First thing is to explain where I am with the franchise as a whole because I’m pretty new to it. Then I’d like to explore how the first movie and the Americanized version of it could have been made to work together. Finally, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the series so far.
To establish where I’m at with this franchise, I’d say “new” is a good word even though I do have some exposure. The Matthew Broderick Godzilla was most likely my first entry, and I think I rented Godzilla 2000 back in the day. I know the Broderick Godzilla deviates a bit from the source, but in some ways that is a good thing to keep things fresh. I’m actually looking forward to seeing it again after watching more of the inspiration. It will be interesting to see how older me feels about it. Godzilla 2000 I don’t even remember.
Last year I watched Godzilla vs Megalon and Shin Godzilla. Godzilla vs Megalon was a bit too campy for me. The one thing I did glean from it, was that the idea for the Power Rangers is very old. Not to deviate too far, but that series was modern to me in the early 90’s and seeing roots dating back to the 70’s was pretty cool. Shin Godzilla, on the other hand, was an amazing piece of work. I loved how it showed the bureaucracy behind the threat and this could have been any threat from earthquake to a nuclear meltdown, but then we wouldn’t have the glorious breath scenes.
So I have some pretty random entries into this series but not much other exposure besides pop culture references and maybe, just maybe, caught one on Saturday afternoon TV as a kid. Even with little exposure to the actual films, I have some expectations to the series. Knowing how ideas develop over time, I expected that certain elements of the franchise would take time to bake in such as Godzilla’s breath and adversaries. Surprisingly, right off the bat, we have both. Pretty much all the tropes you’re used to with the name Godzilla are formed in the first two films and that was eye-opening for me. Looking ahead, the series really goes off into Kaiju land full force. So as I proceed through this series I’m looking forward to seeing how it grows from here and maybe it doesn’t. With everything already in place I don’t know what else I can expect to see show up. I mean Shin Godzilla from last year really was just a remake of sorts of the original.
So with fresh eyes and a decent amount of films under my belt, I’ve embarked on the journey through the Showa era of Godzilla. Or more accurately what is available on Filmstruck. See it was there adding these films that got me into this in the first place. I’ve been wanting to watch some old school monster flicks and what perfect timing with the new year. I rang in 2017 with disaster films like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure so ending 2017 with a new adventure into Godzilla seemed like an awesome idea!
I blindly started off with the original classic followed by Godzilla Raids Again but then something odd came up. According to the almighty Wikipedia, King Kong vs Godzilla was next, but Filmstruck had the American version of the original and Rodan up next. This gave me some pause because I’m new to the franchise and I’m not quite up on all the nuances yet. I thought about skipping the American version but I’m glad I didn’t.
What I noticed between the original Godzilla and the American edition of it was that the two films could have worked together very easily. The original version felt a bit sloppy in its editing and storytelling, which I think the American version fixed quite a bit off, but it also chewed up the original story in the process to insert Raymond Burr. See, Raymond Burr plays a reporter on the scene as things unfold. Unfortunately, some scenes were reshot to include him in conversations with the cast of the original. This was actors with their backs turned or faces obscured plus some dubbing to make it ‘Mericanized.
Unfortunately, the American audience isn’t keen on subtitles, which younger me can relate to, so Burr has a voice-over explaining what is going on. I’m ok with that part because I feel it adds to the reporter angle. What I thought was a bad idea was trying to have Burr interact with the original Japanese cast. I think that altered the story too much to shoehorn him into everything. A better approach for the American version would have been to insert Burr into the story at strategic points but not change the story to make him the lead.
How this would have gone down in 1950’s America I can only guess. We’re only a decade past the end of WW2 at this point, and those wounds are fresh on both sides. Speaking of that, when I think WW2 and the 50’s, I feel like I’m speaking about two different centuries but they were really not that far off and getting a Japanese film like this into American theaters must have been an interesting prospect. On the opposite end of that spectrum is that this really wasn’t that far off of Japan being bombed, so their wounds with the H-Bomb are very evident in how many times that term is uttered in this film.
Speaking of H-Bomb. Godzilla’s breath is a thing of wonder. This isn’t fired we’re playing with. He basically vomits out this cloud of searing atomic death that incinerates whatever it hits. I thought it would take some time to get his breath in place. You know, stomp around town a bit. No way, he’s barfing like an evil fire extinguisher right in the first movie.
In a Filmstruck extra, Tadao Sato, who was a film critic when Godzilla originally came out, compared Godzilla to Japan of WW2. Basically saying that the big monster in the movie was the big monster that they were in the war which is a very interesting take by someone who lived through the war and saw the aftermath it caused. You can see how post-war Japan embraced this idea of mass destruction with not only Godzilla but his H-Bomb breath. In an instant, the idea of the atomic future was seared into a whole nation.
Which leads me to Godzilla Raids Again
Going back to my expectations of the series, I thought there was a singular Godzilla. Never in a million years did I expect that the name Godzilla really only refers to a type of monster. I’m used to Jason and Freddy, not just multiple guys named Jason or Freddy. This really does open up the franchise to any number of angles, so I’m curious where this goes. We also get the first adversary for Godzilla to battle.
This sequel wasn’t nearly as good as the first, and we have a hick, inbred looking Godzilla coming on board, but we get a magnificent creature battle midway through. Unfortunately, once that battle completes we get a long stretch of boring love story force fed to us before a somewhat mediocre ending.
My next entry to the series is really not part of it that I can tell. I’m talking about Rodan, which I’m intentionally not looking up much before I watch it. I can only surmise that Filmstruck picked this up because Rodan is featured in a future Godzilla film. Whatever the reason, I’m looking forward to watching it.
I would be a bit remiss to mention that certain entries are missing from the Filmstruck Showa era list. Namely, King Kong vs Godzilla as it was supposed to be after Godzilla Raids Again. Looking at the Wikipedia page, it seems Criterion only got the license for certain entries which is fine but kind of sucks to try and watch these in order. I was interested in seeing how it all developed over the years.
To close this out I’d like to say that so far this series has been a bit unexpected for me. My original thought was that it would take some time for not only Godzilla’s abilities to develop but that the series would also evolve into the monster brawl I think its known for. Most of the entries I’ve watched are singular in their monsters like the Broderick version or Shin Godzilla. Seeing a giant dinosaur battle in the second movie was kind of surprising. For that matter, seeing Godzilla killed in the first entry was shocking too (sorry for those who have not seen it). Looking forward to what the series has to offer though!