Monday, August 1, 2011

Godzillapalooza #1: Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1954)
Monster Profile(s):
*In future posts, this section will be used to introduce new or revised Godzilla enemies/allies. But since this is #1, why not introduce Big G.


-HEIGHT: Depends on who you're talking to. At some points in the Showa   series (early films) he's is said to be as tall as 400 feet, but the official measurement is 50 meters or 165 feet.
-WEIGHT: Approximately 45,000 lbs.
-SPECIAL POWERS: Atomic Ray Breath (I've always reffered to it as "Thermo-nuclear Blast"), super-regenerative power (he cannot be killed by any conventional means).
-BACKGROUND: Godzilla was created as the direct result of excessive nuclear testing in the South Pacific. We learn later in the series that he was a surviving Godzillasaurus from the time of dinosaurs who was hit by intense radiation on his island home in the 50's. He is virtually indestructible and while he causes widespread destruction, he is not specifically evil, but rather a vindictive force of nature. While this Godzilla dies in this movie, we quickly learn in the next film that he is not the only one of his kind.

The American version of the movie follows the vacation of an American reporter, Steve Martin, to Tokyo that ends up being much more than he bargained for. Japan is rocked to it's core when a series of ships disappear in bursts of flame in the same area of the Pacific Ocean. With no explanation for the destruction, Martin and some Japanese officials go to nearby Odo Island to investigate. Eventually, Godzilla shows himself and, despite the urgings of paleontologist Dr. Yamane to study the creature, the Japanese government decides he must be destroyed. After an unsuccessful naval bombing, Godzilla comes ashore and destroys Tokyo in two separate attacks. Steve Martin observes the unprecedented destruction from his room and reports before his building collapses. In the wake of the disaster, Martin awakes in a hospital where thousands lay dying or with radiation sickness. With nowhere to turn, Tokyo's only hope is prayer. Throughout the movie, a love triangle becomes evident between Dr. Yamane's daughter, Emiko, the sailor she is in love with, Ogata, and the brilliant but controversial scientist she was betrothed to, Dr. Serizawa (also Steve Martin's college friend). While Emiko has great respect for Serizawa, she simply does not love him. Serizawa shows her a weapon he has developed with devastating effectiveness, called the Oxygen Destroyer. A small dosage in water destroys all life within, melting the flesh off of bones. Serizawa swears Emiko to secrecy, but after Godzilla's second attack she sees the weapon as humanity's only hope. Emiko and Ogata eventually convince a reluctant Serizawa that he must use it to save Japan. To ensure that the weapon never falls into the wrong hands, Serizawa burns all of his life's research before he dives with Ogata to the bottom of Tokyo Bay, where Godzilla sleeps, to plant the weapon. In a last act of bravery and honor, Serizawa stays at the ocean floor with his weapon to die and take it's secret with him for the greater good. The Oxygen Destroyer kills Godzilla swiftly and Tokyo is left to mourn their losses and begin life anew.

The tone of the first Godzilla movie is strikingly different from all of the others, mainly because it was made as a direct analogy of the destruction left by the US atomic bombs in WWII by the people who experienced it first-hand. This makes for a very sobering and serious message. It's the most masterfully directed monster movie, besides perhaps King Kong, of all time. Akira Ifukube also created an incredible score that would become central to the Godzilla franchise and at points is so haunting, it still gives me chills. Ifukube can also be credited with creating the most recognizable roar of all time. He made Godzilla's roar by rubbing a leather glove on the strings of a stand up bass and reverberating the sound produced. Voila! The tragic and heroic character of Serizawa is another fantastic aspect of the film and provides some of it's finest moments. The character of Steve Martin, added for US release, provides narration throughout the film that is, although at times superfluous, usually very powerful. It also gives us dumb American audiences a better idea of what's going on at all times without too much English dubbing. Thus the emotion of scenes are generally never compromised.

Special effects for this movie were state-of-the-art for the 1950's, and you can't talk about the first G-movie without mentioning the suit. The decision to use a costumed actor rather than stop-motion animation for Godzilla was the best choice director, Ishiro Honda, could have ever made. The suit looks fantastic on screen, and while every G-fan dreams of donning the rubber suit and stomping through a painstakingly detailed miniature Tokyo, it was actually quite dangerous. The first suit provided little to no visibility and zero ventilation (tiny eye holes doubled as the only openings for fresh air to breath), making it extremely hot, especially under studio lights. Actors passed out from dehydration and one almost drowned filming a water scene. As dangerous as filming may have been, it was masterfully done. Little things, such as filming from low angles and playing the tape slower than it was originally filmed, made Godzilla seem even bigger and more menacing in the final cut.

All of these innovations, great acting and story-telling, an amazing score, and serious message all make this the greatest of all Godzilla films. It's gritty and although it's a monster movie, it has a certain level of stark realism. You cannot watch it without being reminded of the atrocities created as a result of WWII. Godzilla is a sobering and powerful experience.

Best Part:
Serizawa shows Emiko his weapon
My favorite part of the movie has to be the ending, when Serizawa and Ogata dive to the depths of Tokyo Bay to confront and destroy Godzilla. When they find the sleeping giant, Serizawa discharges the weapon and signals Ogata to ascend, only to cut his own line and doom himself to die with his discovery and become a martyr for Japan. I also like that Godzilla's death isn't overly dramatic, like in most monster flicks. The best part about this scene is Ifukube's score though, hands down! It carries the scene and tells you how you should feel; it does everything great cinematic music should do! You're sad for Serizawa, yet proud of him, and while you grieve with the Japanese awaiting anxiously on the boat, at the same time you hurt for Godzilla. It's just an awesome scene! I wish that youtube had a video that I could show you, but because they don't, the best I can do is describe it and hope that you check out the movie for yourself.

My Ranking (against all other G-movies):  #1

Up next.... "Godzilla Raids Again"

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