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Godzilla (2014) :Now with 100% less Matthew Broderick!

GODZILLA


Godzilla-Teaser-PosterSee it at Amazon 

(4.5/5)

Pros: A great jumping on place if you’ve never seen a Godzilla flick


Cons: The soundtrack is tepid.

It probably doesn’t come as a big shock to anyone, but I have been a Godzilla fan all my life. Growing up, I watched constant reruns of Godzilla versus the Smog Monster or Godzilla Raids Again during Saturday afternoons on the local UHF station’s Sci-Fi Theater. I was the only one of my social group to flock to the theatrical release of Godzilla 2000 back at the beginning of the millennium, the original Gojira is in my annual Halloween viewing rotation and I’ve tracked down even the hard to find and out of print DVDs from Japan.

On the other hand, I loath modern Hollywood remakes – Land of the Lost was a 2 hour punch to the Babymaker, I couldn’t stand what they did to Freddy Kruger in the new Nightmare on Elm Street, my loathing for Robocop burns with the passion of a thousand suns – in short the list of criminal offenders is as long as my arm. So it was with guarded trepidation that I looked forward to the new American Godzilla movie. All indications looked to be promising, and yet I couldn’t shake the stink of failure from the 1998 Godzilla.


Was I in for a monster flick that was not only pretty good but also respectful of the source material, or was I in for two hours of Deep Hurting?

After a credit sequence of footage of some massive, unseen behemoth lurking in the background of the atomic bombs tests at Bikini Atol, we open in 1999 at the Janjira nuclear power plant where strange seismic activity of unknown origin is being detected. Head Engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) stays in the control room to monitor the situation while technician wife Sandra heads down to Level Five to physically check on the reactor.

Being a Godzilla movie, this goes about as well as you’d think.


After the meltdown and evacuation, we fast-forward fifteen years. Joe, coping poorly with Sandra’s death, has spent the last decade and a half getting to the bottom of an international conspiracy, a cover-up as to what caused the accident that faithful day. Meanwile his long suffering son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, AKA Kick-Ass) just wants to put the past behind them and get on with his life.

But of course it’s hard to maintain a conspiracy of silence when the subject of said conspiracy is 300 feet tall and walking around knocking over buildings – so it’s not long before The Powers That Be shift from cover-up to containment and damage control. But can the military deal with these Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms before it’s too late? And what of the King of the Monsters, lurking the background and ready to kick some MUTO asses? Will there be anything left of the civilized world once this rematch between two ancient adversaries is through?

 Godzilla flicks are both blindingly simple in execution and shockingly hard to get right. When you fail, you fail hard – Godzilla 98, Godzilla versus Megalon, Son of Godzilla – and when you succeed, you knock it out of the park – Terror of Mechagodzilla, Final Wars, Mothra versus Godzilla. It’s a pretty simple formula – breaths fire, does not fear the weapons of puny mankind, goes SCREEEONGK, has another monster to fight- preferably in a city where lots of stuff can get destroyed. So, after the soul-crushingly bad American Godzilla, did Godzilla 2014 get it right? You bet your ass it did!


So, lets go through the checklist and see what worked.

First off – the humans. The purpose of the humans in a Godzilla movie is three fold. 1) Shoot ineffectually at Godzilla. 2) Run away from Godzilla and 3) Stand around and ask “Where is Godzilla” – and that’s it. Here, however director Gareth Edwards (who went from cranking out Made-For-TV Movies and one feature film to this) manages to the human talking scenes not only “not annoying”, but actually interesting and reasonably compelling.

There were no macho characters busy throwing out wise-cracks and one-liners, all the main characters communicated nothing but sincerity in their interactions and – unlike a great many action movie protagonists – Ford was refreshingly free of whining. He may not believe his father’s conspiracy theory ramblings, but he doesn’t drag his heels or passive-aggressively sabotage the trip back to their irradiated home. Instead he realizes that his father’s paranoia is born from a place of deep emotional hurting – and if going back into the quarantine zone will help ease that pain, then they’ll go back together.


Or consider the scene where the soldiers are attempting to disarm an atomic bomb. In a non-Godzilla action flick, there would have been all kinds of bravado and machismo at their inability to open the bomb’s casing. Here, as soon as it becomes clear that Plan A wont work, they transition immediately to Plan B: get the bomb as far away from San Francisco as possible. What people mistake for blandness is really just competence and emotional maturity.

Being character drama heavy means that Edwards holds back the Monster Action – a complaint I hear a lot about the movie. And yes, if you go into this movie thinking that it’ll be Godzilla wrecking shit for two solid hours, you’ll probably be very disappointed. Much like the classic Godzilla flicks, G14 has a very slow build to Godzilla’s big entrance.

The old ones, especially the really good ones, tend to hold back the monster action. For example, the 90’s version of Godzilla versus King Ghidorah, where Godzilla is barely even in the movie. It’s not like Pacific Rim where you’ve got tons of kaiju and Jaegers running around. If we’d seen Godzilla stomping building and roaring for two hours it would’ve been boring as hell. So going with the Jaws approach, where we are teased throughout, only catching fleeting glimpses of the awesomeness of the Monsters as seen through the eyes of the civilians or getting a sense of the scale of their power because of the devastation in their wake really works. It builds up the audience’s tension and frustration until one massive release of “Oh yeah, it’s on now!” – and when the final reel comes, the action really satisfies in a way only a classic Godzilla flick can.

And there’s some gorgeous stuff in this movie – like the HALO jump into the ruined nuclear holocaust that is San Francisco with the 2001: Space Odyssey music playing was a really haunting scene. And the build-up to where Godzilla finally unleashes the Atomic Breath is outstanding. The effects are outstanding and there are ton of well-shot Money Shots in this movie.

So that’s everything the movie got right. What about the misfires? Oh, I could nitpick things, sure – but G14 is generally a solid flick. My only true regret about the movie was that the soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat (The fellow behind a couple of the Harry Potter soundtracks) was really pedestrian. I had been hoping for a score like what Michael Giacchino delivered for Speed Racer – a score where he very much put his own stamp on it, but it was clearly identifiable as inspired by the source material.

So the last thing to address – what is the movie about. See, while I appreciate Godzilla movies for their city-smashing spectacle, I find the best ones also work in some kind of underlying theme to the movie too. Godzilla, King of the Monsters, of course, was about the horrors of atomic war and the dangers of being careless with same – but we get pollution Aesops, warnings about irresponsible science running amuck and so on through out the series.

Even the worst G movies have some kind of Aesop – Son of Godzilla‘s “stand up to bullies and don’t let them push you around”. Well, the worst of them aside from G’98 – which had no underlying theme to it other than Siskel and Ebert would make terrible mayors.

So – was there a theme with G’14?

Doctor Serizawa straight out says it about half way through the film: “The arrogance of man is thinking that he can control nature, and not the other way around.” – but that’s only a part of the theme. It goes deeper than that, that Godzilla is a metaphor for nature

It is frequently said in the film that Godzilla exists to restore balance, a mechanism for when things are out of order. Nature is a push and pull of cause and effect: what is put into nature – to weather, to an ecosystem – generates a response or reaction somewhere else. Over farming the land causes the soil to become depleted of nutrients and consequently ruins the area for years, creating a dustbowl. Increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causes a whole cascade of biosphere issues (like we are currently experiencing). A massive volcanic eruption could lower global temperatures enough to starve millions and destroy ecosystems. And so on. In each of these examples, the forces of nature (outside of a planet ending catastrophe) eventually find a homeostasis or equilibrium with the “cause”. Balance is restored. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Godzilla is that reaction, in this movie.

Consider the portions of the film where Godzilla is seen moving across the pacific ocean relentlessly, with the humans following along impotently, only observing and tracking, while far away people begin evacuating “the projected path/landing site of Godzilla”.  Sound familiar? It sounds like hurricane tracking, or tornado hunting – you cannot do anything but observe, report, and hide. Godzilla represents that relentless aspect of nature. A hurricane pays no mind to Navy ships following it. It cares not for the hurricane hunting C-130 aircraft testing its winds. It follows a natural order, the path of least resistance, to expend its energy. There is no way to stop it, and there is no way to stop Godzilla.

Or, to use pop culture as a summation – “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man”.

 THE GODZILLA SCORECARD -

 THE WINNER IS:

Ladies and Gentlemen, once again proving himself the undisputed King of the Monsters – GODZILLA!

AND NOW YOU KNOW:

This movie is, at its roots, about how nature is an unstoppable force that can both ruin us and save us. Godzilla is that force in the movie.

THE KENNY FACTOR: 0.5%

The protagonist gets to chaperone a young Japanese boy in short pants for a few scenes, but he’s not annoying, he doesn’t talk to Minilla and doesn’t do much other than give Ford someone to save once. All things considered? Pretty harmless

THE END. . . .?

Upon crushing his enemies and having no further concern, Godzilla ponderously lumbers back into the ocean’s depths. . . .

THE BOTTOM LINE -

Like I said at the start, I’ve been a Godzilla fan all my like. I have spent more hours of my youth frittered away watching these damn movies than was probably healthy. So to see a big screen adaption with big studio money put together by a team of people who actually care about the franchise blows my damn mind.

If you want two hours of monsters beating the crap out of each other, go watch Pacific Rim again. However If you grew up on this series, if you like these movies, if you want a movie that’s very much in the same vein as the classic Godzilla flicks, then Godzilla 2014 will scratch that itch.

I give it 4.5 SCREEEONGKS out of 5

Godzilla in Name Only

GODZILLA

The Godzilla '98 theatrical poster
The Godzilla ’98 theatrical poster

(0/5)

Pros: The movie bombed so bad that Toho regained the rights and started making Real Godzilla movies again.

Cons: That it has the Godzilla name on this abomination

Do you know how hard it is to screw up a Godzilla movie? Seriously, all you really need to do is come up with a interesting looking opponent to fight, build a whole bunch of small buildings to crush, clean out Toys R Us of all the model tanks to blast and set the cameras rolling. Occasionally have your human sized characters go “Where is Godzilla?” or “How do we stop Godzilla?” or “Aheeeee! It’s Godzilla!”

This isnt rocket science people – and yet somehow writer Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (the masterminds behind Independence Day and Stargate), managed to do just that: screw up a Godzilla movie so badlky that even original Godzilla Suit Actor  Haruo Nakajima walked out of the film’s Japanese premiere and Toho Studios instantly disowned the film. Now THAT takes some skill. . . .

The Godzilla 98 remake goes thusly: The French test Atomic Weapons in the south seas, eradiating the native life there. Many years later, several ships vanish pointing a straight line directly to New York. You see, Fake Godzilla is heading there so she can make a nest and raise her young. From the south seas?

The US Government call in Atomic Worm Specialist (there’s a narrow field of study if I’ve ever heard one) Ferris Bueller, who’s sole role in the movie is to act as Doctor Exposition, explaining the audience one plot point after another – until he is kicked off the Top Secret Science Team by his Reporter ex-girlfriend when she steals a top secret video tape and broadcasts it to the world.

Meanwhile the military is largely ineffective at stopping Fake Godzilla, as the lizard is very skilled at hiding underground in the subways (overlooking the fact that he’d be WAY too large to fit in the tunnels, unless he has a previously undocumented ability to shrink and grow at will). Ferris and his girlfriend (and that French guy from The Professional) go to Madison Square Gardens, find Fake Godzilla’s nest just in time for baby Fake Godzillas to hatch before blowing up the Garden, luring Fake Godzilla onto a bridge and killing him with a couple of missiles. The End. . . . ?

ARRRRGH! RAGE!!! May Devlin and Emmerich commit seppuku for their dishonor!

Back in 1993 Jurassic Park hit the Big Screen, blew us all away with the lifelike dinosaurs and made the Monster Movie fun again. About the same time, Sony/Tristar announced that they aquired the rights from Toho to make an american Godzilla movie – and it blew my goddamned mind. As a long time fan of the series, the potential to see Jurassic Park-like effects in a Godzilla flick made me wet myself.

Five years later, I got the Jurassic Park version of Godzilla, hammering home that I should be careful what I wish for.

On the surface, it would seem to have everything that makes a kick-ass summer blockbuster: explosions, action, car wrecks, buildings being torn down, monsters, chases, tons of special effects – come on, it;s a giant monster tearing up a city? How is this NOT perfect? Hell, going by their past work – Stargate and ID4 – a big, dumb, fun, bombastic, brain-dead monster flick with no discernible plot should be right up Devlin and Emmerich’s alley, right?

The problem is that it becomes pretty evident in short order that neither Devlin or Emmerich have a clue what made Godzilla so popular.

Lets start with the basics – Fake Godzilla looks nothing like Real Godzilla. Okay, there’s been plenty of design changes to the character over the last 50 years – bigger spikes, smaller spikes, white eyes, big round dark eyes, stubby arms, thicker arms, smaller head, bigger snout – but they’re all identifuable as more or less the same monster.

And yes, I expected Godzilla to look different. I WANTED him to look different. I wanted him to be updated. I’m all for taking a classic monster design and putting a more realistic modern spin on him. I knew that he would be all CGI and not a Man in a Rubber Suit – but what we got wasnt even close. He’s small, he’s weak and doesnt breath fire. None of the Godzilla trademarks are present!

The reason, I gather, behind the horizontal, raptor-like design for the monster was an effort to make Godzilla more realistic. Putting aside the whole Square/Cube Law thing, and ingoring the improbability of such a lanky and front-heavy design being better suited for a Giant Monster than the ponderous, thick-legged, pear shape of the original – the design team decided make it a mutated iguana instead of a dinosaur, thereby completely negating the entire point behind the raptor-shape in the first place!

This dovetails into my next point: Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature. You don’t defeat him, you don’t control him – you can only hope to survive him long enough until he goes away. And yet the army kills Godzilla with a couple of missiles. Have these people ever SEEN a Godzilla movie? Godzilla fears no puny man-made weapons! He does not run from the small squishy flesh creatures! And yet Fake Godzilla spends the bulk of the movie running and dodging and hiding like the wuss he is!

Speaking of the small squishy flesh creatures,  consider the humans of the movie. In a True Japanese Godzilla film, the bulk of the human protagonist rolls are largely secondary. They are there to fill up the screen time between Godzilla sightings, or to run away screaming from Godzilla. However in Godzilla in Name Only, the humans take center stage with a completely uninteresting break-up story and resulting drama. This is compounded by the fact that they are completely unlikable, incompetent and generally retarded characters – especially the military. So instead of being a bridge between action scenes, Devlin and Emmerich seem to think we care about them. That’s nice, can we get back to Fake Godzilla smashing things up please?

The final piece of evidence is how shamelessly the movie rips off other, better movies. When Fake Godzilla is removed from the movie with half an hour left to go, and the remainder of the run time is shamelessly ripped off from Jurassic Park, it’s never a good sign. I’m surprised that Devlin and Emmerich don’t owe some royalties to Spielberg for this mess.

*sigh*

Movies are a product of the time they are created. The original black and white Gojira, for example, was a tale spun out of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the horrors of World War two, speaking out against the madness of atomic weapons and science without conscious run amok. Even the later campy Godzilla flicks had some kind of underlying theme to them. It may not have been as important as what Inshiro Honda was saying, but at least they tried addressing pollution or corruption, in their own hamfisted way.

What, then, is Godzilla in Name Only about?

Ummm . . . Siskel and Ebert would make really lousy mayors of New York? Gee – thanks for that stunning insight into the human condition. Now fuck off.

THE GODZILLA SCORECARD -

AND THE WINNER IS:
Actually it doesn’t really matter who is victorious. No matter who wins, the audience loses.

AND NOW YOU KNOW:
If there’s a message in here, I’ve yet to find it.

THE KENNY FACTOR: 100%
While there is no obnoxious little kid in tight short pants included anywhere in this movie, the spirit of Kenny lives on in a completely unlikable cast of characters. In a sense, this movie is nothing BUT Kennys as far as the eye can see.

THE END. . . .?
The “Shock” reveal at the end, of the baby Fake Godzilla emerging from the egg held the promise of a second feature. Fortunately it wasn’t planes and missiles that killed “Godzilla”, it was poor box office returns and we were spared another go-round. Godzilla, on the other hand went on to star in several more movies, including a title bout with Fake Godzilla in Godzilla: Final Wars.

THE DVD -
For what it’s worth, the disc looks good. The colors are nice and bright, the picture is crisp. The soundtrack is clear, allowing you to suffer through every stupid plot point without any distortion or muddle.

THE EXTRAS -
An audio commentary, a music video with a crap song, some trailers (featuring GOOD Godzilla movies, including G v King Ghidorah, and G v Mothra), a before and after behind the scenes, and an empty, vapid electronic press kit featurette. Sadly this is more than most Godzilla discs get – but this is hardly enough to warrant this discs existence.

THE BOTTOM LINE
In the vapid press kit, Dean Deviln said something like “when they made the original Godzilla films, they were limited to a man in a rubber suit. Only now can we present Godzilla the way that the original creators intended.” Clearly the man has no idea what he’s talking about, since nine years later, Toho released Godzilla: Final Wars, featuring the finest in Giant Rubber Suit technology. Meanwhile, Godzilla in Name Only remains a more or less forgotten footnote in the franchise history.

As it should be. . . .

I give this 0 Fakezillas out of 5

 

pic1

Godzilla goes out with a bang!

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

Godzilla: Final Wars theatrical poster
Godzilla: Final Wars theatrical poster

(4/5)

Pros: Balls to the wall Monster Kung-Fu Spaceship action!

Cons: They really needed some of  Akira Ifukube’s themes

When you get down to it, a Godzilla movie is a lot like professional wrestling – a shameless excuse to watch two large, strangely dressed men beating the crap out of each other for two hours. Both hinge on razor thin plots that exist solely to get the characters to the next action beat, both can be extremely goofy and over-the-top, and both can be outrageously entertaining when done right. And much like the pomp and circumstance surrounding the annual Wrestlemania, Toho caps off the Godzilla series with a badass 21st century remake of Destroy All Monsters – Godzilla: Final Wars. Is it a worthy sendoff? Lets find out. . . .

We open in heated battle at the Antarctica, with the King of the Monsters pitted against the Earth Defense Force battleship Gotengo (otherwise known as the battleship Atragon) under the command of Ultimate Fighting Championship star Don Frye. The ship is a nod to old school anime, specifically Space Battleship Yamato (AKA Star Blazers), with the vaguely ocean going vessel design to the spaceship, the huge Wave Motion like gun in the bow, and even the bridge configuration screams “Homage”. Intentional or not, it’s still a cool moment.

Anyway, the Yamato – um, I mean Gotengo takes some good pounding from Godzilla before fate intervenes. A large earthquake suddenly strikes, ripping the ground asunder and sending Godzilla plunging down a bottomless pit. One quick man-made avalanche from the Gotengo later and Godzilla is sealed in an icy tomb forever.

Well, probably not forever. You can probably guess how this turns out. . . .

Fast forward to decades later, in The Near Future, where peace reigns over the globe, with only the very rare monster attack – swiftly and neatly dealt with by the EDF and their monster busting techniques. I know, human military overcoming monsters? I’m as shocked as you are.

Of course things were not meant to last, as a large group of monsters suddenly appear in major cities across the globe. Rodan leaves New York in flames, a certain American CGI generated lizard stomps Sydney flat, the spiky ankylosaur Anguirus levels Shanghai, King Caesar gets the Okinawa shift, while Kamacuras takes Paris and in a bit of overkill, a trailer in Phoenix, Arizona is crushed by the tarantula, Kumonga.

In an unexpected scene, a chemical refinery gets smashed by the giant shrimp/lobster creature Ebirah who then gets jumped by a team from the EDF – on foot, no less – and actually manage to defeat the monster! But before they can savor the victory, the shrimp suddenly vanishes. In the sky is a vaguely disco globe Death Star looking mother ship piloted by a race of aliens called the Xilians, who claim to come in peace. They saying that the large scale monster attack is just foreshadowing of a much bigger threat yet to come – the rouge planet Gorath. Although the Xilian were able to deal with the monsters, only by combining their forces with earth can they hope to overcome the new danger.

Of course, anyone even remotely familiar with a Godzilla film knows how this will turn out.

Oh no! Despite the pretense of rendering assistance to the Earthlings, are really hostile alien invaders! Gorath (a nice tip of the hat to Toho’s 1962 film Calamity Star Gorath, by the way) is a complete sham, and the Xilians use their position of stealth to take over the minds of the EDF (save for Captain Don and his crew of plucky youngsters). Outnumbered and out of options, the crew of the Gotengo head for the South Pole to unleash the only weapon left to humanity: Godzilla!

They manage to free Godzilla from his icy prison just in time to face off for round one against Gigan. In an effort to stop Godzilla from reaching Tokyo, the Xilian commander sends all his monsters (including the previously unseen Hedorah and a resurrected and cyborged-out Gigan) directly into Godzilla’s path. Much chaos and battle ensues.

Once in Tokyo, the crew of the Gotengo assaults the Xilian mother ship while Godzilla deals with the alien’s ultimate weapon: Monster X! Inside Captain Don battles vaguely Matrix looking solders and the Xilian commander, Mothra makes a quick appearance, and Monster X’s ultimate form is revealed to be . . . well that would be telling, wouldn’t it? (But if you wagered the farm on King Ghidorah, you wouldn’t lose money)

The monster fights are generally well done and exciting, if a bit on the short side – although that last part is understandable, give the cast of thousands that the film sports. And you have to admit that a non-stop parade of monsters beating the hell out of each other pings the Coolness radar more than just a bit. The scene of Godzilla vs Godzilla In Name Only brought a smile to my face (The whole fight lasted 15 seconds, tops), and the fight between the EDF and Ebirah made me all tinglely inside.

Given the non-stop monster mash, Final Wars must have cleaned up, right? Godzilla going out on a bang? Well, not exactly. The film opened December 4th 2004, coming in 3rd for that weekend, utterly crushed by the Incredibles and Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Eventually the film recovered 12 million at the box office, well below the 20 million dollar budget that was spent. So what went wrong?

I think the problem lies in the Ryuhei Kitamura’s inconsistent nature of the movie (bordering on schizophrenia, almost). He tries to play it seriously – the opening is a very tense, very effective scene – and then undermines it with goofy scenes of the Xillian commander throwing a temper tantrum because Godzilla just whupped one of his monsters. Ok, when you have an alien leader dressed like a member of Devo as a genre convention, you’re already treading on goofy ground. There’s no need to pump up The Wacky by including a Loony Tunes slide whistle sound effect when a characters hat gets blown off by Rodan.

I say borderline schizophrenia because while it’s a Giant Monster movie we’re watching, the fate of the movie doesn’t hang with the monsters, but with the actions of the humans. They drive the narrative forward (occasionally with long action sequences – which would be fine if they were fighting monsters instead of aliens) while the monsters are reduced to set pieces and window dressing. They’re very thrilling and well executed window dressing, but the focus is all wrong. Godzilla should not be a co-star in his own grand finale.

Oh, and this isn’t a problem that probably contributed to the downfall of the movie at the box office, but I cant let this pass without mention. The soundtrack was composed by composed by Keith Emerson – yes, of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. And no, it’s not a good score in the slightest. He may be Classic Rock’s greatest keyboardist ever, but his soundtracks suck. In fact, even more than the strange direction choices, I would say that this is the weakest portion of the movie. Not even a hint of the Godzilla theme in the end credits? The man should be flogged!

 THE GODZILLA SCORECARD -

THE WINNER IS:

Going the distance for 15 rounds, the WIIIN-AH and still CHAMP-EEEEN! Godzilla! King of the Monsters!

AND NOW YOU KNOW:

After the aliens have been vanquished, both Godzilla and the humans square off, preparing to do battle. The voice of reason, strangely enough, comes from the Kenny and his friend Minilla saying that that forgiveness has to start somewhere, and that war has to stop someday. Ok, it’s cheesy as hell coming from a rubber suit and a kid in short pants, but they mean well.

THE KENNY FACTOR: 13%

Appearing early on in the movie (and for several scenes seemingly detached from the plot), there is indeed a kid in short pants who encounters Minilla and a backwoods Japanese yokel. It’s not necessarily annoying (and it does tie into the ending), but it does come from left field with a WTF?!?

THE END. . . .?

Both sides – human and monster – stand down, Godzilla lumbering back into the ocean with a change of heart (???). And of course we have the upcoming Godzila 2014, proving that you just cant keep a good kaiju down!

 THE DVD -

The original DVD releases of the Millennium Era Godzilla movies, the Columbia/Tristar 50th Anniversary versions, were all plagued by a host of problems – pan and scan video on one, dubtitles on another, end credits edited out on a third – so right there getting all new, correct versions should make any kaiju fan happy. The fact that print for Final Wars looks goddamed gorgeous is a added bonus. We get a great looking 2.40:1 ratio transfer that’s rock solid on all levels, from color to clarity. We also get a crystal clear remastered soundtrack with both the original Japanese and the International dub – both in 5.1 surround sound.

 THE EXTRAS -

We get a double feature with Final Wars of 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (AKA Godzilla × Mothra × Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS), and along with the movies, we get a download code for your very own digital copy. We get the original theatrical trailer, and some B-Roll footage from behind the scenes – always fun to watch a man sized Godzilla stomp about a studio set.

Would it be better if we got Godzilla Historian commentary like we did on the Classic Media discs? Perhaps a franchise retrospective from the last 50 years? Of course – but honestly, this is way more stuff than I was expecting. Hell, Toho wouldn’t allow Media Blasters to put a front end menu screen on their release of Destroy All Monsters!

 THE LAST WORD -

When you get right down to it, a Godzilla movie doesn’t need to be realistic or exceptionally deep, it just needed to be entertaining. With wall-to-wall monster action, high flying kung fu, mutant armies, gun battles, aliens dressed like Devo, sword fights and flying battleships. To that end, Godzilla: Final Wars delivers the entertaining in spades. Is it the best Godzilla movie in the canon? Naw, but it’s still a hell of a sendoff!

I give it 4 out of 5 Devo-like Aliens

Oh no, there goes Tokyo (again)!

GODZILLA VERSUS DESTOROYAH

 Godzilla vs. Destoroyah poster
The Godzilla vs. Destoroyah movie poster

(4/5)

Pros: A pretty rock-em, sock-em fight! And a better presentation than the older DVD

Cons: Shameful, but not everyone loves Godzilla as much as they should.

Back in 1995, Toho Pictures decided that Godzilla versus Destroyah – the 22nd film of the series – would put the King of the Monsters to bed once and for all. Box office returns had been slumping for a while and Sony pictures was looking to start the franchise over in America. And so Toho took Godzilla out with a bang, tying events into the first Gojira film from 1954 and book ending the series. Was it a worthy end to the saga? Lets find out.

We open our movie with some hot Kaiju action as jumbo jet takes off almost directly into the mouth of Godzilla when he bursts up from the waters of Hong Kong. However something’s not right – he’s glowing red, with an orange atomic beam rather than his bluish-white one he normal has. Very odd. Anyway, after flattening some buildings, Godzilla stomps back into the ocean.

The Japanese Godzilla Experts notice this strange behavior too, and turn to the only logical Godzilla expert: a kid! In this case, the kid in question actually IS named Kenny – well, Kenichi Yamane, grandson of the original Dr. Yamane who saw Godzilla’s very first rampage back in 1954. Since then Ken has been studying Godzilla and formulated a theory.

When we last saw Godzilla in Godzilla versus Space Godzilla, he was swimming back to his native island. However, Godzilla’s timing was poor, since the island – sitting on a huge uranium deposit – blew up on his arrival. That massive atomic explosion supercharged Godzilla, sending him into overload. If Godzilla’s condition is not reversed – and soon – the monster will explode and take most of Japan with him.

As you can see, science has never been this series’ strong point.

Anyway, G-Force (the Japanese Anti-Godzilla Task Force) scrambles to intercept Godzilla with the new Super X-3, a flying attack vehicle upgraded from the Super X last seen in Godzilla 1985. The plan – use the Anti-nuclear Supercold Laser on the X-3, freeze Godzilla and prevent his meltdown.

Like I told you – science and Godzilla don’t mix.

Meanwhile Another one of Yamane’s descendents – Yukari Yamane (played by Yoko Ishino) is conducting a television interview with Doctor Ijuin (Tatsumi Takuro), who has invented “micro-oxygen,” a substance related to the oxygen destroyer that Dr Serizawa used in the original Gojira.

Meanwhile, we cut to a subway expansion construction site running right through the heart of Tokyo Bay where the original Godzilla died forty years previous. It would seem that there was a pre-Cambrian era microscopic organism that was exposed to the oxygen destroyer and mutated – and now it’s loose. Dubbed Destroyah (who comes up with these names, anyway?) the Japanese military struggle to contain the 10 foot tall creatures, with the usual results. And that’s BEFORE the swarm of Destroyahs merge into one really big Destroyah.

Attempting to solve two problems at once, the G-Force attempts to get Godzilla to fight Destroyah by luring Godzookie into the combat zone. Godzookie is mortally wounded, but pappa Godzilla shows up to deliver a first class beatdown on Destroyah. Created from the weapon that first defeated Godzilla, Destroyah packs quite the punch – but as Godzilla’s atomic reaction continues to run out of control (and soon into total meltdown), his power has been increased beyond anything previously seen.

Godzilla managed to obliterate Destroyah moments before going total China Syndrome. As the monster begins to liquefy from the heat, the Super X-3 bombards him with the freeze lasers and shells, successfully neutralizing the full effect and preventing Godzilla from destroying the earth. As the Godzilla vaporizes, the immense radiation revives Godzookie – now grown into a Godzilla proper, and the cycle begins for the next generation. The End and roll credits.

As you can see, it’s quite a blowout. I rebuke the reasoning behind Toho resting Godzilla as being worn out with no new ideas left to explore. Godzilla vs Destroyah was chocker block full of interesting and ideas – sadly none of them are really explored fully or used to their potential. Interesting characters fade into the background in the second act in favor of weaker ones. The moral dilemma of re-creating the Oxygen Destroyer is brought up before falling to the wayside. Several scenes look like they could be edited into Aliens without missing a beat.

However, I’ve always contended that Godzilla movies aren’t about plotting or moral dilemmas and introspection. They’re about men in rubber suits beating the stuffing out of each other while wracking up lots collateral damage along the way. Judging by that criteria, Godzilla versus Destroyah delivers the goods.

While it may not work on a logical level, it fires on all pistons on other fronts. Toho brings back Akira Ifukube one last time to score the final hurrah, and it’s great stuff. Toho took several nods to the Godzilla legacy, bringing back Sho Kuroki (Masashiro Takashima) from Godzilla vs Biollante as it’s the Super X-3 pilot or the cameo by Momoko Kouchi from Gojira as Emiko. Sadly no Raymond Burr anywhere to be found. While the plot is standard issue Kiaju fair, it’s respectful of what has come before. It’s refreshing to see a film studio actually care about their property, getting the details just right.

It’s just a damn shame that the next Godzilla flick was that shitty american version from Dean Devlin and Rolland Emmerich. . . .

THE GODZILLA SCORECARD -

AND THE WINNER IS:
Godzilla triumphs over his enemy, but dies – so that’s not a total victory. The SDF can only divert Godzilla, not destroy him, so that’s not a clean victory for them either. Still with Godzilla Junior standing tall, I’d put a check in the W box.

AND NOW YOU KNOW:
The morality of soulless, relentless science is addressed again, but the message is not nearly as effective as it was back in ’54.

THE END. . . . ?
With Godzookie picking up the torch to carry on the legacy, clearly this isn’t The End.

THE DVD -
The new Blu Ray from Sony Pictures is a solid all-around visual effort. The details are clean and clear, the colors are good throughout, the blacks are nice and deep and the flesh tones are realistic. All in all, a good looking disc. Even better ; the end credits, so long omitted on the previous American releases are intact and complete.

We also get the original Japanese soundtrack with a reasonably accurate translated subtitle track (unlike the Dubtitles that we got on the previous DVDs), and we get the Toho’s International track, a dub in English.

Quick side note – I find it interesting that the default audio settings for the blu-ray is Japanese with subs and not the English dub track. That’s a nice nod to the hard core fans of the series that prefer to watch the original language.

 THE EXTRAS -
Sadly unlike the Classic Media or Criterion discs that get loaded down with extras, the Sony offerings are pretty meager. We get teaser trailer 1, teaser trailer 2 and the original theatrical trailer – all in Japanese with English subtitles.

Mind you, with another entire movie in the package, a uncut film, new accurate subtitles, I’m willing to overlook the lack of extras. Of course I’d love more extras and commentary, but I’m pretty satisfied with what we got.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Godzilla vs Destroyah is a really good – if not outstanding – Godzilla film, which is a shame because a monster this big needs a HUGE blowout to wrap up his run on. Still, it’s got some good action, great effects and one hell of a fight.

I give it 4 ruined Tokyos out of five.

Hail to the King (of the monsters)

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla: King of the Monsters

(5/5)

Pros: Still powerful and moving, all these years later

Cons: Black and White films may not work for everyone, and the effects are primitive by today’s standards.

If you are anything like me, you probably grew up in front of your television sets wasting your Saturday afternoons after the wrap up of cartoons watching a show not to dissimilar to KSTW’s “Sci-Fi Theater”. Every Saturday afternoon like clockwork, KSTW would run “This Island Earth” or “Attack of the Wasp Woman” – and of course one of Sandy Frank’s poorly dubbed and heavily edited Godzilla movies would be featured occasionally in the rotation. For years, I was fed a diet of cheese and monsters and spacemen dressed like Devo, and loved every moment of it. Yes my friends, I am a Kaiju Eiga fan.

And I am proud to tell you that all your preconceived notions of a schlocky badly dubbed B-movie with grown men in baggy rubber suits smashing a model city or spacemen dressed like Devo in spandex jumpsuits is dead wrong – at least as far as the first Godzilla movie is concerned. Quite the reverse, in fact. Instead of cheese, Godzilla is a stark, frightening look at the repercussions of the destructive and indiscriminate power of atomic weapons – a subject then modern day Japan knew all too well – and a commentary on the fears of society.

In 1953, Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in talk with Indonesia co-producers for a movie. When the deal fell through – the bad blood between the two countries was too tumultuous for a deal to be struck – Toho suddenly was left with a gap in their release lineup. Tomoyuki hit upon an idea during the trip, home, gazing at the water and imagining what lurked below them. Drawing on the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and inspired by a Japanese tuna fishing trawler accidentally caught in an American nuclear bomb test at Bikini Atol, Godzilla began to take shape.

The plot of the movie, in case you’re one of the few on the planet not to know what’s going on and you clicked this link by accident, is thusly: Cargo ships off the coast of Japan are reporting a bright flash of light moments before vanishing from the seas. Fishermen from nearby islands believe that it’s a native sea god who has returned (another of the films non-atomic themes, the Old Way versus The New Way of Japan), but Doctor Yamane knows better – that a prehistoric creature has been awoken from it’s two million slumber (whoops! Someone slept through history missed by a factor of 10) by the atomic testing, and now seeks destruction! Unfortunately the good Doctor is proven right as Godzilla, King of the Monsters rises from the depths of the ocean and makes landfall in Tokyo bay, ravaging the city. Tanks cant stop him! Planes cant stop him! Only Doctor Serizawa and his terrible Oxygen Destroyer holds the key to saving the world. . . .

Inshiro Honda, second unit director to Akira Kurosawa, managed to take a novice special effects team, a monster suit that almost didn’t work, and a budget that wasn’t nearly as big as it should have been and made something special. Godzilla wasn’t just another monster, but a force of nature personified. He levels buildings, sets fires to cities (a disturbing sequence to the Japanese, I’m sure – having just lived through the Tokyo fire bombings not by a decade previous), and kills indiscriminately. Honda doesn’t pull punches with the aftermath of the deviation, bodies lined up in hospital hallways, the cries of the dying, the orphaned children weeping for their mothers – it’s bleak and horrific, and not at all the “Friend of Children Everywhere” Godzilla that he would become in the 1970s.

The humans are often an afterthought in these movies, regulated to one of two rolls: standing around asking “where is Godzilla?” when he is not on screen, and running in terror when he is on screen. The humans here get more character development than that, and are actually interesting enough to carry the story when Godzilla isn’t smashing things. Dr Serizawa has to wrestle with the burden of unleashing a weapon on the world far worse than any atomic bomb, while the love triangle usually tacked onto these type of movies actually adds depth to the problem. And thankfully, there isn’t a Kenny in sight.

The special effects have a Doctor Who-ish quality about them. Primitive by today’s standards, they are exceptional and imaginative considering the time and circumstances they were made. Godzilla himself (aside from the occasional hand puppet) looks lifelike and well done. The miniatures are detailed and actually have weight to them. Some of the composite shots – Godzilla appearing over a building while people move about in the windows, is really well done. Like I said, there are the occasionally dodgy effect – the wires clearly visible on the fighter planes attacking Godzilla spring to mind. But for the most part, these instances are few.

For release in America, director Terry Moore changed the title of the movie to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, shifted the focus of the movie to the almost completely unrelated character of reporter Steve Martin (no relation) played by Raymond Burr, and trimmed about 40 minutes from an 98 minute movie (inserting about half an hour of new American footage). Whole subplots were trimmed, simplified or outright dropped in favor of Godzilla’s rampage. The underlying anti-war message was toned way down or otherwise morphed into something more acceptable to American ears and eyes of the 1950’s.

Although the weaker of the two films, the American cut does improve one or two points. Serizawa’s final decision isn’t as telegraphed in the American version as it is in the Japanese, making it that much more potent. The writing is better in some places – such as the line used to confront Doctor Serizawa and convince him to use the Oxygen Destroyer: “Then you have a responsibility no man has ever faced. You have your fear which might become reality. And you have Godzilla, which *is* reality”.

But overall, the changes to the Japanese diminish the film, not enhance it.

The Americanized version of Godzilla has taken quite a bit of stick over the years, from purists and fans who were long denied the original version. While I do share their pain, I think that there is value to the American version too. For starters, as far as inserting scenes that don’t belong there into a foreign movie goes, Moore did a pretty good job with what he had to work with. Secondly, the importance of the American movie should not be downplayed – without this cut, Godzilla may not have become as big a hit as it did. Would it have carried on for the next 50 years as a cult classic if it hadn’t played on “Sci-Fi Theater” around the nation all those many years ago?

So no, purists may look down but both movies have their place in Godzilla history.

THE GODZILLA SCORECARD -

 AND THE WINNER IS: GODZILLA VICTORIOUS

While Godzilla is killed at the end, the total and utter destruction of Tokyo forces me to put a check mark in the WIN box for G.

 AND NOW YOU KNOW:

Atomic war is bad! Science without a soul will doom us all.

 THE KENNY FACTOR: 0%

Since this is a particularly dour and serious movie, thankfully an obnoxious little kid in tight short pants is nowhere to be seen.

 THE END. . . ?

While Doctor Yamane’s speech at the end, “If we continue to test Atomic weapons, we will surely create future Godzilla’s”, could be read as setting up future sequels, this was not Honda’s intent. The fact that he went on to star in 29 more movies was purely accidental.

 THE DVD -

Criterion release a very nice Blu Ray of Godzilla, in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio – and it looks light years better than the older Classic Media version. The detail and clarity looks great. The black levels look solid, there’s no print damage that I could spot, the brightness seems spot on and the contrast looks good. It’s worth upgrading from the Classic Media disc. The soundtrack is the original Japanese 1.0 mono track and sounds crisp and clean.

Still, keep the Classic Media disc for the extras. . .

THE EXTRAS -

First off, we get the American release of Godzilla, King of the Monsters as an extra. It’s awesome that they gave us the Raymond Burr version – comparing and contrasting the two cuts of the movie is an interesting exercise in localization needs. Plus, as I said above, I welcome the King of the Monsters version just as much as the Gojira version.

We also get an audio commentary from David Kalat, Godzilla fan and author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series. While I don’t think the commentary is quite as good as the one from the one from the Classic Media disc with Kiju Histroans Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewsky, it’s still a worthy listen. Additionaly, we get a series of short interviews with some of the cast and crew of the film – actor Akira Takarada, actor Haruo Nakajima (one of the men in the Godzilla suit), model builder Yoshio Irie and and Godzilla suit constructor Eizo Kaimai and an old interview with composer Akira Ifukube.

There’s a brief section from photographic Effects director Koichi Kawakita and SFX cameraman Motoyoshi Tomioka with some unused test footage and some composite images, a section discussing the creation of Godzilla and its relation to Japanese culture, a brief documentary about the Lucky Dragon No. 5, the real life fishing trawler that was caught in an atomic blast near Bikini Atoll and served as the inspiration for Godzilla. Rounding out the disc are the original theatrical trailers for both Gojira and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

 THE BOTTOM LINE -

Even if the new, big screen remake of Godzilla is a total stink-bomb, it’s a good time to be a Kaiju fan. Several older Godzilla films are being released on DVD, in addition to the already robust versions of the old Showa films, we’re getting flicks from the Heisei and Millennium series too. But it all wouldn’t have been possible if the very first movie was not so damn memorable, so good. This is intense, somber movie that has not lost any of its power in the years since it’s release.

I give it 5 Godzookies out of 5!