May 6, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)

It has been a long time since I have watched the original Godzilla. It is, after all, the granddaddy of all giant monster movies. There have been countless other monsters, but none of them have come close to unseating the King of the Monsters. Sure, some of them have put up a good fight, but in the end it is Godzilla who stands triumphant. He dos have an impressive track record and a fan base the encircles the globe. Now, for a movie monster with such a grand history, he certainly had an odd beginning that spanned two movies and three years.

The version I watched here was the 1956 Americanized version, the only version seen outside of Japan for decades. Now, I have seen the full 96 minute original version, even gotten to see it projected, and it is an amazing experience that gives you the full force of the cautionary tale. It takes on a much more horrific tone than the later edited version.

Watching this later cut made realize just how much of the original film was cut out. Right off the top you go from 96 minutes to 80 minutes and then you have to account for the added to Raymond Burr footage. This cut of the movie is a very different beast than the original, but it is all I had growing up. That horrific tone of the nuclear threat is virtually non-existent, instead of being a message movie, it becomes much more of a straight up monster movie.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters, as the American cut is called, is told primarily in flashback. Raymond Burr, playing Steve Martin (always get a kick out of that), is a reporter on his way to Cairo. On his way, he stops off in Tokyo to visit a friend for a couple of days. It just so happens that just before he arrives, there is a tragic accident and a boat sinks, followed shortly thereafter of other boat sinkings. There is one commonality, each sinking is said to come after the water seems to catch fire.

Martin uses his pull with his scientist friend and his reporter credentials to get in on the meetings about just what is happening. A trip to a nearby island reveals a giant monster, believed to have been awakened by nuclear testing in the Pacific ocean. It retreats to the ocean and all is thought to be all right, until he resurfaces and makes his way for Tokyo.

The monster, dubbed Godzilla, wreaks havoc in the city,essentially reducing it to rubble. Thousands are killed in his wake and it appears that nothing can stop him. However, there just happens to be a scientist, Seizawa, who has created something called an Oxygen Destroyer. It is an incredibly destructive machine that destroys all oxygen in the water it is placed in. It is this that holds the key for defeating the giant creature.

Godzilla is one of those cinematic creations that stands the test of time and is recognizable by virtually everyone, young or old or in between. It almost seems that you are born knowing who he is, much like Fankenstein's Monster, Dracula, and Superman.

While the original film is vastly superior to the American cut (it was nominated for the Japanese Oscar for best picture, losing to Seven Samurai), there is still something awesome and endearing about the American version. It doesn't hurt that this was the only version available to us. But still, the idea of a giant monster stomping through a city is just fun. Yes, the movie has serious undertones, but you cannot take away the child's eye with which I first experienced it.

This is the movie where it all began and it cannot be ignored, whichever version you watch. This is the start of a cinematic legend. It is the beginning of a long line of giant monsters, the legendary man in suit monsters. You cannot help but love it.

Highly Recommended.

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Dell said...

I've seen this American version many times as a kid, but not in years. Sadly, I've never seen he original Japanese cut. You're the umpteenth person to I've heard say it was better. I might need to check it out.

draven99 said...

As entertaining as the American version is, it really is no comparison. The Japanese original is infinitely better and well worth checking out. I hear the recent Blu looks really good. i may need to pick that up...

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