Monday, April 21, 2014

Movie Monday: Godzilla 1954

Godzilla is called the “King of All Monsters” and for good reason.  Where a lot of his 1950s counterparts have faded off into the sun, or attempted in vain to revamp themselves for the new age of special effects, Godzilla (aside from a certain movie we won´t mention now) has maintained true to its rubbery roots and thus remained a constant in people´s imaginations.

To watch a Godzilla movie one has to enter into a world where cynicism doesn´t exist and social messages are plain and easy to grasp.  This doesn´t mean we dumb ourselves down, but rather, suspend our urge to over-analyze and simply have fun watching absolute destruction.  And even when the destruction is directed in some strange convoluted way; we allow ourselves the liberty to comprehend it in some round about way.

The Godzilla franchise began in 1954, which makes it one of the longest movie franchises in history.  To date there are 29 official movies, although soon that number will be upped to 30 with the new installment coming to American theatres – with no end in sight for future productions.  This makes choosing which movies to watch and which to skip a daunting task.  Here I have attempted to do the dirty work for you – giving you an overview of the good, the bad, and bad worth watching.  As always, taste is subjective, so I recommend each person dabble on their own and have fun with one of the most enduring characters in popular film history.

The original Godzilla movie, which is set a decade after the Atomic Bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is no campy romp through Tokyo following a man in a rubber suit.  This is a serious film that attempts to look at the horrors of atomic war, the nuclear age, and the monsters which are created by man´s hubris. The film is dark and brooding and creates a mood of desperation of a people who are faced with an unstoppable force which seems to have come from nowhere.  The allegory of the horrors of WWII are clear and the film makers made sure to drive this point home.  If you are accustomed to the later kid friendly Godzilla movies, I would say that this is not one to watch with the kids – they may have nightmares afterwards.

The film starts out with strange explosions in the water which are causing ships to disappear.  Not soon after do villagers begin to say they have sighted something that is not natural: it is the legendary monster of folklore, Godzilla, which has come back to terrorize the shores of Japan.

The government and a team of researches do their best to figure out exactly what this creature is and how to combat it.  Eventually one scientist, the paleontologist Dr. Kyouhei Yamane, surmises that it is a prehistoric beast which has mutated due to constant exposure to radiation from nuclear testing done in and around the land.  And if he has been bred of such immense energy what power on Earth could possibly destroy it. It´s not long after that that Godzilla shows up to do what he is best known for – destroy without prejudice.  He has no vendetta, he has no focus.  He is the ultimate Armageddon weapon created by man.

It is only with the help of a reluctant scientist, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, who has invented a weapon so deadly that he is afraid that the knowledge of it would do more harm to mankind than good, do the people of Japan find a glimmer of hope of stopping the creature.

What I found most striking about the film is how it attempts to be as realist as possible.  There are newspaper headlines about the creature.  And stock footage of the nation of Japan praying for peace.  As well as harrowing scenes of children crying and people bleeding and dying from radiation exposure after having had contact with Godzilla.  This is a classic science-fiction which has a serious social message and is not afraid to scream it to the audience.

Technically, the movie is in black and white and is lit very darkly.  It makes watching a bit tedious at times but again sets the mood for the horrors.  Also, Godzilla is not as much the centerpiece as he would be in later installments.  Sure, he destroys at will but it´s the people´s reactions which are more important.  He is more like a physical representation of the nightmare of the atomic and nuclear age. He becomes the after thought that people don´t want to have.  After WWII many who lived in Japan continued to suffer the effects of the Bomb and Godzilla is their reminder that their lives will never be the same again.

Watch this on a cold rainy night when you decide to pull out the old horror classics.  It stands up nicely alongside Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong and others, and as outdated as Godzilla may look in his rubbery suit, it may in fact be the movie that gives you the most chills after the end credits in its portrayal of stark human realism and the effects of war.

Post by Phillihp Ray

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