Saturday, 24 May 2014

Godzilla (1954) / Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956)

Godzilla first trashed Tokyo (and conquered the Japanese box office) in 1954.  He was introduced to English-speaking audiences two years later in a heavily edited version of the film.  Both versions of the movie are included in the first disc of this boxed set.  I'm reviewing them together since they are in a broad sense the same film.  We'll start with the Japanese original, then talk about the differences (good and bad) of the US adaptation.

The 1954 film begins with a series of ships being lost at sea under mysterious circumstances.  The authorities are frankly baffled, but they're not inclined to believe the suggestion - made by superstitious island folk - that the mythical monster 'Gojira' (anglicised to Godzilla hereafter) has arisen to punish them.  That is, not until a bizarre 'hurricane' devastates the island, and their relief efforts uncover strange phenomena ... phenomena which culminate in the first appearance of Big G himself.  It's hard to deny a 50-metre tall radioactive monster when it's right there in front of you.

The Japanese people and government, as you might imagine, are quite alarmed.  They immediately take steps to destroy Godzilla by dropping depth charges in the area where he was first encountered.  Surprise surprise, this merely serves to irritate him.

The rest of the film is built around three main threads: the argument over whether it is right to try and destroy Godzilla (and what steps would be justified in achieving that goal), a strident anti-nuclear sentiment, and a sub-plot about a couple who want to try and persuade the young woman's father to cancel her arranged marriage and let her marry the man she loves.  This all ties together because the man she is supposed to marry is a scientist - one who might just have created the very superweapon that can stop Godzilla, if only he can be persuaded to use it.

The selling point of the movie is of course Godzilla's rampage through Tokyo.  For a sixty year old film, it's a pretty impressive bit of film-making all round.  For modern audiences though, it might feel like it takes a long time to arrive.

The US version runs about 15 minutes shorter than the original.  It starts in media res, with Raymond Burr lying in the rubble of a devastated Tokyo, then goes back and tells more or less the same story as the original, except that the anti-nuclear content is drastically reduced and the whole sub-plot about the arranged marriage is removed.  Instead, Burr is a reporter who knows the Japanese characters.  Many additional scenes were shot to give the appearance that he was interacting with the original cast, but it's all work with doubles and clever cutting.

The American version features a lot of voice-over, which I found quite irritating after a while, and it also suffers from an inability to decide whether to dub all the Japanese dialogue into English, or leave it and have a new character translate for Burr.  On the whole, I consider it an inferior film; if you don't mind reading subtitles, you'd definitely be better off checking out the original 1954 release, and seeing the monster that launched the whole Kaiju craze.

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