Monday, October 29, 2007

Victory Dance

I recently watched Godzilla vs The Smog Monster, Godzilla vs Megalon and Monster Zero on local television station KHIZ three consecutive weekday afternoons. These were the old dubbed U.S. theatrical versions, the quality of which looked like a twenty year old betamax tape left outside during a Californian brush fire (Too soon?) airing on local broadcast television; all of which nicely compliments the movies' low rent charms.

Originally titled Godzilla vs Hedorah, Godzilla vs The Smog Monster has the King of the Monsters taking on a blob monster made of pollution named Hedorah, but pronounced "Heedra" in the dub. But before we get to that, the movie opens with a psychedelic intro featuring an environmentalist themed song that would that even Captain Planet would think was a bit over the top.

Hedorah starts off as a giant tadpole before crawling onto land. He then evolves into a flying manta ray, and finally turns into some bipedal creature made up of black ooze but the costume doesn't quite pull this off. He looks more like some Lovecraftian squid creature which, when you think about it, would actually have been much cooler.

I had a real problem with the dub. I honestly think I would have understood the movie better if it were in Japanese. Oh sure those hokey dubs of old Japanese monster movies might be humorous, if ridiculously overused, fodder for parody but the fun is over when you have to listen to one. It doesn’t help that what it is I do not understand is already indecipherable exposition to begin with.

Godzilla vs The Smog Monster isn't a bad movie. In fact it has some good ideas. I like how Hedorah spreads toxins where ever he goes, corroding metal and poisoning people. The death toll is surprisingly high. He even horribly scars the movie’s requisite little boy, his scientist father and Godzilla himself. Not to be outdone Godzilla takes out one of Hedorah’s eyes.

It's just too slowly paced. It’s one thing for the human scenes to be sleep-inducing but the daikaiju scenes are no more ingratiating. It’s such a dark and murky film, in tone and in lighting. Apparently Hedorah’s toxins even affect our television screens.

It might be nice to see the movie remade today. They could give the story a greater sense of urgency and better special effects to demonstrate the devastation Hedorah leaves in his trail. Then again do we really want social messages in our daikaiju films?

Still, we get to see Godzilla fly. That’s worth the price of admission alone.

Godzilla vs Megalon is a better movie though the title is misleading. It should really be called Jet Jaguar vs Megalon until the last twenty minutes when it becomes Jet Jaguar & Godzilla vs Megalon & Gigan. Jet Jaguar is the real star of the movie Jet Jaguar is a flying robot with the ability to grow gigantic. The Ultraman influences are blatantly obvious. What's the Japanese word for plagiarism?

Godzilla is barely in at all. He shows up towards the end after Jet Jaguar asks for help. And Jet Jaguar really does need the help. He's getting his metal ass handed to him by the tag team of Megalon and Gigan. The duo make such a good pair hey give each other a high five despite the fact neither of them has hands.

The main baddie is Megalon, who is a giant stag beetle with jagged rocky appendages for arms. He's being controlled by a race of ocean dwellers that happen to look just like normal human beings. I guess Sebastian lied to us about the benefits of ocean life because the land of Seatopia has been ravaged by the land lovers’ nuclear tests. The sea people have set up base on Easter Island where they plot their revenge and prance about in costumes stranger than anything else in this movie.

I suppose the sea people (and the filmmakers) felt Megalon alone wasn't sufficient so returning Godzilla baddie Gigan shows up as giant monster backup. Gigan is a lizard with a metal beak, sickles for hands, a razor blade on his stomach, and a giant pointed fin on his back. His design is so ludicrously overdone he looks like he belongs in a Nineties comic book.

The human sequences consist of a pair of men and whom I'm guessing is their son, (I wonder if they adopted or if they used a surrogate?) building and controlling Jet Jaguar. They also get into a tussle with those lame sea people villains. Whereas the human scenes in Godzilla vs The Smog Monster were boring, the human scenes in Godzilla vs Megalon are merely bizarre.

Unsurprisingly the final two on two battle is the highlight of the movie. I won’t spoil who wins, but I don’t really need to. Godzilla and Jet Jaguar make a great team, with the robot holding down the enemy as the lizard delivers the final blow.

Finally I watched Monster Zero a.k.a. Invasion of Astro Monster. The budget looks like its double that of either of the previous movies I watched, despite the fact it looks a few years older. I think this has more to do with the filmmakers’ ambition than the amount of money spent. Of the three movies Monster Zero feels the most like an epic.

Humanity discovers a new planet in the solar system and dub it Planet X. Two astronauts are sent to explore it, because after all don’t we always send astronauts to study every planet we discover? One of the astronauts is gaijin Nick Adams. I guess in the original version they dub over his voice in Japanese, which sounds slightly more entertaining than having all the other characters dubbed in English. The other astronaut is upset about his sister dating a guy he doesn’t approve of. You think a guy going to an alien world would have better priorities. This guy he doesn’t care for is a gawky inventor with horn-rimmed glasses. It is comforting to know some stereotypes transcend cultures.

On Planet X they find a race of aliens who just happen to look just like us earthlings, except they take their cues from Corey Hart and wear their sunglasses at night. The people of Planet X are being constantly attacked by King Ghidorah. How the three headed dragon ended up on the alien world, I have no clue. The aliens make a deal with the humans. They take Godzilla and Rodan off our hands to battle King Ghidorah, and in exchange they’ll give us the cure for all human diseases. The humans agree and Godzilla makes short work of King Ghidorah and celebrates with a little dance.

It is of course a trap. King Ghidorah was under the aliens’ control the whole time and now they control Godzilla and Rodan as well. They then use this trio of monsters to try to take over the earth. Of course what the aliens don’t count on is that the inventor has created a device that emits sound that completely screws wit the aliens signal. He may save the world but his girlfriend’s brother still thinks he’s a nerd. The sound harms the alien much the same way as in Mars Attacks and the humans defeat their would-be conquerers. With the aliens gone, the monsters go back to their old ways and wail on each other some more.

Granted I’m glossing over much of the plot. For example Nick Adams falls in love with a woman who is an alien spy in disguise. He realizes this when he finds that all women on Planet X look exactly alike. All women are the same? Someone has issues. These Godzilla movies all have fun and weird and ideas, and while they are an acquired taste everyone deserves to see a flying giant lizard.

No comments: