by Tom Kapr
Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.
Directed by Ishirō Honda. Written by Honda & Takeo Murata; story by Shigeru Kayama.
HEY, WHERE’S RAYMOND BURR?
Just kidding. I had actually seen the 1956 Americanized version of this, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, on Turner Classic Movies a couple summers ago, which is basically a heavily edited (i.e., destroyed) version, with terrible voice-over narration added (just to make it extra-irritating) and interspersed with shots of Raymond Burr looking mildly concerned. (It is not good.)
I have also seen many bits and pieces of many of the Godzilla films over the years, but couldn’t possibly tell you which ones I’d seen. So I am happy to have finally seen Ishirō Honda’s original 1954 classic, Gojira, the movie that opens with the most iconic roar of all time.
I have always admired this film greatly, in an indirect way. It is one of the all-time great monster movies. It is one of the few films in history to claim the distinction of creating its own genre–the kaiju film. It is, beyond monster movies, simply one of the most influential and enduring films ever to be made. The question is, though, do I merely admire it, or do I actually personally like it?
I’m a huge fan of one of the films that inspired Gojira, the 1953 monster flick The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, as well as one of Gojira‘s most outrageous and bizarre progeny, Godzilla: Final Wars (both of which I personally made sure got covered on our podcast). I also greatly enjoyed the latest American incarnation of Godzilla (which we also covered, in one of our most entertaining podcasts ever, affectionately titled Godzilla vs. The Salami Bear.) (We’ve also done episodes on Pacific Rim and Godzilla 2014 director Gareth Edwards’ earlier film Monsters.)
Thing is, though, Gojira is quite bleak, and I have a hard time loving bleak. I actually find this film more horrifying than fun. But then I don’t think it was intended to be fun, beyond the spectacle of a giant monster running amok through land and sea. No director in his right mind includes, in the middle of the mass destruction, a scene of a doomed mother cradling her doomed children in the street, buildings crashing around them, telling them they are about to go be with daddy, and thinks his movie is supposed to be fun. Gojira may have spawned a series of mostly fun movies about monsters fighting monsters, and Godzilla himself may have evolved into a more benevolent symbol over the decades, but here in the beginning of it all, Godzilla is definitely the villain, though little more than a rampaging dinosaur. And it’s all a rather somber exploration of the horrors of the atomic bomb.
I suppose my feelings on the film lean more toward admiration than personal love. But now that I’ve seen it, in its uncut glory, I admire the hell out of it. It is absolutely one of the greatest monster movies ever made, and a brilliant sci-fi/horror film. I care about all four of the main (human) characters, which I was a bit surprised by. And the special effects are still (mostly) great. (Though it is difficult, for my money, to beat the previous year’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Ray Harryhausen is a tough act to follow.)
All said? This is a great film.
Final grades (for perspective, I’m including the 1956 version):
Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: D (It gets by on Godzilla being Godzilla. And I suppose it did at least introduce Godzilla to American audiences.)
My Flickchart rankings:
Gojira: #347/3251 (a relative 89/100)
Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: #2476