Monday Cinema Club: Godzilla King of the Monsters!

GodzillaKing

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…..)

Godzilla_TokyoBurning

Head scratching miniature: Duuude! Can we try to disguise the fact that this is a toy car with an action figure clued to it?

Godzilla_ToyCar

Really cool Godzilla: Godzilla looks freaking terrifying.

Godzilla_Terrorizing1

Head scratching Godzilla: Run!!! It’s a hand puppet of a weird looking lizard!

Godzilla_HandPuppet

Really cool Godzilla: This looks so bad-ass.  Godzilla looks almost realistic.

Godzilla_Terrorizing2

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?

Godzilla_PoundPuppies

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.

My Rating:

Three and a half doe eyed Godzillas out of five.

Godzilla_Rating

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?

Please, leave comments below, and if you haven’t, subscribe to this blog on the right.

Until next time, go out and have some fun and be sure to come back next week when we review The Neverending Story.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out some of the other topics on this blog, such as Bookworm Tuesday, Anything Can Happen Wednesday and Throwback Thursday.

About OxenTrot

During the day, I am a mild mannered desk jockey who helps to manage a large IT company.  At night, I am a family man, who is insanely in love with his wife and a proud daddy to an amazing girl.  But in the pre-dawn hours, as most everyone else is still asleep, I am my alter ego.  During that time, I am: OxenTrot. Ox was a call sign bestowed upon me while I was an active duty United States Marine, mainly in tribute to the fact that I was a major gym rat. After 5 years and three tours of duty, I reentered the civilian world.  My call sign was replaced by my actual name but the Ox still lived inside. As I began to adapt to my new life, I also began to take on new adventures, such as starting a family, getting a “big boy” job and taking on endurance sports.
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2 Responses to Monday Cinema Club: Godzilla King of the Monsters!

  1. G. B. Marian says:

    I love the original Godzilla; it’s one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. I’d like to point out that the original Japanese cut is much darker; if you ever have a chance to see it, you should. I think the thing that impresses me the most about it is that even though it was made in 1954, the scenes in the hospitals really do make me feel chills, and the ending still makes me cry like I did when I first saw it as a kid. It’s actually really hard to sit through, almost like watching real war footage. Unlike most giant monster movies that were made here in the States during the 1950s, they don’t just figure out a way to kill the monster and that’s it. The monster is treated as just another victim of WWII, and its death – as well as every other death in the film – is treated as a genuine tragedy with horrific consequences. That’s something we don’t see very much, even in today’s popular movies.

    I love the Americanized version of this film too; like you, I think Raymond Burr was perfect for the role. If you like him in this one, you might also enjoy Godzilla 1985 (which is otherwise known as “The Return of Godzilla” in Japan), because Burr shows up in that one too. The idea behind that one is that it’s basically a sequel to just the first movie; it ignores everything from the films that were made in-between. This rubs some people the wrong way, because many of the 1960s Godzilla films were great (or at least the ones directed by Ishiro Honda were, like Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster). On the other hand, those films tended to get brighter and more kid-friendly as they went on, to the point where Godzilla becomes the cheesy kid’s thing it was in the 1970s. But the thing I love about Godzilla 1985 is that it brings Godzilla back to his dark, apocalyptic and ultra-serious roots. (Plus you get new Americanized scenes with an elderly Raymond Burr talking about his experiences with the first Godzilla in 1954.) It’s hard to find on video, but if you can, check it out.

    Also, I wrote a pretty in-depth analysis of the original Godzilla here, in case you’d like to read it (though I might mention that my film reviews are very unusual and deal with some pretty arcane topics).

    Aside from all that, great review! Glad you enjoyed the film! 🙂

    Like

    • OxenTrot says:

      Thanks for comment. I was not going to bother with the original Japanese version of the film but know I really want to see it. I plan to watch the rest of Honda’s work at least and someday might go through all of the Godzilla movies, even the newer stuff.

      And thanks to the link for your post. I started reading it but have weekend chores to do. I will make sure to read it next week b/c it looks to have a lot of great info in it. I’ll drop a comment on the post when I’m done.
      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

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