|Is this an awesome image or what?|
I've probably said this many, many times add nauseam but, for those who aren't in the know, I'll reiterate it. When I was a very young kid, around four to five years old, both of my parents had to work during the day and as a result, I typically stayed with my very loving grandmother, whom we've always referred to as Nana. Since Nana had stuff that she had to do and didn't have time to deal with a hyper four-year old, she had to find some ways to keep me out of my hair and one of them, besides getting out the large amount of toys that she had stashed away, was putting on a video for me to watch. Usually, these consisted of public domain cartoon videos that she could very easily pick up at any nearby general store, be they those collections of random Christmas-oriented cartoons that I talked about a long time ago or, which was one of my favorites, the 1960's New Three Stooges cartoon show, which was my introduction to that classic comedy team. However, something else that she had amongst those videos, and, to this day, neither of us know how she ended up with it, was a Godzilla VHS. Regardless, since I had already developed a love for dinosaurs at that time, Nana figured that this was something that I might like since Godzilla is something of a dinosaur and so, one day when I was a hyper, doe-eyed four-year old, my little eyes saw Godzilla for the first time and, after the movie was over and I had seen him mop the floor with a couple of other monsters, I was never the same. The love and obsession was instantaneous. I can't tell you how many times I must have watched that particular film (I'll say which one it was when I get to it in the actual reviews), which must have annoyed my parents and grandparents extremely since, back then, they had little choice other than to watch it with me. Fortunately, they seemed to like it as much as I did so that helped but, regardless, I'm sure there was a point where they were wishing that Nana had never ever gotten that VHS out. Speaking of which, while Nana herself has always felt that she didn't have much to do with it, several times she's come down to the house and has been in the living room, where I have every single Godzilla movie amongst my rather extensive movie collection, and in my room, where I still have an enormous amount of Godzilla toys and merchandise, we've looked at each other and I've told her, "You realize that this is all your fault, don't you?"
What's really interesting about my love for Godzilla is that it actually led to a childhood friendship between myself and a step-cousin whom I, initially, didn't like. Nana often kept this step-cousin of mine at the same time when she was keeping me (he's the same age as me, by the way) and while you'd think I'd have been eager to have somebody to play with, I actually kind of wanted nothing to do with him at first. I don't know why, since he made it clear that he wanted to be friends with me, but I rejected him many times for God knows why (I was a weird kid). But then, one day when he was brought over to Nana's when I was there (I'm sure that this was the third time that happened), I decided to put on that Godzilla video and watch it with him. Like me, he was hooked on it from the get-go and, from then on, we were as close as brothers. All throughout our childhood, we would visit each other's houses, spend the night with each other, and play like there was no tomorrow, be it with toys or video games or whatever. Like all friends, there were times when we definitely had our disagreements over things and got into arguments (I remember one time when I was absolutely furious at him for telling me that he liked the Power Rangers more than Godzilla, which was unthinkable to me since I thought, and still do think, that Power Rangers was one of the dumbest things ever) but, for the most part, we were as inseparable as you could possibly get. And, again, that was all because of Godzilla. Granted, our lives eventually went separate ways as we got over, which isn't uncommon, but still, the fact that Godzilla was the glue that held us together for so long is not something to sneeze at.
One interesting thing that happened as I started to stretch beyond that one film and I see what else Godzilla had to offer was that I learned that Godzilla was not always the hero of the piece. The second film that I ever saw, which I rented from our local VHS rental store, was one of the earlier ones when Godzilla was still a villain and I was actually both shocked and a little bit hurt when I saw my "hero" trashing buildings and houses like the monsters that I saw him fight in that first film. Obviously, I would eventually learn that Godzilla started out as a force of destruction and eventually became a hero but, at the time, my little mind couldn't fathom it. But here's the interesting thing about myself when I was a kid: I was able to adapt rather quickly. Despite my initial confusion at seeing Godzilla being a bad guy, I very quickly got used to the fact that this was simply the way he was: sometimes he was the hero, sometimes he was the villain. It all depended on the movie. And although I would get a much clearer picture of it years later when I realized it was a progression of the original film series, once I accepted that fact, I was able to enjoy both aspects of the character. I could cheer him on when he was beating up other monsters and, at the same time, I could thrill to when he was wrecking cities and blowing stuff up left and right (although, there was one film where he did something that actually had me crying for the rest of the movie but we'll talk about that when we come to it).
My obsession with Godzilla reached its zenith during kindergarten and my first few years of elementary school. Not only was I determined to track down and have every movie on VHS (which was no easy feat back then, as I'll get into later), but I ended up with an incredible amount of toys pertaining to both Godzilla himself and dinosaurs in general. I was so obsessed that I actually took away my step-cousin's birthday present for myself! When he turned either six or seven years old, my mom bought my step-cousin a very cool-looking Godzilla toy. She actually showed it to me before she decided to wrap it, which was a mistake on her part because, when I saw that toy, it didn't take long for my feelings to go from, "He's going to love it," to, "Why can't I have it?" Mom instantly realized that I was getting jealous and that I wanted the toy and, while she initially told me to just deal with it, she eventually relented and let me have that toy while she made an impromptu trip to Toys 'R Us to get a replacement for my step-cousin. What she found was a very cool toy, which is the image that you can see here and which has also become a high-priced collector's item nowadays. At the time, I already had a smaller version of this toy but that was infinitely cooler. Mom bought that toy for my step-cousin and, in order to keep this from happening a second time in one day, got me one as well. So, my step-cousin ended up with one Godzilla toy while I got two. I'll admit that I'm not exactly proud of how I acted back then but, hey, I was a greedy, Godzilla-obsessed kid so, what can you do? What's sad is that, a little while after that happened, I saw the exact type of Godzilla toy as the one Mom was going to give my step-cousin in the toy section of our local drug store so we both could have very easily gotten this toy. And in case you're wondering whatever happened to that toy... well, nothing. I'm looking at it sitting on top of my bookcase right now as I type this. I wasn't kidding when I said that Godzilla is something that's always been a part of my life.
Back in the early 90's, Cartoon Network had a monopoly on all things Hanna-Barbera and, besides their classic cartoons like Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and so on, they showed their action-oriented cartoons like Space Ghost, Johnny Quest, and such. This is where my obsession with Godzilla could really run rampant when it came to any series or episodes that dealt with dinosaurs. For me, Godzilla appeared in stuff like Dino Boy, Valley of the Dinosaurs, and even in something as alien as The Herculoids (I actually tried to say that the dragon in that show was Godzilla but not even my step-cousin bought that). The fact that these dinosaurs were sometimes drawn with plates on their back that resembled Godzilla's iconic spines didn't help my "confusion," if you will, and this wasn't limited to just Hanna-Barbera's stuff. Because if his strong resemblance to the Big G, I was thoroughly convinced that the title monster in the Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoon, The Arctic Giant, was Godzilla (of course, I would learn many years later that that cartoon was made over a decade before Godzilla was even a thought) and the same went for the "Megasaurus Rex" that appeared in the Swat Kats episode, The Pastmaster Always Rings Twice, which was the first episode of that show I ever saw. That latter creature didn't have anything that remotely resembled spines on his back but, nevertheless, he looked like him, so he was Godzilla to me. There was one time when my habit of naming every reptilian monster that I saw Godzilla proved to be accurate, which was when I caught the last bit of an episode of the 70's Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon. I just immediately went and referred to that monster as Godzilla and so, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that it actually was him. Of course, that led to a new delusion, which was that every time I heard Ted Cassidy's growling and grunting sound effects used in any other cartoon (which was a common practice long after his death), I would connect it to Godzilla even if the monster or character making the sounds looked nothing like him or wasn't even meant to be like him in the slightest. The video game King of the Monsters had a creature known as Geon, which was clearly meant to be Godzilla and at the time, I didn't understand the concepts of tributes and coincidences, so that was the kind of stuff that fueled this nonsense (my step-cousin and I actually felt that his gray, palette swap counterpart, which appeared when both players selected him or when you faced the computer while playing as Geon yourself, was Mechagodzilla!) It got the point where I started thinking that Godzilla actually had past lives as different animals before he became what he is now and so, that led to me connecting him to the most unlikely films. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey was one of my favorite movies when I was a little tyke and, at one point, I actually tried to say that Chance, the bulldog voiced by Michael J. Fox, was Godzilla! See how ridiculous this stuff is? I hope none of you take this as evidence that I was a very troubled, mentally ill kid. On the contrary, throughout it all, I was smart enough to know in the back of my mind that this was nonsense and wasn't true and, fortunately, when I got older I realized how ridiculous this all was but, at the time, it was a fun sort of fantasy to live in (ironically, I never thought of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park as being Godzilla, for some reason).
Ultimately, it got to the point where my step-cousin and I actually acted as if Godzilla was a real thing, that he was a real creature that actually existed somewhere in the world and that the two of us, or rather me, knew him personally. This is all stemmed from an afternoon on the playground of our elementary school where the two of us discovered a large impression in the ground that was big enough to hold both of us if we stood in it. He was the one who ultimately jumped to the conclusion that Godzilla must have made that small pit when he stepped there and, again, while I knew in the back of my mind that there was a more rational explanation for that, I went along with it nevertheless. From then on, the two of us would constantly embellish this idea that Godzilla was real. It consisted of us saying that we actually saw him, that we heard his footsteps (I actually had my step-cousin going for a little bit when I was stomping my foot somewhere that would make a rather loud thud and was obscured from his view), and such. He once said that I told him that I woke up one night to see Godzilla fighting another monster right outside my house. I don't remember telling him that but I was such a weird little kid back then that anything's possible. There was another time where, for some reason, we acted as if Godzilla had recently died by falling into a volcano or something similar and I told him that I knew for a fact that Godzilla was alive and well. I don't know where that came from. It could have come from the ending of Godzilla 1985 but at the time, I was the only one who had seen that particular film, so I don't know why he went along with it the way he did. But then again, whenever the two of us got together, we just made up stuff right on the spot and acted like it was something that was true and that we had been aware of it all along, so that's undoubtedly what this was. Like the aforementioned fantasy about Godzilla being related to everything imaginable, this was a fun one to play with and embellish for several years but, as we got older and more mature, we grew out of it and ultimately stopped. Plus, again, we both truly knew that it wasn't real anyway... or at least I did. I know about him, though, because he's a little, well, you know. In any case, now that I've probably got you questioning my mental stability, let's carry on.
As I entered my teens, though, Godzilla once again got pushed off to the side and there were several reasons as to why this happened. One was of the worst type: mockery. I got a little bit of flack in elementary school for liking Godzilla but it got particularly bad when I entered high school. There was one guy who started out as something of a friend of mine but, as we both got older, he got more abrasive and eventually, he started relentlessly mocking me for my Godzilla fandom. Every time I would admit to someone that I had never seen a particular movie and he was nearby, he would never fail to bring it up, saying that Godzilla was the reason I had never seen that particular film. He even once said, "Get rid of the Godzilla movies and watch some good movies!" Ultimately, this mockery let to my having a bit of resentment towards Godzilla due to all of the grief it was bringing me. It's why I absolutely hate it whenever somebody mocks someone else for their personal tastes and what they hold dear. The idea of that type of mockery causing someone else to either slightly or completely turn against something that they love is just awful to me and is something that shouldn't happen. Besides the mockery, another reason for Godzilla getting pushed aside again was actually something akin to what those who disliked Godzilla always talked about. Now that I was no longer a wide-eyed, easily entertained little kid, I started to realize that these, in all honestly, weren't the best movies in the world, as I had always thought. Having since been exposed to movies with more state of the art and technologically advanced special effects, I began to see the large amount of flaws that were present in the Godzilla films, from the sometimes unconvincing models, the overly rubbery suits, the bad dubbing, the not so stellar writing and plotting in some of the films, etc. When you're a little kid, you don't think about stuff like that but when you get older and wiser, the haze leaves your eyes and you begin to see and think about things that weren't at all apparent to you before. Also, by that time, I had come of age, for lack of a better term. Now that I was getting into my teens, my strict parents were beginning to lighten up on what I could and couldn't watch. Not only was I beginning to be able to watch and own my first R-rated movies at that time, which was stuff like The Terminator, Predator, and the Child's Play and Halloween films, but I was now longer so limited in the types of horror and science fiction films that I could see and now I could pick and choose. Seeing so many things that I had been all but barred from before made Godzilla's presence at the center of my world shrink and shrink. Plus, as I said, seeing the highly advanced and impressive makeup and special effects in these movies made the effects work in the Godzilla films look even more dated and silly-looking by comparison. And finally, it's the simple fact that I was in high school and really didn't have time to think about much of anything other than schoolwork, save for when I had time off and when I did, I often found myself wanting to explore this new stuff that I now had free access to.
Unbeknownst to me, my prayers were answered in 2004 when, in honor of Godzilla 50th anniversary, TriStar released those previously mentioned DVDs. TriStar had already released all of the 90's films on DVD, as well as Godzilla 2000, which they theatrically distributed over here as well, but now, besides acquiring the rights to the rest of the Millennium Godzilla films, they were putting out other films that had not been available previously on DVD (including one that was hardly at all available to begin with). These included Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (the only one I actually got around this time), Godzilla vs. Gigan, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. These DVDs may not have had any extras on them, except an occasional trailer for a Godzilla video game that I already owned, but they were remastered and looked and sounded far better than they ever had before. Unfortunately, I wasn't completely aware of this for two reasons. One was the images that they put on the back of the DVD, which sucked and looked as washed out and grainy as any of those previous VHS copies. That wasn't a very good way to encourage people to buy these DVDs, in my opinion. As I said, I did buy Godzilla vs. Hedorah around that time but since I never had that film on VHS at all, the exceptional picture and sound quality there didn't have an impact on me. If I had only bought some of the ones I did previously own on VHS, I would have known better but that's how it goes. And at the same time, I wasn't in a hurry to buy any of these DVDs at all because, as ashamed of this as I am now, I had actually been turned into a bit of snob when it came to Godzilla. It was a combination of all of those factors I mentioned earlier that once again led to get him pushing into the background and my buying a couple of the Millennium films, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus and Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, around this time and not being too impressed with what I saw. It was quite disconcerting to see how, even in the 2000's, Toho hadn't improved the standards of their special effects (in fact, as I'll get into when we talk about those films themselves, I think they backslid in comparison to the 90's films), and that the suits, model-work, and matting effects looked even more dated than those in the original films. I had seen Godzilla 2000 when it was released in American theaters and while it was definitely an enjoyable experience, the luster of that had since worn off and I now realized that film, in retrospect, wasn't very good either. Again, I was probably just being a snob but I nevertheless felt that, "If Toho can't do better than this with their films, they might as well stop altogether."
|Now, that's what I'm talking about.|
Little did I know that it was only the beginning. After that, Classic Media not only re-released the other Godzilla films that they had the rights to, which now also included Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (it's very possible that may have gotten a very early DVD release that I never saw), but they got their hands on a couple of others that they didn't previously have, including the all but lost second film in the series, Godzilla Raids Again, and its comically botched English version, Gigantis, The Fire Monster, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Like the original film, all of these DVDs had both the original Japanese versions and the more familiar American versions, along with very informative audio commentaries and interesting little featurettes. It was incredible time to be a Godzilla fan. I was riding high with all of these films, which helped me in getting through a rather depressed, dark time in my life that ultimately led to me dropping out of college, and it got even better when Classic Media finished off these releases with a double feature of not only the original Rodan, with both versions of that film, but also of War of the Gargantuas, which had never been released on DVD before then. The release of another previously unreleased Toho monster flick, Frankenstein Conquers the World, from another company provided the cherry on this already delicious sundae.
What ultimately came out of Godzilla getting all of this newfound respect was, believe it or not, myself finding a new respect for this character that I had loved all of my life. I had heard for a while that the original intention for Godzilla was to symbolize the atomic bombings that devastated Japan at the end of World War II (he even popped up in a textbook I had in high school as such!) but, since I had never been able to see the original Japanese version of the first film, it never really hit home for me. However, when that version finally became available to me and I was able to see it as well as listen to the enlightening audio commentaries that accompanied it, I fully began to realize that Godzilla had a lot more significance than simply being a pop culture icon. That's why, as much as I also love King Kong, I have to give Godzilla the edge since he has a lot more symbolic and cultural importance, whereas Kong was just meant to be the focus of films that were meant to be nothing more than fun and exciting adventure stories. In addition, thanks to the special features for those other films, I was able to appreciate the entire series' significance to and commentary on Japanese culture and society as well and learn the reasons why the series has had its noticeable ups and downs in terms of quality over the years. While I still watch them mainly as just fun monster flicks, it makes you respect these movies more when you realize that there's more to them than just entertainment and that they're a lot smarter than you might think (well, most of them anyway, as we'll get into). And furthermore, I learned to look past the now obvious flaws in the special effects work and appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the suits, the miniatures, and the matting and optical effects. Yes, they're not the most realistic films ever made but they don't have to be and once you're able to accept that, you can truly admire the hard work and, I'm going to say it, artistry that went into these films. Other sources, like the Criterion Collection blu-ray of the original Godzilla that was released in 2012, the loving reflection Godzilla On My Mind by William Tsutsui, and especially David Kalat's amazing book, A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, strengthened this newfound respect that I now had for the King of the Monsters even more (by the way, if you truly want to learn about the Godzilla series' significance, read that book; that can enlighten you far more than I could ever hope to).
So, this all leads us to where we are today. I can safely say that I am now a bigger Godzilla aficionado than I ever was before, minus that embarrassing part of the obsession that I described earlier, of course. I not only still think that the Big G is one of the greatest fictional characters ever created and I still maintain is my favorite character of all time but, as I said, I have a greater respect for him now than I ever did. There are still those who just can't look past the less than believable special effects and often silly dubbing in the American versions and not only enjoy these movies for what they are but also realize their greater importance and, as I always maintain that's perfectly fine. If it's not your thing, then it's just not your thing. However, I will always defend these movies as being more than just a series of hokey monster flicks and, in the following reviews, I, rather than attempting to change whatever your opinion may be on the movies (I would never attempt that), hope to simply enlighten you a little bit as to why I feel these films deserve respect and, as always, to simply get across why I like or dislike the various entries in the franchise. Okay, now that we've gotten through this rather lengthy and possibly over-banal introduction, we can proceed to the movies at hand. But, before we begin, there are a few issues I want to address here and now.
This naming issue also goes for the actual titles of the various films. These movies have a bad habit of having more than one title depending on the territory and the individual type of release, be they the original theatrical releases or when they first came to home video. To make it simpler and less confusing, I will refer to these movies by the titles I'm the most familiar with, such as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, among others, and I'll put, at most, a couple of the more common alternate titles in parentheses next to them. I'm not even going to try to put in the original Japanese titles and what they roughly translate to because the names of these reviews will get very cluttered if I try to do that. So when you see the movie titles, keep in mind that, due to the vast differences between the English and Japanese languages, a lot of them aren't even close to being literal translations of what they were called over in Japan. And finally, while most of these films were simply dubbed into English and had some scenes removed in the transition, others were very radically changed when they were released over here, with entire scenes and subplots dropped and new material actually put in, to the point that they can't simply be called the English version of their original Japanese counterparts but rather different cuts altogether. Not only will I mention my thoughts on the English dubs for all of the films but when it comes to these alternate versions of a few of them, I will try to give them their own sections in the reviews if they're different enough to warrant it. In the title bar for each review, if you see one title and then a backslash followed by another title with a completely different year next to it, that means that we're dealing with an entry that has a radically different cut. Again, did you get all that, because I am not repeating it!
Okay, I think we're all done getting ready. Now, finally, we can dive into this journey through the history of Godzilla.