1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Godzilla, King of Monsters

This is the remixed version of Godzilla that America knew. It's not simply a subtitled or dubbed copy. It takes the original Gojira footage, edits out parts and adds in new footage shot with Raymond Burr and a bevy of asian extras to shoehorn Burr into the original. It's not overly successful, but not that badly done either. If someone had not seen Gojira before, the remix seems smooth enough. That said, the Americanized version is a serviceable, though weaker movie, but it IS the version that American kids grew up watching. For that reason, it's included here.

Gojira came out in '54, but not in America. It wasn't until late 1955 that an American distributor, Edmund Goldman, came across Gojira, bought the rights and set a team of producers onto it. The new producers felt it needed an American star and tapped Raymond Burr to play the role of an American reporter who happened to be in Tokyo when all heck broke loose. Much of the character development of the original was cut out -- to save running time AND because it was a bit long and talky for impatient American audiences. The title needed some juicing up too, apparently. Godzilla, King of Monsters (GKoM) seemed neatly self-explanatory. By April 1956, American audiences had seen many sci-fi movie monsters. They needed a king.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Read the plot synopsis for Gojira for the meat of the story. The story line remains largely intact, though staged as a flashback. GKoM opens with scenes of Tokyo already in ruins and Burr buried in building rubble. Once the flashback story line catches up to the destruction of Tokyo, the story moves on in "real time" to the same ending.

Why is this movie fun?
GKoM is a great deal more fun to watch if you've watched Gojira first. You know what Ishiro Honda had done in '54, and so you can spot what Terry Morse added. Morse actually did some clever shooting to make his new footage fit into the original. You know Burr is NOT there with the others in Japan, but it's quite fun to see how Morse made you think so. Overall, the original story still asserts itself, which has a layer of fun to it anyway.

Cold War Angle
Gojira was all about the dangers of nuclear testing with politely hinted at accusations that the United States was reckless in how it went about "staying ahead" in the Cold War. For American consumption, much of this message is edited out or reduced to easily-missed proportions. One rather telling bit of remix comes when Dr. Serizawa (inventor of the terrible Oxygen Destroyer) is fretting about his invention. In Gojira, he worries about politicians (in general) getting his destructive device and turning it into a superweapon that will be worse for the world than the A-bomb was. In GKoM, he frets (via dubbing) of his secret falling into "the wrong hands." This was more in synch with the American mood.

Careful Insertion -- One of the interesting features of GKoM is how Morse managed to put Raymond Burr into the original footage. By careful editing, directing and costuming, Burr is wedged into the story. One example is when Dr. Yamane and entourage are examining the destruction of the village on Ohto. Villagers are lined up at the edge of the holes (footprints) watching Yamane. Morse had several Asians wearing similar Japanese peasant costume stand side by side peering down. Burr stands behind them, also peering down inquisitively. Behind them all is generic leafy vegetation. A few quick cuts back and forth like this and you could get the idea that Burr was there, even though he wasn't. Many other such graftings are done much like this one.

Lost in the Herd -- When Gojira debuted in 1954, he was one of the first radiation-mutation monsters. Godzilla has to share the platform with the giant ants in Them! (June '54). By 1956, however, Americans had seen the radiated-boyfriend-beast in The Day the World Ended ('55), the radiation-mutated-minigodzilla in Phantom from 10,000 Leagues ('55) and the giant spider in Tarantula ('55). Radiation mutated monsters were becoming almost commonplace by the time the Americanized GKoM came on the scene. Poor Godzillia looked like just another copy-cat monster, when in reality, he was one of the first.

Lost Love -- The original Gojira had much more footage devoted to the love triangle between Emiko, her 'betrothed' fiancee, Dr. Serizawa and her actual love interest, Ogata. This triangle had more meaning in Gojira, but so much of the character development was cut out of the Americanized version that their actions make almost no sense. This severe editing also reduces Serizawa to a rather minor role so that his sacrifice at the end feels less significant.

King of Sequels -- Godzilla proved so popular (even from the weaker GKoM platform) that he became almost a franchise. American audiences would be treated to (or subjected to) dozens of Godzilla vs. (whatever) flicks of mostly declining quality. Several other rubber-suit-monsters would become popular too, such as Gamera, primarily on Godzilla's coat tails. Ishiro Honda had no idea his metaphoric monster would be such a hit.

Bottom line? If you can get it, watch the original 1954 Japanese version (with English subtitles). It is a more cohesive movie. If you can't find the original, this 1956 American remix will (barely) suffice, but you should plan on cutting the movie a lot of slack.

No comments: