Movie: Godzilla King of the Monsters! (1956) watched on Amazon Prime.
Synopsis: A 400-foot dinosaur-like monster rises from the sea off the coast of Japan and attacks Tokyo. That’s it, that’s all you really need to know.
Review: This is what I knew about Godzilla before I watched the movie: bad voice dubbing, a lot of people running around yelling “Godzilla!” and whatever I remembered from the old animated series. Other than that, not much else. When I was younger I was aware of the “monster movie” genre: Godzilla, Wolfman, Frankenstein (or more accurately, Frankenstein’s Monster), Dracula and the Mummy. But, I think I was a little too young to enjoy them. Besides, I had Jaws and Darth Vader to haunt my dreams, I didn’t need to add to the cast (yes, I was a little scaredy cat back then.) So when I finally decided to set out on my adventure to find my way back to Geekdom there was no doubt that these monsters were going to be part of my education. Due to its dedicated fan base that never seems to shrink, I was determined to find out what I missed. What I discovered was two things: 1) I don’t get it yet and 2) I think I can get there with a little help. As you read on please remember that I am merely a traveler on the road to Geekdom who desires guidance, gentle correction or even confirmation when appropriate.
The Story: One key note before we start is that this is an Americanized version of Gojira, which is the original Japanese movie released two years prior in 1954. From my understanding, the movie was bought for American distribution and was edited and new scenes where added so it would play for American audiences.
What I really liked: I loved how the film starts after the destruction of Tokyo and begins with an earnest tone. It tells you right off the bat that you are going to be taken on a ride and it’s going to be a rough one, no matter how much you hope that it all ends well. The hospital scene at the beginning really adds to the bleakness of it all. With the narrative description of the destruction and then going through the hospital and hearing the scream of “Momma,” I realized fairly quickly, “This ain’t just a rubber monster movie.” I noted that the anxiety and sense of desperation really translates well throughout the film. Take out the monster and you still have a really engaging story which focuses on the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. However, this is where I get confused a little bit because initially I was not sure what the message was and who it was directed towards.
What I’m still scratching my head about: This is what confuses me about the story. Japan is facing an unstoppable threat to their country. They have tried to stop it with everything they have, to include electrocution and their entire military. Nothing works. So they resort to one final effort. They consult a scientist who has created an “Oxygen Bomb” which, in water, can be used to eradicate all marine life in the vicinity when it is detonated. The scientist is extremely reluctant to use it and only after stern persuasion, and a fist fight, concedes to the use of the Oxygen Bomb ONLY if it is never used again. At first I thought “Ummmm….is this story just an analogy for WWII and Japan itself? Is the story here that Japan is owning up to the fact that America had no other choice but to use the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or is this just a movie with a man in a rubber monster costume and I am reading too much into it?” I did some research and learned more about how this movie differed from the Japanese version. In Gojira, it is said that the monster was made due to testing of the Atomic Bomb where the American version changed it to the testing of H Bombs.
I know there is some political sentiment wrapped up in this movie somewhere, but I am not fully seeing it yet. The original movie is only 8 years removed from the bombings. A year before this movie was released in Japan there was a lot of discussion about relief and recovery for those affected.
Seven years after the bombings, independent citizens’ movements arose to form A-bomb Casualty Councils in Hiroshima in early 1953 and in Nagasaki about the same time. Funds were raised to provide free care for distressed patients and subsidies for others. The councils were chaired by the mayors of the two cities, and fund-raising campaigns were assisted by Japan’s Central Community Chest and by Japan National Broadcasting corporation (NHK). A ten-day nationwide campaign in August 1953 raised over five million yen for A-bomb patient care. (http://www.atomicbombmuseum.org/4_ruins.shtml)
I fear that we are getting a muddled story in this Americanized version of the film. In a culture that is still painfully aware of the devastation of the Atomic Bomb, I have to guess this had nothing to do with an admission of fault but rather a warning of the dangerous of such power. Is Godzilla the A Bomb then? Is the Oxygen Bomb just a way to end the movie and doesn’t hold any alternative meaning? Am I completely off base and should just go take a nap?
The Acting: As I mentioned before, this version has added scenes which include an American character, Raymond Burr, who plays Steve Martin, a news reporter visiting Japan. There are also some additional characters who play Japanese locals that interact with the reporter, speak English and help to translate for him.
The good: Raymond Burr, Raymond Burr, Raymond Burr. Raymond Burr had me hooked from the start. I never watched any of Burr’s work, not even Perry Mason, but I could tell, even just from the voice over he provides as the movie opens, that this was someone who was a master at his craft. While capturing images for this post, I was reviewing the movie without the sound and trying to find a particular scene. Even with the sound off, Raymond Burr was able to emote a sense of worry and unease with just the way he rubbed his hands together. Additionally, I liked how they added characters who acted as translators when needed. It added a nice touch and reduced the amount they needed to dub over the original footage. I have to admit that for the first 15 minutes of the film I was like, “Man this voice dubbing is actually quite good. I mean, they must have timed everything out because it looks like the actors are actually speaking English.” Then, with some research, I realized they actually were speaking English…duh.
What I’m scratching my head about: Not much really. The combination of new “Americanized” scenes and the original Japanese movie is mostly seamless. You do get some of the funny voice dubbing during the Japanese scenes, but they are pretty few and far in-between. It doesn’t feel like you are watching two different movies mashed up in one. Besides the occasional dubbing, there are points in the film when Steve Martin interacts with characters from the original film. This was done with a body double, standing in for the Japanese character, with his or her back to the camera as they “talk” with Mr. Martin. There is one scene in particular when Steve Martin is speaking with Dr. Yamane. In the scene, “Dr. Yamane,” with his back to the camera, is explaining something to Steve Martin. You hear his voice yet, the “Dr. Yamane” in the scene is standing completely still. No motion at all to indicate he was actually speaking. I found it a little silly which sort of added to the charm of the film.
This is the only downside for me. I mean, Raymond Burr knocks it out of the park, but that just really demonstrates the gap of abilities in the movie. I noted “Combo of amazing acting and….less than steller work.” But it works and none of it really takes me out of the story.
The Special Effects: This is a really difficult one to slice up because so much of what was good also had head scratching moments as well. The miniatures were amazing at some points and cheesy looking at others. The same with Godzilla himself at some points he looks ferocious and really cool. At other times, he looks like a hand puppet. For example:
Really cool miniature: Duuude! Tokyo is freaking burning. This looks badass. (Not the fact that Tokyo is burning, that’s not what I think is badass. Just that the image itself looks badass….regardless if it is Tokyo or somewhere esle…..)
Head scratching miniature: Duuude! Can we try to disguise the fact that this is a toy car with an action figure clued to it?
Really cool Godzilla: Godzilla looks freaking terrifying.
Head scratching Godzilla: Run!!! It’s a hand puppet of a weird looking lizard!
Really cool Godzilla: This looks so bad-ass. Godzilla looks almost realistic.
Head scratching Godzilla: What’s up with the freaking Pound Puppy eyes? Wait, does Godzilla have a lazy eye? Is that why he is so destructive because he is actually just visually impaired?
Throughout the film there were many hits and misses. Some images I want to frame on my wall and the others just reminded me that what I was watching was pretty much a “scary” version of the Muppets.
Three and a half doe eyed Godzillas out of five.
The one thing that gnaws at me about this movie is that I feel that it might not be the definitive Godzilla movie. In my gut, I feel it gets better with later flicks. If this was the only movie out there for the genre, I would not buy into it, but there has to be more. Maybe this is the same as the Ed Norton Hulk movie for the Marvel franchise. I love the Marvel Universe and only watch the Hulk because it is part of the continuity and I feel it is my duty to view it at least once in my life.
What do you think? What am I missing, what do you agree with, what should I look at again? Am I being too harsh or should I have started with a later film?
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Until next time, go out and have some fun and be sure to come back next week when we review The Neverending Story.