Earlier this week, while collating ideas for writing about the history of a particular giant monster who recently played a featured role in Godzilla vs. Kong (but who is neither Godzilla nor Kong), an alien sensation suddenly overpowered me. I had to go watch another giant monster movie, one I hadn’t given any attention to in fifteen years: Space Amoeba.…
It was disheartening to sum up the recent Godzilla anime trilogy, the only Japanese Godzilla films I never plan to rewatch. Even with the Hollywood mega-millions epic Godzilla: King of the Monsters only a few months away, the feeling of deflation within my favorite movie franchise made it necessary for me to plug a bit of hope into my schedule immediately. Not by watching a great Godzilla film, mind you, but by watching a mediocre Godzilla film. Why? Because it’s the best way to remember how even lesser entries in the series can offer some enjoyment. Like watching Godzilla actually move. This is a radical concept the anime filmmakers let slip past them.
Thus I present Godzilla Raids Again, a middle-of-the-road G-movie that’s mostly faded into obscurity despite its prime position as the first Godzilla sequel.…
This whole thing has been a lot of pixels over nothing.
Interesting possibilities glimmered in the first two films of the animated Godzilla trilogy, Godzilla: The Planet of Monsters and Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. But the final installment has arrived, premiering on Netflix this Wednesday, and now the whole enterprise reveals itself as a water-treading, self-proselytizing, character-inhibited, medium-wasting drag. This hasn’t been a bit of fun. There are no moments of elation or astonishment. In fact, Godzilla has hardly moved. I think the monster budged about ten feet the entirety of this last movie — and that includes during the climactic clash with Ghidorah, the only other kaiju to wander into the trilogy.
Godzilla fought Ghidorah — and for the first time ever, I didn’t care.…
The trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the direct sequel to the 2014 US Godzilla and the third installment in the Warner Bros. “Monsterverse” series after Kong: Skull Island, arrived earlier this week. It’s beautiful kaiju madness, even without Debussy’s dulcet tones rolling beneath it. King Ghidorah appears in all its auriferous splendor, charging into Godzilla in a jaw-dropping final shot meant to bring tears to my eyes. It succeeded. Our own Nick Ozment has some thoughts about it he put up yesterday which you should check out.
I’m tempted to proclaim the wonders of King Ghidorah, but I’ve already given the three-headed space dragon plenty of attention in a post about Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, the 1964 film that’s essentially the template for the upcoming Godzilla movie. So as an alternate, I’m going to talk about the other monster who has money shots in the trailer: Rodan, one of the oldest of Toho Studio’s monsters. Specifically, I’m going to look at Rodan’s debut, a self-titled showstopper from 1956 and the first Toho kaiju film in color.
Sora no Daikaiju Radon (“The Giant Monster of the Sky, Rodan”), which Toho titled Rodan for US foreign sales to avoid confusion with the chemical element radon,* was released the year after the first Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again. The second go-around for Godzilla was financially successful, but not the earth-shaker of the original. Toho didn’t think there was more to mine from Godzilla and wouldn’t return to the Big G until King Kong vs. Godzilla eight years later. But Toho executives were willing to bet theatergoers would show up to see a destruction spectacle with an new type of monster … especially if was IN TECHNICOLOR! Or Eastmancolor.
Last week was a significant one for the Big G. The first trailer for 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was unveiled at San Diego Comi-Con, displaying staggering scope and beauty set to the improbably perfect sound of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.” Meanwhile, as fans salivated in anticipation of the next installment in the US Godzilla series after 2014’s Godzilla, the next Japanese Godzilla film made a quiet debut in North America via Netflix — Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (Gojira: Kessen Kido Zoshoku Toshi). It’s also a second installment: part two of a trilogy of animated Godzilla films from Toho Animation and Polygon Pictures that started with Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.
I was roughly satisfied with Planet of the Monsters. It explored the theme of Godzilla as a deity and introduced intriguing science-fiction concepts, but it never found a solid adventure throughline for its apocalyptic Earth setting and left the potential of an animated Godzilla largely unrealized. City on the Edge of Battle makes forward strides as it deepens its SF backstory, now freed from having to go through the set-up that was necessary in the first movie. But as a Godzilla film, it still doesn’t work, and this makes me wonder exactly who the movie is targeted at. Godzilla fans? Anime fans? Science-fiction fans not-otherwise-specified? The last group may be the most satisfied, but I predict general dissatisfaction all around.
For those who came in late (and there’s no way to keep up with this movie unless you’ve seen Planet of the Monsters), here’s how events stood at the conclusion of Part One:
The remnants of the human race, in exile among the stars after Godzilla drove them off the Earth, choose to return to their homeworld and attempt to reclaim it from the monster. Although twenty years have passed on the refugee spaceship the Aratrum, over twenty-two thousand years have passed on Earth. Over the millennia, Godzilla’s biology has radically altered the ecosystem into a bizarre and hostile environment. With the assistance of two humanoid alien races, the mystical Exif and the technological Bilusaludo, the humans mount an offensive to destroy Godzilla. The plan of young Captain Haruo Sakaki succeeds — then immediately fails when it turns out the monster they killed (Godzilla Filius) was only an offspring of the original Godzilla that ravaged the planet (Godzilla Asu, “Godzilla Earth”). The true Godzilla emerges, grown in size and strength over thousands of years to unimaginable power. So was the fight all for nothing?
Giant monsters are a part of my extended family. They’ve been around since I was a kid, and even if I didn’t see much of them during my years at college, they’d always come back into my life to provide support and wellness. Yeah, some are not that great and maybe I’d rather visit with them again, but the best of them will always be there for me.
Rampage is now a favorite second cousin. It’s no classic Godzilla flick (a godfather figure) or King Kong (a beloved sibling), but I look forward to hanging out with it at the next family gathering, ‘cuz it’s a real cut-up. And since Rampage arrived on home video and VOD platforms this week, I can now kick back with it whenever I need a pick-me-up.
And no one is as surprised at this new addition to my kaiju family as me. When 2018 started, I pegged my giant monster hopes on Pacific Rim: Uprising. The first Pacific Rim was a blast, and even if this sequel lacked the guiding hand of Guillermo del Toro, it still had the strong support of the original’s world-building. Rampage, an adaptation of a video game — rarely a positive sign — from the director of the dreadful San Andreas, didn’t have such promise. Dwayne Johnson was adding his welcome presence, but Dwayne Johnson was also in San Andreas and ended up helping that not a bit. I held out shaky hope that Rampage might be “okay” and looked forward to Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Go-ji-ra — a strange word with mythic resonance when it rolls off the tongue of native Japanese speakers. But it’s a tough sell as the English title of a 1950s monster movie. For the sake of global audiences, the Foreign Sales Department of Toho Studios gave their 1954 movie and its monster a Romanized name: Godzilla. It makes sense as a transliteration: the katakana character shi (シ) in Gojira (ゴジラ) can be Romanized as -dzi-, and the “R” sound in -ra (ラ) slides into an “L.” By happy accident — or sly intention — Toho baptized their behemoth with the word God at its front, hinting at a creature greater than life, dominant in a way no mere monster could be.
The highest compliment I can give to the new animated film, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (currently streaming on Netflix), is that it explores and explodes the “God” in Godzilla. Other movies in the series have emphasized the monster’s inscrutability and deity-like unstoppability. The first mention of Godzilla in the 1954 original comes from an old fisherman who speaks of a legendary beast that has kept his island in fear for centuries. Planet of the Monsters pushes this god(zilla)hood into the spotlight. Godzilla has literally conquered Earth, driving the scraps of humanity into exile in space, then transforming and ruling the planet’s ecosystem unchallenged for twenty thousand years. This is Godzilla Earth, where the monster is both creator and destroyer.
It’s been a month since Kong: Skull Island came out and grossed over half a billion dollars globally, so I feel safe in 1) discussing the post-credits stinger without a spoiler freak-out, and 2) predicting we’ll indeed see Legendary Picture’s planned Godzilla vs. King Kong film in a few years. Warner Bros. isn’t leaving franchise money on the table, especially with their DC pictures in a shaky place.
But the movie arriving before the Radioactive Terror and the Eighth Wonder smash heads is promised in Skull Island’s post-credits stinger. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, to be directed by Michael Dougherty and slated for release in March 2019, is the third installment in the Legendary Pictures Kaijuverse. Kong: Skull Island contains numerous references that it occurs in the same universe as the 2014 Godzilla, such as the presence of the monster-researching Monarch Organization and mention of the Pacific atomic test originally targeted at killing Godzilla.
The Japanese giant monster world of the 1960s and early ‘70s was about more than Godzilla. It was also about the Frankenstein Monster, dueling Frankenstein Monsters (a.k.a. “Gargantuas”), wrathful stone idols, burrowing Boston Terrier lizards, alien saucer-headed chicken thingies, King Kong, a robot King Kong, huge squids and crabs, Atlantean dragon-gods, and a gratuitous giant walrus.
Mixed up in there was a flying turtle who was the friend to all children, Gamera. This airborne Chelonia somehow managed to sustain a seven-film franchise during the Golden Age (plus a strange one-off in 1980), making it the most successful monster after Godzilla, and the only giant monster from a studio other than Toho to make a large impression on audiences outside its home country.
Gamera is Godzilla’s poor stepchild/competitor, but the spinning turtle has leaped into the Blu-ray ring right along with the recent influx of Godzilla films as part of the release of the U.S. Godzilla. Reaching North American shelves a month before Godzilla stormed onto screens, all eight of the Gamera films from 1965–80 are available courtesy of Mill Creek on two separate releases, presented in their original Japanese language soundtracks. Now people with little acquaintance with Gamera, outside of memories of watching the AIP television versions in the late ‘70s and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing episodes, can witness all the full weirdness of this uniquely strange/wonderful/awful region of kaiju cinema.
You want to know something that rocks? Actually, two things that rock, at least in my little world:
1. The Chrysler Building
2. Giant Monsters
So when you have a movie about a giant flying monster nesting in the Chrysler Building, you have something that rocks so hard it makes Van Halen sound like One Direction. Again, at least in my little world.
Video distributor Shout! Factory continued its stellar series of classic B-movie releases on Blu-ray in September with the HD debut of Q. This 1982 sleeper hit, concerning the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (or a non-god of the same name) appearing in New York City as a humungous flying snake that likes to snap the heads off window washers and topless sunbathers, was always crying out for Shout! Factory to pluck it up.
The company has packaged the film with its alternate marketing title, Q: The Winged Serpent, and repeated the original tagline over the Boris Vallejo artwork: “It’s name is Quetzalcoatl… Just call it ‘Q’… that’s all you’ll have time to say before it tears you apart!” However, Shout! Factory fixed the original poster’s grammatical error, correcting It’s to Its. That is one of the few disappointments I have with their presentation of this nifty low budget flick; I know Shout! Factory doesn’t want to seem careless on the cover for their product, but that grammatical glitch adds charm to the story of a clueless low-life criminal/jazz pianist who holds New York hostage with a winged snake.