Sunday, February 21, 2010

Godzilla (1954)

The only way to stop a pyromaniac in a rubber suit from destroying your model train set is with faulty science.

I thought that my fist viewing in my latest series, Go-Go Godzilla!, would serve two purposes. First, it would allow me to finally see the original Godzilla film, something I have been meaning to do for ages, and, second, it would knock another film off the 1001 movies to see list. I just assumed a film as pervasive in the world-wide pop-culture as Godzilla would have made the list, but I was wrong in my assumption. Other than being the second glaring omission from the 1001 movies list, the first being The Triplets of Belleville, Godzilla is a surprisingly profound and fairly exciting movie.

There's pretty much no one in the world who doesn't know what Godzilla is and the first movie gives you everything you could expect from the monster. Awakened from his deep-sea slumber, Godzilla, draped in American flags and spitting the righteous flames of constitutional freedom, single handedly destroys every Honda and Toyota he sees. The only thing that can prevent the world-wide dominance of the American auto-industry code-named Godzilla, which translates literally into "buy ford or perish'" in Japanese, is the collective minds of Japan's finest scientists. The same great minds that gave us the violin playing robot, the flute playing robot and the sex robot must come up with an answer before Godzilla demolishes every model train set they have. Godzilla, even thought it was lambasted by Japanese critics, went on to be a massive success. The film has spawned 28 sequels and is one of the most popular film series' worldwide. 

While certainly dated on the special effects front, nothing made in the 1950's is going to look great by today's standards, Godzilla was certainly an achievement for the time. Nothing will convince you that it isn't just a guy in a suit, but while Tokyo burns, it just doesn't matter. The destruction, once the movie gets there is glorious. Godzilla goes on a spiteful, building smashing, tear through downtown Tokyo and it's a blast to watch. The sequence is not without it's profound moments too. The mother holding her daughters and as flames rain down, telling them that they will be with daddy soon, and the scenes of the aftermath, ruined Tokyo, the hospitals, memorials, children with radiation poisoning are all extremely powerful. The film is clearly an expression of the scars that the bombs left and I was surprised at how powerful that expression was. This is also echoed in the choice of our semi-hero Serizawa. He is required to make a decision over his discovery, a weapon at least equal to the destructive power of the atomic bomb, and his struggles and character journey is really intriguing. In fact, most of the characters in the film are surprisingly well portrayed and written. This is a breath of fresh air when compared to the bottomless pit of suck that the character work in the later film's. Special mention should be made of the score as well. The rousing theme's were a pleasant surprise and they've been stuck in my head for awhile.

While all these traits are remarkable, the problem is that almost all of them occur in the second half of the film. The first half of the movie is a generally underwhelming, lumbering gargantuan that doesn't really entertain or engage. The suspense of the monster didn't really click for me, maybe it's just from experience with the series, but I couldn't wait for the real destruction to start. The pacing was an issue, but the film also failed to make certain character relationships clear. Scenes that helped establish our characters and their relationships were cut to pick up the pace, but that made it difficult to follow at times. While I'm not sure a better balance could have been found, it still bothered me that I never really know who some of these people were. In the long run, the movie still worked despite it's short-comings because you didn't need to know who these people were since the main attraction was Godzilla himself and the wonderful destruction. 

The original Godzilla movie has been on my list for a long time and it feels good to finally sit down and watch it. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed in what it offered and I am giggling in excitement over the next Godzilla movie I will be watching, 1955's Godzilla Raids Again, because it features my favorite Godzilla monster, Anguirus. For those who don't like camp or cheesy, the original Godzilla may be the only film in the series worth watching. It's a really excellent expression of the Japanese psyche, post atomic bomb, and it fits the textbook definition of a must see movie. Godzilla is a pop-culture icon and, without seeing at least one Godzilla movie, I would say your movie watching experience is not complete. If any movie deserves to be added to the 1001 movies to see list, this is it. See it anyway!



Susan said...

Wonderful Pictures. Very Cool and colorful. I love it. I seriously started collecting many Godzilla Toys after all I became a very big fan of the Godzilla, a very big heroic monster.

Alfindeol said...

I love the big lug. Even when he is the enemy, he is just so lovable while he's smashing stuff. Kinda like a big baby.