Sunday, April 28, 2013

Happy 57th Birthday, Godzilla, King of the Monster!

Since today is the 57th anniversary of the release of Godzilla, King of the Monsters in the US, I decided to pull out a couple of the ol' G-films from my DVD collection.

Godzilla 1985 is basically a direct sequel to GKOTM, and is the first film in the second, or Heisei, era of kaiju films that came out of Japan from 1984 to 1995, and the first Godzilla movie since 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla. Like the original Gojira, the American release of this film includes Raymond Burr reprising his role as journalist Steve Martin.

Much like the original 1956 movie, Godzilla mysteriously appears (this time during a volcanic eruption) and takes out a fishing boat and soon after a nuclear plant. A scientist has a simple plan to lead Big G from Tokyo using bird noises, but international politics have the Soviet Union launching a missile at Tokyo to deal with the menace. Japan's defense forces take Godzilla down, only to see the radiation from the missile revive him, letting him destroy their new Super X bomber. While there's no Oxygen Destroyer this time around to end Godzilla's rampage, he does get imprisoned in a volcano.

Godzilla vs. Biollante was the first sequel to Godzilla 1985, though it wasn't released until five years later. Godzilla's still safely packed away in Mount Mihara's caldera, but he's awake. A scientist uses some of Godzilla's cells to create an immortal plant creature, in a lopsided attempt to honor his daughter, the victim of a terrorist attack at his lab years earlier. Big G and Biollante engage in your standard fisticuffs a couple of time, but most of the action is out of the suits and in an okay if predictable spy drama going on under the monsters' feet.

These are both pretty okay movies, as far as kaiju flicks of the era are concerned. I think these are two of the last movies I saw to use grainy stock footage to bolster their storylines and running time. Having seen both the American and Japanese version of Godzilla 1985, I sort of prefer the Japanese version simply because it's a lot less jingoistic ... in the original, the Soviet agent is trying to stop the missile from firing, not trying to set it off. The US version does have Raymond Burr, who ends up looking annoyed at the American military officers who call him in as an adviser. They also appear to have a product placement deal with Dr. Pepper...

Biollante was one of the few original monsters in the whole series that weren't really based on a prehistoric creature of some kind. The monster metamorphoses through two distinctive and unique appearances, but a plant is still just a plant and when it isn't fireproof, it isn't much of a challenge for Godzilla to handle. The espionage tale in the background is a lot more effusive than a lot of story segments in between monster brawls, but these are some of the stupidest spies in history. They either try way too hard or give up way too easily.  But at least everyone gets their just desserts at the end.

The highlight of the movie is the introduction of actress Megumi Odaka as the psychic Miki Segusa, who would go on to play an important role in almost all of the Heisei era movies. She's a fresh face, an interesting character and eventually becomes a good foil to several other characters and even Big G himself.

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