Posts Tagged ‘Godzilla’

Movie Reviews 298 – Destroy All Monsters (1968)

May 6, 2017

I can’t believe I’ve almost reached 300 movie reviews and have yet to pen a review of even one Godzilla movie. I’ve seen all but two or three of the more than thirty movies starring the Big G, starting with his 1954 debut in Gojira (both the Hollywood ‘politically enhanced’ version where they inserted scenes with Raymond Burr and the much more somber Japanese original) continuing all the way to last year’s Shin Godzilla.

I’ve seen him battle King Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, a smog monster, his American cousin King Kong, giant crustaceans, the pterodactyl like Rodan, lepidoptera Mothra (as adult and in his larval stage), space monsters and even metallic robot replicas of himself. Many of those foes he’s fought, twice, thrice and even more!

I’ve seen him grow from a 50 meter tall gargantuan to a monstrosity over twice that height over the span of a few movies. He’s had a son to join him in his city stomping endeavors (quite a feat considering Godzilla being a male), and then bastardized by an American version that not only had him look like a T-Rex on steroids but even had the gall to have ‘him’ be a ‘her’ to spawn yet another brood. (Still trying to forget that one).

I’ve even seen him die a few times only to magically come back to life when the creators at Toho studios decided he was ripe for a new series of movies, and a presumably to also magically create an inflow of yen for the studio coffers  His on again, off again periodic spurts – academically cited as the Shōwa (1954–1975), Heisei (1984–1995), and Millennium series (1999–2004) before this latest incarnation- have distinct qualities that not only reflect the special effects technologies available at the time, but also reflect the contemporary audiences they were aimed at.

But as a kid growing up with a black and white TV with 4 channels to chose from (two of which were in French), the opportunities to catch a Godzilla movie were rare. As much as the lure of Godzilla tugged on my conscience, I was equally intrigued by the progression of supporting cast of Kaiju creatures he battled as his legacy grew, some of whom ended up starring in their own films. So when I learn about Destroy All Monsters while reading about it in The Monster Times –  a mid seventies newspaper format monthly that sated my horror fix for 60 cents a pop – it was a dream come true. The first real monster melee and with a bunch of those I had not had the chance to see yet. His son Minilla (sometimes called Minya), Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, Kumonga, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon, Manda, King Ghidorah, they were all here in one movie!

I had to wait until 1996 when the very first Fantasia film fest in Montreal included the film on it’s roster for me to finally see Destroy All Monsters in all it’s rubber suit glory for the first time.  Watching it again this week I have to confess that while living up to the hype of having the whole gang, plot wise it wasn’t quite the best.

As all these monsters had rampaged and been dealt with in previous movies, this one begins with all of them secured and living on an isolated island called “monsterland” which has controls and restraining mechanism geared for each of the behemoths. Suddenly they are all unleashed by aliens – the Kilaaks – and each monster appears over and begins tearing appart some major city in the world – France, Moscow, New York and finally Godzilla himself in Tokyo. It’s all part of a world domination plan by the Kilaaks. But in order to stop the monsters, Earth authorities first have to find where the Kilaaks are in order to destroy their controlling machine which by now also has some humans under control.

Riddled with forgettable dialogue, military officials and other world leaders seek guidance from a group of Japanese science specialists wearing Bruce Lee yellow jumpsuits. The white sequin wearing Kilaaks are finally found but in a last attempt to salvage their mission they unleash one final secret weapon. Predictably in the end the world is heroically saved at the last minute by the greatest monster of them all, Godzilla.

You can certainly do better if you’re going to watch only one or two Godzilla movies, but any real fan has to watch this one at least once in their lives.  “Skreeonk!”

Godzilla or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

May 4, 2011

Ah, Godzilla! These days, any mention of the King of the Monsters usually brings a smile and images of a rubber suited man stomping on miniature cardboard and plastic cities adorned with toy cars while being fired upon by a proportionately scaled toy army. The suited man wears the latest incarnation of the Godzilla look while there is sure to be another suited figure guised as one of Godzilla’s many foes lurking somewhere in the background. Thus is the legacy of the numerous Godzilla movies, twenty-eight and counting, since he first made his appearance on the big screen in 1954.

But one would be fooled if they believed that the cliche city stomping and giant monster fights are all that Godzilla represents. Indeed, it was the somber specter of nuclear war that first gave rise to Japan’s Toho studios famous creature. The original Japanese version, Gojira, was no laughing light fare. The opening sequence of that first movie in which Godzilla strikes a unsuspecting fishing vessel was a reference to the real life story of a fishing vessel, the Fukuryu Maru, caught in the fallout of a Hydrogen bomb test in the pacific by US forces. While it was well known in Japan, the event was largely unpublicized here. Even before the event, the Japanese, being the only population subjected to nuclear bombs mere years earlier, were highly sensitive to the consequences of nuclear powers. The original Godzilla represented a thinly veiled representation of those nuclear forces and the movie made quite an impact to Japanese audiences. The success of the movie was such that a US distributor acquired the rights for North America, and re-shot sequences of the movie with Raymond Burr and dubbing the Japanese segments. Not surprisingly, the controversial opening sequence with the fishing vessel were discarded and some of the more gory scenes of death and destruction were toned down.

But over the years the Godzilla mythos took a decidedly intellectually lighthearted path. The once terror inducing creature became a matinee idol around the world, catering to younger and younger audiences, degrading along the way into a mere caricature of his former glory. Instead of being the menace, he became a hero battling whatever next giant monster came along, usually to stomp on Tokyo. To be sure, there were some higher points along they way, such as defeating the Smog Monster (Hedorah) in the 70’s, a fitting socio-environmental menace at the time. But there were some dismal lows as well, like the battle against a glassy eyed King Kong, which was pretty silly even as I watched it as a kid. (Seriously, in order to net Kong, they get him drunk!).

In order to temper our relationship with Godzilla and not overexpose him, Toho has staggered his appearances in the movies, having him slumber into semi-retirement every few years until enough time has passed before resurrecting him for yet another series of movies. These definitive eras are the Showa series (1954–1975), the Heisei series (1984–1995), and finally the Millennium (or Shinsei) series (1999–2004) when he last graced the screen in “Godzilla: Final Wars”.

But these days, Japan finds itself in it’s darkest moment since those first nuclear strikes in World War II. The large earthquake and ensuing catastrophic tsunami in March of this year not only caused immense death and destruction of the north east coast, but plundered the country in a nuclear crisis.

As it so happens, all this coincided the same month that IDW premiered their new Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters comic. Written before the real life dramatic events, it was with great irony that I read the story in which officials had to decide whether or not to unleash those nuclear forces in an attempt to halt Godzilla. Deciding to take the risks the failed attempt results in Godzilla becoming even stronger.

I’m not going to condom or condemn nuclear power here. It is controversial to say the least, but some of the alternatives are debateably just as bleak. Suffice it to say, that once a again, Godzilla teaches us that a nuclear solution poses risks. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. While he may appear as a villain at the moment, he has come to the rescue of Japan before.

And god knows, Japan could use a bolstered Godzilla to save them now.