I just watched six of the original Godzilla movies, and they were (mostly) awesome

As a kid, if I wasn’t watching Harryhausen movies or Behind The Green Door, I was watching giant monster movies from Japan. I did this because they had giant monsters smashing stuff. Duh. I liked Gamera more than Godzilla because Gamera was a turtle and turtles are awesome, especially when they can fly and shoot fire and save children, but Godzilla was pretty rad, too.

So why not revisit some of the originals? Aside from the very first, which I like to revisit every few years because it’s way more amazing than people realize, I haven’t seen most of these in many, many years. That’s reason enough to blast through the first five or so (and maybe throw in a bonus while I’m at it). I’m not looking to do deep or thoughtful reviews here, so don’t expect them. Just sharing some quick thoughts as I revisit some childhood favorites. Now let’s do this:

Gojira (1954)
aka Godzilla, original Japanese version

Most Americans probably don’t realize that the movie they know and love, Godzilla, is a bastardized version of the darker, more grim original.

GodzillaGone is the American reporter (Raymond Burr) trying to figure out the mystery of Godzilla and giving a play-by-play of his raid on Tokyo. That entire story was filmed later and inserted into the movie with clever editing, even while other material was trimmed out.

In its place is a mounting sense of dread, awe-inspiring destruction, and unmistakable parallels to the Japanese experience at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the firebombing of Tokyo.

If you can suspend your disbelief and accept the creature, his presentation in this first Godzilla film is terrifying. Slow, lumbering, unstoppable, Godzilla turns Tokyo into a sea of flames, killing countless thousands. We even see some Japanese soldiers burned alive.

The aftermath is just as grim. Makeshift hospitals jammed to capacity with the injured, children crying after losing their parents, and an entire nation paralyzed with fear after witnessing unimaginable destruction.

No wonder Japanese critics originally slammed the movie for exploiting the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was less than 10 years after the Atom Bomb was dropped! And it’s very much about fear of seeing destruction on that scale again.

Godzilla would later become camp, but the original was a fearsome, bleak picture with something to say and an explosive way to say it.

If you have never seen the original Japanese version, find a way to hunt it down and watch it. It’s not the Godzilla you remember from when you were a kid. In fact, grab the Criterion edition of Godzilla on Blu-Ray. It has both versions on it and looks GREAT.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Released as “Gigantis the Fire Monster” in the United States, this direct sequel to the original Japanese version of Godzilla maintains the somewhat serious tone of its predecessor — there is no intentional camp here — but lacks its sense of doom and menace.

Godzilla Raids AgainAfter being killed in the first movie, a new Godzilla rises from the ocean (the movie makes clear this is a separate monster). Making matters worse is the fact that a second monster appears with it, Anguirus. And naturally, the monsters want to fight.

Like the first film, there is a slow buildup to a mid-movie destruction sequence. In this one, Godzilla and Anguirus fight it out in Osaka, laying the city to waste. This sequence has its moments — a few of the models they destroy look really good, and some long shots are fairly convincing — but often it looks like what it is, i.e. two guys in rubber suits wrestling with each other. The ominous undertones of nuclear devastation are long gone.

Still, the monster beat ’em up is fun and the city wreckage is cool. Too bad the story is thin as hell and the human characters forgettable, otherwise the tone of this one is serious enough so that it doesn’t elicit unintentional laughter.

The movie then hits a long, slow stretch until the climactic battle with Godzilla during which the Japanese air force fires missiles at an ice shelf to bury the beast. What a chore that last battle is, too. Seems like the filmmakers got their hands on some stock footage of jets flying overhead and felt compelled to use every last second of it. They also blow up a bunch of jet models and feel the need to show you every last one. Repetitive as hell.

I was really absorbed with this stuff as a kid. I may be too jaded for it now, though. I have an archive of the entire series of 30 or so Godzilla films, but I’m not sure how many I’d be able to get through if I decided to marathon them all.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

A giant egg washes onto shore after a hurricane, then Godzilla shows up and destroys some stuff, then he fights a giant moth, then he fights some giant caterpillars, then the movies ends. Also, there are some weird miniature twins who sing.

Mothra va GodzillaThe narrative in this, one of the most popular of the Godzilla flicks, is kind of nonsensical. There is some stuff about a greedy business guy and some scientists and a reporter, but I’ll be damned if I could make sense of how it was supposed to fit together into a coherent plot.

Godzilla looks awesome in this, though, his first color picture. Great suit for this one and some really good destruction. This is how you stomp on models!

I always thought Mothra was kind of goofy, however. A giant moth? Derp. Western audience will NOT like it if the rebooted Godzilla goes with this as the next rival, which is what the rumor is based on a stinger allegedly shown to Asian audience.

Anyway, this is your standard Godzilla fun. No camp, just monsters fighting. Which is to say, this one is pretty cool, dumb rival monster or no. Get a copy here.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1965)

The fifth Godzilla film marks a turning point in the franchise. It’s the first movie in which Godzilla fights for mankind rather than against it, and it’s the first that gets downright silly. I’m talking Godzilla and Rodan playing tennis with giant boulders while Mothra looks on, its head swinging back and forth watching the volleys silly.

Ghidorah the Three-Headed MonsterIn this one, three giant monsters team up to fight a fourth, the fearsome King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon beast that spits lightning. It takes forever for the monsters to show up, but once they do there is lots of romping around in the countryside. Sometimes it’s cool and sometimes it looks like plastic action figures being bumped together and filmed. Monster closeups are uniformly awful — these are no Harryhausen effects — but the mid and long shots of monster roughhousing is fun.

While all this happens, there is also a story about a princess who thinks she is from Venus and who predicts the destruction of the world, all while dodging assassination attempts. The actress who plays the princess is smokin’ hot — you don’t expect eye candy in a Godzilla flick! — but the story itself is kind of aimless, meant to play up “King” Ghidorah as the ultimate doom.

Oh, and the little mini twin women are back.

Still fun, but getting sillier (yet still worth owning) …

Monster Zero aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)

A pair of astronauts travel to a new planet discovered near Jupiter. There, a race of goofy Japanese people in awkward costumes ask to borrow Godzilla and Rodan so they can fight off King Ghidorah, aka Monster Zero.

So Godzilla goes to another planet and fights a monster, then he does a ridiculous dance.

Monster ZeroThis is a Godzilla movie without much Godzilla. The plot is mostly centered on these aliens and their agenda, and those aliens look like Devo. They fly around in flying saucers that look like party balloons. Earth doesn’t realize they are up to no good despite the ridiculous costumes they wear. Silly Earth.

Later, back on Earth, the three monsters destroy a bunch of real estate and then fight. Godzilla showcases his Muhammad Ali footwork. It’s silly.

As I’ve gone through these Godzilla classics I’ve watched some in the original Japanese (subtitled) and some with the English dub. This was a Netflix watch, so it was the dub. HORRIBLE dub, too. Just horrible.

I think I may be bailing out on Godzilla, because from this point forward it goes the full-on kiddie route, with Godzilla’s son and other goofiness. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my tolerance for revisiting that kind of material is a tad thin. A lot of people love B movies and are wildly entertained by camp. More power to those people, but I am not one of them. That said, you can get it here.

So one quick leap forward in time, then I’m done:

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

I’m not entirely sure I know what the hell I just watched.

As best I can tell, Japanese aliens from another dimension want to destroy Tokyo because destroying Tokyo would allow them to control the world. (What?) They want to control the world because mankind deserves it for polluting too much. Their plan is to rebuild Mechagodzilla, a giant robot version of Godzilla, to destroy our favorite big lizard.

Terror of MechagodzillaThey enlist a human scientist to help them. This scientist has a cyborg daughter. (What?) Also, he can control a giant monster called Titanosaurus, a creature that will team up with Mechagodzilla to destroy Godzilla.

Then a bunch of shit happens and I couldn’t follow any of it. There were subplots with INTERPOL, some love interest for the cyborg daughter, and other half-assed bullshit. I’ll be damned if I could relate even the smallest part of the story to you.

The only good part of this jumbled pile of nonsense was the last third, when the three monsters start to have their beat down. Loads of wanton destruction. Nice effects. Titanosaurus is a decent creature. Godzilla looks great. The cities they crush are fantastic. All the explosions and chaos look as good as any Godzilla movie to date. The camera work is well done and truly makes these creatures look gigantic, too, taking excellent low camera angles unlike any seen since the original. The monster stuff is visually impressive throughout.

Too bad the story was incomprehensible crap.

This would be the last Godzilla movie made until 1984’s reboot. No great loss. Fire it up on Netflix and skip right to the fight at the end.

The End

So, Godzilla.

Godzilla is awesome. I watched pretty much every single Godzilla flick as a kid, multiple times, and ran to the theater for the recent reboot because hey, Godzilla and Bryan Cranston, right?

But you can’t go home again. The original is a bona fide classic, to be sure, essential viewing for anyone who likes film, period, and several of the follow-ups are a great deal of fun, but as they get goofier you have to be able to tap into your inner kid to enjoy them. Turn off your brain, ignore the story, and wait for some models to get stomped by a guy in a rubber suit.

Hmmm. Phrased that way, they actually sound pretty damn amazing …

1 Comment

  1. Carin LarssonCarin Larsson

    When Godzilla still looked awesome. ?

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