The Great Godzilla Movie Marathon: Part 5 – The American Movies

The Great Godzilla Movie Marathon: Part 5 – The American Movies

Hi crew! ūüĎčūüŹĽ We finally made it to the American¬†Godzilla¬†movies! I started this project back in September and now we’re at the end of November and I’m finally finished. Should I be proud to say that I watched all forty Godzilla¬†movies in three months? Probably not but I sort of am.

When you have an internationally famous and beloved pop culture icon like Godzilla, Hollywood is of course going to come knocking. Even though it took 44 years for Hollywood to give the world an original American¬†Godzilla, that didn’t stop them from recutting some of the Japanese movies and Americanising them for post-war Americans whose government was occupying Japan at the time and enacted heavy censorship laws. This meant that Japanese filmmakers weren’t allowed to make movies about the military or criticise the US. Godzilla¬†was created by working around the censorship laws and it’s somewhat ironic that Hollywood ended up clamouring to make their own version of the character, with varying results.

I was introduced to the franchise by the American movies so I can’t really be too hard on them, but there will always be an exception to that.

Unlike the last four posts, I didn’t have to watch these movies with English subtitles but I did anyway because my hearing comprehension is terrible. And I only had to search the web for¬†Gigantis the Fire Monster¬†and¬†Godzilla 1985¬†because I own the rest of them apart from the first American¬†Godzilla¬†which is easily available on streaming services.

I will never own a physical copy of that movie and I will explain why.

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Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)

GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!

Directed by Terry O. Morse and Ishiro Honda
Released 1954
Run time: 80 minutes (1 hr, 20 mins)
My Rating –

When I first heard about this movie’s existence, I remember wondering why it needed to exist and also thinking that it would be a heavily Americanised piece of trash. I’ve now watched this movie twice and I can say that while it is pretty Americanised, it’s not trash and I do understand why it exists.

The original¬†Godzilla¬†makes a lot of explicit references to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also the nuclear testing that the US was carrying out in the Pacific in the 1950s. From what I understand, the US government acted as if bombing Japan to kingdom come was a good thing because it “saved” the Japanese from the Imperial government when in reality, they had already surrendered and it just killed a ton of people. Simply dubbing the movie into English wouldn’t have been good enough, so they had to recut it and add scenes in.

This movie revolves around US reporter Steve Martin (no, not¬†that¬†Steve Martin) who has stopped off in Tokyo to meet with his old friend Dr Serizawa before moving on to Cairo. While there, he gets caught up in the tragedy of the city being attacked by a giant monster. The story remains mostly the same, but we’re looking in from an outside perspective since most of it is told through narration by Steve. And that’s fine but to me, a lot of the tragic aspects of the story are lost because we’re not really experiencing it for ourselves.

What I appreciate about this version of the movie is that it still takes itself seriously and doesn’t turn it into a generic cheesy monster movie that was so commonplace in the 1950s. The more dire aspects of the story – people dying, radiation burns, the city being destroyed like it was when it was firebombed during the War – aren’t downplayed at all and are just as horrific and Raymond Burr’s performance doesn’t have any elements of ham and cheese to it at all. He knew exactly what kind of movie he was in and he delivered a great performance.

Another thing that I appreciate is that even though the main character is a white American, the Japanese characters that weren’t present in the original movie are still played by Asian-Americans. I can’t comment if they were all Japanese, but the fact that a movie from the 1950s cast Asian-Americans to play Asian characters instead of casting white actors and putting them in yellowface is something to commend the studio for.

I don’t think that this version of the movie is the masterpiece that the original is, and that may partly be because I only watched it for the first time last year, but it is still enjoyable in its own way. There are a lot of differences between the two and the important aspect of why Godzilla exists has been removed, but it doesn’t take an insulting approach and retains the original’s seriousness.

Gigantis, the Fire MonsterGIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER!

Directed by Motoyoshi Oda and Hugo Grimaldi
Released 1959
Run time: 88 minutes (1 hr, 18 mins)
My Rating –

I know what you’re thinking: “who the heck is Gigantis and why are they included in a¬†Godzilla¬†post?”¬†Gigantis the Fire Monster¬†is the US dubbed version of¬†Godzilla Raids Again and almost every choice that was made in the production is a questionable one. I think the original¬†Godzilla Raids Again¬†is just fine but this one missed the mark for me.

The first issue I have with this version is that there is¬†too much narration.¬†It feels like the producers thought that western audiences wouldn’t be able to do something as simple as read facial expressions and the narration doesn’t let the scenes speak for themselves. The previous movie has a lot of narration too, but that’s more understandable because the main character is a journalist who is reporting on the action for his job. The main character of this movie is a pilot for a fishing company and narrates every pretty much every scene, even those that he isn’t in. It’s so overbearing that it’s like watching a children’s show with the amount of hand-holding.

While I’m on the subject of narration, the dubbing here is so cartoonish that it tiptoes between cringeworthy and funny. Tsukioka (the protagonist and narrator) is voiced by Chinese-American actor Keye Luke who I can only assume is affecting a Japanese accent like the other actors and is one of the only Asian-Americans that is named in the cast next to George Takei (yes,¬†that¬†George Takei). Kobayashi (the secondary protagonist) is voiced by white actor Marvin Miller – who is most famous for voicing Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet¬†– and has been given a Japanese Barney Rubble-esque voice which is so obnoxious that every time he appeared my brain groaned. Miller was obviously given the direction that Kobayashi is supposed to be the comic relief character but he ran with it a little too much. The other actors also affect Japanese accents and while they don’t veer off into offensive territory (thank God), they’re not very good either.

Lastly, the biggest crime this dub commits lies with the monsters. Why has Godzilla been renamed “Gigantis”? To convince the audience that this wasn’t a¬†Godzilla¬†sequel because the distributor thought that they would be confused and also because he thought that a standalone monster movie would be more successful. Boy, was he wrong.

Not only has Godzilla’s name been changed, but his iconic roar has also been replaced with Anguirus’ and it just sounds wrong. I can’t imagine people in the 50’s going into this movie not knowing who Godzilla is and coming out thinking that it was a new original franchise because¬†footage from the first movie has been left intact.¬†So many decisions that went into this movie being released this way make my brain hurt and I just don’t understand how Toho was okay with this.

King Kong vs GodzillaKING KONG VS. GODZILLA (US VERSION)

Directed by “Inoshiro” Honda and Thomas Montgomery
Released 1963
Run time: 90 minutes (1 hr, 30 mins)
My Rating –

I don’t really want to sound like a broken record with these recuts but there are only so many ways I can say that the original Japanese cuts are better. For starters, the Japanese cast members are able to pronounce “Hokkaido” correctly unlike the American dubbers who completely butcher the pronunciation and turn it into “Hoe kye ah doh”.

My biggest problem with this movie is that the satirical elements of the Japanese cut are pretty much gone. Instead of the movie making a comment on the culture of television and publicity in Japan at the time, the movie is delivered as if it’s a news broadcast with an anchorman introducing and commenting on the action. Because the satire has been removed, a lot of the comic scenes have either been removed or have been altered so that they’re not funny anymore. Japanese humour is obviously very different to American humour but those scenes were pretty important to the storyline so it feels like something is missing.

Something else that is missing is Akira Ifukube’s score. After watching over thirty movies, I have come to absolutely adore Ifukube’s work because it suits the genre so well, and this cut replaces the majority of his score with stock music from the Universal library and it just doesn’t feel the same. Any time that it popped up it felt like meeting up with an old friend, even if it was only for a couple of minutes.

My last gripe is the acting. Dubbing is a difficult thing to do but so many people just can’t get it right, and the dubbers here definitely don’t get it right. If the line deliveries aren’t cartoonish, they’re just flat and it depends on the character. The American actors who aren’t dubbing, however, aren’t really much better. Michael Kieth, who plays the UN reporter gives the best performance out of the English-speaking actors but there is still the issue of pronunciation of Japanese names. Out of all the actors in this version of the movie, only one of them pronounces “Hokkaido” correctly and it is painful to hear it be mispronounced so many times. But I don’t know why I expected flawless pronunciations when the opening credits spell Ishiro Honda’s first name as “Inoshiro” for some reason.

The reason why I’m not being as hard on this movie as I was with¬†Gigantis is that this isn’t a bad movie, it’s just an inferior Americanised cut of a good movie. The effects are still good and the fight scenes are exciting, but what surrounds them have been somewhat soured by the poor dubbing. I don’t regret watching this version but I still think the original Japanese version is better.

Godzilla 1985

GODZILLA 1985

Directed by R.J. Kizer and Koji Hashimoto
Released 1985
Run time: 87 minutes (1 hr, 27 mins)
My Rating –

Let me fill you in on something about me: nothing bothers me more in media-related circles when something is announced and people‚Äôs reaction to it is ‚Äúnobody asked for this‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúthis doesn‚Äôt need to exist.‚ÄĚ Producing entertainment like books, movies, or TV shows takes a lot of hard work from a lot of people and saying ‚Äúnobody asked for this‚ÄĚ is like spitting in those people‚Äôs faces.

Another thing about me is that I am also a hypocrite. This recut did not need to be made. Sure, we get to see Raymond Burr again but he doesn’t really do anything and his character being there doesn’t add anything to the movie. In fact, none of the new scenes shot add anything to the movie at all and so much was changed so that the Americans would look better in comparison to how they’re portrayed in the original cut of the movie.

I get that this movie was made and released during the peak of the Cold War but making the Americans the heroes of the movie and not on equal footing with the Soviets when it comes to defeating Godzilla feels kind of cheap to me and totally removes the message of opposing powers putting aside their differences to defeat a common enemy and help a mutual ally.

After twenty years of simply dubbing Godzilla movies into English – often with varying results – it would have been better if this movie was simply a dub and not a recut with characters who don‚Äôt do anything and product placement from Dr Pepper. But at least it‚Äôs a recut of a good movie, unlike the next one…

Godzilla (1998)GODZILLA

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Released 1998
Run time: 139 minutes (2 hrs, 19 mins)
My Rating –

My review of this movie on Letterboxd simply says “look at how they massacred my boy.” I tend to use Letterboxd for short humorous reviews, but I mean every word of that Godfather quote.

This is the longest Godzilla movie ever made and I truly feel every one of those 139 minutes. I‚Äôve seen this movie before and it doesn’t get any better with repeated viewings for me. The plot is ridiculous, the characters are shallow, the special effects are terrible, and Zilla (I refuse to call this version Godzilla) is somewhat invisible. I can handle less screen time if it means that I can actually see the monsters rather than them hiding or camouflaging into their surroundings.

I once read somewhere online that this movie would have been better if it was a remake of The Beast from 20000 Fathoms rather than Godzilla because the monster here couldn’t be less Godzilla if it tried. Instead of an ancient dinosaur awoken and irradiated by US nuclear testing, we have a marine iguana that got by French nuclear testing in Polynesia and it just isn’t the same.

The thing that bugs me so much about this movie is that it tries to have the trademark anti-nuclear stance of the Godzilla franchise but it’s only there to provide a reason as to why Zilla exists. Once that piece of exposition is out of the way, nuclear power is never brought up again. Also, Zilla is brought down by conventional weaponry by the US military instead of being nigh on indestructible like Godzilla should be.

This movie feels like a giant cash grab and that shows with the amount of product placement. We see logos for Blockbuster, UPS, Taco Bell (who had tie-in kids meals), Swatch, Pepsi, Kodak, and a bunch of other brands that either went bankrupt before I was old enough to know these things or I have never heard of. I also hate to describe things as being ‚Äútropey‚ÄĚ because everything has tropes in it, but this is as cliche as a Hollywood disaster movie gets. You have the lead boy and girl developing a romance throughout the movie that has nothing to do with anything else, the sleazy boss, the well-meaning best friend and her apparently useless husband, the foreign villains who aren’t too foreign, and the big kiss in the middle of a disaster. Oh, and this is the only Godzilla movie with slurs in it. Or a slur depending on if you think mean names for Italians are slurs or not.

Lastly, because this section is going on for too long, we need to talk about Zilla himself. Or herself. The movie can’t seem to decide either so we‚Äôll go with ‚Äėit‚Äô. In terms of design, Zilla looks pretty cool. It’s a huge departure from Godzilla but it’s not a terrible design considering that the only note that was given to the designer was that it had to be fast. And Zilla certainly is faster than Godzilla but it‚Äôs also a hell of a lot weaker considering that conventional weaponry can’t take down Godzilla.

While the design isn’t bad, the effects in this movie certainly are. Zilla looks fine in production stills and concept art but in the actual movie itself, it looks like something from a low budget mockbuster, not a movie that cost up to $150 million to make. It‚Äôs obscured by buildings and rain to make it look better, but when we see it in scenes where it’s not dark or raining, we can see how shoddy the effect is. Oh, and Roland Emmerich‚Äôs completely false reasoning of ‚Äúit was always nighttime in the original movie‚ÄĚ really doesn’t help his case. In fact, 99% of Emmerich‚Äôs reasoning didn’t help because he admitted to not liking Godzilla and not knowing much about the character.

This mini-review is turning into a midi review so it’s time to move on. This movie sucks but I don’t believe in telling people that they shouldn’t watch things just because I don’t like them so I guess give it a shot if you’re curious. It’s not difficult to find at all.

Godzilla (2014)

GODZILLA

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Released 2014
Run time: 123 minutes (2 hrs, 3 mins)
My Rating –

Here’s a wee story for you all: this was the first Godzilla movie I ever watched. I didn’t grow up with the character like a lot of people did because the BBFC‚Äôs oddly strict guidelines before the 1990s made it very difficult for the Japanese movies to be released in the UK, so they weren’t available for a long time and a lot of them still aren’t with their original audio tracks.

When I first heard that this movie was being released way back in 2014, I was so excited and I tried my best to go into it knowing nothing, but magazine covers are a thing and they showed the Godzilla design. Looking back, I’m not mad about that because I love the MonsterVerse Godzilla‚Äôs design.

Is this the best Godzilla movie ever made in terms of plot and character? No, but it‚Äôs still enjoyable. I like how the scientists – one of which is called Serizawa – have been tracing Godzilla for years and while this version wasn’t created by nuclear weapons, the dangers of nuclear power is still a theme of the movie as Godzilla feeds on geothermal radiation while the MUTOs (the villain monsters) are parasitic beasts that killed the other members of Godzilla‚Äôs species and then laid their eggs in the dead bodies. I also like how Godzilla is kind of an anti-hero here: he‚Äôs not interested in humans or protecting them but is more territorial than the Japanese Godzilla, taking up a role as a guardian who restores the balance of nature.

Even though there isn’t a strong anti-nuclear stance, there is still an environmental message of not messing with nature and protecting the planet from harm. It doesn’t feel like the nuclear stuff is missing because the movie still acknowledges that nuclear power is dangerous, whether as an energy source or a weapon and is also bad for the environment.

I know that a lot of people complain about the amount of screentime Godzilla has in this movie, but it doesn’t bother me that he has 9 minutes of screentime. He‚Äôs had less than this in the Showa series and while I understand that this is a longer movie, I didn’t forget whose movie this is.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Directed by Michael Dougherty
Released 2019
Run time: 131 minutes (2 hrs, 12 mins)
My Rating –

This movie got mixed reviews from both critics and audiences, but that has never mattered to me because the only sign of quality to me is whether I enjoyed it. And I do enjoy this movie, and I have since I watched it for the first time. I paid extra for 3D IMAX and it was worth every penny.

What I think sets the¬†MonsterVerse¬†movies apart from the 1998 movie is that they’re very clearly made by fans.¬† This sequel feels like a love letter to the franchise since it introduces Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah to the series and being able to see them in amazing CGI is a treat. I love how they’ve been redesigned, especially Ghidorah whose faces have been very hit-or-miss throughout the years since the amount of Eastern inspiration tends to change with each incarnation. Ghidorah is bigger than Godzilla here which makes sense and the scale of him really shows how menacing and powerful he is. I also love how each of his heads has its own personality which is something I don’t think has been done before in the franchise, but it’s a very nice touch.

When I say that this movie feels like a love letter to the franchise, I think that it shows best through the sound design. I absolutely adore the¬†MonsterVerse¬†Godzilla roar because of how unique it is, but this movie mixes in the classic Japanese roar which is another nice touch. Also, I haven’t talked about music that much in this series, but the score for this movie makes incredible use of the original¬†Godzilla¬†theme, and while the theme from the previous movie is one of my favourite movie themes, I get chills whenever I hear the original in this movie. Also, the end credits are worth watching not just because there is an after-credits scene, but for the cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Godzilla’ by Serj Tankian.

Once again, the human characters are lacking in development but that doesn’t really matter because we get so much more scenes of monsters doing what monsters do best: destroying buildings and beating the shit out of each other. I can’t say that the human cast give terrible performances because they don’t and they know exactly what kind of movie they’re in without overacting. Millie Bobbie Brown gives the best performance in my view, and I’m glad that she reappears in the sequel.

Also, this movie was dedicated to Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla suit actor, and Yoshimitsu Banno, who directed Godzilla vs. Hedorah and I think that’s very sweet.

Godzilla vs Kong

GODZILLA VS. KONG

Directed by Adam Wingard
Released 2021
Run time: 113 minutes (1 hr, 53 mins)
My Rating –

Since this is the most recent movie, I will try my best to keep my thoughts spoiler-free but I don’t know how many people care about spoilers for a movie that came out earlier this year. I originally watched this movie in IMAX (but not 3D IMAX because it’s probably not a good idea given the current circumstances) and I absolutely loved it enough to give it 4 and a half stars on Letterboxd, but after rewatching it, I’ve knocked that half star off because of a couple of things I have a problem with.

This is another movie where the human cast isn’t very developed but, once again, that doesn’t really matter because we’re here to see a giant monkey punch a dinosaur in the face. However, that doesn’t mean that the human side of the story is completely boring or devoid of meaning. We still have the important message of not interfering with nature but it gets an extra flavour with the villains trying to replace nature with technology.

The special effects in this movie are the best they’ve ever been and I think that definitely shows when the monsters are on screen. We get so many close-up shots of Godzilla and Kong which are always amazing to see because the CGI models are so detailed that they look almost real. I love all of the fight scenes in this movie, whether they take place in broad daylight or at night or even in a neon-lit Hong Kong. Even though it’s only been seven years since the first MonsterVerse¬†movie was released, the effects have improved so much in that time span, and that’s saying a lot because they were never bad in the first place.

One thing that I can’t commend this movie enough for is giving Godzilla a noticeable personality. He’s never been a flat character but we see this monster portraying human emotions, being more aggressive than before, and even the GIF at the top of this post shows Godzilla laughing. It can be difficult to make a character who doesn’t speak or really show emotions in the way that humans do be able to emote but this movie manages to do that better than the others.

Out of all the American movies, this one definitely has my favourite score. The score for this movie was composed by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL, you may remember him from his remix of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’) who also composed the music for Zack Snyder’s Justice League,¬†Deadpool, and¬†Mad Max: Fury Road and he’s quickly becoming one of my favourite composers. This is unmistakably a¬†Godzilla¬†score and I appreciate that Holkenborg didn’t just lift the original Ifukube scores entirely but made homages to them and made the score his own. I loved hearing the Ifukube themes in the previous movie, but this movie having its own score does make me happy.

As for what I didn’t like, something that I find concerning and shows that the movie was made before the pandemic was the use of conspiracy theorists as heroes. In the “before times”, conspiracy theories were just seen as silly little things you’d watch YouTube videos and read Buzzfeed articles about, but now conspiracy theories are a lot more dangerous because they’re costing people their lives. The movie presents theorists as being good-intentioned weirdoes and that can be a little risky because there will always be people who think that a piece of fiction is validating their beliefs, no matter how objectively false they are.

The other thing has more to do with my personal sensory issues, but so many scenes in this movie have strobe effects that give me migraines. I remember when I watched this movie in the cinema, I had to close my eyes because the flashing lights get very intense when Kong and the human characters travel into the Earth. I rewatched this on my 19 inch TV and I still had to look away from the screen when that scene came on.

That being said, I think this movie is the best of the three¬†MonsterVerse¬†Godzilla movies but they’re all neck and neck with one another so it was difficult for me to come to this conclusion.

And that’s it, we’re finished! Forty movies watched and reviewed and I am amazed that my ears still work because holy crap these movies get loud. I would say that I’m all Godzillad out after this journey through time and across the world, but I think we all know that I’m going to dive right into Godzilla Singular Point on Netflix. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any plans for any new¬†Godzilla¬†movies in either the US or Japan so I guess we’re saying goodbye to the Big G for now. Hopefully, we’ll see him again in the near future.

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2 Comments

  1. December 1, 2021 / 4:09 pm

    Congratulations on completing your goal!

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well I’ve ended up liking the MonsterVerse even if I didn’t really care at all about the human characters. My favorite of the group though is probably Kong. ūüôā

  2. Louise
    Author
    January 11, 2022 / 10:11 am

    I like Kong too, but Godzilla will always be my favourite ūüėä

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