2: The Search for More Money.  Toho decided they wanted to cash in on the popularity of the first movie and cranked this bad boy out in six months with little more then half the budget of the first film.  Add to that the fact that the only people that worked on the first film that were retained for the second was editor Kazuji Taira and suit-actor Haruo Nakajima and you can certainly see why this film falls way short of the original.

 

Our human element in this film are primarily Shoichi and Koji, two pilots that work for a fishery out of Osaka.  Shoichi has the hots for Hidemi, the fishery owner's daughter while Koji is having trouble finding the right girl and is using a matchmaker to help him out.  As you can there's not much in the way of drama here, they never really mine the potential issues of the daughter of a wealthy business owner dating a 'mere' pilot.  Koji's subplot about finding the right woman is vastly more interesting, mostly due to Minoru Chiaki (better known as Heihachi in Seven Samurai or the Priest in Roshamon)  hitting it out of the park with his portrayal of the character.  Shoichi and Hidemi are rather bland, so it just make's Koji stand out even more.  Possibly the best scene in the whole film is near the end, shortly after Koji sacrifices himself to buy the airforce time to finish off Godzilla, Hidemi finds his notebook and inside it is a picture of the girl he decided to marry.  It's not a mind blowing scene, but because of Chiaki's portrayal of Koji it really hit home for me.  So of course in the US version (re-cut and re-titled Gigantis The Fire Monster) they pretty much eliminate the footage of Koji's subplot and portray him instead as a buffoon.  Also there's a weird bit when Godzilla attacks Osaka where some criminals escape from a police van that serves only to provide a reason for there to be a fire in Osaka and to clearly pad the run time of the movie.

 

That then leaves us with the monster side of things, which don't fare much better.  Wisely Toho decided that since there was going to be monster on monster action in this film that a different, less bulky Godzilla suit would be made.  The unfortunate thing is that since they didn't use molds to cast the Godzilla suits until the 80s, this suit looks vastly different then the original.  Now you could write that off because this is a different Godzilla then the first one (the film points out that Godzilla is a type of dinosaur, sort of foreshadowing the Godzillasaurus idea of the Heisei films); but his whole design just seems off.  The slimmer body and smaller head give him a Giraffe neck and his teeth are humongous here.  However this is the first suit to have movable eyes, which is a nice touch and I'm sure Hauro Nakajima appreciated not having to lug as much weight around.

 

As for the monster on monster action, it too has it's highs and lows.  The fights themselves have a much more wild-animal feel to them then the later films (which feel more like a wrestling match to the death to me); they're frantic, ugly fights with Godzilla and Anguirus viciously going after each other's weak points.  However the fights are noticeably sped up, no doubt to emphasize their frantic nature, but it's sped up too much and just comes off awkward; disrupting the flow of the film.  Fortunately this isn't an issue when we get to Godzilla wrecking Osaka; but that's not to say those scenes don't have their own problems.  This whole part of the film might be where the lack of budget gets shown off the most.  The miniatures, both buildings and military vehicles, are much less detailed then the original.  In some scenes I swore the tanks where just painted blocks of wood, that's how bad they looked.  And a lot of the cannon fire and explosions were really badly overlayed into the scenes, which makes things look even cheaper.  

 

That's not to say that everything is crap, the fight between Godzilla and Anguirus at the Osaka Castle is a classic and it's clear that's where a lot of the miniature budget went.  While a lot of other building just sort fell apart at the seams, Osaka Castle cracked and crumbled giving it a much more realistic feel.  And I did like the final showdown between the JDF and Godzilla on the snowy island; the image of Godzilla getting buried under a massive amount of ice was cool (ha-ha).

 

But in the end the bad outweighs the good here.  Not only did this film put Godzilla on ice, it put the franchise on Ice for six years.  No one really liked the movie and they liked it less when the Gigantis cut came out in the USA.  I did learn that prior to Gigantis that there was another attempt to bring over the film.  AB-PT Productions went so far as to order new, bulkier Godzilla and Anguirus suits from Toho, as their plan was to pull a Saban and remove all footage of the Japanese cast and replace it with a more 'US friendly' cast.  AB-PT went under before they could start the project though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

King Kong vs Godzilla (1962)

 

So my math was off and it took seven years for Godzilla to return to the big screen, this time as part of the celebration of Toho's 30th anniversary.  What might be the most fascinating part of the whole movie though is it's origin.  In my mind I had always assumed that Toho just called the beast "King Kong" and dared RKO to come after them for it.  But it turns out that Toho bought the rights to the script King Kong vs Frankenstein (written by original Kong special effects man Willis O'Brien), swapped Godizlla for Frankenstein's Monster and then dropped two-hundred thousand dollars to license the Kong name from RKO,  That also makes me wonder if the Frankenstein's Monster portion of the script was used for Frankenstein Conquers the World.  Also this film had the return of Ishiro Honda and Akira Ifukube, as well as a budget five times the size of the original.

 

Sadly all that does little to help the human element of the film.  This is the start of the more light-hearted nature of the Showa era Godzilla films, as decreed by Effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya, so we get more comedic main characters then in the past two films. While this was a great plan long term, I felt that Osamu and Kinasburo were just a little flat as leads.  However it should be noted that Ichiro Arashima, who plays Mr. Tako, is so much fun in his role; he's just the right amount of over the top a film like this needs.  But for the most part the first hour of the film is a re-telling of King Kong, while the last half hour is monster on monster action.

 

And that monster on monster action is pretty fun.  The highlight of the first hour is the attack of the giant octopus on the villagers of Faro Island.  Instead of using a suit for most of it they used a live octopus over some nicely done miniatures and it look's great.  The few scenes when Kong shows up to fight it and they switch to a prop octopus look less great though.  And when Godzilla and King Kong do finally square off it's so much better then the Anguirus fights from the previous film, although to be fair this time the other suit actor isn't fighting on his hands and knees.  My favorite bit had to be Kong stuffing a tree into Godzilla's mouth to get  him to stop breathing atomic breath; only for Godzilla to blast the tree with his breath and launch the burning tree right back at Kong, who couldn't figure out why that didn't work.  It was nice to see the suit actors go the extra mile to give  the monsters a bit of character.  Kong getting the taser grip ability from lightning sort of seemed random at first, but they did sort of tease his affinity with lightning earlier on Faro Island; plus they had to find a way to make him have a chance against Godzilla.

 

One last thing needs to be mentioned and that is how much Akira Ifukube's score brings to this movie.  He doesn't just fall back on reusing the score from Gojira; he basically creates a whole new score with Godzilla's theme being the only returning track.  But even then he mixes it up a bit with a different beat and changes the pitch at various parts.  You hear that one song multiple times in the film and yet each one has it's own subtle differences.  It's the little things like that which make the score so much better then the score of Godzilla Raids Again.  Of course this score was cut out of the US release of the film, replaced with various tracks from other movies and TV shows.

 

Speaking of US edits, it's becoming quite interesting to see how much of these films gets messed with for the US releases.  I figured the UN reporter and the Doctor who explained everything were added to the film, but I didn't know the scenes with the US sub ramming Godzilla's ice prison were part of the original cut.  And it turns out the massive earthquake at the end of the film was from another film that RKO had the rights to at the time.

 

In the end I feel like it's the little things that make this whole movie much more fun the Godzilla Raids Again.  I'm sure it had a lot to do with it being an Anniversary film for Toho as much as it did getting the principle players back together to make the film, but all those little things add up to a super fun movie and helped turn Godzilla into a massive franchise.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had always heard that in the Japanese version, godzilla wins and in the US version, Kong wins.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I thought it was that at the end of the US cut, you hear King Kong roar, giving you the idea that he won, but in the US cut, you either hear both or neither roar. 

 

Or something like that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had always heard that in the Japanese version, godzilla wins and in the US version, Kong wins.

 

 

I thought it was that at the end of the US cut, you hear King Kong roar, giving you the idea that he won, but in the US cut, you either hear both or neither roar. 

 

Or something like that.

 

 

At the end of the US cut they basically say 'And Godzilla disappeared without a trace".  The Japanese cut ends with Kong swimming off while the humans wonder what fate befell Gofzilla.  Then the roars of both monsters play over the 'The End' Card

 

The 'Godzilla Wins' ending is just a myth that everyone thought was true (it even made it into Trivial Pursuit)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The next several u.s. cuts aren't nearby as dramatically different than the original. Actually Mothra Vs. does add one really cool sequence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Balloon-lifting Kong may be one of the silliest moments from the entire series.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Balloon-lifting Kong may be one of the silliest moments from the entire series.

 

 

Yeah that was gloriously goofy, right up there with using his breath to launch him through the air and when he talks to his fellow monsters later on in the series.

 

Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)

 

Full disclosure:  When I was a little I hated Mothra.  I thought he was a big dumb moth who just flew around and had two annoying girls sing.  Of course young me was  preping himself for the internet by being a hypocrite and loving Rodan; the big dumb Pterodactyl who flew around.  I think this is the first time I've watched this movie since I was a kid, back when we got WGAN on the antenna (creature double feature baby!); so I'm willing to bet my opinion may have changed.

 

The first cool bit is we get the return of Akira Takarada, who played Ogata in the original film.  Here he plays the male lead as news reporter Ichiro Sakai. whom along with photographer/love interest Junko and Scientist Miura (hmm this seems familiar) try to save the world from both Mothra's wrath and Godzilla's rage.  Akira and Junko are cute together as they playfully try to outwit each other in the film; they're no Loy/Powell, but they add some cute  comedy to an otherwise drab "Greed is bad mmkay?" plot.  I mean in one scene one of the two main villains actually twirls his mustache when talking about all the money they'll make off of Mothra's egg.  I was actually shocked in the later part of the film where not only did they show one of the villains beat the other bloody, they showed one of them get shot in the head, little blood spurt and all.  Of course comeuppance came in the form for a giant radioactive dinosaur for the murderer.

 

Sadly I'm guessing the movie didn't have nearly as much budget as the previous film, because while there's some cool stuff there is plenty of bad as well.  The film opens with an awesome scene where a tsunami destroys a miniature set and it looks really good.  Also there's a scene where the villagers form a ring around Mothra's egg to give you the scale of the massive egg; which in many ways reminded me of the scene in The Thing From Another Planet where the scientists spread out to show the scale of the frozen spaceship.  I feel I should point out the awesome job that Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima did in this film.  He does a great job of getting across that this isn't Godzilla out for blood, but rather a creature that was happy sleeping somewhere in the ocean and who is confused and angry at how he ended up buried in the mud surrounded by humans.  The Godzilla on human violence mostly comes from Godzilla confusedly lurching into things and reacting.  One other thing I liked was this was the first film to bust out the ever awesome Futuristic Weapon That Will Stop Godzilla For Sure This Time; having learned from the previous film that Godzilla is not a fan of electricity, they put Teleforce type weapons on the tops of the transmission towers as well as had netting that would sort of recreate Kong's Taser-Touch.  Sadly, like most FWTWSGFSTT, it didn't work.

 

And that pretty much sums up the good stuff, on to the less good  The scenes where you had superimposed footage looked really bad.  The super-imposed images looked were ridiculously transparent, making them look like ghosts.  Fortunately this only happens in scenes with the twins, or scenes with the monsters and humans together.  And this film has some of the worst Godzilla-puppet scenes since the original; I wouldn't be surprised if they used the original puppet since it looked nothing like the current suit.  Sadly this is also before Mothra gets a lot of his powers,  so the combat is less then exciting.  Then in order to spice things up they randomly speed up the combat, which doesn't make it look any better.  Also this is the first film where I noticed blatant looped footage in the fights, particularly when Godzilla tries to hit Mothra with his breath.

 

 

Actually Mothra Vs. does add one really cool sequence.

 

I actually checked out the frontier missile scene on YouTube and I kind of wish they had kept it in the Japanese version of the film (Supposedly the scene showed up in the trailer, but was cut from the film).  I mean yes it was pretty much one scene of two missiles getting fired over and over again, but that plus the beach just getting destroyed by the missiles as Godzilla lumbers about made it really cool; I guess not all looped footage is bad.

 

Having re-watched the movie I have to say that child me had it wrong.  Mothra vs Godzilla was a fun movie, despite all the nitpicking I did.  It was a film that I enjoyed watching, yet when I went back and looked at my notes they were mostly complaints.  That just proves that sometimes films are more about the sum then the individual parts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Shit I have the Japanese trailer on DVD, I'll have to check.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...