So, I recently discovered that I am a fan of Godzilla, and all the other monsters associated with it, but I never really put in the time to watch the films in any capacity. I did see a Mothra movie a few years ago, probably the first one? There were two tiny fairy twins, which guided it, or something? It was weird. I also saw the Roland Emmerich movie (bad), and the new, Gareth Edwards one (better, but...). Oh, and also, Kong: Skull Island which I thought was great. And that was my experience with the franchise.
But now, with the release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters coming out in 2019 (super excited for that, btw), I decided to sit down and watch the movies, all of them, every single one, in order, starting with the 1954, Ishirō Honda-directed film, Godzilla. It should be interesting. Before we start, however, here's what I know so far.
(Spoiler Alert: I'm gonna talk about general things I may have heard about the entire series. Read at your own risk.)
I know that there are a lot of movies in the franchise, and that it gets a little silly later on in life. I'm excited to see this for myself. I'm used to quality-fluctuating peaks and valleys in a film series, having seen all of the Halloween movies (going from H20 to Resurrection... woof). Anyway, I wanted to wait a little bit longer to say (because of the spoilers), I also know Godzilla dies, I believe a few times. I'm not sure how, or what brings him back, but that'll be interesting to see. I also, ALSO, know that the series reboots itself a few times (again, like Halloween). But for the purposes of this series, I am going to cover all of the movies, and treat them like they are all part of one big franchise, which they are.
So join me, will you, as we travel back to the wonderful year, of 1954. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, Hirohito was Emperor Shōwa of Japan, and, Fun Fact, Earth Angel came out that year, so put that on for some mood music.
The movie starts with the first instance of allegory toward the atomic bomb, the metaphor that is Godzilla. A boat at sea is destroyed in an extremely bright flash of light. More and more ships are destroyed, and hopefully they stop sending boats out to investigate.
We meet our first two main characters, Emiko Yamane and Ogata, who is a Coast Guardsman? Some military dude. They like each other. Ogata is called in to help with the destroyed ships business. A survivor of one of the attacks washes up on shore, and does that annoying thing where he says that something happened, but doesn't say what. He merely utters "It got us..."
On the docks of Odo Island, some fishermen are lamenting their lack of fish, and some old man says that it must be due to "Godzilla". Kind of an anti-climatic origin of the name of the King of the Monsters, but I guess it's an ancient legend that this guy and many others know about, so it makes sense. Especially given what we learn later about G's history, it checks out that people would have rumors about the beast. I was expecting a little more, though, whatever.
There is a brief scene that depicts a ritualistic dance that the villagers would perform to keep Godzilla at bay, which the old man says used to include sacrificing a young girl to the sea. He fears that one day, G will eat all of the fish in the sea, and then come ashore to eat people.
Later, Godzilla makes shore, though we don't see him. (For the purposes of using pronouns, I am going to use "he" to refer to Godzilla. Debate this in the comments if you wish.) He destroys his first city! It's very exciting. I mean, not for the people living there, but... Historically, it's important, and I'm glad I could be here for it!
There are some official statements given by the survivors, as well as another main character, Professor Kyohei Yamane, Emiko's father. He's a paleontologist who alludes to some mysterious footprints belonging, presumably, to a "snowman" found in the Himalayas, hinting to, perhaps, a greater connected universe? Probably not. But interesting nonetheless. He proposes an "emergency research team" be assembled to study Godzilla, which could be the first hints of what becomes Monarch later on? Very interesting.
He, Emiko, and Ogata, plus some others go to Odo Island. We also meet the eye-patch AND sunglasses wearing Dr. Serizawa. You know this dude's a bad-ass straight away.
By the way, if the name Serizawa means anything to you, Ken Watanabe plays this character in the 2014 movie. Anyway, the research team finds a bunch of radioactivity around Odo Island, including in a giant footprint created by Godzilla. This brings us to another connection to the atomic bomb. They also find an old sea creature that was previously thought to be extinct, lending evidence to the theory of Godzilla's origin: He is an ancient, dinosaur-like creature that has been around since forever, but was hiding out in an underground cavern, sealed off by time. But recent H-bomb testing in the region opened the cave, cause G's resurgence into the world, and surgence into our hearts!
This was an interesting thing to learn. I always thought Godzilla was a nuclear mutation, caused by the atomic bombs. This may be something they change later, or is purely an invention of the Roland Emmerich movie, in which case, I heartily apologize. It's also possible I completely missed something.
While the party investigates, they discover that the radiation is coming from INSIDE THE ISLAND! And by that I mean G is still there! Or he returns, I'm not sure. We get our first look at the iconic monster at this point, and it's not... the worst? I don't love it. I mean, it's hard to judge these things by today's standards, but it's pretty obvious that it's a dude in a costume. Also it's all rubbery and bends in weird areas. Also, he's just got a little, round-y head and muzzle shape, that makes him look cuter than I think he should. But whatever, it's iconic and immediately recognizable, so they obviously did something right. Also, the effects of making him look big are really good! There were some shots that made me really question how they were pulled off without CGI. So that's cool.
Anyway, Godzilla peaces out, not really doing too much damage here. The research team heads back to Tokyo to report on their findings, where all that stuff about G's origin is put forth. We get an official/unofficial height attribute to the big guy. 50 meters. That's pretty cool. That's slightly shorter than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Neat!
The movie shifts into a weird love drama between Emiko, Ogata, whom she loves, and Dr. Serizawa, whom she is supposed to marry, but doesn't love. She goes to Serizawa's lab, and he shows her something he is working on, but we don't see what it is. Godzilla shows up again a little later, because of how boring the movie decided to get. He then goes back to the ocean, giving the humans time to prepare.
They build a giant electrical fence, but when G attacks again (this dude is super restless, doesn't he ever just take a nap?) he is able to destroy the fence by unveiling a NEW POWER! ATOMIC BREATH, BABY! HELL YEAH! It's really cool, and also, his spinal fins light up when he uses it, which I saw in the 2014 movie, but I guess I always assumed was a later invention. It's friggin sweet. He straight up melts a bunch of dudes, and it leads into my favorite shot of the movie. G standing in front of a radio tower while a bunch of people look at him on it.
I also remember reading somewhere that, in line with the atomic bomb analogy, G's head in certain shots, like this one, was meant to resemble a mushroom cloud, so that's pretty sweet.
Again, Godzilla heads back into the ocean, and at this point, his motivation is highly questionable. More on that later. Everyone seems to be resigned to the fact that G is unstoppable, but then Emiko decides to reveal what she saw at Serizawa's lab, that she promised to keep secret for some reason. It's a device creatively called an "Oxygen Destroyer", which eliminates all of the oxygen in an unreasonable large range of water. In a flashback, Emiko is EXTREMELY shocked to see it used on some fish in a tank, and Serizawa asks her to keep it a secret, lest it be used as a weapon. Even a one time use would alert the world of its existence, and cause everyone to want in on that action.
Emiko tells this to Ogata, and they ask the good doctor to use the device to kill our boy Godzilla. He is reluctant, but eventually decides it's better to do this, than to have the world be destroyed by a dinosaur. He uses the device, but, of course, it has to be set off manually or something like that, so he himself chooses to go underwater to detonate it. Once down there, he finds Godzilla and shows him the tank, by that I mean he sets off the Oxygen Destroyer. He also cuts his own oxygen line, preventing himself from breathing/being saved. Both Dr. Serizawa and Godzilla die underwater.
Also, Yamane gives a line (more to the audience than anyone) that they are under threat of another Godzilla arising if more nuclear testing takes place. I wasn't aware sequel-baiting was a thing in 1954.
So, I liked it! It was fun, and compelling. I liked seeing the origins of a lot of this stuff. Godzilla was cool, and super destructive for his first time out. A lot of stuff just kind of happened, without much set up. For example, the name. I was expecting some kind of decision, or like, a drum-roll. "We call him... Godzilla." or something like that, like in the 2014 movie. His atomic breath, also he just did with no build up, or reveal. It was just a matter of fact thing.
I liked seeing the world impacted by Godzilla. I can't tell if it's because of the time/region that the movie was made, or if this was intentional, but this movie was more about a society reacting to something, rather than one person, or a group like most movies. This is, of course, another one of those World War II allegories. The world of Japan reacting to the horror of the atomic bombs are mirrored by the people of Tokyo reacting to the multiple attacks of Godzilla.
It strikes me that this movie was released only 9 years after Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Not to equate or compare the two, but if the U.S.A. were to make a movie that was an allegory of the 9/11 attacks, it would come out in 2010. For the record, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Black Swan, and Tangled all came out that year. It's a bizarre thing to think about.
But now to move on to the non-Godzilla elements of the movie.
As is usually the case in these films, the human element is its weakest part. None of the characters were dynamic or interesting enough to support it. Again, this may be a product of its time; the movie is 64 years old as of 2018. The most interesting character is probably Dr. Serizawa, but not by much. He also doesn't do anything for a while. Emiko seems to be the most involved character, and has a surprising amount of agency for a movie that came out, again, 64 years ago. But she didn't seem to have much in the way of personality. Ogata seemed to be what the movie wanted us to think as the "Main Character", but I think I could name exaclty one thing he did in the movie: Offering to go with/instead of Serizawa to detonate the Oxygen Destroyer, which he then proceeded to not do. Yamane threatened to be interesting. The way he was introduced, he stood before the committe with his tie not tucked into his vest, which he then corrected. He seemed flustered and ill-prepared for the challenge at hand, but he, too, proceeded to do very little, or offer anything significant to the movie, with the exeption of some colorful commentary toward the end. So it was on Emiko and Serizawa to carry the movie, something I don't think they did very well.
I did like the debates on what to do about Godzilla. Some people, like Serizawa and Yamane, thought he should be studied, particularly when it came to his ability to harness radiation and nuclear energy, while others, like Ogata, thought it best if he was destroyed. I always like a phylisophical debate that puts characters at odds with each other, so that was fun to see.
The whole bit with the Oxygen Destroyer was frustrating. They did that fake out thing, where we don't see what they are reacting to, and then I kind of forgot about it. I'm not sure why they didn't just show us the thing right then, other than, maybe they didn't want us to ask why they aren't using it earlier. But you just ask that later anyway. Or, simply not mention it until later, and then use it? It was confusing. Plus, the whole thing felt like some of the early episodes of Doctor Who. They have a problem. Some scientist comes up with a boringly-named machine that will solve it. Proceed to talk about how to use it, then someone sacrifices themselves to keep the secret safe/detonate the thing. It works. Having seen this time and time again, it was frustrating. Though, to be fair, this movie did come out 9 years before Doctor Who did, so whatever.
I was, of course, surprised that Godzilla died in this movie! What kind of franchise kills off the title character in the first move? Well, most of them actually. I'll be interested to see what they do next, in a movie called "Godzilla Raids Again". Forgive me for assuming Godzilla comes back somehow. I'm unsure if it is a different one or not, I certainly hope it is the same one. Maybe they'll do a, "It was a fake Godzilla that they killed" thing. Who knows. I'm also curious when Godzilla starts to become a good guy. That seems to be his place in media right now, and I think I heard that that happens at some point in the series. Probably around when King Ghidorah and Rodan show up. We'll see.
So that's Godzilla (1954). I enjoyed a lot of it, but there was still a bit to be desired. Next up is Godzilla Raids Again, which hopefully lives up to its name. Join me next week when we cover that movie, right here, on MisterRed Productions.