Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Godzilla

It's that time again...Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I show that I have no better way to fill my free time than to sit, watch movies in my home library, and blog about them.  This week, it's the orginal giant monster epic from Japan, Godzilla.  This entry is originally dated February 24, 2012

So there's a Criterion edition of Godzilla out there now.  I've been on the fence as to whether I should get it.  Criterion, for those not in the know, is the Cadillac of DVD/Blu-Ray special editions.  They pretty much invented the concept of special editions and DVD bonus features way back in the mid-80s on laserdiscs.  Rather than talk to the stars for the usual PR fluff, they tend to fill their DVD bonus features with interviews with critics and filmmakers and historians to say why this particular film changed the rules and cemented itself a place in history.  They used to dedicate themselves to films of "cultural significance," and yes, that includes pop culture.  (Apparently, the Criterion laserdiscs of Star Wars from the early-90s still blow away the recent Blu-Rays in volume and quality of bonus features.)  They don't do as many pop culture significant films though, as DVD started becoming a thing and most studios started pumping out their own special editions, so over the past 10 years, they shifted focus to art house films and forgotten classics and just plain films worthy of preservation. 

I don't own a lot of Criterions, though.  Like all Cadillacs, you wind up paying a lot more for the brand name.  I only have three in my collection:  Chasing Amy, Monty Python's Life of Brian, and Michael Bay's magnum opus, Armageddon.  Did I want to get a fourth?  Dude...Godzilla...yup, I got it.

I'm pretty sure I ranted about before in this blog series...I came to know and love Godzilla in my childhood.  Mom was an Elvis fangirl, and CFRN would show Elvis movies every Saturday night at midnight.  So, once we got a VCR, Mom would set it to tape the Elvis movies.  But, after the Elvis movie, they would show their "creature feature," some kind of classic Japanese kaiju film.  Mom would always accidentally tape the first half-hour of these films, and I'd be enraptured by this giant monsters.  Before long, I was begging Mom to adjust the VCR settings to tape the whole movie. 

I'm sure we've all heard the tale of the making of Godzilla and it's not-so-subtle symbolism.  Made just 9 years after the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so the images of gieger counters and cities in flames were probably still fresh in the minds of many Japanese folks.  And that's where the movie came in...Godzilla was always meant to be the power and fury of nuclear weapons all wrapped up in a monster.  As such, this first film in the legendary franchise is a lot darker in tone than kid-friendly, Saturday afternoon matinee adventures that they evolved in to.

The film was also translated for North American audiences in a unique way.  Rather than simply dub it or subtitle it, they decided to film brand new scenes with legendary actor Raymond Burr.  Yup, Perry Mason himself.  Burr played American reporter Steve Martin, who was on the scene covering the devastation for the Western world.  The original, uncut Japanese version never got a mainstream release in North America until the film's 50th anniversary in 2004.  The Criterion Blu-Ray contains both versions:  the uncut original Japanese, and North American version with Raymond Burr.  This evening, I watched the original Japanese version.
Ships are mysteriously being destroyed off the coast of the small Japanese island of Odo Island.  A scientific expedition is dispatched to get to the bottom of it.  The elders on the island say it is Godzilla...an ancient sea spirit that occasionally haunts their fishing grounds.  As their expedition continues, the scientists eventually discover that it is a 165 foot tall prehistoric creature.  As an acknowledgment to Odo Island and its inhabitants, they dub this creature Godzilla.  Based on the levels of radiation found wherever Godzilla walks, the scientists surmise that Godzilla probably lived in caves beneath the ocean floor, and that the recent testing of hydrogen bombs awakened it.  The Japanese coast guard tries to destroy Godzilla, but nothing works.  And soon, after several nighttime raids on the mainland, Godzilla has left Tokyo a burning wasteland.  How will they stop Godzilla?

Well, I guess I'd better get to the plot.  It's a common problem, not just with Godzilla movies, but with all giant monster movies.  The plot just drags when the monsters aren't around.  They can never figure out what to do with the humans.  And, this shows that it's been a problem since the beginning. 

So, the humans and the plot.  The scientist who headed up the expedition is named Yamane.  His daughter Emiko is engaged to Serizawa.  But, Emiko has fallen in love with sailor Ogata, and is trying to tell Serizawa that she wants to break it off.  Serizawa, however, has become sullen and withdrawn, not seeing visitors.  One day, Emiko comes to call, and Serizawa shows her what has caused him to become this way.  After Godzilla's final and most destructive rampage, Emiko breaks down and tells Ogata what she saw.  Serizawa has made a horrible discovery...the Oxygen Destroyer.  The Oxygen Destroyer could be turned into a powerful weapon, one powerful enough to destroy Godzilla.  But, not wanting to unleash another horrible weapon on the world, Serizawa has vowed not to reveal his discovery to the world until he finds  a peaceful use for it.

Ogata and Emiko go to Serizawa to implore him to use the Oxygen Destroyer to destroy Godzilla, but Serizawa holds to his principles and refuses.  Ogata and Serizawa throw down over it, and when he sees the way Emiko tends to Ogata's wounds, Serizawa finally realizes that his love loves another.  Couples with scenes of the devastation on TV, and all the children in Japan united in a song for peace, Serizawa finally relents.  But first, he destroys all his notes so none will follow in his footsteps. 
They all head out to sea to find Godzilla's lair.  To ensure proper deployment of the Oxygen Destroyer weapon, Serizawa says he'll dive down to Godzilla and deliver the weapon in person.  Ogata volunteers to go down and assist Serizawa.  They go down, deploy the weapon, but while Ogata returns to the boat, Serizawa severs his lines and stays behind.  He knows its best that the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer die with him.  With his dying breath, Serizawa wishes Ogata and Emiko a good life together. 
Ogata and Emiko mourn their friend.  The world salutes Serizawa as a hero.  And Yamane delivers the final warning that, as long as testing of nuclear weapons continues, who knows what other monsters may be awakened? 

I hate to say it, but this film is actually kind of boring.  It's very talky.  There's lots of lecturing.  Lots of characters come and go and we hardly get to know them.  Our main love triangle doesn't come in until halfway through, and you never really get the sense that these characters are fully developed.  But still, it kicked off one of the world's longest running franchises, the monster destruction scenes still deliver the goods, and you have to recognize its place in history.

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