Friday, April 2, 2010

1956 - GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS, King Kong would probably disagree with that title


Somebody got the big idea to take the 1954 Toho monster movie Gojira and Americanize it. More on that later.


Godzilla was actually conceived as a kind of a rip off of Ray Harryhausen's Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In the Harryhausen film, the beast can't be killed because his blood contains bacteria that would cause widespread disease throughout the world. The producer Tomouki Tanaka took that basic story and made their monster a mutant with an atomic breath caused from H Bomb tests that can't be killed.

The special effects director of Toho,  Eiji Tsuburaya was also impressed with Harryhausen's stop motion animation technique but since this film was being made cheap and fast, the decision was made to stick a guy in a rubber suit and have him stomp around scaled miniatures of Tokyo. What isn't always pointed out is that certain shots are of a hand puppet of Godzilla which really doesn't look like the guy in the suit.


Supposedly Ishiro Honda was the best director of the Godzilla films but his pacing and camera setups seem pretty pedestrian to me. Honda was a Toho staff director if Honda made any career contributions as a filmmaker, it was probably as an associate director to Kurosawa on Ran, Kagemusha, and Dreams. Honda's job on those films was to keep the legendary and imperialistic Kurosawa under control for Toho studios.

 
Godzilla is just a very uneven film.  At times the special effects look pretty good with the monster stomping around the miniature city sets. At other times, well the miniatures look like children's toys. Many claims have been made that Godzilla is an allegory for the United States bombing of Japan with nuclear weapons. But I think the film is what it always was, a B grade monster movie made to entertain the kids.

Anyway, after purchasing the American rights to the original Godzilla, the new distributors went ahead and reshot parts of the movie with Raymond Burr. They hired an experienced film editor named Terry Morse who carefully matched the black and white Japanese film footage with his new American scenes.  Morse restructured the film by adding a narration to it and shortening it. This is the version that gained the most popularity internationally.  Even watching this film today, I'm still impressed with this rework job.

 
Godzilla is just not a good film. The film still suffers from poor pacing in the Japanese scenes and it has a very lame ending with a scientist who just happens to invent something that will kill the monster.  A chaste love triangle seems out of place and very contrived.   During all the destruction  none of the main characters is really ever in danger.  Godzilla is not good drama.

Still there is something fascinating about watching an unstoppable force destroy a modern city which is very enjoyable in a primal way.

 80 minutes.

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