For a film that was meant to revive the Godzilla series in both Japan and the U.S., Godzilla (1984) (aka Godzilla 1985 in America) is a disappointment. Toho tried a lot of new ideas that just didn't pan out, and then repeated some old mistakes which could have easily been avoided. Although it didn't spell doom for the Godzilla series in Japan, its failure in the U.S. meant a dearth of Godzilla releases in the States for the next decade. On the other hand, Godzilla (1984) did get Godzilla away from the superhero image he had when we last saw him in 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla, and made him back into a genuine menace.
The movie gets off to a slow start. Literally, it begins with a dark and stormy night aboard a ship. (Uh-oh, that isn't good.) The fishing trawler is making its way home on choppy seas when some sort of volcanic disturbance cuts their voyage short. After a brief half-glimpse of Godzilla (the only sign of our monster pal that we'll get for the next half-hour), we discover that only one of the crew made it out alive, though the ship itself remains intact. When that crewman is rescued by a reporter, the fisherman reveals to the government that the crew was killed by... Godzilla!
This brings up all sorts of questions, because it makes no sense. The reporter had to kill a giant mutated sea louse to rescue the fisherman -- we thought that was what had killed the crew. Plus, how did Godzilla, at 30 stories tall, manage to kill the crew without leaving a scratch on the boat? And since when does death by giant green radioactive lizard leave dessicated corpses? It's an unholy mess from the very beginning.
Oh my God, did Godzooky just fly over?
This American Godzilla has gotten way
out of control!
To make a long story short, Godzilla returns to Japan, because it's been thirty years since he's had a good bowl of ramen. Or something like that. In this version of Godzilla, the big G has only appeared once before, as recounted in the original Godzilla. Godzilla (1984) pretends that all those movies where Godzilla fought other monsters just didn't happen -- not much of a loss when you consider Godzilla vs Megalon. At any rate, the evil Soviets and Americans (this is 1985, remember) want to nuke Godzilla in case he isn't content with destroying Japan and decides to attack either of their countries.
It is a source of much pain to us that the American version of Godzilla (1984) suffers from the worst re-editing to which any Godzilla film was subjected since King Kong vs Godzilla. Besides the indignities of an aging Raymond Burr spouting amazingly silly dialogue, we're treated to a wise-ass American military officer and product placements for Dr. Pepper. Worst of all, though, are the changes that the U.S. version makes to a key scene when Godzilla makes landfall in Tokyo. In the original version, the captain of a Soviet ship docked in Tokyo harbor tries unsuccessfully to stop a Dr. Strangelovian failsafe system on his ship from launching a missile at Tokyo, because Godzilla's appearance has set it off. In the US version, a couple of shots are clumsily inserted to make it seem that the the Soviet captain is intentionally trying to launch the missile. Because this movie was made during the Cold War, the change was made to make the Russkies look worse.
The rest of the movie progresses like any number of "serious" monster movies, or any number of 1970s/1990s disaster flicks. Godzilla destroys a lot of stuff, the government tries various strategies to deal wiith Godzilla, but it is actually the maverick scientist and his perky assistants that come up with the solution, etc. etc.
"What's that... just
behind the camera?
Could it be? It is!
It's my paycheck!"
One of the biggest problems with Godzilla (1984) is that the portrayal of the monster is not really up to snuff. True, the suit they used is higher tech than any Godzilla suit up to this point, and a number of mechanical substitutes were used, one of which was 17 feet tall. They also built a 1:1 scale foot that was used to stomp real people and cars, though most -- if not all -- of these scenes were cut from the US version. But even with all this effort put into the special effects, Godzilla still doesn't look realistic. It has really weak sholders, and the head looks too large. Worse yet, someone thought it would be a good idea to make the eyes large and white. Nothing ruins the illusion of a special effects monster faster than fake-looking eyes. In a couple of scenes the eyes even seem to be lit internally -- what's with that?! Our only consolation is that this situation proves to be one of the few times that filmmakers learned from their mistakes (Batman and Robin being the best example that this is a rare phenomenon) and the suit used in the next movie, Godzilla vs. Biollante, was beautiful, with a massive frame and deep-set dark eyes.
However, the most important thing about this movie was that it made a reasonable amount of money in Japan, and that fact led to the latter-day series of Godzilla movies, which started in 1989 with Godzilla vs Biollante and ended in 1994 with Godzilla vs Destroyah. Although Godzilla (1984) isn't a particularly good movie, it was a good start and brought the big G back to life for millions of fans.