Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Kaiju Watch: Godzilla 1984/ Return of Godzilla (1984)
Viewing: Third/ First
Way back in '86, I rented the American version of this film for my birthday. And when I say "American version", it helps to know a bit about the original Godzilla: King of the Monsters from back in the 1950's.
So, originally, Toho produced an all-Japanese version of Gojira, the movie about a giant sea monster awakened by atomic testing and blasting in the Pacific. It was made by Japan for Japan, and that was that - until an American film company saw the movie and was like "holy @#$%, we need to release this in the US!" But they figured America is weird about racism and in a post-WWII America, maybe not crazy about an all-Japanese cast. So, they shot a bunch of scenes with Raymond "Perry Mason" Burr as an American journalist who bears witness to events unfolding in Japan, trimmed down a lot of the movie's story about Japanese people having life and love issues and guilt about being in Japan post WWII, and a movie called Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a huge, international hit.
Flash forward to 1984, and Toho Studios, on the heels of diminishing returns from Godzilla and Company fighting it out across the Pacific Rim, decide to soft-reboot the entire franchise, acting like no movies came out between 1954 and 1984, the 30th Anniversary of Gojira. So they made Return of Godzilla, also known ass Godzilla 1984, with an all-Japanese cast. They *also* teamed with New World Pictures to Americanize the film, rehired Raymond Burr, and followed up on this poor bastard's time back in Japan as Godzilla resurfaces to once again give train passengers a really bad time.
Somehow I didn't make it out to the theater to see Godzilla 1985, but just in time for what I guess was my 11th birthday in 1986, the videotape arrived at my VHS-monger's shop, and that was my birthday rental.
I loved it. I thought it was cool and weird and made Godzilla totally rad for our modern Reagan-tastic-era. But, I never saw the Japanese version except in bits and pieces on the El Rey network, and I don't think I've seen the American version since a second time we rented the movie later on in 1986.
But, Kraken keeps releasing Godzilla movie to disc and this one was on sale, so I now own Godzilla 1984, which I have finally watched. And...
I dunno. It's not a patch on Gojira, and it mixes some minor flights of fancy that would mark Godzilla movies, like The Super-X Tokyo defense vehicle. But it *is* a fascinating relic of a non-American view of how the rest of the world felt at the height of The Cold war, as Russia and the US kept threatening to blow the planet up several times over. There's certainly both overt and subversive commentary on the uselessness of nuclear weapons and how its just going to get us all killed, anyway.
And it's not exactly *fun*, as the Godzilla movies tilted toward by the third installment in the original run. But it's also nowhere near the impact or existential threat of Shin Godzilla, the most recent Toho remake of Godzilla (and which I deeply and truly recommend).
My memory as a kid was that Godzilla looked buyable and amazing, and neither of these things are true. Honestly, this movie faces some of the worst scaling issues I can recall in a Godzilla movie as our radioactive friend seems to change size from scene to scene or even shot to shot.
There's also a *lot* of reliance on a sort of close-up of Godzilla that goes to the Godzilla Raids Again notion that puppetry will work wonders where Man-in-Suit will not. But the puppet... somehow isn't great, and seems to limit the scope and scale of seeing Man-in-Suit rumbling around a city, delivering Godzilla's emotion and thoughts by performance, not just waving limbs and rolling eyes. There's a reason Harou Nakajima is revered for his Godzilla performances - I'm just saying.
That said - it's certainly not awful. And I guess it did reboot the Toho Godzilla movies well enough that we got all those 90's refresh movies I kinda dig. If the science-people storyline wasn't all that fleshed out, it got out of the way for the important part of the film - Godzilla freaking out the squares.
And, we do get that whole "we beat him! Oh, wait. Oh, no..." bit towards the end. And there's some genuine reminders of how horrific a Godzilla rampage would be/ is.
Godzilla 1984 trailer from Japan:
American Godzilla 1985 trailers: