Godzilla vs. King Ghidrah
Everyone knows who Godzilla is. A couple of months ago we saw an editorial in the local paper entitled 'The Godzillas of the campaign trail,' and there was no explanation offered for people who may not get the reference: that's how entrenched Godzilla is in American popular culture.
What many people don't know is that Godzilla is still making films today in Japan. Here we consider Godzilla an old and quaint Japanese import, and we see Godzilla as he was, a laughable super hero fighting ludicrous rubber opponents. The last movie like this was Terror of Mechagodzilla, which was released in 1974.
Godzilla was revamped for his thirtieth birthday in Japan, and America shared in the first two films in the new cycle. The first was Godzilla 1985, a badly re-edited version of the Japanese Gojira (1984). Done with modern special effects, but still cheesy by US standards, it was ill served by the US inclusion of embarrassing scenes featuring Raymond Burr.
The second film of the new series was released straight to video by HBO. Godzilla vs. Biollante features a new monster, one inspired almost directly by John Carpenter's The Thing, and an improved suit for Godzilla. Most importantly, as with Godzilla 1985, Godzilla is firmly the villain.
The film opens with a UFO being spotted over Japan. It develops that this UFO is actually a time machine from the future and the 'Futurians' (an American, a Russian, and a Japanese) have quite a deal for the Japanese government. They have read a book written by a journalist in 1991 that proposes Godzilla was a dinosaur that survived on remote island in the Pacific and that it became a monster after being irradiated by the Bikini H-Bomb blast. They want to take the journalist and a few of his friends back in time to WW2, where they will move the-dinosaur-that-will-be-Godzilla out of the way of the blast. The plan works, and Godzilla disappears from where he was off the coast of Japan, dormant after the events of the previous film.
But you can't trust those darn Futurians. They released some genetically engineered pets from their time on the island in the past, and those pets became King Ghidrah, an awesome monster in control of the Futurians in the present. They threaten Japan with destruction if the country doesn't surrender.
Luckily for Japan, Godzilla was created despite the Futurians best efforts to keep it from happening. The big guy, looking particularly buff and evil in his 'new' form, arrives on Japan, and defeats Ghidrah handily.
Unluckily for Japan, Godzilla then embarks on a cross country tour. Can Godzilla be stopped from destroying Tokyo?
Most of the monster effects in this film are excellent, and the fights are particularly imaginative. The monsters never resort to wrestling around on the ground the way they used to, but instead fight like two enraged animals. Some of the other special effects are cheesy, especially those involving the Futurians Terminator-esque android, but overall they don't get in the way of the story. This is pretty much par for the course in the new films. It almost seems that one truly cheesy special effect was written into every script (The Godzilla Jr marionette in Godzilla vs. Destroyah, the space battle in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla).
As for the humans who populate the story, don't expect much. Most of the actors walk through their roles, and the last-minute revelation that should be emotional falls completely flat. And the American actors are truly awful. The man who plays the U.S. Ship Commander is an actor who could not pass muster on cable access. And it does not help that he is given dialogue like, "Take that, you dinosaur." But hey, who really cares? It's the monsters, stupid.
If you judge this film by the monsters (and what Godzilla fan doesn't?), this is our favorite movie of the new bunch. Though the story often has all the logic of a fever dream, the special effects are so inspired that this film is enormously enjoyable. From the obligatory scenes of the Japanese army mobilizing, to the final battle which destroys Tokyo's (then brand new) City Hall, Godzilla vs. King Ghidrah is one of the finest examples of that form of art known as the Godzilla movie.
Review date: 12/18/96
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