Viewing List: Godzilla
Article by Doug Gogerty
In September of 2006, the progenitor of the most successful science fiction movie franchises was made available for the first time on video for American audiences. It has been available in Americanized versions, but the uncut original is now offered for the first time on any American video format. This movie has spawned multiple imitations from several countries. Over a 50-year span, the movie's creators have made 27 more films centered on the original's key figure. This movie is Toho's Godzilla.
I have seen all of the Godzilla movies in some form. I have not seen the Americanized Godzilla Raids Again or Godzilla 1985. However, I have seen the Japanese originals. I have also seen imitations from several countries. For example, Gorgo (1961 - UK), Gamera (1965 -
Japan), Yongari (1967 - South Korea), Pulgasari (1985 - North Korea), Godzilla, (1998 - US), and Garuda (2004 - Thailand).
All of them fall roughly into one of three categories: "force of
nature" (FON), "monster vs. monster" (MVM), or "materialized god" (MG).
A "force of nature" best describes the original Godzilla and a few others in the series. Something that humans do creates or awakens a monster. A
battle between man and nature ensues. "Monster vs. monster" can happen in a number of ways. Perhaps there are many monsters in existence, and some are awakened by an unexpected force—usually as a result of human interference. Another version is when aliens attempt to take over the world with their giant monster only to be foiled by a friendly native giant monster. Gamera vs. Baragon or Destory all Monsters are some examples of this form. Finally, some giant monsters are "gods" to a certain group of devotees. Due to actions by that group these gods materialize for good or bad. Garuda and Pulgasari are two such examples.
Instead of giving a complete review of all the Godzilla movies, I will touch on a few of the better movies—in my opinion—and review some of the knock-offs that I have seen.
Godzilla is created from American nuclear weapons testing. He rises from the depths to rampage through Japan. How will they stop the giant monster?
Despite its dated special effects, this is an intriguing movie. What if you manage to kill this raging monster? Couldn't that technology be turned into weapons to kill other things? There are many issues to think about in
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (1956): FON
An American reporter investigates mysterious disasters off the coast of
Japan. It is discovered that a prehistoric dinosaur has been revived because of nuclear weapons testing. This monster, called Gojira by island natives, makes his way to Tokyo Bay threatening all of Japan.
Some of the anti-American sentiment is removed from this version. It is interesting to see how they worked in Raymond Burr into the scenes. Some of the message is intact, and it is worth comparing it to the original. They are fundamentally different movies.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962): MVM
A struggling science show wants to attract more viewers. It sends some people to a mysterious island where a non-narcotic berry is grown. There are also rumors that a giant ape lives on the island. They end up using the berries to put King Kong to sleep and transport him back to Tokyo. He naturally escapes and he fights his "natural enemy" the dinosaur in Godzilla.
The third movie in the series slides into campiness. It starts off quite slow, and the monsters do not appear for quite a while. When they eventually fight, it has the appeal of two men wrestling in monster suits. They do a poor job of explaining why the two monsters would actually fight and not just ignore each other. There are some differences in the American version and the original. The TV show plays less of a part in the American version and the pharmaceutical aspect of the berries is emphasized. Both versions are very campy, so if you want horror or suspense, this film is not for you.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974): MVM
Godzilla has suddenly appeared and is rampaging through Tokyo. Without warning, a second Godzilla appears. It turns out that the first rampaging monster is a mechanical version of Godzilla created by aliens in an effort to take over the earth. However, Mechagodzilla may be too powerful for Godzilla. Thus, natives revive their ancient god King Seesar to lend a hand.
This is the second to last in the "Showa Era" of Godzilla movies. It is a veritable campfest! It is fun and entertaining if you do not take it too seriously. It has all the elements of the campiest of Godzilla movies plus a few others. This Godzilla era ends with one more film, and none of the later films reached this level of camp. I guess that is for good and bad.
Godzilla vs. Destroyer (1995): MVM
Godzilla is ill. The nuclear reactions within him have grown out of control. If it continues unchecked, it could destroy the world. On top of that, there is a new monster threatening Japan, created from the original weapon used to destroy Godzilla in 1954. The earth has never been in more danger!
This is the end of the Heisei era (or VS era) of Godzilla movies. These movies are much darker and greatly less campy. There is still plenty of silly science in the movies, but they attempted to portray the monster as less of a superhero. In fact, he is killed at the end of this movie. There is a much bigger science element in these movies and much less of a wrestling match.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004): MVM
Giant monsters have begun attacking cities worldwide. Without warning, an alien spacecraft appears and saves the earth from these monsters. They say they wish to be our friends, but it turns out they want us for food. Once their plans are revealed the aliens release the monsters to destroy civilization. The only hope is to awaken Godzilla to destroy these monsters.
This is the last of the Shinsei era (or Millennium Era). It is unknown whether any others will be made. All of the movies in this era are meant to be direct sequels to the original movie—ignoring all previous movies. It could be that Toho wanted to show the US what they could have done to make a true Godzilla movie. Many references were made to highlight this aspect in these movies. For example, the American Godzilla was destroyed in a very short fight in this movie. This movie is by far the campiest of the era. It is pure fun and nostalgia. Some of the old monsters return to fight Godzilla again. Most of the movies of this era are actually quite good. Humans end up fighting both Godzilla and the other monsters. If you are not into camp, check the others out, but this one is fun for those campers.
Gorgo (1961): FON
A sea monster is captured and taken to London for display. The monster's mother follows the trail to London and nearly destroys the town.
Take a creature away from its environment and it causes trouble. In this case, the mother destroys the London landmarks. The "greedy humans" are to blame for the results of their actions. Many of the King Kong stories do a better job of illustrating this theme. Gorgo's mom is obviously a person in a suit trampling on small buildings. There just is not anything new here, even for 1961 standards.
Gamera (1965): FON
A nuclear explosion in the Arctic Circle releases a flying turtle that searches for energy to consume. Naturally, he makes his way to Japan for a rampage. If not for the scientist with the help of a young boy, Gamera would have certainly destroyed civilization.
This movie introduced the "Kenny." Kenny is the English name of the young boy who is the Gamera expert (from Mystery Science Theater 3000). After all, if scientists cannot figure out how to stop a giant rampaging turtle, you would clearly seek the advice of an eight year old. Thus, whenever a giant monster movie features a child that adults listen to, he is forever labeled the "Kenny." Godzilla vs. Megalon has a "Kenny." From the few Gamera movies that I have seen, they have all been campy. This one attempts to be serious like the first Godzilla, but the Kenny removes much of the darkness that an unstoppable creature might ordinarily invoke. Its ending is full of cheese. MST3K did a good job on the series, which highlights the camp. However, even without Joel and the bots, it's still enjoyable.
Yongari (1967): FON
A giant monster emerges and intent on consuming Korea's gasoline supply. What will stop the monster from destroying Seoul?
Fuel to run cars, power plants, etc. has been a common topic for giant monster movies. Gamera went after power plants and Yongari goes after gasoline plants. Perhaps conservation of fuel and pollution were popular topics for the day. This is a typical plot—find a reason for the monster to attack, destroy some buildings, and monster goes away. There is not a lot new to see in this movie. It is South Korea's take on Godzilla.
Pulgasari (1985): MG
A local leader is afraid of a peasant uprising. In order to arm his soldiers, he confiscates much of the metal from the peasants. Thus, they cannot farm without metal implements. A blacksmith uses pots and pans to create some weapons. However, he is imprisoned and starved to death. In his last act, he creates an idol of metal eating monster Pulgasari. The idol comes to life and aids the peasants in their struggle against the warlord.
The background story for this movie is far more interesting than the movie itself. Kim Jong-Il kidnapped a South Korean filmmaker to make this movie. It plods along at a slow pace like a director who is making a film under duress. Some of the plot holes are enormous. For instance, the evil warlord somehow knows that the monster was created from the daughter's blood. The daughter does not even know that for sure. For 1985, the special effects are terrible. If you have the same tastes as Kim Jong-Il, you will like it. Otherwise, it is really slow.
Godzilla, (1998): FON
With the French reestablishing their nuclear tests, they have unleashed a giant iguana-like creature on the world. It makes its way to New York and causes much damage. With the US military might and the finest scientific minds, can the creature be stopped?
This movie exemplifies one of the common giant monster movie problems. What happens when you root for the monster? The audience is greatly let down when you destroy their rooting interest. This is one big reason why this movie does not work. Another is that they called the monster Godzilla, but it clearly was not. The reason the monster "attacked" New York is completely unbelievable, but forgivably so. A cold-blooded, egg-laying reptile would prefer a busy, cold island over a deserted, tropical island? Also, the monster is born pregnant, who knew? How many plot holes do we have to try to ignore? Come on! The French save the world? This movie needed a "Kenny" to help it along.
Garuda (2004): MG
While building a subway system, officials in Bangkok awaken the winged Garuda; a creature they believed was mythical. Special soldiers are sent to fight the monster, and they attempt to keep the creature from terrorizing the city. Nevertheless, the creature escapes. Will the creature destroy the city? What about the world?
This is another movie where you are rooting for the monster. The creature is not here to punish humans for their actions; thus, it is not a force of nature. The special forces units deployed to fight the monster normally fight "mythic beasts" like Garuda. This movie starts out really well. It builds suspense nicely. However, the actions of the special forces group began to wear on me. Because of this, I found myself hoping the monster would win. Thus, I could not help but be disappointed at the end. At least, the special effects were good.
Doug Gogerty is a writer and Senior Technical Specialist living in Minnesota. He runs a storytelling blog, Around the Campfire, and is a moderator on the ARWZ Writing Forum.