Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Godzilla original (1954)

I watched the original Godzilla after watching the 2014 Reboot because I wanted to gain perspective. For the record, I will point out that it was the unedited Japanese version "Gojira" rather than the Americanized "King of the Monsters". I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign a grade. Comparisons to the 2014 reboot will follow when necessary.


This film has a horror/mystery sense to it. The early scenes are dedicated to figuring out what's going on and how to deal with it. The scenes jump between numerous groups before settling on Emiko and Dr. Serizawa. This gives a greater sense to the immensity of the problem of Godzilla. Even when he's not on screen, people are affected by his presence; daily living decisions have to account for this monster.
This sort of atmosphere is missing in the 2014 reboot, which tries too hard to make the audience care about the Brody family. The soldier going home plot is a parallel and competing plot thread with the "rampaging giant monsters" thing instead of contributing to it.

This original film has a moral dilemma that makes its conflict poignant. Godzilla was awakened by a super weapon, nuclear bombs, and the only feasible way to stop him is with another new super weapon, the oxygen destroyer. If its existence is revealed, then it too would ravage the world as others would seek to use it in the future. The anguish that Dr. Serizawa  feels as he watches Godzilla rampage is finer than any drama film I've ever seen.
It's also missing in the reboot. Instead we have stuff like "This giant monster is the consequence of nukes so we're going to hit it with a bigger nuke." Only the new Dr. Serizawa realizes how stupid this sounds. It's Godzilla's gravitas that's missing. No one gives him the respect/fear he deserves until the end of the movie. "King of Monsters-Savior of our City?" is one of my favorite parts.
It's the MUTO that feel like the main monster in the reboot. Their first destruction and casualty causing is in a nuclear plant. Then they raid a nuclear waste facility and steal an armed warhead and bring it into a heavily populated area. It's like they stole Godzilla's shtick. He himself feels like a side note in comparison. This is another point in the original's favor and against the reboot.

The climax has a great emotional pitch. Dr. Serizawa  uses his invention and in such a way that it will never be misused. It's quite an achievement that he can make his own (off-screen) death more dramatic and compelling than the giant monster being stripped to the bone.
The final line is about the possibility of other Godzilla and how irresponsible uses of nukes could wake another one up. It is very much in line with the rest of the movie, both in message and in tone.
The reboot feels confused about its climax. It's messy. The humans scurry around like ineffective ants and Godzilla simply leaves after killing both MUTO. The message, if any, is as follows: If confronted with two or more hostile giant monsters, "Let them fight".


A success of the original film is how it personifies the common japanese citizen. Instead of forcing an everyman audience surrogate who is supposed to represent everybody, there are numerous small scenes. There's the old fisherman talking about old legends, there's the woman and her Famous Last Words next to her children, the reporter with his Dead Line News, the council trying to get a handle on things and decided what to do with the information they have, the team that analyzes the footprints and such. It's a lot of non-protagonist attention and it works much better than the reboot's obsession with the Brody family.

Dr.Serizawa is fantastic. Despite his isolation, eye patch, and oxygen destroyer, he's not a stereotypical mad scientist. He's a morally upstanding guy who wants to make the world a better place, and just happens to stumble upon a potential super weapon. He really doesn't want to be come a "destroyer of worlds" and at the same time he can't stand watching Godzilla rampage.
His actor does a great job as well. He's cold and aloof to the reporter but it's clear to see his anguish in private. The expression he makes when he burns his research notes is tragic; it's like he's building building his own funeral pyre. You can see him mentally preparing himself for his heroic sacrifice.
I see Brody Sr as his reboot counterpart. He is someone I would like to see more off. As I stated in my previous review, he has the passion and motive that could have made him a compelling character. I can imagine him and Godzilla forming an Enemy Mine situation to kill the MUTO; the former for revenge and the later for a meal.

Ogata is also good. He's a got a job to do and he does it, even if it means confronting giant radiation breathing monsters. He makes a great contrast with Dr.Serizawa. He's like "I get your Scale of Scientific Sins problem, but people are dying."
You could say that Brody Jr is his counterpart in the reboot. He's a soldier, he has family issues, and he's trying to kill the monsters. The difference is that the reboot forces the movie to follow Brody Jr to the expense of other characters. This weakens the movie.

This is where the original movie losses points with me. Given the era and the movie's budget, the special effects are silly. When you get a good look at Godzilla's face, you see googly eyes. The destruction of cities and such are clearly model sets. I remember a scene where a car crashes and, mid-frame, it transforms into a toy. The rampage is still effective but only when license is given for the real life context.
In that respect, the reboot blows the original out of the water. Godzilla and the MUTO truly look like a giant reptile and insects instead of men in rubber suites. The atomic breath is breath-taking in its awesomeness. The destruction couldn't look more real and devastating. If there's one thing I can praise without reserve about the reboot then it is how it brought life and immensity to Godzilla and his two giant monster foes.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gojira" an A

I watched the 2014 reboot because I've heard a lot about Godzilla but never watched one of the films. The closest I'd come was the cartoon series based on the 1998 film. So I bought the original. In the time to come, I'm going to go through the rest of the franchise. Perhaps then I will have a different perspective on the 2014 reboot. Until then, you can read what I think about it in the previous post: Godzilla 2014 review

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