Partway through all of this the templates went crazy and started acting independently of me, up to and including not letting me number the entries properly. So bear with me....
Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows I'm a Godzilla Nerd of the 33rd degree and have been ever since I was eight years old and my Mom plunked me down in front a TV and asked, “you want to see a Monster Movie?”
On the eve of catching the new Godzilla flick (a week after everyone else did) I thought I'd take my place as the eighty-billionth dork to ruminate on my favorite and least favorite flix in the long, extended franchise just to make the noise in my head stop. So with no real idea where the new one will land on my list, here ya go---my historical Kaiju Meltdown. Agree, disagree, call me a gibbering moron, whatever. This is my list and I entertain myself.
1. Gojira/Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954) Original and still the best. Dark, moody, deathly serious and apocalyptic. I still can't describe how much I love this film---marked me pretty deeply as an eight-year-old Monster Kid. If you get a chance to see the original Japanese Language version (without Raymond Burr) do it. I've got this nice edition with both versions on it. The American version with Burr is still good but it's funny how I watched this as an adult and it finally clicked with me that Burr ISN'T interacting with the Japanese cast----just the backs of stand-ins' heads. The original cut is made all the better with the Post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki Angst---something the American release understandably dumbs down.
2. Godzilla vs. Destroyer (1995) No---I'm not gonna say “Destroyah”----that was a titular contrivance that came up when it got released on video in the U.S. Some years later---I caught it on a bootleg beforehand. Last entry in the Heisei Series it's the swan song for this series' incarnation of Godzilla----it's the end of the line for psychic Micki Saegusa, Godzilla Junior and a neat tie-in/wrap-up for The Oxygen Destroyer and Clan Yemane (Momoko Kochi, who plays Emiko in the first movie, even has a cameo, here) and hell if it ain't kinda moving. If you want the perfect movie night, you could play “Godzilla” and “G vs. D” back-to-back and just enjoy the grim synchronicity. The Kaiju spawned of the Oxygen Destroyer is a nasty one!
3.Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) 50th anniversary epic and finale for the entertaining-but-weird Millennium Series....marred by a few bits of particularly dodgy CGI (Kamacuras & Kumonga, I'm lookin' at YOU!) this is otherwise a blast....probably owing a lot to some of the goofy 70s entries the operative word here is FUN----the pace is furious and the monsters are plenty, pretty much bringing home the promise the overrated “Destroy All Monsters” never managed to deliver. This one pulls out all the stops---lots of veteran actors from the Showa series pop up, mad monster action busting out of all corners of the screen----Godzilla's a killing machine that ploughs through everything---Gigan, a pretty cool monster who never got a decent movie, finally gets done some justice—the treatment of King Ghidorah is, well----monstrous--a few “you've gotta be kidding me” moments (I kinda vaguely recall Minya riding around in a pickup truck and wearing a seatbelt-----very socially responsible)....the human action in any Kaiju flick can either drive the plot forward, add to the enjoyment or stop the movie dead----here you've got aliens, superpowered mutant supersoldiers and some military guy who comes off like Jesse “The Body” Ventura----so the human characters are just as over-the-top as the monsters. Can't say enough about it---don't look for any resonance or power or nuclear doom----it's a romp. Saddle up and enjoy a big, insane, ridiculous romp.
4. Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964) The list wouldn't be complete without an old childhood fave----the optimum monster mash ties in three of Toho's biggest monsters, Godilla, Mothra and Rodan---and gives the Kaiju Kontinuum one of its most enduring Bad Beasts, King Ghidorah. Mad fun from beginning to end.
5: Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1993) And yes, the Heisei incarnation of MechaG is my favorite. The Showa series' version was an evil robot Godzilla controlled by aliens----the 90s version is a manned battle station commissioned by the U.N. To deal with the ever-present Kaiju Threat. Along for the ride you get Monster Egg Mystery, Rodan, (you can tell I'm a big Rodan guy) Baby Godzilla and secondary lizard brains. Fun to watch and one of my favorites because of the HUGEASS monster brawl at the end with some cool surprise twists.
6. Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) The wild card in the Millennium Deck----this one radically re-imagines G as a demon that embodies all the Japanese and Okinawan War Dead....and for the only time ever, King Ghidorah (along with Mothra and Barugon) is actually one of the good guys----a triad of “Holy Monsters” trying to subdue the demon. I read somewhere that the “Holy Monsters” were originally supposed to be Barugon, Anguirus and Varan until the studio demanded Mothra and King Ghidorah. This is another one of those where, in addition to some kickass Kaiju stuff, the human action is entertainingly watchable. Godzilla gets one of his scariest looks ever----the design in this one is terrific. Very funny reference to the 1998 American G early in the film.
7. & 8. (TIE) Godzilla vs. Mothra (1963 & 1992 versions)
Both of these do well as far as carrying the whole “Don't Mess with Mother Nature” message of the 1954 original, probably more than any of the others in any of the series. The 1963 movie (best known when I was a kid as “Godzilla vs. the Thing”) has one of the best Godzilla entrances ever and a cool bit where the two slimy greedhead villains fight over a stash of money as Godzilla bears down on them with predictable results as well as a great twist ending....the 90s flick sports Mothra's evil twin, Battra, as well as some great city-demolition/monster brawl action that really typified the Heisei series for me. There's kind of a mini-Indiana Jones homage in the beginning. Director/Screenwriter Kazuki Omori (who also did “Godzilla vs. Biollante” and “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah”) has kind of a big love-thing for Spielberg (it comes up more than once in his movies) and it's obvious he wanted to do a big, wild, Spielbergy adventure here.
9. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) I was actually really torn on this one----I know it's a big fan favorite and my initial impulse was to put it in the “Most Overrated” list. My eternal quibble with it is what a mess it is but I decided at the last minute to stick it in the Favorites because it is actually a fun flick and in the end the positives probably outweigh the negatives. Again you get tons of Omori Spielberg Love but the way it works out here is this whole time travel plotline that's like Swiss Cheese. Some fans have actually picked apart the various timestream paradoxes this creates in the other Heisei films and sorry, guys, y'all have too much time on your hands. Try not to give it that much thought 'cause the filmmakers sure didn't. Check your brain at the door and enjoy the damn movie. The fascinating and discussion-worthy thing about G vs KG is that after “Godzilla 1985” flopped stateside, Toho basically stopped giving a good goddamn about patronizing us yanks in this franchise----which makes these movies real interesting to watch if you're American. “G vs KG” was a runaway hit in Japan whereas American audiences weren't even aware it existed at the time...and the futuristic villains, who are trying to prevent Japan from becoming a world Superpower, are Americans. That's right, kids----we're the Bad Guys. The time travel story is a pile of gobbledigook but the rampaging and monster fights are pretty good...my favorite moment here involves the WWII vet tied in w/Godzilla's origin who remembers a dinosaur blundering onto the scene and rescuing him and his platoon in the South Pacific...he feels his destiny is linked with the big guy---right up to where G incinerates him.
10. Invasion of the Astro Monsters (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) (1965) Direct sequel to “Ghidrah” but not as good, IMO----features all the previous movie's Kaiju with the exception of Mothra, which doesn't initially seem like that big a deal, but maybe it coulda used some Big Caterpillar Warmth. There's a feeling of high camp in this one that garners either a lot of love or a lot of contempt, from G's football-style victory dance (Inoshiro Honda himself is alleged to have hated it) to the wacky aliens with their retro costumes and flying saucers. Alien Invasion became a heavy motif in the G-flix from here on out.....mostly it was a very tired theme and this was the only time it was all that much fun. And godammit, NICK FREAKIN' ADAMS!!!!!
HONORABLE MENTION: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
I'm gonna start this off with a little caveat----as much as I'm hating on these movies I own a good chunk of them and would be cool with adding the ones I DON'T own to my collection. Worst is a relative term (okay—--maybe it isn't)...maybe “Love Happy” is a steaming pile of horse puckey when you stack it up against “Duck Soup”, but Harpo's a funny guy, and face it---you're still gonna laugh.
1. Godzilla's Revenge aka All Monsters Attack (1969) How do you make the worst Godzilla movie ever? Well, you compose at least half of it from stock footage (mostly “Son of Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster”) and then stick in this Walter Mitty-type plot where this little yard ape daydreams about running around Monster Island with his buddy, Minya, who talks like Mortimer Snerd. And you get the insertion of Gabra, who might be the Gfans' collective least favorite monster of all time...although I'll admit I have a soft spot for the guy....worked with this one dude who had the exact same laugh.
2. Godzilla vs. Gigan (aka Godzilla on Monster Island) (1972) Godzilla and Anguirus tag team Gigan and King Ghidorah. Looks good on paper, huh? Shoulda stayed on paper. Super-generic Monster Mash with an interminable activists-versus-aliens plot and again, way too much stock footage.
3. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) Yeah, yeah, I know the tail slide rocks, and yes, the Jet Jaguar theme song is funny. Sorry.
4. Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994) Worst of the Heisei series...you can literally FEEL Toho's faith in the franchise slipping as the movie drags on. Another convoluted gobbledigook plot that doesn't even have the decent backup of cool effects or good fight-and-rampage footage. The design of Space Godzilla is actually not bad---new battle machine Mogera(Nicked, I believe, from an older film called “The Mysterians”) is a piss-poor second to Mechagodzilla in the previous outing. “Ah, Mogera---what a piece of crap you are!!!!” Yeah----that's a direct quote from the movie. The character of Micki Saegusa is a secondary figure throughout the entire Heisei series----so can she carry a movie as the romantic lead? Nah....not really----and she doesn't get a lot of help. The best thing about “G vs SG” is the Captain Ahab-like Yuki-San----a grizzled old pilot with an axe to grind against the big guy. This character is so over-the-top he generates what little fun there is to be had here.
1. Destroy All Monsters (1968) Yep----that's right----I said it. I know you're not supposed to say it, but I did. The who's who of Toho Kaiju flicks in which some of the suits were so damaged they got very little playtime....worth seeing for the giant Kaiju brawl in the last 15 minutes but dragged down by an albatross of a dullsville astronauts-versus-aliens plotline (and I already told you how the aliens wore out their welcome after “Astro Monsters”). “Final Wars” does almost everything this tries to do a lot better----chase it down.
1. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) A few years after “G 85” the Heisei series is jump-started for real. This is the direct sequel to “G 85” and one of the strangest movies in the franchise. The industrial espionage/bio-terror plot is unlike any other story in the G-Canon....it may move a little slow but I like it. Again this was another like G vs. KG where Toho had lost any real stake in American Distribution and no longer cared about patronizing us yanks. This shows up in the inclusion of villains from both the U.S. And some fictional Arabian country. Extra points for Biollante, one of the most bizarre Kaiju ever, with a completely bonkers back story. G vs B also goes back to the classic theme of don't monkey with Nature.
You know what? Forget “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah”----take that out of the top ten and put this one in!!!! I actually like it better!
and probably far and away the best. Not great, but solid fun...an odd assortment of characters are shipwrecked on an island and discover that a cadre of supervillain bad guy types have enslaved the inhabitants of Infant Island (home of Mothra) for one nefarious purpose or another----oh----yeah---and they're conducting experiments on the local fauna---you get giant birds and a giant shrimp called “Ebirah” (the titular “Sea Monster”) has been installed as the “Guard Dog” that prevents anyone from escaping. Enter Godzilla with the expected results----then Mothra shows up. Entertainment ensues.
3. Godzilla vs. Megaguiras (2000) Released the same year as “Godzilla 2000” and two or three times better for my money----gov't sponsored military group invents a kind of manmade black hole to get rid of G. Experiments go wrong and the result is giant prehistoric bugs! Not a top tenner by any means but some good monster melee action and great 180 Matrix-style “Kill” shot at the climax....and hang out after the closing credits. There's a kickass suprise ending.
4. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster”) (1971) (Sometimes referred to be me and my friends as “Godzilla vs. the Hefty Bag” or “Godzilla vs. GG Allin”) Michael and Harry Medved (who are tools) included this film in their book, THE 50 WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME-----ironically, much like “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is not the worst film of all time (nor is it the worst Ed Wood film), “G vs. H” isn't one of the worst films ever made, nor is it the worst Godzilla film (that distinction belongs to “Godzilla's Revenge”!)---but its infamy is well known. Director Yoshimitsu Banno was thrown off the Toho movie lot for this demented opus. And one shouldn't lose sight of the list of offenses: Annoying Child Motif? Check. Trendy, heavy-handed Eco-”Message”? Check. Obnoxious theme song (“Rave the Rearth!!!!”) Triple check. And the whole bit with Godzilla flying? Sends G-Fans into seizures. But Banno didn't get it all wrong----weird hodgepodge of Kaiju Wrasslin' Action, leftover psychedelia, animation and gruesome imagery that's a little out of place for something this kiddie oriented make this a truly STRANGE offering, and there's some genuinely cool, experimental cinematography going on. And it's a fun flick to get high to----not that I advocate that or anything. Interesting side note: Around the time of “Godzilla: Final Wars” Mr. Banno was making a lot of the scenes at various fan cons, talking about how he wanted to do a big IMAX/3D Godzilla movie, much to the horror of the Toho Execs. Well, he's one of the executive producers of Warner/Legendary's new “Godzilla”. WELL PLAYED, MR. BANNO!
As of this writing Gareth Edwards has dropped out of the sequel to the 2014 Godzilla iteration, which I don't consider to be particularly bad news. Much as I liked his work in “Monsters” I'm not sure he's cut out for an extended stay with the big lizard, so maybe his talents will be better used doing Han Solo movies or Boba Fett movies or whatever the fuck he's doing. I don't care and so I lose track.
A lot of what I heard going into the 2014 flick was the distinct LACK of Godzilla....much of my thinking there was that if it ran on a less-is-more iceberg theory that would be fine...unfortunately, by the time it hit the big screen the whole tone had changed---early trailers were framed with the whole J. Robert Oppenheimer “Now I am become death, the Destroyer of Worlds” quote...that was pretty exciting to think we might be treated to something with a level of gravity on par with the original----by the time it hit the big screen it was just a high-production monster mash. Nothing wrong with that, but pick a mood and stick with it.
Much in the same way I theorized that the Japanese can't carry off time travel (viz GvKG) maybe Americans can't carry off Annihilation Angst (the closest we got was “Cloverfield”, which was criticized over supposedly scaring up the 9/11 Zeitgeist, as if that were somehow a bad thing to do)
I remember when Heather and I saw “Pacific Rim” I told her, blown away by its sheer scope, that the new “Godzilla” had its work cut out for it.....and yeah----”Pacific Rim” was more impressive. Sorry-----it was.
But under different hands and a capable production staff, who knows? Maybe we can get a decent, dumbass monster mash...
Of course, at this point, Toho is spewing out “Godzilla Resurgence” and I've got some mixed feelings there....on one level, production-wise it looks good, well-shot and very high-drama....it's the design of Godzilla itself I've got the mixed feelings over.
Yeah, G looks scary as hell----similar in some ways to the “All Out Monsters Attack” war demon look with the meltdown look of “Godzilla vs. Destroyer”....I think what bugs me about the whole thing is those ROUND, BEADY LITTLE EYES.
If you wanted to go for realism, that might not be a bad move---that's probably what a reptile's eyes SHOULD LOOK LIKE. Although, for me, Godzilla has never been a realistic creature and a lot of his visual appeal is that his face is actually EXPRESSIVE, having a lot of strangely mammalian features.
Of course, I have this tendency to hate on fanboys for getting anal-retentive about other peoples' creations and for their distorted sense of “ownership”, so of course, I see the other side of that argument just fine---'Sides, regardless, I'll no doubt end up seeing it.
- Words copyright 2016 C.F. Roberts/Molotov Editions