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The Test of Time: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)

Apr. 10, 2014by: Ryan Doom

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Ishiro Honda and Terry O. Moore
Starring: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, and Momoko Kochi

 

Sometimes the shit that Hollywood does is pretty damn amusing. In order for Americans to consume something, studios often think the masses just aren't very bright, so they always try...things...to get us Westerns to like things even though a superior product already exists. For example, go back and watch the original Mad Max with America dubs because we can't understand ...Australians?

Perhaps the greatest and oddest example repacking comes from the 1950s, when American producers saw potential in a new movie monster, Gojira. They bought the rights and decided to insert an American into the exciting material (because we can't watch anything without one of us, right?) and then completely reedit a major hit film by altering the story so that it'd mostly center around this new character.

Can you image if this was done today with something like the original The Ring or The Grudge. Instead of the full remakes that we ended up with, producers could've simply spliced in Naomi Watts or Sarah Michelle Gellar into the existing footage. It'd be...interesting to say the least.

And that's what we have here with the first American Godzilla flick. Is it a horrific experiment gone wrong, or does it still hold up under the test of time?

Under the examination: Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

His mouth is crooked, which makes him angry.

THE STORY: In this bastardized American version of the Japanese original, American reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr, obviously) was headed to Cairo on assignment but randomly stops by Japan to see his old friend Dr. Daisuke Serizawa just when things get a little...strange. Ships are suddenly starting to disappear, so Martin decides to stick around to investigate. Thankfully, with his connections to nearly every character from the original film, he happens to be in many of the same places (though never in the same shot) when Godzilla attacks. We learn that through nuclear testing this beast has been awaken, and now he's pissed. Martin's buddy Dr. Serizawa comes up with a possible solution, but it's a risky one at best. Oh, and things can all blowed up.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: When watching a monster movie from 1956, you have to view the thing with a certain mindset. The effects will be terrible along with the acting, so then it becomes all about the entertainment value and whether or not the thing has anything interesting to say about the world. Above all, a Godzilla movie is all about...Godzilla. With this being his first introduction, they really do a hell of a job. The big fella isn't scary, but they got a lot right. His scream sounds as good as ever. And for a dude in a costume, the monster looks pretty good...most of the time. Yeah, we know there's a dude in the suit smashing little model homes of Tokyo, but so what. It's only when he tries to bite things does the costume not really work (it tends to bend in all the wrong places).

Burr must have wanted to buy a boat. 

Now I'm sure the die hard Godzilla fans might have an issue with the original being cut up to for Americans to easily consume, but you know what the movie still works. The studios needed an actor who could carry a movie without really interacting with existing footage, and Mr. Perry Mason fit the bill. He has that calm professionalism that evokes trust for whatever reason. We believe what he's selling. Even though he shot all of his scenes in six days (rumors often state he only worked a single day on set, but Burr repeatedly denied this), it feels like more. Sure, it's laughably obvious at times that American director Terry O. Moore just filmed close-up reaction shots of Burr and extras, but it does a hell of a job taking an existing movie and somehow creating a new approach to it. It gives another perspective on what it'd be like to live through all that chaos.

Rear projection would make anyone pissed.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: While it is pretty enjoyable to watch the splicing of Raymond Burr, the overall result still ends up a little dull. Why? Well, because Burr can't really interact with others beyond the extras and the few actors hired by the studio. They could have hired more actors, but beyond his police guide, everyone else who appears around Burr is an extra with little to do but run or react to something off screen in horror.The worst element of this version is that it removes most, if not all of the social commentary of the Japanese original. And for a sci-fi movie to be good, it needs to say something about something, right? We still get a taste of original director Ishiro Honda's vision, but it ends up diluted and forgotten. Because of that, the flick plays a bit more cheesy then it should. 

THE VERDICT: For today's audience, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is hard to take seriously. We now have fancy digital effects that can make anything come alive, and we've now had so many damn disaster movies that the impact of this one won't, and can't ever be duplicated.  It will never be considered one of the great monster movies like the early Universal classics, but it's still a classic in its own right. This isn't A quality stuff (despite Burr delivering), but I think Godzilla is just fine as king of the B movie monsters. 

 

GET GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS DVD HERE

Somehow I thought he was taller. 

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10:17PM on 04/10/2014

A little misguided

What you fail to realize is that Godzilla stands out and endures because the filmmakers took their subject (a monster movie) very, very seriously. It is the most somber monster movie ever made. It was being written & filmed just a few short years after 2 of Japan's largest cities were completely destroyed and millions of civilians killed by two atomic bombs. Just imagine that for a second. We live in a world where 13 years later Hollywood still has trouble dealing with the events of 9/11. These
What you fail to realize is that Godzilla stands out and endures because the filmmakers took their subject (a monster movie) very, very seriously. It is the most somber monster movie ever made. It was being written & filmed just a few short years after 2 of Japan's largest cities were completely destroyed and millions of civilians killed by two atomic bombs. Just imagine that for a second. We live in a world where 13 years later Hollywood still has trouble dealing with the events of 9/11. These brave filmmakers took on, in parable form, the wholesale destruction of entire cities, not just buildings. The effects are actually a standout of this film for their time--they were very creative in their use of man-in-suit as well as puppetry. And the score is absolutely classic--unbelievably haunting. The script is economical and moves along nicely. And the emotions are real. For these reasons and many more, Godzilla (or Gojira) definitely stands the test of time.
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