Sunday, July 3, 2016

Godzilla's Part Of An "All Out Attack"

If you grew up as a monster loving kid during the late 60s and the early 70s (in the New York area), you probably remember programs like Chiller Theater and Creature Features. These shows would showcase old horror, fantasy and science fiction films (some classic and some not so classic), and you’d sit down with your popcorn and snacks for some sci-fi, horror, or monster movie fun. In those pre-streaming, pre-cable/satellite and pre-VHS/DVD days, these shows would likely be your only chance to see your favorite genre films. You could do an entire article on those shows alone, many of them regional in nature, with different "hosts" like The Creep or Zacherle. Those shows are where I first got to see the one and only Godzilla's fantastic film adventures.

You remember the Big G, don't you? The giant lizard (resembling a T-Rex) was awakened as a result of nuclear testing. He started out as a destructive force that would stomp through Tokyo, wreaking havoc and breathing radioactive fire. The original film, Gojira (1954) was re-cut with footage featuring Raymond Burr and released here in 1955 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the version we all remember from countless TV showings. In subsequent films in the series, such as 1968's Destroy All Monsters, he turned into a good guy, and teamed up with other giant monsters like Rodan and Mothra against threats like Ghidorah (the three headed-dragon) who was often controlled by evil aliens out to invade the earth. These films became a genre all their own, called kaiju movies. Toho has produced 28 films in the series over the years (the less said about the 1998 American remake with Matthew Broderick, the better). In 2004, they temporarily retired the character after the release of Godzilla: Final Wars. 

Today, I’d like to look at one of the later films in the Toho series: 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. This is an interesting re-invention of the kaiju concept, co-written and directed by Shusuke Kaneko. In the mid 90s, he directed a well-regarded trilogy of films starring Gamera, that giant turtle who's "a friend to all children," originally created as a competitor to Godzilla by rival studio Daiei in the 1960s. Kaneko was brought in by Toho to re-energize the Godzilla series. Essentially, his film ignores all of the sequels, and is a direct follow-up to the original movie. As the film opens, strange events, including the destruction of a U.S. nuclear sub, lead the Japan Self-Defense forces to believe that Godzilla has returned. Everyone believed that Godzilla was destroyed back in 1954. But evidence of Godzilla (and other giant creatures) begins to pile up, and Japan prepares for another attack by these monsters. The clever twist here is that Godzilla is the villain, and more of a dark, elemental force of destruction, closer to his portrayal in the original film. While he is still the product of nuclear testing, he is also an amalgam of the tormented souls of WWII victims, which is his true source of power.

Meanwhile, Mothra, Baragon and Ghidorah (here re-cast as a good guy) are introduced as the Guardian Monsters, ancient creatures who can be awakened to defeat great threats to humanity like Godzilla. The guardians team up to take on our favorite fire-breathing monster, who's on a terrifying rampage through Japan. Of course, the expected free for all melees occur, and our heroes (both monster and human) must work together to defeat this meaner, tougher Godzilla. The monster battles are exciting and well staged, and the mystical origin given to the creatures adds a new wrinkle to the story. The human characters, including an Admiral in the Self-Defense Forces, and his daughter Yuri, a reporter for a reality TV show, are more involved in the proceedings than usual for these stories. This time, Godzilla is more dangerous than ever. Can he be stopped?

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is an action-filled and well produced entry in the long running series. It delighted the ten year old kid still inside me, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyed by monster fans of allergies. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray, though, sadly, there are no extras. You can choose to watch the film with an English dubbed audio track, or in Japanese with English subtitles. Fans can also check out Classic Media’s DVD re-releases of several of the earlier Godzilla films, including Mothra vs Godzilla (1964) and Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). These discs are highly recommended, and feature both the original Japanese versions of the films as well as the American cuts, along with commentaries and featurettes. Godzilla is still going strong on the big screen as well: Godzilla, a successful American re-make/re-imagining of the character, directed by Gareth Edwards, was released in 2014, and a sequel to that film is in the works. And this summer, Toho is releasing their first Godzilla film since Final Wars, entitled Godzilla: Resurgence. So there's a lot more Godzilla stomping our way.

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