Friday, February 5, 2016

Late Godzilla Era (1984-1995)

This review series is a continuation of the remembrance of my late friend Zach. I've argued previously that it makes little sense to divide the Godzilla films by the Emperor in power at the time of production. Instead, I have divided them into Early Era (1945-1955), Middle Era (1962-1975), Late Era (1984-1995), and Millennium Era (1999-2004). These divisions align more with aesthetic, thematic, and production characteristics of the films within each group.

This Late Era is characterized by re-boots and re-shuffles of the existing mythos and previous films. Some are closely connected to one another, but all seemingly include disparate elements from other sci-fi films. In my opinion, this era is the toughest to watch as a whole.



#16 Godzilla 1985 (1984) **1/2

Ignoring all previous films in the series with the exception of the original Godzilla (1954), this first in the Late Godzilla Era is basically a re-boot. Where Godzilla had been transformed into protector of the world, and of Japan in particular, during the Middle Godzilla Era, this film returns him to his antagonistic roots. The King of all Monsters is again a force of nature, of destruction, and a symbol of nuclear power.

When a ship's crew is killed except for a single person, rumors of a new Godzilla circulate around Japan. Then, already tenuous relations between America and Russia escalate when a Russian submarine is destroyed (echoing the Cold War tensions of the day), but Japan steps in to save the day by admitting that Godzilla destroyed the sub and stopping both Superpowers from using nuclear weapons on the Giant Monster. This Godzilla seeks out nuclear power (which is why it destroyed the submarine), and ends up at a nuclear power plant. Thankfully, Japanese scientists have developed a special craft, the Super X, that will help defend against his attacks.

Super X - pretty much just a flying tank.

With a darker, meaner Godzilla (both in character and in creature design) and a return to his nuclear connections, this film is a stark contrast to many years' worth of films in the series.



There's a little bit of silliness as Godzilla is apparently led around by the sounds of flocks of birds, but the film attempts to take itself and the idea of a Giant Monster very straight-faced.


Well, mostly straight-faced.

More interesting than the film's slow-moving plot is the fact that there are two versions, just like there were of the original 1954 film. The American versions of both films have edited in Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin. This film has Burr called upon by the US government as an expert on the creature, despite the fact that the Americans are not involved at all in dealing with Godzilla.


While I've stated (at length) that the 1954 film's inclusion of an American main character was designed to change the movie's rhetoric, this time it's different. Ultimately, this appears to be more of a move made to create a film that is more palatable to American audiences by including "one of their own." It also appears to be a way to draw a direct line for the viewer from Godzilla: King of the Monsters (the American version of the 1954 film) to this one. Regardless, it amounts to a smattering of scenes where Burr stands in a room with a bunch of military types watching Godzilla rampage on a television screen.



At the time of this writing, this is the only Godzilla film (of a total of 27) that has not been released on DVD or Blu-Ray. By some accounts, the rights to the American version are in question, possibly with Toho (the owners of the Godzilla copyright) waiting for a licensing agreement to expire.

Pictured: Lawyer running from Toho.

For the casual Godzilla fan, this is no great loss. Godzilla 1985 (or Godzilla Reborn, as it is sometimes called) is not a great film, and cannot be described even as a decent Godzilla film. The human story is not nearly as compelling as the 1954 original that it hopes to emulate (with a scientist hoping to find a way to rid Japan of Godzilla and a bit of political drama between the US and Russia with Japan in the middle). And the Giant Monster action, coming after so many films where Godzilla has some other Giant Monster to battle, is relegated to the King of Monsters stomping on a few parked cars, destroying buildings, and picking up a commuter train as the Super X does its best to drive him away. This film simply doesn't have the emotional resonance or the historical weight of 1954's Godzilla to carry it.


#17 Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) ***

Picking up immediately after the events of Gozilla 1985, a few of Godzilla's cells have been recovered following his battle with Space X. Unfortunately, the daughter of the scientist studying those cells is killed, and five years later he wants to know if a girl with ESP can communicate with his roses. Yes, you read that right. Turns out, the scientist has been splicing his daughter's DNA (and eventually G-cells) into his roses, giving them sentience and the ability to grow into a Giant Monster.



Yet again, we have a Godzilla that is a feared force of nature, a destructive monster who feeds on nuclear energy. And scientists are once again pursuing science because they can, without asking if they should. That question of scientific morality connects this film to Godzilla 1954. But this time, as in Godzilla 1985, the world is not caught off-guard when Godzilla appears. Even children know the fearsome King of all Monsters.



This film uses Extra Sensory Perception peripherally, which seems a little wonky, especially when it's utilized in the film to show that a classroom full of children can predict the coming of Godzilla (shown above) and to have a girl attempt to talk to flowers. More important to the overall plot of the film is a new, unmanned Space X, the Space X-2.



Basically, if you've ever wanted to see Godzilla fight a giant plant monster, this is your movie.



For the rest of us, it's not the worst in this Late Godzilla Era (that's coming up soon). Gozilla looks mean and does plenty of damage to buildings and giant plant-life alike. The special effects here have solidly moved away from campyness and into a more realistic realm.



While it takes a long while to get going, this is a solid entry in this Era of films. Yes, Biollante is a flower come to life, but it puts up a good fight and has a few different forms, a la Hedorah. The Giant Monsters fight each other and humanity. That three-way battle, with a little scientific morality tossed into the mix, make for a fairly entertaining movie.


#18 Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) ****1/2

In this movie (the Late Era's best imitation of a Middle Era film), a Japanese soldier is saved by a dinosaur during WWII. Then, people from the future have come back in time (with an android!) to change the past so that Godzilla is never created from that WWII dinosaur by nuclear experimentation. Instead, King Ghidorah replaces Godzilla in the present...or, well, doesn't replace at all, actually. Turns out, Godzilla is inevitable, so he appears to battle King Ghidorah.

With some kooky aliens (who turn out be people from the future), time travel (obviously), an android (not exactly like a Terminator, but kinda), and general plot insanity, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is about as campy as a Godzilla film can get. In comparison to the previous two films, this is a tonal shift so hard that you could get whiplash if you're not ready for it.

This is absolutely not stolen from anywhere.

Dorats...because we need something that will become King Ghidorah

Androids pass on the left (in a country that drives on the right).

This movie must have the highest number of plot holes of any movie that's ever even thought to include the time travel trope. The biggest one, which practically smacks you in the face, is that an author of a Godzilla book goes back in time to change the fact that Godzilla exists. Not only does he come back to a present time where everyone still knows what a Godzilla is, but he's also still about to publish said book.

"I'll publish this book, even if time itself rejects it!"

If you're looking for a fun movie to not take seriously at all, sit around with your friends and watch this one. It's goofy, campy, and really cannot be watched with a straight face. It doesn't have deep ruminations on the morals of scientific exploration. It doesn't inhabit deeply symbolic meaning. And, even though it does make direct reference to Godzilla vs. Biollante, it's not terribly connected to the films that came immediately before it. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah's connections to the Middle Era Godzilla films are more concrete, as it seems to want to emulate the feel of those movies. With "aliens" and, eventually, a Mecha-King Ghidorah, this film throws almost everything imaginable at the wall to see what sticks. In my mind, there's nothing wrong with that...and this film mostly succeeds in its campy imitation of a bygone Godzilla era.

Side note: so far, this era of films really loves the Mazer.



#19 Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992) ***
It's worth noting that Godzilla gets top billing here, unlike Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). This movie runs for almost twenty minutes with a plagiarized Indiana Jones vibe (barely escaping some kind of a tomb with a golden idol and even a falling rope bridge). Finally, a giant egg is discovered. Since the group discovering the egg doesn't recognize it, we can safely assume this film isn't connected to any previous appearance of Mothra.

Above: Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
Below: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

The plot revolves around two different insects fighting one another, the evil one of which is the mirror-mirror version of Mothra (called Battra). But then, they both team-up on Godzilla. Just because..I guess.

"Surprise!!"

Watching Godzilla fight one moth isn't very compelling. Watching him fight two (even when one is "evil") doesn't improve things terribly much.



With the miniature twins (here called "the Cosmos"), this movie makes further connections to the Middle Era Godzilla films. It's almost like this era of Godzilla films is in the midst of an identity crisis, possibly too enamored with its history and too afraid to shake things up.

Above: Mothra being tugged along (1992)
Below: Kong being tugged along (1962)

Despite its clear call-backs to the Middle Era films, this one isn't nearly as campy and fun as Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. The Godzilla here is, yet again, a destructive force that needs to be defeated, but the Moths-on-Godzilla battles just aren't very compelling. Add a human story that isn't interesting or engaging, and you've got a lackluster Godzilla film.



#20 Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993) ***1/2

Tying this film to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, scientists retrieve the mechanical head from the defeated Mecha-King Ghidorah in order to build two separate weapons: the Garuda (a ship in the style of Super-X/Super-X2...despite neither of those getting a mention here) and Mecha-Godzilla.



Don't be confused by the title, this movie has no connections to the Middle Era Mecha-Godzilla. Instead of an alien creation, this one is created by the Japanese specifically to defend against Godzilla. Meanwhile, a radiation-emitting pteranodon egg is discovered and Rodan returns to protect it from the scientists attempting to study it. Turns out, that egg is sending a signal to Godzilla because it's a...wait for it....Baby Godzilla!!



As we have now moved as far away from Godzilla 1985's self-serious tone as possible, the filmmakers have decided to toss every bit of ridiculousness into the movie. Let this be a lesson to anyone making a future Godzilla movie...you NEVER go full-on Baby Godzilla.

Just look at it.

It's really a shame too. Subtracting the Baby Godzilla business, this film has some great Giant Monster action. The battles between Godzilla and Rodan are enjoyable (despite Rodan, and Godzilla's battles with winged-creatures generally, being lame usually). And watching Godzilla fight against a Mechanized version of himself never ceases to be fun.



This Mecha-Godzilla has a great design and puts of a good fight against Godzilla, but also proves that Godzilla is far too formidable without some extra help (in the form of joining with Garuda in Super Sentai style).



Building from previous films in this era, this movie incorporates ESP. Specifically, the psychic who has appeared (and will continue to appear) in every Godzilla film in this era (except Godzilla 1985), communicates with Godzilla and Baby Godzilla both. Eventually, she convinces them to be a family and go away.

Please just step on it...
Sure, Baby Godzilla is really only used as a MacGuffin in this movie, but it still taints the finished film. Ignoring this silly inclusion, we're left with a Godzilla movie that's mostly focused on action with a human story focused on a fighter pilot and (what amounts to) a zoo-keeper. These human characters are interesting enough to be engaging, and the Giant Monster action helps make this one of the better Late Era Godzilla films. You'll wince when Baby Godzilla is on-screen, but watching Godzilla fight against MechaGodzilla balances that out pretty well.


#21 Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) **1/2

A secret project is underway to allow for psychic control of Godzilla. Meanwhile, an unidentified object is approaching Earth. Project Mogera (a giant robot you might recognize from somewhere) is sent to intercept the approaching object...which turns out to be SpaceGodzilla.



The explanation of SpaceGodzilla is suitably hilarious. Apparently, when Godzilla fought Biollante (or when he fought Mothra, who knows), his cells were attached to the other monster as it dispersed into space. Those cells "must" have been swallowed by a black hole then spit out by a white hole and evolved into SpaceGodzilla. All this because Godzilla films understand less about science than a five year-old yet they inexplicably insist on explaining things.

Sometimes even with "high-tech" computer graphics.

Mogera doesn't quite defeat SpaceGodzilla, and it lands on the island where Godzilla is hanging out with Baby Godzilla.

SpaceGodzilla is immediately angry that there's a Baby Godzilla in his movie.

Yes, yet again, a perfectly decent Godzilla movie is turned sour by the appearance of a Baby Godzilla (presumably the same one from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II, but called Little Godzilla here). Thankfully, Little Godzilla isn't in the film much, but it's hardly the biggest problem this Late Godzilla Era movie has.

Despite the sheer awesomeness of SpaceGodzilla, this film suffers when the Giant Monsters aren't fighting. The human story of competing plans to control/destroy Godzilla lacks any interesting characters or weight even though the mob is brought in to mix things up. If you can suffer through the boring human parts, this movie does have some pretty great Giant Monster battles. Godzilla and Mogera fighting SpaceGodzilla for most of the final forty minutes is almost worth the hour of movie the viewer has to get through in order to get there. Almost.


#22 Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995) **1/2
In this final film of the Late Godzilla Era, Godzilla is about to go nuclear.



In order to keep this from happening, and basically destroying all life on Earth, the Super X-3 is dispatched to bring Godzilla's core temperature down and avert disaster.



Meanwhile, a number of creatures mutated by the Oxygen Destroyer (the device used in Godzilla 1954 to destroy Godzilla) start causing some havoc.



Much of the film builds up Destroyah as a scary creature and foe of Godzilla. The efforts made to create suspense and "terror" around Godzilla's rival Giant Monster are pretty obvious (and obviously stolen from other films).


No clue which film they might be copying...

Then Little Godzilla shows up as a much larger Godzilla Junior. The three monsters come together for the final battle. In the end, Godzilla does die (as Toho said), but Godzilla Junior emerges as the new Godzilla to take its place.



This era of Godzilla films comes to a *whomp whomp* close with a mediocre film. It's almost as if this movie, and this entire run of movies, never could come up with a soul of its own. Instead it relied heavily on the Middle Era while keeping Godzilla's destructive power and "meanness" from the Early Era. There were a few fun moments along the way, but mostly the Late Godzilla Era ends with a flop and whimper instead of a roar. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Middle Godzilla Era (1962-1975)

This post is a continuation of the series/remembrance of my late friend. I've argued previously that dividing the early Godzilla films into groups according to Emperor (as is the present standard) is arbitrary and makes little sense. Instead, I've divided them into thematically appropriate segments. This second group is generally defined by absurd plots, the introduction of aliens, and wrestling-like Giant Monster fights. The Middle Godzilla Era defined/characterized Godzilla films for a large portion of the population. It is also worth noting that this era contained the largest number of films (13), signaling the longest uninterrupted production of any Godzilla film grouping to date.


#3 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) ****1/2

As the third film in the Godzilla series, King Kong vs. Godzilla is the first in color and begins the break from the previous “art house” approaches. King Kong was extremely popular in Japan, and Godzilla (1954) was actually created as a reaction, of sorts, to the giant ape. So bringing them both together is a great excuse to pivot the series into a more campy realm.



And they dove head-first into campy with the "human" plot of this giant monster movie as it revolves around a pharmaceutical company exec who wants some mysterious berries. As his employees attempt to round up these berries, they stumble on King Kong and "escort" him back to Japan because their boss wants a Giant Monster under the banner of his company's sponsorship to attack Godzilla.



No longer was the central idea of the film to make Godzilla the embodiment of nuclear weapons. This time, it was all about the action.


This concentration on action as the focus of Godzilla films, with the human stories taking a backseat or helping facilitate that action, will continue throughout the middle-era (shifting to something not entirely different in 1984's Return of Godzilla). 




#4 Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) ***1/2

When a storm washes a giant egg onto a Japanese beach, multiple parties claim ownership as a reporter and his photographer protege investigate. This sets off a contest between commercial interests and scientific research. But two miniature twins show up to claim it from both sides.



This is the first time that a giant monster from another of Toho's films shows up to battle Godzilla. This creature, Mothra, is a giant moth. Try to control your terror at the thought of that.

A fearful sight for any, um...giant sweaters?

Two interesting things happen in this film. First, Godzilla appears from underground.



Second, most of Godzilla's destruction is incidental and accidental. The giant creature is making his shift away from the force of nature that enjoys the destruction of various parts of Japan to the straight-up force of nature...and soon, the protector of Japan and the world.



Ultimately, the reporter goes to the island where Mothra and the egg originate to ask for help in getting rid of Godzilla. The natives and the miniature twins refuse at first, but Mothra agrees to help after the twins do a little singing.

Mothra and Godzilla battle it out before the egg hatches. Mothra dies, but twin caterpillar things are born to finally squirt at Godzilla until he retreats into the waters of Japan.



The film is remarkable in a few ways, but feels a bit like it leans too heavily into the self-serious. There's some ridiculousness with the miniature twins and two caterpillars taking out Godzilla, but those elements seem to be presented with a straight-face, almost as if the movie isn't quite in on its own joke.

#5 Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) ****1/2

A princess who seeks refuge in Japan is assigned a police detective as her bodyguard, but her plane explodes before it lands. When she reappears mysteriously claiming to be an alien, an expedition is simultaneously attempting to find a shooting star that crash-landed on a mountain. Finally, scientists notice that a local volcano shows signs of activity. Oh, and the miniature twins from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1962) appear on a television show.

Even doll-sized people aren't above cashing in on their fame.

Turns out, the volcano activity is Rodan (like Mothra, another of Toho's giant monsters folded-into the Godzilla films) waking up...



Godzilla joins the party next with his traditional "rising from the sea" entrance, and the crash-landed shooting star is King Ghidorah, whose titular three-heads appear to be constantly bobbing-and-weaving...



Eventually, baby Mothra shows up too...



While the reappeared princess appears at first to be crazy, it is later revealed that she is, in fact, inhabited by an alien from Venus. This is the first of many Godzilla films to feature aliens, and alien-origins for its giant monsters. And, keeping consistent with Godzilla's accidental destruction from the previous film in the series, here, he wants to protect Japan from Rodan and King Ghidorah and only tears down the occasional building in his efforts to do so. The giant monster fights make a clear transition in this film to the absurd, wrestling-like brawls that are characteristic of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), but were lacking in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1962).



The plot of this movie is tightly-paced, and with four giant monsters, is mostly focused on kaiju rather than human drama. For all of that, it's a harbinger of some of the lower points in the series to come...and some of the better ones as well.

#6 Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)/Monster Zero (1965) *****

Review previously published here.

The basic plot of the Monster Zero follows the discovery of a new planet in our solar system. Two astronauts are sent to investigate, and they discover aliens who are constantly being attacked by a giant monster they call...wait for it...."Monster Zero." These aliens ask if the people of Earth will give over Godzilla and Rodan. You know, to help the aliens, but also in exchange for miracle medicines. Turns out, it was a hoax set up by the aliens to get all the giant monsters on their side so they could rule the world.



Most of the story is in place to justify the action on the screen, the giant monster fights, and the aliens. But it's serviceable enough to have an "arc" to at least one character. The film begins with a lowly inventor trying to peddle his wares. He wants to marry the sister of a big, bad astronaut, but he's basically a goof. Turns out, he gets to be a bit of a hero because his inventions are the savior of mankind (because they make loud noises, but whatever).



The point is, the guy makes something that (accidentally) works to redeem himself in the eyes of that big, bad astronaut brother. He's the geek who saves the world from evil aliens.

While this film isn't full of monster-on-monster fights, the guys in rubber suits get their due screen time to great effect.



Monster Zero perfectly illustrates the retrofuturism of its time, contains a human-level story that is both relatable and clear, and shows a variety of giant monster fights with some context to those encounters. If you're looking to introduce someone to this stretch of Godzilla films, this is the perfect entry point.

#7 Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster/Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) ***

Through some serious stretching of logical circumstances (adding a new layer to the ridiculousness of the "princess becoming possessed by a Venusian" thing from the previous film), three men fail at a dance-endurance contest where they'd hoped to win a boat, and instead hop aboard a yacht and accidentally hijack it with a thief. They end up shipwrecked where some military guys (The Red Bamboo) are enslaving the people from Mothra's Island to make yellow stuff for them while they secretly construct nuclear weapons. That yellow stuff keeps Ebirah (a giant lobster, because...why not?) at bay, and when a couple of slaves escape without some, they get eaten.



When a slave escapes and meets up with the boat thieves, its spells trouble for The Red Bamboo. Because clearly they're going to summon Godzilla with a hastily made lighting rod and Mothra by accidentally taking a one-man balloon ride to his island.




Oh wait, you didn't see that coming? If it wasn't there before now, this film definitely gives a clear sense of the inexplicableness of Godzilla films.

Just to reiterate that last point.

Yet again, we have a clear indication that Godzilla is definitely not the bad guy here. Since the budget of this movie was probably half of the previous films (if that), he doesn't accidentally stomp some of Japan as he's bumbling around. Instead, he proactively saves one of the slaves from Mothra's Island when she's attacked by a giant hawk/buzzard creature (that, thankfully, never appears in a Toho film ever again).



Godzilla saves the day by taking out the bad guys who are secretly making nuclear weapons, but mostly because they make the mistake of attacking him. This film solidly places Godzilla's character in the "to be feared" yet "deep down, a pretty good guy" territory. It also starts a solid foray into cheap production values where the popularity of the character is leveraged for ticket sales. The exception is, of course, Destroy All Monsters, but this one, and the next few films, definitely suffer from what one might characterize as "whoring Godzilla out."


#8 Son of Godzilla (1967) **

*GROAN*

Let's just get that out of the way now. These next few are rough (with the exception of Destroy All Monsters). This one isn't the "bottom of the barrel," but that's coming up soon...

A handful of scientists are hanging out on an island trying to conduct some experiments on controlling the weather. Then a reporter drops in and wants to join the fun. Because they're scientists, they let him stay (like scientists would do...adding a new element to their experiment). Keep in mind this island, for some reason has some giant preying-mantises just roaming around at night...like they do. After a failed experiment, these mantises get a lot bigger and try to dig their way out of this movie.



Unfortunately for all of us, they instead discover an egg that houses a baby Godzilla.



Of course, Godzilla shows up to shut down this shit-show, beat-down, embarrassment. Except his presence only exacerbates the situation. Because now, this terrible movie includes Godzilla.

Godzilla watching his son like we're watching this movie.

Way too much of the film consists of the "wacky antics" of Godzilla's son (getting beat up, playing, being disciplined, blowing radioactive smoke rings, etc.). It's truly tough to watch and not recommended except to completionists like myself or the MOST die-hard of Godzilla fans. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

#9 Destroy All Monsters (1968) ****1/2

After a successful venture with properly-budgeted Invasion of Monster Zero, Toho greatly decreased the production value for Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla, and made horrible films as a result. This shouldn't really surprise anyone. But with the ninth film in the Godzilla film series, they attempted a return to form.

In a set-up that resembles Jurassic Park before Jurassic Park was a thing, a bunch of Giant Monsters (including Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and some others that no one cares about) are electronic captives of an island called "Monsterland" (don't ask...just accept it). Unfortunately, aliens from Kilaak attack Monsterland and gain control of all the Giant Monsters housed there, making them attack cities all over the world. It's up to the United Nations Science Committee to sort out the mystery and release the Giant Monsters from the control of the Kilaak aliens. (I can hear my buddy Zach making a joke here about how expecting the "United Nations Anything" to actually accomplish something worthwhile is hilarious).

This film has all of the classic elements that made Monster Zero great, but with a tad more silliness in the mix to knock it just below that film in the rankings.

A retro-spaceship.

Ridiculous Space-suits.

Aliens in silly outfits.


And pie-pan flying saucers.

The nice mixture of the human plot integrating with the giant monster action makes this film one of the better examples of the Middle Godzilla Era. It's the Good Guys vs. The Aliens...with the Giant Monsters used as pawns.



This gives the Giant Monsters the opportunity to destroy without implications to their character (don't forget, these films were appealing to children by this point...and children wanted to see Godzilla and Mothra as defenders of Japan). They become the bad guys for brief a moment, but can then turn the tide when humanity needs them the most...to fight off King Ghidorah.

This ultimately results in what MUST be the most humiliating "victory" scene in all of film.



Let's be honest, the plot of this film is almost exactly the same as Monster Zero. Sure, it's different enough (and somehow, largely more popular), but not an entirely different movie. This one is slightly more light-hearted. The inclusion of Giant Monsters like Manda (who?) and Gorosaurus (double-who??) essentially make it the "Wrestlemania" of Godzilla films with a re-hashed plot, not a film that is both wholly new and also a part of what has come before it as Monster Zero was.

#10 All Monsters Attack/Godzilla's Revenge (1969) *


*DOUBLE-GROAN*

You'll notice that I gave Son of Godzilla a two-star rating (out of five). If you watched that film, you know that feels way higher than it deserves. But I did so because I needed to have some room to go further down with this one.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a latch-key kid named Ichiro who is obsessed with the Giant Monsters of his imagination. Ichiro is bullied constantly, but stumbles on a few bank robbers and must rely on his imaginary Giant Monster friend for inspiration.

He's the only one excited about this film.

The budget is so low that the filmmakers barely filmed new scenes. And the scenes they did commit to film are just Baby Godzilla (here referred to as Minilla) getting bullied by another Giant Monster in order to teach Ichiro to stand up to himself.



Essentially, this is a Godzilla movie without actually being a Godzilla movie since he's a fictional character here, living only inside a young kid's imagination and recycled footage from previous films (Son of Godzilla/Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster). The less said about it the better. Thankfully, it's only about an hour long, so if you do get stuck watching it, the ending is coming. There are many things preferable to watching this film though...swallowing broken glass and getting beat up by bullies both come to mind.

#11 Godzilla vs. Hedorah/Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971) **

In this environmental Godzilla film, the pollution of the world creates a new monster, Hedorah, that feeds on and grows stronger from that pollution. Godzilla shows up to defeat the new creature and defend the planet. The human-story takes a cue from some of the more recent films by revolving around a child. This kid is the son of a scientist who is studying the pollution monster as it attacks and kills everything in its path.

This was the first time a Godzilla movie was directed by some new blood, and the film shows that he went with the full-on psychedelic approach. The studio was not happy with the finished product, which included some segments that were very much "of their time."



Other than the psychedelia, we get the standard Giant Monster fights in this film.



But one thing that sets this film apart is that it starts a trend in the genre. Up to this point, we've only seen Mothra as a monster with more than one form. This film is our first where the main antagonist Giant Monster changes forms to "upgrade" as the movie progresses, thus increasing its threat to Godzilla in each subsequent attack.



Of course, while adding that important element to the franchise, this film also gives us this epic moment...

And for that, we can never forgive it.

This is by no means a good Godzilla film. The strangeness of some of its segments, the fact that the human-story is bland, and the over-the-top environmental message really subtract from this addition to the series. Plus, it doesn't help that the main monster to face Godzilla looks like he's a living, moving, dark gray rug in every single one of his forms.

#12 Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)***1/2


A struggling manga artist (basically, a comic book artist) gets a job at a theme park designed around Giant Monsters. Unfortunately, the people running the theme park are really aliens, and they want to destroy all the Giant Monsters of Earth and conquer it with their own, Gigan and King Ghidorah (though whether this is the same King Ghidorah as in previous films, but under the control of different aliens, is not indicated).

The three most visually characteristic parts of this film are the "Godzilla Tower" in the middle of the Giant Monster Theme Park...



...the Cockroach-Aliens who are revealed to be hiding under the guise of dead people...



...and the first use of the "Maser" in a Godzilla film.

Of course, they had been use in other Toho films, and this footage might actually be from one of those.

Despite these elements, this film's major addition to the Godzilla series is Gigan. He's generally depicted as a part-organic/part machine Giant Monster, here with scythes for hands, a cyclops eye, a metal beak, and a "chainsaw" down his front mid-section.



The human-story isn't much of anything worth note. The previously mentioned manga artist helps by figuring out the alien plot and severing their control over Gigan and King Ghidorah, but that doesn't do much for Godzilla or Earth except incidentally kill the aliens in the process. Godzilla and Anguilas fight against Gigan and King Ghidorah to finish out the film.

Ultimately, this entry in the Godzilla series is yet another variation of the Monster Zero/Destroy All Monsters story structure. Aliens want to take over the world again; only this time, they're stationed in a theme park rather than underground or on a distant planet. Godzilla and [blank] (in this case Anguirus) must fight them off to defend the world/Japan.

#13 Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)***

When an underground society, Seatopia, creates seismic disturbances, an inventor, his race-driver friend, and a kid have to defend their robot, Jet Jaguar, from a couple of men trying to steal their secrets. The Seatopians are upset because the surface dwellers have conducted atomic tests and destroyed part of their undersea kingdom. The Seatopians wish to use Jet Jaguar to conquer Godzilla and make the surface dwellers pay, but the inventor, his race-driver friend, and the kid use it to defend the surface against Megalon and Gigan.

The most remarkable aspect of this film is definitely Jet Jaguar. He was designed to take advantage of the popularity of Ultraman (like you couldn't see the similarities). But he was designed by a child as a contest entry that eventually won the approval of the filmmakers as they hoped to drum up interest in their Ultraman-knock-off.

This...won? Kids sure can be creepy.

This movie also introduces Megalon. He's sort of a beetle with drill-hands and a star-thing on his forehead. The star-thing fires yellow lighting bolts (so the film can re-use footage from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster).

Seen here: Megalon's patented hop movement.

It's interesting to note that this film was not supposed to be a Godzilla feature. Instead Godzilla was meant to be Ultra..er, I mean, Jet Jaguar's sidekick. That's why we don't even get a legitimate Godzilla appearance until 50 minutes into the movie, and Jet Jaguar has to save Godzilla from some fire.


But don't worry, this old white Seatopia guy shows up early and often...

That guy in the back didn't get the Toga Party memo.

This is yet another variation of the aliens story line (seen in Destroy All Monsters, Monster Zero, and Godzilla vs. Gigan), but the aliens are from underwater. They take control of Jet Jaguar and, along with Gigan and Megalon, try to take over the world. The inventor, race-driver, and kid break the Seatopians' control over Jet Jaguar and even the odds for the final battle. Godzilla vs. Megalon barely lives up to its name, and can barely be recommended. The most noteworthy thing about it is probably that it once appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and that episode will probably never be properly released due to copyright issues with Toho Studios.

#14 Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)****1/2

As the Middle Era Godzilla films come to a two-parted close, we get a resurgence of sorts. For the first time in the Godzilla films, there is a direct connection between two separate films (we'll touch more on that later). We also get the addition of a fan favorite Giant Monster who will become a major player in more than a couple of later Godzilla movies, MechaGodzilla.

The story of this film is pretty hard to grasp at first. A confusing prophecy predicting the end of the world is made, and an archaeologist tries to sort it out while being attacked by some mysterious men (I'm not saying they'll be aliens...but, they're aliens, for sure). Godzilla shows up, but since he's been a pretty nice guy to Japan in recent years, no one thinks he'll start tearing up the place. Then he does.

That...looks intentional.

Turns out, there might be more beneath the "surface" than meets the eye.

Spoilers...I guess?

The biggest flaw of the film is King Caesar (basically a Giant Monster dog) as the savior of mankind. He's supposedly some kind of Buddhist guardian. As with Godzilla vs. Megalon, this film seems to think that Godzilla is only a supporting player. That echoes some of the sentiment of King Kong vs. Godzilla (notice the second billing of that title), a film which started this series. It won't continue into the 80s, but it's worth noting, all the same.

Godzilla needs this guy's help?
With a larger budget than the few previous films in the series, this one delivers. Sure, it's still kind of that same plot of aliens trying to take over the world with Giant Monsters. But this entry in the re-hashed story line adds some new life by playing into the idea that Godzilla is a bad-guy Giant Monster again. When we, briefly, get two Godzilla's fighting each other, it's a classic moment. And when one is revealed as an alien-controlled machine, it's a nice twist.

And it doesn't hurt that MechaGodzilla is very cool (probably inspired by the likes of Red Baron, Giant Robo, and Tetsujin 28-go) and controlled by a cigar-smoking monkey-alien.

Monkey-alien face to be revealed later in the film.
That coolness doesn't save MechaGodzilla from what is probably the most crushing defeat of any Giant Monster.

This will be important later...


#15 Terror of MechaGodzilla (1975)**** 

This final film in the Middle Godzilla Era is a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla. It even opens with a bit of footage from that film, almost like a "previously seen on..." segment. It's worth noting that while previous Godzilla movies have been loosely connected, this is the first that has such a tight story line connection to a previous film. This will continue in a number of later films.

During a search for the sunken MechaGodzilla, an Interpol submarine is attacked by the long-necked Titanosaurus and vanishes. Turns out the Monkey-Aliens from the previous film are still around and enlist the help of a crazy, outcast scientist to help them wipe out life on Earth so that they can rebuild the world for themselves. The scientist's daughter falls for one of the Interpol agents, but she's a cyborg, so it's not meant to be. Instead, her efforts (or not, , along with Godzilla and the Interpol agents, bring down the terrible twosome of MechaGodzilla and Titanosaurus.


We get aliens with silly outfits in this one too.
And a brief glimpse of some silly alien ships.

But the pinnacle of the film is that the Monkey-Aliens have planned for MechaGodzilla's decapitation by placing a secondary head beneath the original!



This Godzilla Era ends on a solid, but not excellent note with a compelling human story that includes a scenery-chewing villain and, yet again, aliens. While the only really "new" element here is the silly-looking Titanosaurus, this movie illustrates that a decent budget and good direction (this was the final film directed by Ishiro Honda, director of the original 1954 Godzilla) can turn a campy Godzilla story line into a compelling and fun movie.


This completes the overall review of the Middle Godzilla Era. Look for these reviews as individual posts in the future. For now, they'll remain together. This series/remembrance of my late friend, Zach will continue soon with a review of the Late Godzilla Era (1984-1995).