Thursday, March 10, 2011
10 of the Worst & Most Disappointing of Toho's Godzilla Series
The following ten movies are Godzilla selections I think are the worst, or lesser entries of the entire series. While some others are far from being stinkers, those few select titles were disappointments to me upon finally seeing them and not the heavily hyped pictures critics made them out to be for whatever reason. On this list, you may find some surprising titles, but I specify why I put them here and whether I consider them to be truly bad movies, or just major letdowns.
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN 1955 aka GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU (REVENGE OF GODZILLA) aka GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER aka GODZILLA'S COUNTERATTACK
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
One of the least discussed Godzilla films is also one the least stimulating. Five months after the first GODZILLA debuted, this quick cash-in was in Japanese theaters. Honda was too busy to take part, so a director by the name of Motoyoshi Oda was given this formula assignment. The plot is virtually identical to Honda's original, only the starkly gloomy atmosphere is gone and replaced by the addition of another monster, Angilas. In other films, Angilas would be the butt of monster jokes, being brutalized and generally kicked around by the bad Kaiju of the movies in which he appeared. Here, though, Angilas is a tough customer in what is surmised as an eternal hatred between the two monsters. There's some nice connections to the previous picture, but it's a noticeably lesser affair with characters lacking in pathos and overall interest.
There's a lot of monster action, though, and Tsuburaya does return to guide the effects work even if director Honda and composer Ifukube do not. Masaru Sato enters the Godzilla game wih his first score for the series. Unremarkable as it may be, his later scores for films like GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967) and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974) are accomplished works, if vastly different from Ifukube's more familiar, downbeat style. REVENGE OF GODZILLA was strangely re-christened GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER in North American markets which resulted in Godzilla's roar being drowned out and replaced with Angilas' familiar bellow. At the end, Godzilla is buried in a massive ice-quake and wouldn't return till his title defense against US born Killa' Gorilla, King Kong. It's a good thing, though, that this sequel failed to catch fire in Japan. If it had, we likely wouldn't have gotten such notable Japanese science fiction classics as THE MYSTERIANS (1957), BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1958) and THE LAST WAR (1961) to name a few.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS 1968 aka KAIJU SOSHENGEKI (MONSTER INVASION)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Low ticket sales and television stealing away their audience resulted in this wide ranging monster rally to have initially been the last Godzilla production. Even in America, the last two preceding G pictures (SON OF and SEA MONSTER) went straight to television. For the then proposed Kaiju Finale, the services of all of Toho's monsters were required. A total of ten creatures make an appearance in one form, or another here. For such an ambitiously sprawling effort, the production values don't appear as grand as they should be for what was intended as the series capper. A couple new costumes were created, a few were modified and a few were in noticeably worn shape. It's another alien invasion plot, recycled from the better MONSTER ZERO. This time it's a race of beings called the Kilaaks, an all girl civilization bent on human enslavement, or annihilation, whichever comes first.
It's 1999 and all of Earth's monsters are herded onto Ogasawara Island aka Monster Island for scientific study. The Kilaaks use mind control devices to get brainwashed scientists to turn over control of the beasts to them. In the main highlight, the Kaiju attack various major Earth cities till Captain Yamabe takes his crew in the SY-3, a futuristic attack plane, to free the monsters of Kilaak control. The aliens use King Ghidorah to battle all the beasts in what was, and is heralded as this major Kaiju encounter. The truth is, it's a barely two minute monster mash that, while a fun fight, isn't the titanic tussle of monstrous magnitude fans would have you believe. A fan favorite to many, I couldn't help but be seriously disappointed in this movie as a kid and then later on the DVD. Two different English dubs exist for the movie. It definitely is worth seeing, but it's a terribly over-hyped entry in Toho's brand of monster epics.
GODZILLA VS. GIGAN 1972 aka CHIKYU KOKEGI MEIREI: GOJIRA TAI GAIGAN (EARTH ATTACK MISSION: GODZILLA VS. GIGAN) aka GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Aliens of various shapes and sizes enjoyed picking on planet Earth and by the 1970's they began toying with new avenues with which to take over civilization. Under the guise of a children's theme park, these alien cockroaches (underneath a human exoskeleton) from "Star M in the Hunter Nebula" hide out inside a giant construct built to look like Godzilla. There, they plan to use human bodies to supplant themselves as the dominant race on Earth before man pollutes the planet to death. They attract the attention of a comic book artist and a couple of his hippy friends left over from GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971). Things are mostly uninteresting and even the monster fights are ponderously slow. The Kaiju costumes are conspicuously tattered and in rough shape.
An unusually high amount of recycled footage is trotted out here as is a heavy dose of Ifukube scores from past successes. The one true new addition is the metallic space chicken, Gigan, a galaxy traveling creation that teams up with King Ghidorah to tackle the tag team champions, Godzilla and Angilas. It's difficult to crown a victor considering all the cheap tactics of stock monster footage employed throughout. Apparently, the inclusion of hippies reflected the "Get High" approach Toho executives were seemingly indulging themselves in as they even have the monsters "talk" with thought balloons(!) in the Japanese version and actual dialog(!!) in the US cut. From here, things could only get better, but it was a slow climb from the bottom of the barrel.
GODZILLA VS. MEGALON 1973 aka GOJIRA TAI MOGARO
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Considered the absolute nadir of the Godzilla cycle, MEGALON is close, but no cigar. Possessing an infantile and perpetual cheapness about it, there's thankfully little stock footage this time. Monster fights are the order of the day and at least 3/4 of the films running time is the tag team battle royale between Godzilla and the ZONE FIGHTER-ish Jet Jaguar vs. Gigan and Megalon, a cyborgian giant cockroach/beetle creature from Seatopia, an ancient Lemurian society beneath the sea. In what appears to be a marginal copy of Honda's ATRAGON (1963), but with multiple monsters, the script also manages to squeeze in a generous helping of Tokusatsu trappings. These live action superhero shows number in the hundreds and were booming at the time.
In order to kickstart this quickly dying franchise, Toho attempted to lure kids from TV screens watching Kamen Rider and Super Sentai of Toei back into theaters to check out Jet Jaguar and Godzilla, now a secondary buffoon in his own movie. The soundtrack is horrible and Jun Fukuda seems confused as to what to do with what amounts to virtually a 'nothing' script. The Seatopians are a laughable band of undersea vengeance seekers led by frequent Japanese Anglo actor, Robert Dunham. Decked out in bed sheets scissored up by the Toho costume department, the Seatopian high commander even sports a little Megalon head on his head band. Richiro Manabe turned in what has to be one of the worst film scores of all time. It sounds like somebody left the master recordings next to a hot surface and used them anyways. Finally, the Godzilla series was on par with the even more puerile GAMERA sequels of the late 60s and early 70s. Good for a few laughs and barely 80 minutes of mindless mayhem, this sequel has the shameful distinction as being one of the most widely seen G films of the entire run after it got a truncated showing on NBC in the late 1970s.
GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH 1991 aka GOJIRA TAI KINGU GIDORA
Directed by Kazuki Omori
The Heisei Godzilla series was, for its time, viewed as quite the spectacle. Koichi Kawakita took over the job previously vacated by Eiji Tsuburaya, Sadamasa Arikawa and Teruyoshi Nakano to assume the mantle of Toho special effects ace. He startled and opened the eyes of many with his groundbreaking work on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE in 1989. His SPX on KING GHIDORAH won an award at the Japanese Award ceremony in 1992. While some of the effects are quite good, there's a fair amount of rudimentary shots that questions just what is so special about them, especially in light of the advances made in JURASSIC PARK the following year. Not to compare Japanese budgets vs. US budgets, but it almost mirrors cinema history in the late 70s when Dino's bloated KING KONG won an Achievement Award for its Special Visual Effects and then STAR WARS came along and made KONG look obsolete. Kazuki Omori, who made no secret about his dislike of Kaiju movies attempted to inject some fascinating story arcs here, even if they do collapse under the weight of Godzilla's footfalls.
In addition to the flagrant nods to Cameron's THE TERMINATOR (1984), there's also an eye opening anti American sentiment floating about. It's this aspect that is most fascinating about this ultimately disappointing movie. The time traveling portions of the script offer the most glaring moments of confusion and are so sloppy in their detectability, it's amazing no one was paying attention, or possibly didn't care. Still, there's some good things about the film such as the fresh approach depicting the "Evil Americans", the WW2 subplot, a powerfully poignant moment between Godzilla and a Japanese man from his past and Mecha-King Ghidorah who transports from the future to the present day via the sympathetic Futurians. Omori's script is rife with good ideas, but I sure wish he could go back in time and make it a seamless screen adaptation as opposed to the flawed, occasionally hokey movie it is today.
GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA 1992 aka GOJIRA TAI MOSURA
Directed by Takao Okawara
The Heisei series was aiming for the small fry set with this unoriginal mishmash. The makers took both the original MOTHRA (1962) and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964), tossed it into a blender, added a bit of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and a heavy helping of heavy handed environmentalist jargon to concoct this bland Kaiju stew. At this stage, Kawakita's special effects were already becoming stagnant. Just as the plots of the 90s G movies were apparently quick written affairs, Kawakita was quite adamant about having his monsters stand at opposite ends of an ornately designed miniature set and fire off brightly colored laser beams at one another. Whether he was just incapable of creating elaborate action shots like his predecessors, or simply didn't care, what we have here is a tedious laser light show between the monsters. Mothra now has a few laser attacks in her decidedly limited arsenal.
Not content with enough flash on screen, a new monster named Battra is added to the roster. Oddly enough, Kazuki Omori wrote the script here and directing duties was handled by Takao Okawara, who would assume his place as Ishiro Honda-lite for the remainder of the decade. There's nothing here even remotely similar to either of Omori's prior G scripts which likely showcases his disinterest with this type of movie. The less mature tone paid off for Toho as this anemic, yet child friendly entry was a huge success for the company and mandated the continuation of the series despite how lethargically lifeless each succeeding film was becoming. A bright spot is Akira Ifukube's revamped MOTHRA score bearing some beautiful compositions amidst all the nonsense. Things did pick up momentarily in the next Heisei film, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), a retread of past glories with a handful of bright spots and the one major highlight of the Heisei Godzilla series that resembled Honda's work.
GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA 1994 aka GOJIRA TAI SPACEGOJIRA
Directed by Kensho Yamashita
This totally vapid entry contains a script that is about as barren as the Gobi Desert. A number of ideas are introduced and either never fleshed out, or simply discarded. Characters are ported over from previous movies, but nothing is really done with them. It's another excuse for Kawakita to trot out more laser light shows and ill conceived monster designs. Replacing the man made Mechagodzilla is a less distinguished giant robot, M.O.G.E.R.A. (Mobile Operations Godzilla Expert Robot Aerotype), a transforming robot creation that was originally introduced in Toho's far more involving THE MYSTERIANS from 1957. Miki Saegusa, the recurring psychic character gets so much more screen time, but she's saddled with this bizarre hair style that detracts from anything she has to say.
Space Godzilla is one of the laziest Kaiju creations and the same can be said for Kawakita's not so special effects. The asteroid field sequence is hilarious in the extreme and Space Godzilla is a portly purplish hue with these gigantic crystals protruding from his shoulders. His existence hearkens back to BIOLLANTE in that he was born from the spores of the plant monster that made their way into space, cue more scientific gobbledy gook. Baby Godzilla looks like an anime character down to the outlandishly enormous and bulbous eyes. Okawara was busy prepping Toho's epic YAMATO TAKERU (1994) so another newcomer was enlisted, Kensho Yamashita. Everything about his interpretation of a Godzilla film is an embarrassment on the level of how Tomoyuki Tanaka felt upon seeing the finished product of GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER back in 1971. The MEGALON of the 90s, the Heisei series had finally hit rock bottom and thankfully, there was only one more laser light show to go.
GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER 1995 aka GOJIRA TAI DESTOROYAH
Directed by Takao Okawara
Having run out of both gas and ideas, Toho decided to end the Heisei series and Godzilla in general with this highly touted and literal end to the gigantic, rampaging behemoth. The tag line was "Godzilla Dies!" The movie does deliver on that promise and the death of the Big G is the best sequence in the entire movie although it's acerbity is undermined by a final shot that cripples the somber moment promising that where one life ends, another begins. The script is a huge improvement over the totally bland previous picture, but DESTROYER is, like all the 90s Godzilla's, hopelessly derivative. This time ALIENS (1986) and JURASSIC PARK (1993) are mined for ideas where the Japanese scriptwriter (Kazuki Omori again) apparently had none. The idea that Godzilla's new nemesis (a prickly crustacean creation), is born from the Oxygen Destroyer, the very device that obliterated the original Godzilla, is a novel one. Typical of Koichi Kawakita's style, Destroyer is a transforming monster--we see at least three stages of the beast--a device Kawakita frequented in all his G productions, which hearkens back to the maligned and celebrated GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971).
For this outing, Godzilla is glowing red, pulsing veins being visible outside his scaly skin. Threatening to explode into a devastating nuclear explosion, the military develops Super X3, a new aircraft possessing a number of freezing weapons that will hopefully lessen the destruction caused by Godzilla's imminent meltdown. Destroyer is a so-so monstrosity, looking much better on the drawing board than in execution. Kawakita's repetitive nature finally implodes on itself as the final form of Destroyer looks like a refurbished and repainted version of Space Godzilla. Kawakita was even "brave" enough to use toys for some effects shots if you can even call them that. Still, Ifukube's score booms in all the right places and Okawara manages some memorable scenes, just not enough to keep this from being a missed opportunity for greatness and only an average ending to the 90s series.
GODZILLA 2000 1999 aka GOJIRA NISEN: MIRENIAMU (GODZILLA 2000: MILLENNIUM)
Directed by Takao Okawara
After the American abomination that was GODZILLA (1998) and the arrogant blind eye the US filmmakers took to Toho's requests, the Japanese decided it was time to get back into the Kaiju arena with a good intentioned, but underwhelming start to the bright future the new millennium had to offer. Thankfully eschewing Koichi Kawakita as effects creator, everything was a fresh start with Takao Okawara as the only holdover from the previous series. Now, Godzilla is treated as the radioactive fire breathing equivalent to a tornado. A trio of "storm chasers" track Godzilla's appearances in an effort to study the monolithic monster.
Meanwhile, an ancient UFO is discovered that quickly proclaims its purpose of world domination as well as obtaining Godzilla's DNA to allow these energy beasts to take a new form. There's a more profound science fiction slant for this go round and some interesting ways to shoot the monster footage, but overall, it's not the new series starter one would have hoped for. The new effects team are an impressive bunch and Orga, an alien that absorbs the organic make up of whatever it latches onto is an elaborate and visually impressive creature. Released to American theaters minus 8 minutes of footage and saddled with ridiculous English dubbed dialog, the US producers further crippled an already average movie by tacking on an ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES style 'The End?' font during the last scene. Thankfully, the Millennium, or 'X' series would improve till the last film of this run of Godzilla pictures.
GODZILLA FINAL WARS 2004 aka GOJIRA FAINARU UOZU
New Toho head, Shogo Tomiyama, wished to end the Millennium Godzilla run with an all out, bombastic thrill ride much the way both DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995) were initially intended. A new director was chosen--Ruyhei Kitamura, a "New Wave" Japanese filmmaker. Toho couldn't have been more wrong with their choice. In what was essentially a repeat of events from 1971's SMOG MONSTER debacle, Kitamura was left alone to make the movie he wanted. When he cited the 70s G pictures as his favorites, that should have been the red flag to end all red flags. What he delivered was an utterly soulless, irritatingly infantile experience that looks just like what he wanted--a glossy version of a 70s Godzilla film, but substituting mediocre monster scenes for a plethora of stock footage. At over two hours long, Godzilla is barely in the movie and the monster fights scarcely take up 20 minutes of the films 125 minute running time.
For a film that spends more than half its length with human characters and MATRIX style kung fu fights, you'd expect some form of exposition, but the script was apparently tossed out the window ripping off STAR WARS (1977), V (1983) and numerous other Japanese sci fi pictures in the process. Some of the acting is absolutely atrocious, the score by Keith Emerson a travesty and a lot of scenes consist of close ups of cast members shaking and twitching their faces as if they have a migraine of the highest order. Even the Japanese saw this for what it was--mentally handicapped cinematic waste that resulted in GODZILLA FINAL WARS seriously losing the box office battle, despite Toho hyping this rotten egg to high heaven. It ended up being the least profitable Millennium entry and the least attended Godzilla movie since TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, which had an excuse while the heavily touted FINAL WARS was plain and simply lousy. Kitamura and Krew took a big, steaming radioactive dump on the entire 28 film run. Here's hoping the next Japanese Godzilla movie gets off to a gigantically grand start.