Red Bamboo, Yellow Liquid And A Giant Lobster – Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep

3 09 2014

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1966)

Back when I was about 4 I remember the days when I would wake up in the morning, go downstairs and in the morning on Channel 4, they would be showing Godzilla films from the 60’s and 70’s, usually shown after a showing of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. The films that were shown which I can remember were Destroy all Monsters (which was also my favourite film for about 11 years), Godzilla vs Megalon and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Once they stopped doing this though I didn’t get to see a Godzilla film again until I was about 6/7 years old, and that film was Ebirah, Horror of the Deep.

WOW, Godzilla's shrunk.

While it may have only been the 7th in a series that now numbers 30 films (if you include 1998 and 2014), it is one of the films that I mostly fondly remember and one of my all-time favourites. Released in 1966 in Japan as Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas and released directly to TV in America as Godzilla versus The Sea Monster but better known today as either Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster or Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (or in most cases both, it really is a film released under different names), the film is Jun Fukuda’s first foray as Director in to the Godzilla series. It is also important to note however that this film was not originally intended to be a Godzilla film, rather a film starring King Kong, but Toho decided to switch him with Godzilla. King Kong would get a film later on in the form of King Kong Escapes. Because of this switch though, Godzilla is a bit different, not in look or ability, but characteristics which I will discuss later.

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The film begins with an old psychic woman trying to help a mother who has lost her son at sea. She believes that her son whose boat was destroyed and the wreckage found is still alive. Her son’s brother named Ryota Kane (Toru Watanabe) goes to the government but the police refuse to help. He goes to a newspaper but before he is asked further questions he leaves and goes to a rally dance competition in the hope of winning the luxury yacht, he is however three days late to enter. There he meets unlucky contestants Nita (Hideo Sunazuka) and Ichino (Choutarou Tougin). They take him to a nearby harbour to show him some boats and they trespass on board one and have a look around, before being spotted by the rifle totting owner Yoshimura (Akira Takarada). They try to explain their position to him stating that Ryota is a maniac and just wants to see boats, but he thinks they’re just generally weird but decides to let them sleep the night as long as they promise to disappear in the morning. Come the morning Yoshimura discovers that the three of them are still sleeping and that Ryota has broken his rifle and when all four of them go on deck, they notice that the boat is in the middle of the ocean. Ryota thinking that the boat is a gift from the gods decided to commandeer it knowing that Yoshimura knows nothing about boats and decided to search for his brother with it. Ryota refuses to turn the boat around and the other three of them have no choice but to continue to sail with him as they don’t know how to sail a boat. Nita and Ichino however have misgivings about the supposed owner after hearing about a bank robbery and the theft of a prominent Hollywood director’s prized yacht. One evening, all three of them decide to co-operate with Ryota in the hope of learning how to sail the boat, Ichino and Nita also notice that Yoshimura is making a Skeleton Key. Ryota then rushes down below to say that some very strange clouds are approaching. Now caught in a full on storm they are thrashed around like mad when they notice a Giant Claw rising out of the sea. They abandon the boat as the claw picks it up and breaks it.

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The group find themselves washed ashore on an unknown island. They soon discover a sword which makes them think that the island has cannibals on it. After a quick search they spot an incoming ship spraying yellow liquid but it does not notice their cries for help. They journey closer to the shore and spot what appears to be a heavily guarded military base. The ship pulls into the base’s harbour where the base’s guard commander Captain Ryuui (Akihiko Hirata, character is also known as Yamoto in the English Version) meets the ship’s captain (Hideyo Amamoto) who delivers Ryuui a new batch of slaves. Some of the slaves make a break for it and unnoticed by Captain Ryuui, a female slave also escapes. The other escapees manage to get in a boat and row off the island. But it is to no prevail as the Giant Claw from the previous night comes out of the water followed by another one. The escaped slaves are powerless to do anything as Ryota, Nita, Ichino and Yoshimura discover that the giant claw belongs to a Giant Lobster named Ebirah which then proceeds to eat the escaped slaves.

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The base’s commander (Jun Tazaki) tells Ryuui to send a patrol balloon to look for the escaped female Slave. The female Slave runs into the four primary antagonists but before they can exchange formal greetings, they are spotted by the balloon and are chased by the armed men, they narrowly escape however when they find a cliff in a rock face. The four men spot the woman praying and ask who she is. She calls herself Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno) and tells them that she came from Infant Island where the monster Mothra is currently sleeping. She says that the armed men are called The Red Bamboo and that they kidnapped her and her other tribe’s men. Thinking the best move to defend themselves; Yoshimura, Daiyo and Ryota plan to check out the Red Bamboo base, Nita and Ichino don’t want to go, but then discover that they are not alone in the cave when Nita spots what appears to be the body of Godzilla.

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They all manage to sneak in the base thanks to Yoshimura’s safe cracking skills and discover that the base is home to a Heavy Water factory (a place where Nuclear Bombs are made). After a continued search they are then discovered by Captain Ryuui, the five of them manage to make a quick escape but then when trying to leave the base, Ryota flies away on another Patrol Balloon and Nita is captured. Nita is placed in a cage with the other slaves who are made to produce the Yellow Liquid, the liquid being a repellent against Ebirah. Ryota meanwhile lands on Infant Island where he is re-acquainted with his lost brother Yata (Toru Ibuki). Yoshimura, Ichino and Daiyo however are back at the cave helpless to wait it out until The Red Bamboo finds them. Ichino though comes up with a plan to wake up Godzilla who is still alive but sleeping using electric shocks.

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Nita suggests that the slaves produce phony yellow liquid and Ryota and Yata are given instructions by Mothra’s twin fairies (Pair Bambi) and head back to the island. A storm comes however and they lose their own batch of yellow liquid. Ichino’s plan works and Godzilla awakens. Godzilla then discovers Ebirah and the two engage in Combat with Ebirah eventually fleeing. The following day, Ryota and Yata regroup with the others but are then pursued by the Red Bamboo. They all split up with Daiyo unknowingly running into within reach of Godzilla. The Red Bamboo turn back but Daiyo is helpless to the attention of Godzilla. Godzilla however falls asleep so Daiyo can escape but still warns Godzilla to the presence of a Giant Condor. Godzilla defeats the creature before taking on and destroying a squadron of Red Bamboo fighters. Godzilla then proceeds to attack the Base. The Red Bamboo is helpless to the attack and so set a Nuclear Bomb to go off. They then try to evacuate the island but Ebirah destroys their boat as the yellow liquid they are using is phony. Godzilla then arrives and has another round with Ebirah. Yata and Yoshimura rescue Nita and the other slaves who proceed to build a giant net as per Mothra’s fairies orders. Yoshimura, Yata and Ryota are unable to stop the bomb detonation and Mothra wakes up just in time to rescue them. Godzilla defeats Ebirah by ripping his claws off before noticing the arrival of Mothra. After a quick duel Mothra defeats Godzilla to a point so that Mothra can rescue the others. Godzilla now left alone on the island is shouted at by the others to run away, and sensing the island is about to go up leaves just in time as the island explodes. Godzilla returns to the ocean and Mothra takes everyone else back to Infant Island.

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Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, while being one of the oldest film’s in the series is also one of the true classics as well but with a setting and story that is still significant to this day and age. The film’s main cast is an interesting bunch who play a definite assortment of people who mingle well but there are many who are better than others. Hideo Sunazuka’s character of Nita is obviously the fool of the group who of course proves his worth to the slaves by coming up with a plan to get revenge on the Red Bamboo, but his character is strangely likeable, which is more than can be said of Choutarou Tougin as Ichino. While he himself comes up with how to wake up Godzilla, apart from that he doesn’t seem to do much. There is another point of view to his character but that is mostly due to the English dubbed version where Nita is an overplayed fool and Ichino is the better one of the two, reverse that though to the original Japanese spoken version and Ichino doesn’t seem to have much to do with the film. Toru Watanabe is the main carrier of the main plot which is a simple idea; somebody loses something goes missing and goes looking for it. He is more of an underdog character trying to go to big lengths to achieve the almost impossible and has an attitude to boot, however his character does lose some of this charm when he finally finds his brother and it feels like the production team tried hard to include his brother as much as possible by side-lining Ryota from that moment on. Yata meanwhile is very much headstrong in his character and a bit of a fool in more clever way and is able to balance out Ryota by being his almost exact double in character and form, but I think he is a bit too single-minded and as such is unable to be enjoyed thoroughly. It is however when all these cast members including Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno are together, not by themselves that they are at their best as together they all carry an extremely good chemistry with one another despite the fact that for the most part they are complete strangers, and their differences are not what make them but what it is they are willing to go through together in order to survive on the desert island. So while they may not all work to the best of their abilities as a standalone character, together, they are incredible.

Nita, Ichino, Daiyo, Yoshimura and Ryota

It’s not just the main characters though, as those who only appear briefly have some charm or je ne sais quoi about them. The first scientist (Hisaya Ito), the one who starts the bomb (who I recognize from other classic Japanese Monster Movies) has a certain presence about him. While he may be a scientist he gives a real sense about him that he is willing and maybe also wanting to create nuclear weapons, he even shows this by threatening to set the bomb off much quicker when the slaves escape. Jun Tazaki’s commander character has real presence about how important he is and feels and this high in the ranks look about him helps him to achieve this. He is also very good at looking like both a respectable military man, but also a lazy general who is used to throwing his power and weight around. The ship’s captain who may only appear very briefly also has a similar look and feel about him. The slave that Nita meets played by Ikio Sawamura has a nice welcoming feel about him, but I find it odd that the peace-loving slaves find it so easy to be tempted into committing violence and possibly murder. Ikio Sawamura however has a nice father figure look about him by being the sort of voice of the slaves. Which brings us to Pair Bambi who Play Mothra’s Twin Fairies. The casting of Pair Bambi is of course different as it was The Peanuts who were cast in the role I think for every film which Mothra had been in previously. Pair Bambi though are a very good choice and thanks to the more updated technology that has been incorporated in the film, their appearance works well and is a lot more believable. They also have a more easily outgoing look about themselves whereas The Peanuts mostly had a grim expression on their face and hardly smiled. Pair Bambi have more of a look of understanding in the situation but don’t let that overtake them. The policeman and Newspaper journalists at the beginning of the film are also really good even if they are only seen then and there.

Pair Bambi

But the best of the cast (at least on the human side) are Kumi Mizuno, Akira Takarada and Akihiko Hirata. Kumi Mizuno’s character could be sought of more as eye candy and whose look could be more attributed to that of actors like Ursula Andress in Dr. No and Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. but her character is none of that as her character is more on the intelligence side as well as a person who shows an essence of hope while also telling the story of the slaves revealing what they are going to be put through and the desire to escape from that and what it can then achieve.

Kumi Mizuno

Akihiko Hirata is really the human villain of the film. While he is really under the command of another person, he is the seemingly better soldier. He is in many ways a hunter, he is out to get someone, this time round being the main cast, and he is relentless in this fact, he is like the oncoming storm, or the hunter who is sizing up his prey and will continue the pursuit until he has achieved this. His appearance is of course very military but is able to achieve a more sinister approach with his eye patch (and not the first time Hirata has worn an eye patch in a Godzilla film). But despite all this and how brutal he can be, he doesn’t let that more human side get the better of him and his military training and professionalism always stands out in front of the more human aggression that he wants to release. Throughout this film, at least on the human side, he is consistent in his role and thoroughly enjoyable.

Akihiko Hirata

Akira Takarada though carries the most character baggage as he has an entire sub plot resting on his shoulders. It is though through this that we get an interesting character which is first presented to us in both an unusual way but one that is also quite funny by instantly propping a gun up in front of the other three. While it may be odd to have a sub plot only referenced here and there, it is important though to have someone like this in the story as it is both his skills and his emotional baggage that both make people realize what he is but also allows him to come to terms with himself and what he has done and as such improve his outlook on life. He is in many respects the leader of the group while also being potentially dodgy but without his knowledge and skills, it’s doubtless that they would be able to survive. He is a very likeable character throughout and the inclusion of his story is a great narrative for the audience to both explore and think about but also work on comparison with the rest of the film.

Akira Takarada

Now with the humans out the way, let’s talk Monsters. While originally intended to be a King Kong film, the remaining effects of that to the monsters work well as it is genuinely nice to have something other than a city being crushed. While this does contain sudden surprises, this works out for the best. I am of course talking about The Giant Condor. Finding it somewhat odd that this creature is in here at all, but given the design of the island it gives a nice and surprise addition for Godzilla to fight as this one is more close up and brutal than to what Ebirah is able to achieve. Mothra meanwhile looks better thanks to the updates in technology than the last time Mothra appeared. There is however a lot of confusion as during the infant island scenes, close up she looks smaller than when the camera is further back and I kind of prefer it when the camera is further back as Mothra does genuinely look bigger and better. The fight it has with Godzilla is brutal much like that with the Condor but the fight had to be short and sweet for the film’s final tension to continue but Mothra’s inclusion into the film is a nice little touch in both Story and element.

Mothra - Ebirah

Ebirah is beautifully designed. While great care and attention has been made to make him look like a Lobster with his eyes and claws, attention has also been made to make him look like an abomination also, particularly in the rounded head and nose. His scream of terror is more like a giant screech through the air and while he may not have much in the way of firepower, on both looks alone he looks terrific and terrifying but also in the fight sequences he proves his worthy of a match against Godzilla. His early appearances though without Godzilla are equally terrific. When the Claw first appears you don’t know what it is or what it belongs to if anything and adds a nice sense of mystery for the audience and shows an initial sense of size and power. Even when we get a proper look at him the suspense and tension remains with his claws appearing before his full body. He is a great addition to the series, but he has so far been at his best (out of two appearances) in this film.

Ebirah

Godzilla meanwhile as stated earlier is a bit different in characteristics. He is a lot more like his original self as in while he still stands up for the earth, to protect it, he is almost back to his original self in the form of attacking people and things which he deems as a threat, including people and while he may now be an ally of Mothra, he still goes on to attack Mothra at the end. In many respects the film does not seemed to have changed from a King Kong film as there are sections which seem to be more in line with that including the plane attack, interaction with Daiyo and I think; The Condor. It does however give Godzilla a more monstrous and natural look about him and his character and shows how brutal he can get in a fight and little bits here and there such as his fight with Ebirah when he goes underwater or picks up a boulder and show detail such as the tail going up reminds us that he is at heart a creature, all be it still the force of nature that we all love.

"Morning".

His appearance in general is brilliant and there hasn’t been much of decay in his look, it’s actually one of his best looks in the series, and even when he is just in the cave asleep, he looks fantastic (as well as well camouflaged against the rocks). He has some absolutely amazing moments in the film and great shots of him which make great use of depicting his genuine size as well as raw strength and power. His fight scenes are terrific and even the shots of him asleep in the cave, are incredible and it makes his first true appearance, awake which while may be 50 minutes into the film is a terrific spectacle.

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One thing that does standout when you look back at films before this is the sudden update of technology. Toho are the masters at miniature effects, it is something they have both relied on and become masters of over the last 60 years. While this may be back as far as 1966, the level of detail has come on quite well when compared to previous films. Due to the non-city location of the film, more detail has been required to produce miniature effects. Now while there have been buildings and boats (with the Red Bamboo ship looking more like a pleasure cruiser than a battle ship), the miniature humans are nicely done and have some motion to them which makes me think they were done in a clockwork style. This level of effect does help to show size comparison to the monsters and it works. The only occasions that did not use monsters for similar effects are the use of close ups as well as shrinking of film into a scene particularly for the twin fairies but also include other scenes too. Set design has been given great care to look as realistic as possible with both outdoor and indoor sets working to their full potential, and I too get the idea that this film was produced mostly on location rather than in a studio, and it works brilliantly. The camera effects and shots are cleaner and crisper than previous films which did have a real sharp blur about them, but this one is nice and clean and if I may say so, better than HD today.

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The soundtrack is very odd I feel in comparison to other Godzilla films. It is not dark or mysterious in tone but more upbeat in almost every track. Theoretically it is a cross between beach music and mystery but there are pieces which give a sense that Masaru Sato, the film’s composer took inspiration from the works of Bond Composer John Barry as the music is very much secret agent like music with some moments that are more like the 1960’s Batman series. Reading that you may think that makes the music rather silly, it doesn’t; the films track is very enjoyable. Ebirah’s theme is quite groovy and works well by giving a sense of oncoming mystery followed by terror at the sight of what can be currently seen, this is achieved with the use of traditional orchestral forms but with a clever use of a bass guitar, or possibly a normal electric guitar, I’m not sure, but it’s one of the two.

While the Composer himself has also created other forms of music for the film so not completely relying on one set theme, it is through these more creative styles where the soundtrack is at its best. When it’s either the Dance Rally music, or even the main chase music has an upbeat take on it, but really drives the suspense and tension so it can be both enjoyed and have the right effect, but also, be very memorable at the same time and it is for that reason along with the other pieces for the soundtrack that makes it work for this film, and I think it’s generally, genuinely nice.

While mainly at heart the film is more about the human interaction and chemistry between the main characters as well as a sort of theme of dealing with your actions particularly on the part of Akira Takarada’s character and a tiny sense of the construction of Nuclear Weapons, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is an incredible film and one of the best entries in the series, no doubt. While the cast needs to rely on being together; teamwork, it is a nice theme that works well on their part. And while it may take time for the Monsters to really start meeting each other, the time they have separately as well as their position in the film works well for them and it’s through this time period that we introduced to them and allow for build up to their fights and main inclusion to the film. While the essence of King Kong is present, I do think Toho made the right decision in the changes they did, otherwise, the film may have been completely different and I really think that appointing Jun Fukuda to direct was a great start as otherwise the soundtrack and special effects may not have been the same either. Overall Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is both a great Monster Movie and a great Adventure film too with real moments of surprise, mystery, tension and terror along with great scenes involving the Monsters themselves and while this film may be almost 50 years old now, I still love it to this day as I did when I first saw it all those years ago.

GENEPOOL





They Were Trying To Kill It (Part 2) – Godzilla 2014

2 07 2014

Godzilla 2014

Following on from last week of my review of what is at the moment The Best Film this year, which by all counts is going to be hard to beat, at least to me, but the previous post looked at the human side story of the film, cast and soundtrack, but really this is the big one as I will be looking at the BIG G himself. From special effects to both Godzilla and his new companions to comparisons in story with another monster movie series as well as how this new film compares in not too much detail with the original monster and also why I think it is not just the best film this year, but one of the best film’s in the series, and that comes with evidence.

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The film’s special effects are really well done, and I mean really well done at that. The film’s producers have obviously taken great time and effort into not just making Godzilla look like, well himself for a start, but also both believable and naturalistic as in the viewer being able to see what is in front of their very eyes and believe that the creature could exist, like your eyes do not deceive what you are seeing. But the detail is also in the close up. For several parts of this film, Godzilla is seen to be in the state of minimalistic. So you may not see his entire shape or size for the most part, but even those scenes show a level of detail that is perhaps not as explored. I mean these are giant monsters, obviously and the film takes the standing point of the viewer on the ground, the human element, seeing it through their eyes. So you naturally jolt your head back to look up at them, but because of their size and depending on how far away you are from them, you may not see all of them, but when you are close up the little details are not forgotten, they are included. Godzilla’s hands on the Golden Gate Bridge (anyone else notice that it’s not the first time the same bridge has been attacked by a Giant Monster in less than a year?), close up details of the MUTO’s when on the ground and really close for comfort, Godzilla’s irradiated damaged flesh, and the detail in the shape, form and material of all three monsters from head to toe. Not only does all of this exist, and in such great detail, but it is also terrifying; and if the special effects achieve such a thing on something that (as far as we know) does not exist, then the effect has been achieved.

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The monsters themselves have been beautifully crafted, but there is more to a monster than just what meets the eye to which the filmmakers and the audience have an unfair advantage over the people in the film who are too busy running away. The Muto’s are the newest edition of a long line of monsters to tangle with the king, so let’s start with them. The Muto’s are nicely well designed and have essences of real life animals in them presenting themselves as creatures that are definitely of the world and not from space. I do like how there are major differences between the two. The male is smaller and can fly and whose body structure makes him look like a praying mantis on the ground and a bat in the air. Whilst the female is much larger and while exhibiting the same mantis like look, has more in common I would say with a spider as in she is reliant on walking and so perhaps needs to walk as such. They of course share the same features in the face and the look of the MUTO’s is nicely made to make them look sinister. During the night shots this works to their advantage and when the let out the under voice almost clucking, it sounds like a measurement of laughter but it could just be more the sound of the wind passing through their immense bodies. Little things such as the facial features really help to cement their positions as the real villains of the film. this idea also is used to great effect by having them the first monster that truly gets revealed. TO begin with you believe that Godzilla is the one responsible for the attack on the power plant, so far he’s the only creature been mentioned, but by revealing that it was actually the MUTO’s not Godzilla, it adds that emotional connection and presents them as the actual ones to do the damage and as such become the villain and it means that you as an audience member want and need a hero, and it cements Godzilla’s role in the film from the moment he is fully seen for the first time, to the point that he leaves. It is interesting use of both perception and suggestion from the film makers that gives a very big surprise early on and one that hooks you as you wonder, If that is a MUTO, what is Godzilla?

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The thing is though, look and sound and abilities are not enough and the thing that makes the monsters in a Godzilla film stand out is personality. Godzilla as a monster and as a series has survived on several key structures and points but one of those core elements is personality of the monsters themselves. If you look at other past American Monster Movies, they have all been referred to as “it” or “the”, they are all things. But if you give something a name, its presence means a whole lot more. You could just call your family pet (if you have one) “the cat” or “the dog” but you give it a name and refer to it by name and as such it feels more like a friend and part of the family and as such you discover the pet’s personality. The same is true for Monsters. By referring to Godzilla by it or the, it could be any one of a number of things but because of the description, it requires an explanation every time it is talked about. But now that you have labelled him, given him right to a personality, you just need to say the name, and people know who he is. For the MUTO’s it really is more of an it or a thing as MUTO is technically a designation for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. While the word does sort of become a name as the film goes on, they are still these things and even though they show signs of care towards each other and their young as well as a level of passion, they are just still designated creatures or animal. So while they definitely have a level of passion and character for such well-designed and thought out animals, they are unable to come out of their shell fully due to their possibility for personality restricted, which is a general shame because I really liked them.

Godzilla on the other hand actually looks like Godzilla (something that did not work out at all 16 years ago). Great care and attention has been taken to make him look like the monster we all know and love, but also to have his own spin so that he is not too much like his Japanese self and so this look can be more independent as well and as such does not need to rely on those films and allows this film to work on its own merits. So his size in this film (the biggest to date, and possibly a bit fat) belongs to this film, but attributes such as his scales, dorsal spines, head and tail are like that of the original Japanese monster. One such item is easier to see also now thanks to the film’s point of view and that is of Godzilla’s broken skin which is supposedly caused by the damage done to him by nuclear weapons testing. This goes to show that Godzilla is invincible to man’s most powerful weapons and supports the idea of him being the force of nature and as such unstoppable, but shows a more human element too showing that he still has those scars from long ago battles which on top of that could be emotional ones too but decides to wear them than think about them. His overall look particularly in the facial features when he is first revealed in the Hawaii airport scene makes me think of dragons. You get a brief second or two to look at his face, you get this overall feeling of terror like you are looking at a destroyer, a creature of such great magnitude and ferocity and while his features make him look like a cross between a dog and a lion, the essence of the dragon like nature is there and this helps with the tales of myths and folklore that surround him, and from this he isn’t just a monster, he feels and looks like a dragon too, and this gets your heart racing.

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But while the look of him is amazing and is true to the Japanese Monster, there are more new editions to the creature but these are more in what he does than what he looks like. But at least one of the things he does isn’t new and has been with him since 1954, any guesses as to what they would be? You got it, his Atomic Deathray. Yes, we were promised a Godzilla true to the Japanese monster and a monster that all we wanted to see but come the final fight I was lost wondering where the Deathray was. Everything was perfect but no sign of that. But then, in the darkness, a shadow grew with a long blue light drawing upwards, I was on the edge of my seat, hoping it was what I thought it was going to be, and then, when his Atomic Breath blasted across the screen, I was so happy, I jumped forward (sort of, more like leaned, not much of that can be done in a cinema seat) and thrust my arms and fists forward and down in a hammer like motion in a gesture of celebration. It was great. It’s not that it’s just there, but the characterization of Godzilla with the power rising up through his scales and then also being the right colour meant that I was so happy and the scene was amazing. I really did enjoy the use of the dorsal spines like shark fins as even after the reveal in Hawaii, it meant that Godzilla still had some screen time but in order to keep something’s under wraps, he could keep that mystery about him but also have that extra element of something huge is coming, and it’s sightings in the water have their own power behind them being seen as you know something big is about to happen. The new roar is really good; it really helps to give this new film its own sense of credit, especially to Godzilla himself. Instead of doing what Emmerich did 16 years ago by taking the classic roar and just extending it, the filmmakers here have created their own unique sound. The sound he produces is still very much like how a Giant creature would, it shakes the ground and produces a lot of noise thanks to the huge inner spaces within its own vocal chords and while it kind of makes me think of perhaps an elephant or other large mammals instead of reptiles (which can’t actually roar)and is overall very well produced to make an absolutely great sound.

Godzilla’s personality exists brilliantly in this film but his characterization which adds to this is different in many respects to what he was when he first started but these changes are not a bad thing in any way, shape or form. Godzilla is made out to look like a super predator, the alpha male top dog of the natural world. This is presented with the idea that should a creature like the MUTO’s arise, therefore threatening his turf, the predator comes out to play to reassert his dominance over the natural world. This idea may sound a bit corny in that sense, but it is a great way of bringing Godzilla into the story in a way that actually makes sense. This animal like approach helps him to fit more easily in the position of him still being a creature of nature even if he is definitely more than that. This comes even more into the fray come the battle sequences where; when rises out of the water his body movements represent that of something which is more gorilla like. While he fights and acts more like an animal now or at least something that is believable to the natural world, attention has been made to how such a creature could fight if say a giant lizard could stand on two legs, had a big tail, big head (Atomic Deathray) and large arms. But making him like the world is not the same as placing him in it. While it has been stated that his build up to appearance is like that of Jaws with the Dorsal fins in shot and no major reveal for a while, this idea does work splendidly, so while you can see him, you still have no idea what he looks like. Much like the original 1954 film as described by Enthusiast Tony Luke for a BBC Documentary in 1998 said “As the film progresses over the next hour, you just get hints of something big and dark and evil smashing its way through northern japan”. Now while the creature in this film is not like that in characterization, he is like that in the sense that you know something is coming, but even when it is first spotted, you don’t know what it is, and can only see a small portion of it. Another form of characterization and personality was thanks to the opening screen credits. Now while the 1998 film did something partially similar, this time around, it was very clever how they pulled it off. There was still the connotation with the use of Nuclear Weapons, the extra points of A) seeing Godzilla to begin with if only in his submerged form meant that he is at least mentioned from the start along with that great soundtrack, and B) the relation with sea tales of Giant Sea Monsters including sightings of sea serpents and the Kraken which represents his connection to the sea and world but also shows his connection to mother nature herself for always being there when he is needed to be. This use of old folklore tales is very well done and a nice technique by the filmmakers.

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While the use of him being an alpha predator is well done, in story terms, I feel like I have seen this before, in another monster movie starring another Japanese cultural icon; Gamera. Last year, I reviewed Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. The first in the Gamera Heisei Trilogy. Now for those un-aware, Gamera is another giant movie monster, but taking on the guise of a fire breathing, rocket-propelled flying turtle. Gamera first appeared in Japanese Cinema in 1965 and thanks to a growing popularity which particularly after the Heisei series has gone on to become an icon himself (please refer to my What is Gamera post). In Guardian of the Universe (rephrased to GGOTU) an ancient species of bird comes to life and wreaks havoc in Japan (like all other monsters do) only for them to suddenly have to deal with the appearance of a Giant Turtle. The two then fight with Gamera acting like the superior creature being sent out to take care of the appearance of a new threat. While a brilliant film, I can’t help but feel that the same story structure has been applied to Godzilla. Big creature comes out of the woodwork, bigger creature comes to deal with it, they fight, bigger one wins. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing but I do feel that it is sort of weird that this new film has been almost based on the story from and even the characterization of the lead monster (and even some of the design of the MUTO’s look a bit like Gyaos) comes from the series biggest competition.  Mean Gamera himself in that film is an ancient creature created by a lost civilization, much like Godzilla’s ancient history. This is more of something that you may need to make your own minds upon. If you have not seen the Gamera Heisei Trilogy, I do highly recommend it (particularly the last one). But for those who have already seen GGOTU, what do you think?

GGOTU3 (The film is not in Black and White, it's just that this is a Good Picture)

As for the main part of the story itself, there is a lot of talk in it about the want and urge of man to control nature. After going to see this a second time with a friend, she mentioned that it is a lot like Jurassic Park which does use a lot of the same elements. I myself recently read the book by Michael Crichton which shows an urgent need to control nature as well as the refusal to admit when you are wrong and the ignorance of man who just wants to continue. This film uses ideas like that a lot of the time but does show the learning side as come the end, at least for now there is no real want to control Godzilla. But knowing how the American Military is usually portrayed in films, I bet there could be the possibility of them wanting to find some means of control over Godzilla in future films. Also on the nature note there is also the amazement and sense of discovery that occurs when something amazing has been discovered and shows that while we do live on this planet there is still a whole lot more that we don’t know about and perhaps our strive to find it and control it could lead to the end. I do find myself thinking a lot about Blake Snyder’s book; Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, which talks about how films are written to connect with the audience through the use of primal urges, and one of those early settings is described by Snyder as “Monster In The House” to which he further describes by stating that “It’s not about being dumb, it’s about being primal. And everyone understands the simple, primal commandment: Don’t… Get… Eaten!”. This is very much true with this film as the point of view of the audience is that of the people on the ground during the events and the urge to survive the power of the super predators. Much like a Japanese Godzilla film as well, there is a lot of mentions about the use of Nuclear weapons, from the beginning to the end and I particularly enjoyed the scene between Stenz and Serizawa when Serizawa shows him his watch which stopped on the day of the Hiroshima Bomb. It showed a sense of understanding from Stenz about the use of nuclear weapons as well as a possible sign of regret showing that the world has moved on and understand such power more and don’t take things so lightly, but connected with that is the lesson of not being able to control nature too and the understanding that comes with that. And much like how stories in cinema work with the characters having to grow and change, the same is applied here while also showing the growth in the human mind over the last 60 or so years with mentions to Nuclear dominance being one of them.

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I absolutely love this film from the ground up. It gives a well-deserved new light onto a character whose reputation was dented back in 1998 and corrects everything that the said film did wrong. It respects the design and meaning of a character that has been on-screen for about 60 years now and is beloved by millions of people all around the world. Using a great amount of new expertise in film making including special effects, lighting, shooting and even a soundtrack of extremely high qualities and added to that a film’s cast who each have their own loveable quirks and then Monsters whose design and characterization is of such a high standard, all coming together to make one fantastic film, a film that I have fallen in love with from start to finish. This is the film that I have been waiting to see and while it may have taken somewhere between 4 to potentially 10 years to produce, in the end it was worth waiting for and the confirmation of a sequel just means there is more to look forward to. In part 1 I said that this film is one of the Best films in the series, a comment I stand by, and while it is not my favourite, I do believe that the quality of this film really does make it so. And one other thing on that. A couple of days after seeing this film for the first time, I watched one of the all-time classic best films in the series; Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster, one of the ones I like a lot, and I did not enjoy it as much as this one. So while its place in the film series and general cinema is still probably going to be debated; if it is able to make a Godzilla fan as big as me happy and not disappointed, it has succeeded. And that is why I love this film, and shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of films? To Be Enjoyable. Thank You Godzilla.

GENEPOOL





They Were Trying To Kill It (Part 1) – Godzilla 2014

25 06 2014

Godzilla 2014 Poster

Back in 2010 when I was researching the Godzilla franchise on Wikipedia, I found a piece of very interesting information. Back in 2004 I remembered that it was announced that there would be no more Godzilla films after the release of Godzilla: Final Wars for a period of 10 years, just to give it a break and renew interest. It is hard though to keep an icon down. In 2008 I remembered reading about an upcoming film to be released in 2009 which was to be a 3D movie for IMAX cinemas starring the title monster and called Godzilla 3D to the Max. This idea though did not get off the ground. Also in 2008, for the film Always Zoku Sanchōme no Yūhi (Always Sunset on Third Street 2) Godzilla himself makes a brief, but terrific appearance very early on. Then comes 2010. It was announced that Legendary Pictures, the studio behind Inception and The Dark Knight were interested in attaining the American movie rights to Godzilla in the hope of doing a complete reboot of a series that was initially planned around about 1995/1996 that sadly did not really work out by all counts. Well, Legendary were successful and during the time between then and May 2014 had been hard at work with director Gareth Edwards (and several writers including David S. Goyer, Frank Darabont, David Callaham and Max Borenstein) wanting to produce an Americanised Godzilla film which was by all counts faithful to the iconic Giant Force of Nature that has entertained and inspired millions including myself all over the world for nearly 60 years. Well, I can say that they have achieved this in such a way that it is not only a proper Godzilla film, but also one of the best.

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The film begins with an opening montage showing reports made by sailors over the centuries of encountering colossal sea monsters. The video then moves to 1954 showing footage of what appears to be giant spines on the surface of the water, like the dorsal fin of a shark. The footage continues to show this but no details as to what it is before concluding with a nuclear bomb detonation. The scene then moves to 1999 where Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate a pit at a mine in the Philippines, discovering a giant skeleton and a couple of pods. In Janjira, Japan meanwhile, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear physicist is examining a set of tremors at a nuclear power plant. Suddenly there is a reactor breach and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) who was in the bowels of the plant is unable to escape and the whole plant collapses. 15 years later, Joe’s son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an EOD technician returns home after 14 months away to his son Sam (Carson Bolde) and wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). He then gets a call from Japan saying that his father has been arrested again for breaching the quarantine zone.

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Ford heads for Japan where his father has become almost a complete crackpot after what happened and Ford tells him to come home. Joe though persuades Ford to help him go back to their old house to retrieve his discs. After this they spot the site of the old plant which appears to be being rebuilt. They are then arrested and taken there. Joe tries to tell the authorities there about who he is and what he thinks is happening, which gains the attention of Serizawa and Graham. Something at the plant then begins to stir and Serizawa orders they kill it, but instead it wakes up. A giant bat like creature which causes a lot of havoc before taking off killing Joe in the process. The military, overseen on the USS Saratoga commanded by Rear Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) takes over the operation to track the creature and Ford is briefed by Serizawa that the creature that attacked the plant is called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) which is an ancient creature that feeds on nuclear energy. The creature in turn is hunted by a much larger and ancient alpha-predator discovered by a deep-sea exploration in 1954 after the first Nuclear Submarine woke it up. The discovery of this creature led to multiple cover-ups as several nuclear weapon tests in the 1950’s were in fact an attempt at killing it. Serizawa heads up the division known as Monarch whose job it is to track the MUTO’s and possibly this other creature who is named by Serizawa as GODZILLA. Ford tells the team that his father mentioned something about the creature at the plant talking to something. Ford goes to Hawaii to catch a plane back home to San Francisco.

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News of a Nuclear Submarine disappearing is reported and a team of marines investigates in an Hawaiian Jungle where they find the Submarine being fed on by the creature. The military sends in fighters but are disabled by an EMP blast from the creature. Reports then come in of a second creature approaching the Island. Serizawa stands on the deck of the carrier and sees three dorsal spines running through the water. On the island, Ford looks after a boy split up from his parents when the lights go out. On the island, the sea regresses as a giant figure makes land. The power returns to the train, but the line is attacked by the MUTO. All of a sudden, the Giant figure appears on the scene in full view; a Giant lizard like creature that lets out a resplendent roar and attacks the MUTO. In San Francisco, Elle sees the footage of this battle live.  The following day Ford returns the boy to his parents at the city is in ruins. He manages to hook up with an army battalion while near Las Vegas, the other MUTO pod from the Philippines, has fed on Nuclear Waste and has escaped. It is determined that his one is a Female which cannot fly and the other a Male. Out at sea, a navy convoy holds a perimeter around the dorsal spines of the creature now confirmed as Godzilla.

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A plan is put into place to lure the three creatures together and destroy them despite Serizawa’s objections. Two nuclear missiles are put on board a train which Ford joins, but when inspecting a bridge, the train is attacked and destroyed. The following morning Ford is rescued along with one remaining missile. In San Francisco the city is evacuated with Elle staying behind to help. On the bridge, a convoy of busses witness the arrival of Godzilla from the ocean as the Male MUTO steals the remaining warhead before taking it to the now arrived Female who uses it to make a nest. Elle manages to get into a secure bunker as Godzilla arrives to fight the creatures. Ford joins in a battalion to retrieve the warhead and flies into San Francisco via halo jump witnessing the creature’s titanic battle as he lands. The Battalion run to the nest where they manage to get the nuclear weapon. Ford stays behind briefly to destroy the nest. Godzilla is struggling to take on both MUTO’s but the distraction of the nests destruction gives him enough time to power up, and let out a furious blast of his Atomic Death Ray. Ford and his team return the warhead to a boat but are attacked by the female. The male is killed by Godzilla but a building collapses on him. Ford manages to get the boat into open water but is corned by the female, who, in turn is attacked and killed by Godzilla. Godzilla then seemingly dies upon collapsing in victory. Ford is rescued as the bomb detonates out at sea. Elle is rescued and she, Ford and their son reunite. People scramble on the corpse of Godzilla, which then snorts as it wakes up. Branded as King of the Monsters, Godzilla simply departs and swims out of sight under the calm, still water.

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Godzilla is a heart stopping intense film but also a tense thriller with moments of human hardship and questions about the use of nuclear weapons and man’s desire to control the earth any means necessary, particularly nature itself, but more on that later. For now let’s look at the cast. The cast is a mix of a great bunch of characters and actors. Bryan Cranston who from the trailers looks like the lead bloke plays a professional scientist who while knowing his job and believes he is doing the right thing and probably is does face the fierce competition of nay-sayers, but in between that he does show a more human caring side to him, and this is what makes him stay in Japan to work out what is going on at his former job, even if it makes him forget what made him stay there in the first place which strains his relationship with his son. While he may be later on be made to look like a crackpot mad scientist, he does still show his caring side and is now way a joke to those around him or to the screen. It is obvious though that he does have a strained relationship with his son Ford due to the accident and surprising that his attitude to the situation doesn’t help to inspire Ford along all that much and is a shame that their relationship couldn’t be explored further, however it is a good showing of how much family means to someone and how that guilt can quickly ruin someone, particularly if they see it as their fault. Juliette Binoche’s character meanwhile is more of a real parental figure to Ford and has more of an easy-going understanding of everything around her and tries to get the best out of Cranston’s character and tries to make him think more rationally and in many respects is the pivot as to why Cranston is still there.

Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche

Ken Watanabe as a scientist is a lot like Dr Yamane (played by Takashi Shimura) in the original film as he has an understanding of such creatures as there are in this film but wants to be able to preserve for the benefit of science yet he is able to distinguish when they are a threat or not. He is a man with a dark past as represented by his pocket watch and finds himself mystified by Godzilla and almost finds himself able to rely on such a creature when he feels that he follows after the Mutos. This mystery about himself allows him to play such a role and while his name in the film is that of the scientist in the 1954 film (played by Akihiko Hirata); Ken Watanabe is playing his part brilliantly and is rather enjoyable, but maybe it should have been more the case that his character should have been called Yamane rather than Serizawa. Sally Hawkins who plays his assistant, shown more so with her calling him Sensei, shares a lot of on-screen time with Watanabe but not enough (more in the sequel perhaps?) I think as the relationship between the two works well and I do feel like she should have more scenes, but for those that she does have, are really enjoyable and brings that needed human side of the scientist when discussing the discovery of the creatures but also in dealing with them and does have a very remorseful side about her.

Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins

Carson Bolde plays a very good part and almost has his own backstory in comparison to those around him and while for the most part he is himself quiet he does show a level of emotion during those scenes. I mean for the part of a child they could have just used any old stand in, but Carson shows a level of acting that if nurtured correctly, could lead to more big roles. Richard T Jones is also quite good as Stenz’s second in command and is as rational as his superior by also not underestimating the situation.

Carson Bolde and Richard T Jones

I do find myself really liking the David Strathairn character; Admiral William Stenz (a name which does make me think of Nimitz). What I like about him is that he is not a cowboy, he is in charge of this entire operation after the Janjira incident, and he follows the creatures, even surrounding Godzilla but acts rationally by not attacking. This shows that he is a rational man that also does not underestimate the situation and is in no way gun hoe about the situation and decides to make a plan before actually attacking anything at all. It shows an easier going thinking to a serious idea and like a detective would prefer to know all the facts before doing anything else. He is also understanding of other people’s ideas and history particularly when Serizawa shows him the watch his dad in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped, but instead of laying into Serizawa for not wanting to use the bomb, he takes a more firm and understanding approach showing the world has moved on and there are better understandings of how and when such a weapon is used if at all.

The on-screen relationship between Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen is well done and actually looks like a realistic relationship between the two instead of just a generic one for the sake of it. The need to return to Elle does play on ford’s mind throughout and is his main journey in this film, not to attack the monsters but to return to the one he loves feeding on a primal instinct of love which helps make his character realistic to everything he does throughout making him both believable and creates a connection for the audience, but I can’t help but notice that in the city scenes, when he Collapses, so does Godzilla. This could be a sense of trying to imply what he is going through, Godzilla is too and so that struggle is both shared by Humanity and Nature. So while the film on this part is stating that nature cannot be controlled, there is a human connection to it instead and they are both in and are the same thing, however, why didn’t try to swim away? I do think though that there could have been more drama on his part particularly when his father dies and the scientists say they are sorry. As an audience member it is easier to see but mostly thanks to hindsight that if the authorities did tell Joe what was going on, his death could have been averted and if anyone deserved to know what really happened at the plant 15 years previously, it was the families of those who lost people. So I am surprised that Ford did not lay into them for that, because that’s what your primal urge would want to do, instead he just listens to them quietly instead of trying to get some form of restitution from what’s happened so far. Elizabeth Olsen is one of the best characters in this film by far. Like how Ford wants to get back to her, she is trying to stay in the city for the benefit of waiting for him but also trying to get in contact with him. I really do think there could have been generally more of Olsen throughout this film (which allows room for her in the sequel) those moments that you do see her are some of the best on the human side of the film. While everyone else is looking at the situation from afar for the most part, she is the one who is really experiencing them and allows for all bases in such a film to coexist as well as given an insight to the situation and pay a s ort of homage to those scenes in the Japanese series of people running from the danger. But because those scenes are focused on somebody, it means the audience can connect with someone who is there and feel what the situation is like.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen

Godzilla is beautifully produced and shot. Scenes involving running with humans and general drama scenes for one, but scenes including the halo jump as well as the human interactions with the monsters in the final act are beautifully done and represent very well what it is like being in that kind of situation. Even Janjira looks amazing. The overgrown deserted city which just happens to be there giving the impression of a city like Chernobyl is now and this is accomplished more brilliantly seeing as it doesn’t actually exist. The naval and military scenes show great uses of research as to how certain things would be done in a real life situation and in moments where the real thing could be used rather than a CGI model, like the ships, tanks and planes, they are used brilliantly. The film does actually work well as a thriller on its own when there is no monster in the scene. Take the bridge scene for example when the birds crash into the bus windows. This is almost like a true horror scene as you get the shock of your life only to discover its birds. During the monster scenes themselves great work has gone into close-up shots with the humans including the train bridge scenes and even in the final act. Along with that you have other scenes which plant ideas into your head of signs of the monsters, but don’t see them, and give an idea of how big they are and also what they are very much capable of. But it really comes down to how the monster scenes are done in tandem with the humans.  From the scenes on board with the aircraft carrier with Godzilla’s spines are protruding from the water, to the Hawaii airport when the water comes in around the man’s feet signifying the arrival of something big. It is down to the reactions of people seeing these things that are the true essence of how well such shots are done. Also I like the sense of scale that is shown. When Godzilla is first seen, you don’t see him in full, and even when you see him walking on land for the first time, the shots are restrained to eye level to show the true height and size of the creature and so you may only see arms and feet, and leave the reveal shots for later on when they are needed. Shots such as these and others help to show the human and audiences place in such a situation and allows the remain of a sense of awe altogether.

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The film’s soundtrack (produced by Alexandre Desplat) is amazing, and that is the quick way of describing it. The film’s score has elements of mystery, particularly in the Japanese scenes which while having a sense of suspense when the plant is crumbling, but also when Ford and Joe go to investigate. When you get past the opening introduction you have moments of awe from the scene in the Philippines to that of Ford and Joe entering the quarantine zone.  That piece in part is one of the best pieces in the film with moments of big drums signifying something big and catastrophic but not yet sure what and also give a more traditional Asian feel to the music. Other pieces earlier on have moments of a big reveal such as the film going to Janjira followed by a soundtrack that shows the early tension of escaping the power plant. Other pieces later on such as the reveal of the atomic breath, Godzilla’s victory and departure (and his own main theme) have connotations to old American monster movies and give that sense of awe as you gaze and what is happening. Godzilla’s victory piece does have a corny feel about it and feels more attributed to a character like King Kong, but works in the short-term and his departure also which I think helps to correct this, his victory piece though goes into a more sombre bit which relates to the cost and sacrifice endured to achieve victory. The monsters themselves do share quite a bit of the soundtrack too including the MUTO reveals and the moment Godzilla arrives at the Golden Gate Bridge. But sneaked in there is a small little horror piece which is used to great effect in scenes where the soldiers are approaching something, and it can be seen, but not clearly and is more like the calm before the storm, but gets you ready for it.

For me, the best thing about the soundtrack is Godzilla’s theme. While the soundtrack does not carry any themes produced by Akira Ifukube, they have taken great care in producing a soundtrack which works for the title character. You have that mystery there to begin with, just to begin with. Then hallway through, there is this grand scale of notes which reveal some form of terror which builds up inside you. It’s like your eyes have seen something that betrays you and now you’re by the foot of a great terror.

It’s like something relentless is coming to get you, you manage to spot it and your eyes can’t get away from it because it’s just unbelievable and you can’t run, you just can’t. Like a great abomination, like a werewolf or Frankenstein’s Monster, it’s running, rampaging towards you and then you trip trying to run. And it’s got you. Your Heart Stops. What next is up to him?

GENEPOOL (Click Here for Part 2).





It Took The God Out Of Godzilla – Godzilla (1998)

5 03 2014

Godzilla 1998 (TriStar Pictures - 1998)

Yes, it’s true, this is my review of the 1998 Godzilla film. Well I thought that with the new film coming out (which I hope will correct everything that went ‘horribly wrong’ with the 1998 film) I would take the opportunity to review this film. Now, bear in mind, while I could state (over and over again) why this film is not a Godzilla film, I (hopefully) will try to keep it short as not to bore you and aim to delve more deeply into why the 1998 Godzilla is not a Godzilla film in a few weeks’ time.

Godzilla 1954

I was actually very excited back in 1998 to the release of the 1998 Godzilla film (obviously given the date). I remember hearing way back in 1996 on a films programme (I think it was on Channel 4) stating the film was due for release in 1998, and had a picture of the Japanese Monster himself. So I had memorized the date, so come 1998, I was really looking forward to what was coming. BBC TWO even had a one-off night in celebration of the upcoming film called Monster Night with a documentary on the history of Godzilla, monster fights and two amazing films: King Kong (1976) and the Fantastic Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, One of the best. There was lots of clips (including the “It’s Pregnant” scene, revealing a pivotal plot point before the film’s release; Thanks) and trailers for the film being shown on other shows too including Blue Peter. Then came the film itself (directed by Roland Emmerich I should add), and I quite enjoyed it (at first), it had ‘the creature’ and to begin with I thought it was quite good (although to be fair, I was only 9 years old). It is only the intervening years when I read and discovered more in the film series, that I began to discover the flaws, and some recent viewings have also changed my thoughts on the film, greatly, so prepare for a review, 16 years in the making (sounds like Jurassic Park doesn’t it).

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The film begins in an old 1950’s/1960’s documentary style video showing something happening in French Polynesia. In time this becomes a video of the test of a Nuclear Weapon (Amazing Scene combined with the soundtrack). After the test dies down, a solitary Iguana’s egg seemingly has survived as the rain arrives. A few decades later a Japanese fish processing vessel is attacked by an unknown entity, with claws and a tail. In Chernobyl meanwhile, a biologist called Dr. Nicko “Nick” Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is playing with Earthworms when two men arrive (one of them being Glenn Morshower) telling him that he has been re-assigned. In Tahiti a group of Frenchmen arrive at a hospital where they talk to a survivor of the vessel accident who is at first reserved to talk to them, but when the lead Frenchman (Jean Reno) manages to get the survivor’s attention, the survivor says “Gojira”. Nick Tatopoulos arrives by military escort in Panama and is introduced to Colonel Hicks (Kevin Dunn) and tries to explain to the Colonel why he was studying worms and is led into a Giant Footprint. He meets Dr. Elsie Chapman (Vicki Lewis) and Dr. Mendel Craven (Malcolm Danare) who are studying the footprints.

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In Manhattan New York, a young woman named Audrey Timmons (Maria Pitillo) who works for a New York News Channel alongside Lucy Palotti (Arabella Field) dreams of being a reporter and asks her boss Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer) if there has been any news on a potential future job, which there appears not to be. In Jamaica the science and military team stumble upon the wreck of the fishing vessel, where the Frenchmen are also. The lead from earlier introduces himself to Colonel Hicks saying he is an insurance agent. Colonel Hicks orders him out of the area, and while doing so, the lead spots Nick briefly before walking off. Off the eastern seaboard meanwhile three fishing trawlers get pulled underwater, this is reported to Colonel Hicks, with Elsie thinking that this thing is some long-lost dinosaur, but nick suggests that the creature is an entirely new species. A fisherman goes down to Manhattan Harbor in the pouring rain, and seemingly catches something big which then robs the man of his fishing rod. Out at sea the man sees a giant wave come towards him, with two big spikes coming out of the water. Out of the water comes a titanic beast which goes on a rampage of the fishing area of Manhattan. During this time, Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) and his assistant Gene (Lorry Goldman) are speaking at a rally, as large thuds are heard with mini earthquakes, this is followed by the creature crashing the session. In a Manhattan Café, Audrey, Lucy, and Lucy’s wife Victor “Animal” Palotti (Hank Azaria) are discussing Audrey’s nice attitude before moving onto Audrey’s old boyfriend Nick who she spots on the TV with the Army. The thuds arrive and the creature’s feet are seen moving past the building. Animal grabs his camera and chases after it, only to be almost trodden by it.

The Military and Science team arrive in Manhattan after the creature seemingly vanishes. Hicks is introduced to Sergeant O’Neil (Doug Savant) who states the creature just disappeared, Nick meanwhile doesn’t think so, then there is a report on the incident, with footage from Animal. At the news company, Animal is heralded as a hero, and Audrey steals Caiman’s Press badge. The Mayor meanwhile tries to get a hold of the situation, only for the Lead Frenchman to put a microphone on him. An underground scene of destruction is found, believing the creature went through it. Nick suggests that the creature is just an animal and when a fish is found, a plan is put into place to lure the creature out and kill it. This leads to the creature coming into full view for the first time, and burping at Nick. The creature eats all the fish and is then attacked by the army, who are unsuccessful in dealing with it. Audrey and Nick meet each other for the first time in years and grab a coffee at the base, where nick discovers the creature may be pregnant. As he goes off to do more testing, Audrey steals a tape of confidential footage in an attempt to make a quick name for herself.

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The military searches the city without much look, Nick tells the Army of his findings just when Audrey’s report comes on, which has been stolen by Caiman and names the creature Godzilla. Nick is kicked off the team, but implores Lucy to get hicks to search for the eggs. Audrey tries to apologize to Nick, who doesn’t want to listen. Nick heads for the airport, secretly followed by animal, which leads to Nick being kidnapped by the lead Frenchman who introduces himself as Philippe Roaché and is taken to an old warehouse full of weapons. The Frenchmen are agents of the DGSE (Directorate-General for External Security), the French intelligence agency. They have been watching the whole incident with a close eye in the hope of covering up their country’s role in the incident. They plan to look for the creature’s nest. Back in New York, Animal convinces Audrey to go with him, and follow the Frenchmen. In the sewers where the fish was found earlier, Godzilla appears to the search team who, after avoiding him, trace the creature’s steps. In Manhattan the military put a new plan into action to kill Godzilla by luring him into the open, this plan seemingly fails and Godzilla is chased into the Hudson river where he is seemingly killed by a couple of submarines.

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In the sewers, the search arrives at Madison Square Garden where over 200 eggs are discovered and when trying to destroy them, they all hatch. The creatures attack the search team and Animal and Audrey thinking they are food. After meeting up with each other (minus several Frenchmen who have all been eaten) the four people send a message to the military and the outside world telling them the building must be destroyed. Fighters are sent and the four just barely get out of the building. Then Godzilla arrives, not dead after all and sees the group next to the dead bodies of his hatchlings. He chases after the group, driving past a military escort who are seemingly going to Madison Square Garden. Nick manages to contact O’Neil and after a couple of minutes in Godzilla’s mouth, they lead the creature to the Brooklyn Bridge where he is entangled in it and attacked by fighters. Godzilla dies, The city celebrates, Audrey quits her job and Philippe disappears. Back in Madison Square Garden, One Egg survives, then hatches.

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Godzilla’s Cast is a bit of an oddball selection of both good and bad. Matthew Broderick’s character is generally quite annoying and rather than being the lead human appears, initially and majority, a piece of comedy relief. While he does make up for it at the end of the film by being more intelligent than his character is meant to be as well as compassionate towards those around him, but it feels a bit too late for him, and I think the running joke that no one can appear to pronounce his character’s last name is a bit overdone. Maria Pitillo’s character on the other hand is actually quite likeable as in her character develops as the film goes on and at least is honest for the majority. While attitude is something that is ‘apparently’ needed in Manhattan, her character is best when she is just herself and there is a nice on-screen presence whenever she is around, even if she is the somewhat combination of the purposed damsel in distress/love interest. In many a sense, she is a tougher character than Broderick’s character. Hank Azaria’s character is seemingly also a Comedy Relief, but deep down he is a good character as in he is more a sense of reasoning among the characters as he is more down to earth than everyone else and is comedic look and acting is more about him being him and not comedic for the purpose of it. Jean Reno’s character though is the top dog of the film’s human main cast. He gives off a great performance as a secret agent and he physically looks intimidating as he does not appear to smile. It’s like he is hiding something and while there are hints here and there, he gets a proper reveal and is a serious man as he does it, not one who takes his position lightly.

Broderick, Pitillo, Azaria, Reno

The main standouts though, are the film’s supporting characters. Sergeant O’Neil has a sense of being comedic as it shows he is a bit clumsy, making his character seem on par or equal with Nick, but as a character, he is far better than Nick as Nick is like a stereotypical Nerd while O’Neil is a professional soldier and much more likeable as a result. Colonel Hicks is well-played and is one of the films standouts. He gives the appearance of a well-trained soldier and officer but deep down has a calm and understandable side to him making him likeable to those around him, and a much more preferable person in dealing in a situation than any ordinary soldier or officer. Lucy Palotti is very likeable despite her wild exterior. While she plays the sort of agony aunt character type wife to Animal, she shows great control over her emotions and can be a calm reassuring person deep down and that’s why she is so likeable.

Savant, Dunn, Field

But it’s not just them; some of the film’s most appealing characters off to the side are the film’s extras. While the French Spies are almost like the Frogs from Flushed Away (ok, it was 8 years later) as in they are almost made fun of as to what they do, they are quite nicely played. Some of the best though are in the military scenes, such as the Utah Submarine Captain (Derek Webster) and his number two, The Anchorage Captain (David Pressman), The Navy Admiral (Richard Gant), The Helicopter pilot in the second attack on Godzilla and also the army man Nick and Philippe encounter as they re-enter New York. Added to that you have Glenn Morshower’s brief appearance and the two Japanese men on the bridge of the fishing vessel when it goes down. In many a sense, it is the little touches or in this cases appearances that help.

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The film’s special effects, well those for Godzilla anyway, are outstanding. As good as Jurassic Park in my opinion, particularly when you include the scenes of the whole creature in full view, such as his initial attack on Manhattan, first full sighting and the second attack on him including the moment when the soldier looks down at him and when he is walking through the streets as well as his close up with the military personnel. The sound effects during this point help too. His roar is that of like Godzilla but he also makes some interesting, more like animal sounds too, giving him a bit of depth. The Eggs though, and most of the CGI Babies though are pretty atrocious, even for then. Godzilla looked Awesome in this film, how come the kiddies did not look the same and are at best when they are animatronics. Ok, while the eggs are not CGI but real, they do look like cardboard (I wonder if the same company worked on Les Miserables).

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The soundtrack (provided by David Arnold and Michael Lloyd) is not too bad either, there are times when the music lacks some depth such as the secret spy/French scenes and is somewhat lack luster, but when you take, the reveal scene of the creature halfway through, the keyboard has a sense of Phantom of the Opera about it, like a grand reveal or realization about it like this is something to behold. Another case is that of the opening titles which add an element of mystery followed by cold realized horror of what was happening, which was then followed by a sense of cold mystery and intrigue as the egg stands alone and then there is the pursuit style theme for the submarine attack also (not forgetting the soundtrack provided by Puff Daddy‘s; Come With Me remix of the Led Zeppelin Song Kashmir).

So now we move on to the down side. While I have stated that I will talk about this in more detail at a later time, I still need to at least cover the basics. The films main problem is that title: “GODZILLA”. With the idea that an American Godzilla film could happen where the biggest budgets could create an amazing film as well as show Godzilla to a potentially wider audience, it doesn’t exactly help when the creature in the film is not Godzilla. Godzilla is a giant monster, a metaphor for the destruction caused by nuclear power, a force of nature itself, Mother Nature putting her foot down and saying “enough” to man destroying the world. In comparison the creature in this film is just an animal, an animal just trying to live, acts like an animal, thinks like an animal and…..reproduces like an animal.  With the hope of big special effects for a legendary monster, what we got instead was a giant Iguana that is also a lot smaller than the original creature. While the destruction and panic caused by him was there, it was not completely there, as while he had the trademark dorsal spines, he was bent over like a T-Rex instead of up straight and without his famous Atomic Breath. This film in this case is ‘not really a Godzilla film at all'; it is just a Monster Movie with a famous name attached to it (sort of like the Karate Kid film a few years ago).

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Despite this though, the film does have some great scenes. The opening credits showing the full force of a nuclear weapon, something that is hardly shown in Cinema at all. The fishing scene is nicely made and the opening rampage is like that of a disaster movie but does not reveal the monster early on and just teases the audience with him (much like the character of Mayor Ebert’s name). then the grand appearance by him followed later on by the appearance by him for the second attack, plus the entire second attack including the scenes with the submarines.

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The Madison Square Garden nest scene though feels to be completely pointless and un-needed except for a reveal that Godzilla was not destroyed by the torpedoes. It just feels completely un-needed for this reason and feels like it is just there to fill up time. It also sort of lowers the tone of the film, the idea that there is something scary in Manhattan, something horrifying, and the idea that this scene’s tone has been lowered to allow some form of Family Friendliness for the whole family, instead of a proper action film if not a complete Monster Film.

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While it is slightly disappointing what has happened to this film due to its name, as a Monster Film it is rather enjoyable and even after 16 years, still looks pretty good. It has an interesting cast, some great scenes, and a good soundtrack. So while I can say that it is enjoyable, I will say this, and it is a bit predictable (by this point), don’t treat it like a Godzilla film, it isn’t, treat it as something different, and Let Godzilla move on from this and enjoy a potential new life in the eye of American cinema.

GENEPOOL





Godzilla vs The Original Godzilla – Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla

17 06 2013

Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (Toho Co., Ltd. - 2002)

Back in 2011 I wanted to do a review of the original 1974 Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, but at the time of writing it, Japan had been hit by a huge tsunami, so I decided to leave it. But now MechaGodzilla finally arrives as I bring you one of the best films from the series, and one of my ultimate Favourite films. To date, Godzilla has fought about 22 Monsters (not including variations), but the Big G has not really fought himself before. Most times he has appeared to fight himself have mostly been in the form of a robotic version of himself (including a disguise used by MechaGodzilla in  the original Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla) not to mention the Space version of himself in the 1995 film; Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla. However in 2002 Godzilla would indeed fight against himself (well, more like his ancestor), and would do so while also fighting his main rival. No, not King Ghidorah, MechaGodzilla.

MechaGodzilla: Showa, Hesei and Millenium

The film begins in 1999 with a military operation in action at a port. By night a typhoon arrives and reporters are reporting what is happening. Behind them a large waves hits the shore and a rather familiar monster begins to rise out of the sea. The Anti-Megalosaurs Force (AMF) goes into action with several tanks and maser weapons en-route to attack the monster, now smashing small local villages. The AMF begin their attack but are unsuccessful. The maser weapons have a bit more luck but as the monster gets closer, an accident occurs where a small jeep falls off a cliff only to be trampled by the Monsters foot. The following day, the maser tanks driver Lt. Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) is made a scapegoat for the incident and is given a job in data resources.

GAMG Akane

The Prime Minister (Kumi Mizuno) of Japan recounts previous monster incidents in Japan’s history including the rampage by the original Godzilla as well as attacks by Mothra and Gaira and how these attacks were suppressed by new weapons developed. Now with the confirmation that the Monster from the previous night’s attack was indeed Godzilla, the country needs a new weapon. A scientist at a University named Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma) is contacted by Government Agents. He is taken to a science centre where, along with other top scientists are shown the bone remains of the original 1954 Godzilla. The plan by the government is to use the bones to build the ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon. After some persuasion from his daughter Sara (Kana Onodera), Yuhara joins the team in building the weapon. Four years later, the Prime Minister has stepped down and has handed her position over to Hayato Igarashi (Akira Nakao). The weapon is complete and is named Kiryu, A special unit is created whose job it is to control Kiryu and is led by Colonel Togashi (Kou Takasugi), Akane is asked to join the group, she accepts, however one person from the group disagrees to this as his brother was in the jeep that was trampled by Godzilla in 1999.

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After months of training Yuhara and his daughter meet Akane who takes an interest in Sara’s sleeping grass plant. Yuhara tries to ask Akane on a date, but is unsuccessful. Kiryu is revealed to the world and its abilities are demonstrated, including its main weapon, the Absolute Zero Cannon. During this presentation Godzilla is spotted heading for Japan, Kiryu is ordered to deploy. Godzilla arrives in Tokyo near an aquarium, wrecking it in the process. Kiryu is deployed and the two monsters stare at each other. Kiryu launches several missile attacks on Godzilla which don’t seem to have much success, but when Godzilla roars, Kiryu appears to recognize it. Akane, who is tasked with piloting Kiryu, tries to activate the Absolute Zero Cannon and kill Godzilla, but it fails. Godzilla retreats into the sea. Kiryu is about to be picked up by special aircraft when it mysteriously attacks the aircraft. Kiryu then goes on a rampage of downtown Tokyo. Akane’s rival’s plane crashes and Akane rescues him before his plane explodes. Kiryu’s rampage continues until his energy levels drop completely running out of power in the process and coming to a complete halt.

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Kiryu is repaired as questions of what happened begin to arise. Akane’s rival is seemingly unhappy about being rescued, while the rest of the Kiryu squad seem to be thankful for what she did and give her a warm round of applause and properly welcome her into the group. She however still feels alone despite Sara trying to reach out to her. Yuhara works out that the DNA of the original Godzilla caused the issue, recognizing the roar of the new Godzilla. Yuhara continues to attempt to spring up romance with Akane while Sara becomes upset with the Idea that Kiryu should be made to fight Godzilla instead of being friends with him.

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Godzilla reappears and the Prime Minister makes the decision to allow Kiryu to fight despite the possible risk. Kiryu goes on the attack and quickly gets an upper hand but soon runs out of weaponry and gets heavily damaged by Godzilla. Akane then shows off what Kiryu can do by having Kiryu fight in hand to hand combat. This initially works and so the Absolute Zero Canon is prepared to fire. Then Godzilla pulls off an advantage by making Kiryu fall backwards destroying three tall buildings with the Absolute Zero Canon instead. This heavily damages Kiryu and so Akane goes down onto the ground to enter and control Kiryu internally rather than remotely. The Japanese Defence Force deploys to distract Godzilla while this is going on. Akane manages to Get Kiryu working again but Kiryu needs power, so the electric companies cause a Mass Blackout across Tokyo. Kiryu gets back up only to be blasted by Godzilla. Akane is injured but gets strength to continue fighting by memories of Sara telling her how precious life is. Kiryu gets back up ready to fight, Akane’s rival flies his plane into Godzilla’s mouth to prevent him firing his atomic breath at Kiryu again.

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Akane, prepares to fire the Absolute Zero Canon at Godzilla, but holds it as it would potentially kill her rival if she fired it, instead she moves Kiryu into Godzilla, grabs his mouth then throws her rivals plane away before picking up Godzilla and flying him into the sea. The sea freezes as she flies Kiryu into it. Godzilla rises out of the sea with a chest wound, he moves in an opposite direction to Tokyo as Kiryu rises out of the sea. Akane stands on Kiryu’s shoulder and watches Godzilla go out to sea. In a post credits scene, Akane meets up with Sara and Yuhara and thanks Sara for giving her strength. She states that the battle was a draw and invites Yuhara and Sara out for dinner before looking up at Kiryu and Saluting.

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I do have the distinct feeling that the Director Masaaki Tezuka and TOHO have wanted to do a film along the lines of the plot of this film for a long time now. If you were to watch an episode of the 1990’s cartoon series there is a plot of some episodes which are along the same lines as this one. As well as that, there was also an unused plot idea in the 1990’s where Godzilla would fight the Ghost from the 1954 film. It is interesting to note how the plot of this film works. For the most part it is a film about a country building a weapon to defend itself from a recurring threat, while also being a film that has essences of philosophy such as the value of life as well as parts about friendship and love which is mostly made up of the growing friendship between Sara and Akane and the possible romance between Akane and Yuhara. These three parts don’t take a side stance either; they are present throughout the film as more of a second plot device. That is interesting in contrast to other Godzilla films which may hint at those possibilities while this one shows it more directly. I also like how the films story mentions other TOHO films like Mothra and The War of the Gargantuas.

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The films cast are a nice range of characters with actors that suit them. Characters like Yuhara, Togashi and Prime Minister Igarashi make up the backbone of the film’s acting. Yuhara is the single father who has two main jobs, looking after his daughter, and his work on Kiryu and so is able to balance the two only just, but the flaw in his character is revealed when it is revealed he is not very good at chatting to women and so becomes a bit of a comedy character, but not too much though and so does not ruin the character. It is nice to see Kumi Mizuno return to the Godzilla series as the short lived Prime Minister of Japan before Akira Nakao steps in.  Togashi meanwhile is a strong leader character who has affections to Akane in some form, we don’t know what but they are strong enough to remember her and think about her when the project he is leading needs good soldiers. Igarashi only makes a few appearances but is played excellently by series regular Akira Nakao who plays leaders very well in my opinion, I look forward to his parts as he is an amazing actor in those positions, a lot like Koji Yakusho in some respects. The character of Sara meanwhile is one that is almost like a storyteller in the respects that she is guiding the story along between Akane and her father and also helps Akane to come to terms with herself and her place in the world. She is almost a philosopher as well as she continually asks questions about everything around her that she does not understand but still has an answer for them too.

Cast

The real heavyweight of the film’s acting though (other than the two Giant Monsters) is Yumiko Shaku playing the part of Akane. She is the main lead human of the film and while Sara could be seen as the film’s story teller, Akane is the story’s director. The during the construction of Kiryu as well as the incident at the beginning and the end, you are very much focused on her throughout the film. For most of the early part she does not do much talking but her expressions pretty much do more than speaking would do. She has the look of someone who is holding in something about herself and so buries herself into both her training and work to distract herself from these things, it is not until the story begins to unfold that these things come to light. The friendship she strikes up with Sara and Yuhara (and in some cases Kiryu) is a sign of these things getting better but she still feels alone, even with the help and acceptance of those working with her after saving her rival’s life. As the film comes to a close, it is here that she realizes that life is worth living and that people do care about her even after everything that has happened. The character of Akane is one of the series best female characters by far and I do hope that in the future Yumiko Shaku returns to the series in a similar (or better role, maybe a higher position in the military or government position perhaps) role in the future.

Yumiko Shaku

Now we move onto the Monsters, the real stars of the film. Kiryu is my Favourite version of MechaGodzilla to date. His design is spectacular and looks both nasty and terrifying. The effects used for him are some of the best in the series.  His appearance has the scary terrifying look of the original Godzilla but his design is more similar to the 1995 MechaGodzilla thanks to such additions as the jetpack thing on his back and the variety of weapons. He is more of a weapons platform of devastating weapons than being an entire weapon. He is however better than previous versions of himself by one major difference, he has an identity. In the past he has either been just another monster or a weapon. Because of the machine being built around the bones of a former Godzilla and by being in-touch with that monster he has more of a personality, his rampage early on in the film represents this by taking control of himself rather than be directed or controlled and therefore giving him more of a part in the film. It is also Great to see a MechaGodzilla that is more in league with the times, his construction is well documented which gives a nice touch to the story and his character but his construction is not limited to the use of Aliens or people from the future, he is built by the present times due to a need for him to be built.

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Godzilla meanwhile makes one of his best appearances in his film career. He is much larger and taller in this film compared to the previous film and several shots are used to show this with great effect. Like all but one film in the millennium series, his introduction is that he has not been seen since the original 1954 film, but instead of becoming a folk tale, his presence is still felt thanks to appearances from other monsters. Some CGI is used in this film for Godzilla’s part but these are really only for the shots from the original film. His strength and power is used to great effect in this film showing that even if a weapon is built that can go toe to toe with him, it is still only just, and on several occasions this is proven. Godzilla’s design is also magnificent and really matches his size also, and the way his eyes sometimes look astonished at what he sees and other times where his eyes make him look really sinister add more flavour to his character, possibly due to the characteristics his eyes brought in the previous film.

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Most of the films main special effects are used in the military scenes. While the use of miniatures is till apparent, something that is a regular feature throughout the series; more uses of actual, real life weapons are used in the film also. Things such as tank and vehicle close-ups are filmed brilliantly with some shots taking place inside the vehicles. Not only that, but close-ups on a human level when using a giant miniature in the background made things that are not real, real. The battle sequences in this film are some of the best to date, not just the fight sequences between the monsters but also the occasions when weapons are used against the monsters and the use of close-ups help this also. But not just that, the weapons used by Kiryu look superb, weapons including the mouth laser, missiles and the Absolute Zero Cannon too, and when it is used, the effect of the weapon is Fantastic.

Type 90 Maser Cannon

Other notable uses of special effects are the early scenes of Godzilla rising out of the sea, his rampage through small villages. The weather plays an important part the weather in some shots might of course be the real thing, but those scenes are beautiful. The detail of the special effects is incredible and this comes to great use when looking at the systems and buildings used for the construction of Kiryu as well as the testing ground, the vehicles used for transportation, the interiors, everything. But one of the best special effects of this film is the Giant Skeleton of the original Godzilla. The large sea tank that the skeleton is kept in, the people swimming around it. It is only seen for one scene, but it is terrific.

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The film’s soundtrack (provided by Michiru Oshima) is mostly made up if not completely made up of military style music. From the TOHO logo at the beginning of the film to the fantastic opening titles, and this is pretty much what it is like throughout with scenes including the first meet between Godzilla and Kiryu. Every now and again though there is something different in the music such as the skeleton reveal, Kiryu’s rampage and scenes between the three main human characters. The soundtrack gives a nice comparison when it is compared to the mystical themes provided by Kow Otani in the previous film but due to this film’s theme though, the military style soundtrack works extremely well where as a mystical theme would not.

Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is an Amazing film. The film, like many in the millennium series has references to the original 1954 film but processes it in its own way, it even (well sort of) brings back the original monster into the film to meet his descendant in combat. The cast is a good mix with most credit going to Yumiko Shaku. The Monsters are brilliant and the action/fight sequences are terrific but does not rely on those and continues to amaze throughout in other forms too. The soundtrack has a nice military sense to it for a film that is made up of mostly military themes, and the special effects are Fantastic. It is a Great Triumph for Masaaki Tezuka after what happened with his previous attempt at a Godzilla Film and he can hold his head high, producing one of the Best Film’s in the entire series as well as one of my Favourite Films. And not only that, this film had a direct sequel the following year.

GENEPOOL








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