Godzilla - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Best to worst. May 18, 2014 1:48:13 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on May 18, 2014 1:48:13 GMT -5
When you mention, "Godzilla," most people think of cheesy films featuring guys in rubber suits aimed at an audience of kids .
They wouldn't be all that wrong. Not when it comes to the Godzilla movies of the late 60's and early 70's. But the iconic movie series started as something completely different. Something absolutely deadly serious.
Godzilla first appeared on the big screen in 1954 in Gojira, a movie that was an allegory to the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan to end the Pacific War portion of World War II. It wasn't kids' stuff, and it wasn't supposed to be light entertainment. One of the primary pieces of inspiration for the movie was the incident with the fishing boat the Lucky Dragon #5. The Lucky Dragon 5 was out on a routine fishing run when it strayed too close to an area where the U.S. military was testing a new atomic bomb. This was a new, more powerful atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and while the Lucky Dragon 5 wasn't caught in the heat or concussion of the blast, radioactive ash fell on the boat, contaminating it and all of it's passengers. Most of the crew fell ill from radiation poisoning fairly quickly, one member of the crew died just weeks later, while others would develop cancer years later. That incident is mirrored in the opening of Gojira, only instead of a nuclear blast it is the radioactive breath of Godzilla (the monster unseen at this early point in the mnovie) that kills the crew and destroys the boat. Not exactly the kind of thing that you'd expect to see followed up years later with fun movies featuring monsters battling each other, but funny things happen as years go by and budgets and marketing come into play.
In 2014 we see a new, again deadly serious, Godzilla on the big screen, only this time it isn't Japan's legendary Toho studio producing the movie, it's Warner Brothers and Legendary Films producing and distributing the movie. Unlike the 1998 disappointment, this American made Godzilla movie lives up to the mood of the original 1954 classic.
While the title of this article does state that our rankings of the Godzilla movies would be from best to worst, let's go at this from a different angle, starting at the bottom and working our way up in quality to the top.
So here it is, the Vista Records rankings of the Godzilla movies, from worst to best...
30. Godzilla VS Hedorah, aka Godzilla VS The Smog Monster (1971) - This one has a really good central concept (a monster created by pollution including the dumping of toxic chemicals and radioactive waste), and the first ten minutes or so are really good. And then the bottom falls out. The movie just gets weirder as it goes along, and the quality of the script drops as it gets weirder. Definitely a product of it's time, Godzilla VS Hedorah was a golden opportunity to bring the Godzilla series back to a more serious, more adult level. Unfortunately, the end product seems more like a bad drug trip featuring Godzilla than anything else. Weird, trippy animated sequences, bad dialogue (even in the original Japanese version), and ridiculous situations (including Godzilla using his breath to fly like a rocket, sort of) undermine and sabotage what could have been a highlight of the series.
29. All Monsters Attack, aka Godzilla's Revenge (1969) - This is a very interesting movie, and clearly the ideas behind it were somewhat ambitious. The story is really about a little boy (who must be around nine years old) who daydreams about Godzilla and the other inhabitants of Monster Island. It isn't clear whether Godzilla and the various Toho monsters are, "Real," in this movie, or if they are just fictional movie characters. It seems most likely that this movie exists outside the continuity of the movies around it, with it taking place in our reality where the Godzilla movies are just that - movies. Where All Monsters Attack (aka Godzilla's Revenge) falls short is in the actual Godzilla scenes. Much of the Godzilla footage is recycled from Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (aka Godzilla VS The Sea Monster) and Son Of Godzilla. There is a little new Godzilla footage here including new scenes with the Son of Godzilla himself (and, in the boy's daydreams, the Son of Big G. can talk). The new monster villain filmed for this movie is named Gabara, and he looks funky. No tail, and he's just got a weird look to him. The scenes with Ichiro (the little boy) are cute, and he is a very appealing character, but the reuse of so much battle footage and the poor design of Gabara sabotages this movie. Had Toho put a little more money into this one and given the script a rewrite it may have been a middle of the pack Godzilla movie.
28. Godzilla VS Megalon (1973) - The franchise bottomed out here in terms of production budgets and ambition or aspiration. Godzilla VS Megalon is entertaining despite itself, because it is loaded with cheese and recycled battle footage from previous movies. What makes this movie work are the human characters. Yes, they are cardboard cutouts, but they are very appealing and entertaining cardboard cutouts thanks to the actors involved. If it sounds like I'm praising a movie near the bottom of the list, well, I am. For what it is (a cheesy low budget movie aimed at kids) it's fun to watch if you're in the right mindset. If you're not, it's a horrible movie. The enemies in the movie (the political leadership of the undersea country, Seatopia) are silly at best. They wear togas and are pissed off because of nuclear weapons tests that have damaged their country. That's all there is to them. Well, that and an ability to contact aliens in space for the purpose of borrowing the monster Gigan to help their own monster, Megalon, destroy the surface world. After this movie Toho would take the making of Godzilla movies a little more seriously. Not a lot (it wouldn't be until 1984 that they really took making Godzilla movies seriously), but a little bit more seriously - and they'd spend more money on them.
27. Destroy All Monsters (1968) - There seems to be a common theme at the bottom of the list. Most of these movies all have ambitious ideas behind them, but the execution fails to live up to the potential of those ideas. Destroy All Monsters was set to take place in the futuristic world of 1999 when the monsters of Earth were all confined to one island - Monsterland, aka Monster Island. Aliens come to earth, take control of the monsters, and free them in order to take over the Earth. The movie features most of Toho's roster of giant monsters, and for that it has earned a place of reverence among many Godzilla fans. Unfortunately, the script is weighed down by a ton of cheese, and then the production adds even more cheese to what was already in the script. The aliens are presented in a cheesy way, and the human characters are as cheesy and one dimensional as they are in any of Toho's monster movies. They are not only cardboard cut-outs, but they are fairly unlikeable cardboard cut-outs. This movie can be fun to watch with reasonable expectations going in, but it is still a pretty bad movie overall.
26. Godzilla VS Space Godzilla (1994) - The second wave of Godzilla movies, known as the Heisei series, was a return to the more serious tone of the first two Godzilla movies. Most of these movies were quite good, and hold up well a couple decades later. The one exception is Godzilla VS Space Godzilla. This one is undone by the cardinal sin of Godzilla movies - it's dull. The idea of a mutant monster created when Godzilla cells are combined with crystalline life forms in space is an interesting one. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't stay interesting. The Space Godzilla suit is too bulky (he can't move well), so the fight scenes aren't very good, and the movie itself drags at several points and feels about a half hour longer than it really is. By the time the final battle comes it's more of a relief than a source of entertainment or excitement. Edited down with fifteen minutes removed this might have been another solid Heisei era Godzilla movie, but it wasn't edited down, and it drags. Even the fight scenes get old and tired. Like Godzilla VS Hedorah, this one had the potential to be a series hightlight, but poor execution resulted in a poor movie.
25. Godzilla VS Gigan, aka Godzilla On Monster Island (1972) - Not much of this movie actually takes place on Monster Island, and it also features a couple scenes where Godzilla and Anguiras (aka Angilas) have conversations translated into English. Did I mention that the evil aliens are really human sized cockroaches? (Oops, spoiler alert - a little late?) Oh, I did discuss the wannabe hippies? And some of the Ghidorah footage is stock footage? No? Well, all of that is true - all of those things figure into Godzilla VS Gigan. And yet the movie is still entertaining and fun. Welcome to the contradictory world of late 1960's and early 1970's Godzilla movies. This one is kind of bad, and yet kind of good. It's not a highlight of the series, and from a technical standpoint it can't hold a candle to Godzilla VS Space Godzilla - but it's just more fun and entertaining.
24. Godzilla, aka GINO, aka Zilla, aka The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1998) - While some people would put this one at the bottom of the list, the truth is it's not that bad. It's a decent, lighthearted remake of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which was one of the primary influences on the original 1954 Gojira. The problem is that some of the jokes and gags go too far over the top, and it really isn't a Godzilla movie as much as it is a remake of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Godzilla runs away from the military. Godzilla can be fairly easily hurt by the military, and Godzilla looks like a giant iguana. Those are three cardinal sins of Godzilla movies, three sins that many Godzilla fans can't (or won't) overlook.
23. Terror Of MechaGodzilla, aka The Terror Of Godzilla (1975) - Original Godzilla director Inoshiro Honda returned for what turned out to be the final Godzilla movie of the original series. He attempted to put the terror back into Godzilla and make it less of a kids' movie. He was only partially successful. The previous movie, Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla was actually better all around. This isn't a bad Godzilla movie at all, but it was a good place to give the franchise a break so that Toho could reassess what to do and where to go with the Big G.
22. Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep aka Godzilla VS The Sea Monster (1966) - A movie originally intended for King Kong (Toho had already produced King Kong VS Godzilla and King Kong Escapes), this one was reworked to feature Godzilla instead. Oddly, some of Kong's characteristics are kept for Godzilla - he is revived by lightning (as Kong was in KKVG), and he has an attraction to a girl (as Kong has in most King Kong movies). This is a movie clearly inspired by the 1960's James Bond phenomenon as it features an evil military organization intent on world domination (an attempt to combine SMERSH and SPECTRE type organizations with a full military, more or less). This movie features some great human characters (and actors, including the great Akira Takarada as a safe cracking thief), and a totally different approach to a Godzilla movie, which is refreshing. On the other hand, it also features some of the weakest Godzilla fights to date. Godzilla's lamest opponent, a giant condor, is handled rather pathetically by the special effects team and the model makers. It looks pathetic and the fight scenes are executed extremely poorly. If this movie had a worthy opponent for Godzilla and some good Godzilla fight scenes it would be in the upper half of the Godzilla series. But it doesn't, so it's not.
21. Invasion of Astro Monster, aka Godzilla VS Monster Zero (1965) - Picking up where Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster left off, Godzilla VS Monster Zero featured an American actor in a main role and was a co-production with the small American production company, UPA, in an attempt to create more interest in the movie internationally. Adams is actually quite good as the astronaut, Glenn, and he has geniuine chemistry with Japanese lead Akira Takarada (despite Adams speaking his lines in English, while the rest of the cast was speaking Japanese). Monster Zero features Godzilla and Rodan taking on Ghidorah yet again (as in the preivous movie), but without the involvement of Mothra this time out. Don't let the #22 spot fool you - this is a fun, entertaining movie well worth watching for anyone who is even a casual Godzilla fan.
20. Son Of Godzilla (1967) - While the Godzilla suit in this one (particularly, Godzilla's head & face) is the absolute worst in the series, this movie is actually pretty good. The human characters are fairly well rounded - and pretty darned compelling - and some of them are very likeable. There are some really good actors in this one, and the story is actually well conceived and well written in the final script. While Son of Godzila is clearly aimed at a family audience, it doesn't insult the intelligence of the adults in that audience. This is a well made movie that succeeds in most areas. The areas where it falls short on occasion include the previously mentioned Godzilla suit and the special effects. Some of the fight scenes are pretty good, some are not. And Minya (or Minilla), aka The Son of Godzilla, doesn't look particularly good. He's cute, in a hideous kind of way, but he looks like a puppet much of the time. Still, for the top notch script and acting, and the fairly convincing tropical setting, Son of Godzilla gets fairly high marks.
19. Mothra VS Godzilla aka Godzilla VS The Thing, aka Godzilla VS Mothra (1964) - This movie usually finds its way into the Top 10 on most Godzilla movie lists. And there is a strong argument that can be made for that. Godzilla is still a bad guy, destroying buildings and killing people - he's a true monster. The Godzilla suit looks pretty good. The story is very serious and still fairly adult. The cinematography is also quite good. So why the relatively low ranking? Simple - Mothra. Or, more accurately, the fact that Mothra, as portrayed in 1964, was clearly no match for Godzilla. Further, the battle scenes aren't very convincing and the ending is completely unconvincing (sorry, I'm not buying the idea of twin mothra larvae beating Big G by spinning a cocoon around him). If it were a more worthy adversary with everything else in place the way it was this would have been a Top 5 Godzilla movie for sure. Mothra just doesn't cut it as an opponent for Godzilla. Otherwise, this is a great Godzilla movie.
18. Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla aka Godzilla VS The Cosmic Monster, aka Godzilla VS The Bionic Monster (1974) - After a decade of a continual slide into kids movie territory, the Godzilla producers at Toho decided to get serious again. Or, more serious. Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla had a larger budget than it's two predecessors, and there was an emphasis on action and adult characters. We still got alien invaders, and we still had what some call, "Puppy Dog Godzilla," (he's got a friendly, "Puppy dog," type face), but the shift in tone was apparent. This movie was taken much more seriously by the producers and writers than the last couple of Godzilla movies had been, and the results reflect that. The human action scenes are very good, and the Godzilla action scenes are some of the best of the original Showa series. It's still a little silly in spots, but the improvement over the previous 5 or so films is noteworthy.
More to come...