Friday, June 28, 2013

Godzilla vs. Megalon

Kaiju (怪獣 ) is a Japanese word that means "strange beast," but often translated in English as "monster" or "giant monster."  

Godzilla vs. Megalon (aka Gojira tai Megaro)
Jun Fukuda

‘Godzilla vs. Megalon’ was the first Godzilla movie I saw on the big screen. Trying to view it now with a critical eye is difficult, but I’ve always though the films that are the most special are the ones you love not only for their strengths, but for their faults as well.

The nation of Seatopia is mad. Atomic testing has threatened their underwater civilization and they are finally going to do something about it. Their grand solution is to send a pointy armed fireball spitting giant bug named, Megalon to stomp on some buildings and whack trucks around.  What they don’t count on is a plucky inventor, Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his suave life partner  Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi) screwing everything up with their size changing robot, Jet Jaguar. Much like  World War I, a web of allies are unwittingly pulled into the fray. Megalon calls in the Gigan, while Jet Jaguar enlists the help of Godzilla. Together they all collide in a titanic tag team match for the fate the Earth.

Being that ‘Godzilla vs. Megalon’ was the first Godzilla movie I got to see in an actual theater, I’m always going to approach it with a certain amount of love, despite the fact that it really isn’t very good at all. Even as an adult, the waiting period between opening credits and monster showdown seems far too long. The two lead humans have very little depth to them.  Ibuki is an inventor who makes super sophisticated robots and terribly unsophisticated water toys, but that’s about it for him. Hiroshi, is an even flimsier character, he enjoyed fast cars and um…. well, he seems to like cars anyway. 

Bizarrely, all the monstrous characters display way more emotion than the humans. Megalon and Gigan gloat when they’ve got Jet Jaguar beaten down. Godzilla displays a cocky confidence as he shows up late to the fight. The anthropomorphization of Godzilla has taken a step back from having him actually speak, like in 'Godzilla vs. Gigan' (1972), but he’s still very much a cartoon compared to his earlier appearances.

There is an overuse of footage from previous films (something that often plagued the later cash strapped Godzilla films) but the monster action is still thrilling and often filled with humor and a surprising amount of violence.  The monster bashings are unusually brutal, and even a little bit of blood gets spilled, a rarity for Godzilla movies. There is some excellent model work on display, most notably a dam that Megalon cannonball dives to destruction. It's filled with detail and it still looks great as it bursts apart.

Thanks to the recent DVD release it’s nice to finally get a chance to revisit ‘Godzilla vs. Megalon’ in widescreen. It was never going to be the most beautiful Godzilla movie, but with a clear image and bright colors, it's visually a much better looking film than it’s poor (although admittedly deserved) reputation would suggest.  Despite all its flaws, this is a film that steadily improves as it goes along. After a sluggish first half, the action grows more frenetic as the monsters battle amidst the fire and explosions. Eventually, it manages to reach escape velocity and become unbridled fun for a (very) brief time.  ‘Godzilla vs. Megalon’ is proof that even a lesser Godzilla movie can still be something special.

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