Friday, February 28, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #9: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ tumblr Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

DESTROY ALL CENSORSHIP! Goddamn, but DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is violent! I guess Honda was tired of the series being pulled into increasingly kiddie-oriented directions, and he really wanted to let us know! Off the top of my head I can recall several bloody gunshot wounds (of which at least one to the head), a mind-control induced suicide (jeeeez!), a graphic surgery scene in which an alien transmitter is removed, and a lady having her fucking earrings pulled out with blood gushing from her lobes! On the kaiju front, King Ghidorah gets fucking WRECKED by all the other monsters (including Minilla!), and one of his necks is visibly bleeding! Godzilla stomps on the three-headed space dragon execution-style, like "Yeah you had this coming for a long time motherfucker!" WHEW! I do have some minor quibbles, but all in all, I have to say that the movie definitely lived up to its title (although almost none of the monsters are actually destroyed) in sheer awesomeness.

Now, lest anyone think this is suddenly a detour into dark-n-gritty Godzilla again, let me assuage your fears. All the violence is done with a sort of matter-of-factness and isn't really dwelt upon in any lurid detail. The earring-pulling is perhaps the most shocking thing, as Captain Katsuo just suddenly realizes what's been mind-controlling poor Kyoko and YANKS em off roughly "for your own good!!!" I haven't been this shocked by the violence in a kids movie since BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (G-rating, contains bloody spike through throat). It's kind of sad that movies right up to the R-rating are completely sanitized of this kind of stuff nowadays. I'm a firm believer in tone having to be a primary motivator in a movie's rating. While the tone certainly isn't as light as in EBIRAH or SON OF, DESTROY still has the urgency but also, let's face it, the camp of a Silver Age Kirby comic. The reveal of the Kiruka aliens' true form is... creative, to say the least!

It's a shame that all the monsters are mind-controlled right up until the very end so, while we do get some good smashy scenes, we're robbed of their distinct personalities. Favorite moment: Mothra headbutting a train, then later, when Godzilla, Rodan and Manda are attacking Tokyo, some UN guy announces, "Mothra is coming...!!!" and she fucking bursts out of the subway like she took the train all the way from the Chinese countryside. Travis, wipe the blood off your face and give me your thoughts!

TRAVIS:

Lemmie get into some personal history first, Luca. When I was a lad, this film was the Holy Grail of Godzilla films. I could easily watch most of the movies via TV airings or the local video stores, yet in the pre-DVD/streaming/torrent years, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS had very elusive availability. I remember even flipping through a New York-based VHS catalog that enticed me to order a copy for $20. Seems crazy now, but for a kaiju fan like me, an AVENGERS team-up of all my favorite monsters was my ultimate dream to chase down. Luckily, years later, I managed to record an airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, and all it cost me was a blank tape. Did it live up to the hype? Fucking YES.

What makes this such a fun romp is the amount of effort Toho put behind it. Box office returns were dwindling for monster flicks, and nine films in, this was destined to be the curtain call for Godzilla and company in one gigantic finale. The budget was beefed up higher than usual, affording set designers to craft all kinds of detailed cities, countrysides, and lunar landscapes (plus a neat Moonlight SY-3 rocket!). This send-off also reunited original GOJIRA masterminds director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, SFX master Eiji Tsuburaya, and composer Akira Ifukube. The plot itself isn't that remarkable (the alien mind controlled kaiju story is basically a redux of INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER), but this was always meant to be the ultimate smash-up for the ages. Whatever you may think of the first two acts, the battle between G & friends vs. Ghidorah is worth the price of a ticket and a buncha concession snacks. Nothing better than to munch on some popcorn while watching eight monsters punch, kick, and electrocute the hell outta each other!

The human acting is fine and perfunctory, the only interesting stuff being when Kyoko and Dr. Otani are evil assholes. Unlike the previous entries, there aren't any personal storylines that weave around the kaiju action. Everyone's too busy destroying all monsters! And what a creature roll call we have! It's great that most of them get a nice spotlight moment too. Rodan gets to be an aggressive jerk again and makes many buildings and aircrafts go boom. Manda gives the best performance of his career by taking down Japan's monorail tracks (that mode of transportation was never gonna take off anyway). Godzilla of course remains the big man of the proceedings, but Minilla gives Ghidorah the final kill shot with his small smoke ring. Way to make poppa proud! Mah man Anguirus proves himself a scrappy fighter by biting and holding on to Ghidorah's neck even as the dragon takes flight. I also like that tactical monsters Mothra and Kumonga get a chance to use their webbing to hold down and create a burial for the space monster. Even Gorosaurus makes up for his loss in KING KONG ESCAPES by delivering the most awesome kangaroo kick ever to Ghidorah's backside. Baragon and Varan sadly get sidelined for most of the movie, although this was apparently due to their costumes being in too poor a condition for combat. Still, what a league we have! Luca, even though Toho would continue the franchise after this, it's hard for me not to get a bit emotional at the end as the humans fly over Monsterland in a helicopter and wave goodbye to our scaly friends. Each kaiju gets a nice close up while triumphant yet melancholy horns are heard in Ifukube's score, culminating in a full orchestral finale to the image of Godzilla and Minilla shrinking in the distance as we depart from the island. Obviously this isn't truly the end, but did you have a tear in your eye, Luca?

LUCA:

I didn't know about this being an intended finale for the series due to dwindling ticket sales! It does account for the time-jump to the end of the 20th century, making it the first Godzilla movie set in a possible future Earth rather than a contemporary one with sci-fi embellishments. I'm assuming here that, for the remainder of the Showa era, we're back to the present for budgetary reasons, actually making DAM (hehe) the chronological capper to that particular bit of Godzilla continuity. Who knows, maybe I'd have gotten a bit emotional had DAM actually come at the end of the Showa era, the innocent age of superhero Godzilla and his little boy literally waving us off as they grow smaller and smaller on the horizon, the very image of our childhood leaving us. As it is in the movie now, and without the benefit of that context, the helicopter scene came across more as a good-natured "let's give a big hand to all our favorite Earth monsters!" than a bittersweet goodbye.

Actually, nine films in, and I've had THU FEELZ (or a close enough approximation of them so as not to matter) four times: the crying little girl and Serizawa's descent scored by the children's choir in the original, the demise of Kobayashi in GRA, and Godzilla's acceptance of Minilla in SON OF. As you can tell, all of these things are self-contained dramatic instances that really aren't influenced by any built up fondness for the monsters. While I like the Showa era's (maybe all eras?) loosey-goosey, one might almost say IDGAF, approach to continuity, it's hard to build up any affection across movies knowing that the next time you see these characters it's gonna be a sort-of reboot anyway. Is it a Japanese thing maybe? I'm reminded of stuff like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy, where each sequel isn't really a continuation of the last installment's story, but rather a whole different thing with the same name and some core concepts. I actually watched RODAN and MOTHRA before their respective appearances in the Godzilla franchise, but it turns out I might as well not have bothered. As we've discussed previously, Rodan gets burned to a crisp in his original movie, and he just shows up without explanation in GHIDORAH. Mothra shows up in MOTHRA VS GODZILLA, but she didn't die at the end of her first movie, plus Mothra's whole deal is her life cycle with the larvae and the cocoons and the rebirth and whatnot, so she's easy to explain. Anguirus just shows up in DAM after getting his neck snapped and being BURNED TO ASHES in GRA. Kumonga was likewise set the fuck on fire just ONE MOVIE BEFORE THIS. This all contributed to me not trying to squeeze in the origin movies of monsters before their appearance in DAM anymore. I mean, I'll still watch them eventually, but now I'll just check them out one day for love of these silly ass movies, rather than for blog research purposes. If you're curious, I've yet to check out VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (Varan), ATRAGON (Manda), KING KONG ESCAPES (Gorosaurus), and FRANKENSTEIN VS BARAGON (Baragon). Just out of curiosity, Travis -- how many of these movies have their respective Godzilla-contributing monster killed off in a relatively final way? I'm talking Anguirus/Rodan/Kumonga level certainty here, so no "falling into the ocean" stuff!

TRAVIS:

As far as the B-listers in the DAM cast go, Gorosaurus is the only one with a definite death by receiving an old school jawbreaker from Kong in KING KONG ESCAPES. Otherwise, Varan escapes into the ocean and is presumably bombed in his movie, Baragon falls into the Earth's crust in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, and Manda gets petrified by a freeze ray in ATRAGON. With all these inconsistent kaiju fates and timeline jumps, is it hard to develop a fondness for a character's movie history? For me, during the monster sign-off in DAM, we're not so much saying farewell to a particular Rodan or Anguirus but to a cast of characters that have entertained us all these years. Like giving a round of applause to a favorite troupe of actors. By the end of our Godzilla run, Luca, you'll be quite used to Toho hitting reset for the franchise, so maybe in reflection you'll be more comfortable with the constant changes. I remember early in our reviews how you theorized that Toho tried out different genres in each film and plugged in Godzilla however well he could fit in. Keep that mentality of the studio merging in the monsters for each movie's plot convenience, and you won't wrack your brain over Kumonga's sudden resurrection.

As it stands, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is a fine finale for Godzilla. But a force more powerful than a nuclear bomb would soon revive the King of the Monsters -- box office! The monster mash to end all monster mashes was a hit in theaters, and Toho was back in the 'Zilla business. Tough times laid ahead however, and G would go on some strange journeys when he returned to the silver screen. Luca, you seem okay with the child pandering of the franchise, but your limits on the cuteness of Minilla will be tested in ALL MONSTERS ATTACK! Stay tuned, kids!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #8: SON OF GODZILLA (1967)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ tumblr Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

Luca, it's a good thing you dug the tropical setting of GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, because we're sticking around these crazy jungles and beaches in SON OF GODZILLA. Director Jun Fukuda and composer Masura Sato carry over here from SEA MONSTER, bringing along similar story beats from that movie too. Once again, a scientific base on a desert island contends with monsters and a sexy native girl as they continue their work. But don't worry, folks! The evil Red Bamboo is nowhere here to build nuclear weapons. Instead, a group of scientists toil under the hot sun conducting weather experiments. Why? Luckily, news reporter Goro literally drops in on the island out of nowhere to be our audience POV! Their hope is to gain the ability to change weather conditions in inhabitable areas so that they become livable environments for people as the threat of overpopulation looms. Not exactly the most logical plan, but hey, their hearts are in the right place. For science and the good of mankind!

Even though Godzilla made his first appearance on land on Oto Island in GOJIRA, he really hadn't gone ashore in the tropics much until SEA MONSTER. Though the series would keep him island bound a lot for the rest of the Showa era (easier to maintain and re-use jungle or dirt sets than constantly waste film budgets on building cities that'll only be smashed to bits), he seems natural and right at home on Solgell Island. If you're a world building fan, it's probably not off base to theorize that this is the same Monster Island later seen in ALL MONSTERS ATTACK and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (not to be confused with Monsterland in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS but we'll get to that film next). Aside from the giant bugs, it doesn't seem like a bad place for the King of the Monsters to settle down and start a family.

And oh boy, let's get to big G's family. Along with big ol' spider Kumonga and a buncha mutant mantises known as Kamacuras, Solgell is also home to a large egg that hatches a special kind of kaiju... Minilla, son of Godzilla. Short, pudgy, and squeaky, the child of the King of the Monsters is definitely a point of contention for many fans. It'd be one thing for Godzilla to have an awesome, dinosaur-like mini me (as we'll get with Godzilla Junior in the Heisei era), but here was Lil' Komic Relief for Kids, blowing out smoke rings for everyone's amusement. Even Senior G's look is softened with a wider body and googly Muppety eyes to match his offspring. Luca, I'll hold on to my thoughts till later, but did Cutezilla win you over?

LUCA:

Oh man, did he! This was the first time since the original that I was close to feeling actual emotions! I understand that it's basically the most pandering you can get with a movie like this, but hey, it worked for me. There's something primal to seeing a newborn animal being threatened by adults of any species, and SON OF taps into that. You're absolutely right that the softening of the design and all-around kiddie-orientation of this movie was probably a crass commercial decision but... I can't lie, it worked! All those little things Godzilla and Minilla do, from Minilla skipping rope over slumbering G's tail to them practising fire-breathing at a lava lake, just charmed me more and more as the movie went on. I'd be heart-broken to find you don't like the little guy!

Fukuda actually does some new stuff in this one, or at least stuff I can't remember from EBIRAH. He takes his camera off its mount and goes up close, circling around characters human and kaiju alike, bringing a heretofore unseen dynamism to the proceedings. There's even a POV shot of Kumonga rising from the treeline, startling poor Minilla! Can't say Fukuda doesn't try new things! Hell, I'll give him this -- SON OF features one of the most badass shots in the series yet: two fleeing researchers cut off by the burning, ripped-off pincer of one of the Kamacuras bugs thrown by Godzilla. Hell yeah! And there's even a gorgeous, iconic shot of Godzilla and Minilla embracing as they slowly start hibernating and get covered in snow right before the credits. I like this Fukuda fellow! Likewise, Sato's light-hearted tunes still delight me, though he's a bit less funky than in EBIRAH here. I will say that I do quite like Minilla's upbeat whistling theme!

The humans... eh! I think I only remember upbeat reporter Maki Goro's name, and that's just cuz he reminded me so much of MOTHRA's "Bulldog"! It is now headcanon that Goro is Bulldog's cousin or something, I dunno. Don't be down on my headcanon for being so non-committal, that's just in keeping with Showa era Godzilla movies' style! Minilla's egg! Where did it come from? A relic from prehistory, like our own Godzilla, himself the second Godzilla to awaken after 1954's original monster? Is he actually Godzilla's son, or just a baby Godzilla he adopts? Where's Mrs. Godzilla? The answer is, of course, a resounding "I onno!" Now spill dem beanz, Travis! Why do you hate Minilla so much???

TRAVIS:

Honestly, Luca, just like you, for all he represents of a franchise grasping at straws, I have a soft spot for the little guy. There's an undeniable cute humanity to Minilla, and I give credit to suit actor Masao Fukazawa (who formerly had a little person wrestling career) for making him funny yet not too precious. I think what also makes the character easier to handle is that he's only made a handful of appearances in the entire series (three in the Showa era plus a stock footage cameo in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and a significant supporting role in 2004's GODZILLA: FINAL WARS). It's not like the movies suddenly became The Fun Adventures of Godzilla and Minilla. As you said too, Luca, it's hard not to sympathize with the defenseless boy as Kamacuras and Kumonga keep beating the shit outta him. Even his own dad accidentally swipes him on the head with his lumbering tail right after he hatches!

So let's examine Godzilla the father for a moment. Almost every strict Japanese parent cliche is evident in how he treats his child. He never allows Minillia to play, forcing him to focus on his studies instead (fire breathing and kaiju smashing of course). Twice he "accidentally" leaves behind his kid, expecting a newborn to naturally catch up with his pace. He even raises his hand to Minilla for not properly firing out radioactive breath (which Minilla only succeeds in when Godzilla stomps on his little tail). Luca, I remember your fiance commented on Facebook that she kept wanting to take Lil'zilla into protective services, and it's frankly not hard to blame her! On the other hand though, the universe is now filled with Rodans and King Ghidorahs and even Varan the Unbelievables, so perhaps you need all that tough love to prepare for the tough world. As you mentioned before, the ending shot of father and son embracing in the snow is at nuclear levels of heartwarming.

Luca, all the way back in our review of GOJIRA, I asked you if the grim original film was a good gateway into the series. We are now eight entries deep in the franchise, and we've seen the series wildly waver in tone. I actually like this inconsistency because it doesn't allow the movies to become too staid. Plus, newcomers can choose different films to begin with, whether they prefer serious sci-fi or goofy fun. Also, Godzilla becomes a fluid character this way, so if you like him as a hero or an asshole, you have a varied selection to pick some favorites. Even though we're nowhere near the end, Luca, I consider you as a valid voice on kaiju matters at this point. I must ask again then: what might be a good starting point for novice Godzilla watchers, and how do you feel about the series so far?

LUCA:

Godzilla acting like a stereotypical Japanese parent is a great observation, Travis! Goro even mentions that Godzilla's acting like "a study nut", which concept he then explains to the island belle accompanying him (more Bond-referencing: shades of Honey Ryder with her, as she was the daughter of a scientist who died on the island studying the wildlife). See, kids! You can identify with Minilla on far more than the basic level of being little! I also never really stopped to consider that it pretty much had to be a little person inside the Minilla suit, which of course makes sense, but just goes to show you how immersive the suit actors are. They are Godzilla/Minilla/Rodan/whoever -- they're not just people in kaiju suits, and I say this as someone with no nostalgic connection!

Honestly, I think that the first three Godzilla movies may be a perfect "ease you into Godzillaworld" trilogy for starting viewers. GOJIRA for its iconicity, to make you understand how exactly Godzilla the cultural icon (not really the "character", as that would only emerge later) came to be. Why did Japan latch on to Godzilla so madly? How did Honda/Ifukube/Nakajima tap into something so desperate to get out in the popular culture at that place and that time? GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN is more light-hearted, but doesn't descend into Showa silliness right away. Rather, its lighter tone is derived from a can-do "we will rebuild!" attitude the characters all exude -- Godzilla and even Anguirus are still legitimate threats to world security here. KKvG has all the Technicolor wackiness of the 1966 BATMAN with, again, Godzilla still being the heavy. After that, I'd suggest jumping to GHIDORAH for the best kaiju royal rumble yet! Here's where I'd start adding the caveats: personally, I really enjoyed the Fukuda "Island Godzilla" movies, but I understand that their silly attitudes and jovial Godzilla aren't for everyone.

Ishiro Honda returns next time for a film that has one of the greatest titles of all time: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS! Can it live up to its legendary name? I'm not holding out too much hope, cuz I've found that Honda can swing wildly between "great" and "boring". I'll cut him some slack as he was pretty much producing one Godzilla movie a year at that point, so of course you're gonna toss in the towel on some of 'em. But a man can dream... about DESTROY(ing) ALL MONSTERS! Join us next time to do just that!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #7: EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP (1966)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ tumblr Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:
Initially, I was a bit scared that routine would set in. This would be the sixth time Toho returned to the Godzilla-well, and the seventh Godzilla movie in all. As I said in our last post, this would also be the first time the movies would take on the "classic" formula of Godzilla sequel titles -- "Godzilla vs. [insert name]". And damn, he'd be fighting something so generic as a "sea monster". Wasn't G himself a sea monster already, kinda? Well, I'm glad to report my fears were absolutely unfounded. After the somewhat disappointing INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (or EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP) rekindled my enthusiasm for the series! That alternate title is perhaps symbolic of my pleasant surprise -- the "sea monster" title was simply the title for the straight-to-TV English dub the movie received. The official Toho title was the "Ebirah" one. I guess you could say we've learned not to judge a monster by its American name!
Right from the start, director Jun Fukuda and composer Masaru Sato imbue the movie with a wholly new, decidedly younger atmosphere. Gone is Akira Ifukube's epic, pounding march music, to be replaced by a completely swingin' groovy... surfer tune? I swear, I wouldn't be surprised to see the main title track to this movie end up in a Tarantino flick somewhere down the line. Despite a deceptive opening scene where an old lady consults a wise woman about her missing son Yata who is lost at sea, and her non-missing son Ryota pleads with authorities to help him search for his absent sibling, the movie soon takes a left turn into completely uncharted waters. A... dance contest? And not just some namby-pamby Dancing With The Stars shit, either. This is a full-on "dance till ya drop" THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?-style hootenanny! Ryota, disabused from any notion that official authorities will help him and desperate to find his brother, is doing anything he can to buy his own boat with which to go search for Yata! Two ne'er-do-wells at the contest decide to have some fun at poor Ryota's expense and convince him they actually do own a yacht. The joke's on them, however, since the shotgun-wielding yacht owner is actually sleeping on it! The film's constantly throwing little reversals like that at you, while never sacrificing the forward momentum of the plot (what little there is). I quite liked it!
One of my favorite things about EBIRAH is how explicitly youth-oriented it is. The music is a good indicator of this, of course, but this is our first actual teenage protagonist. Our guys wear sneakers and dance to pop music and are disillusioned with adults/the establishment! The badass of our hero group is a safe-cracker! Granted, he denounces his criminal ways at the end, but this portrayal of lawbreakers is a far cry from the cop-killing orcs that inadvertently lure Godzilla back to Osaka in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN. It's a good sign that I have so many good things to say about the movie before I even start mentioning the monsters, and in the best Showa-era Toho tradition, Godzilla has at least one absolutely fantastic gif-worthy moment in EBIRAH as well. After my complaints about the lack of new monsters in ASTRO-MONSTER, it's quite ironic that I actually find the weakest element of EBIRAH the titular villain monster itself: Ebirah is merely a giant lobster. Admittedly, he has an absolutely hilarious Green Lantern-like weakness: banana... juice? Do you like lobster bisque, Travis, cool daddy-o?

TRAVIS:
I feel groovy with this surf & turf special, and G-man's the big kahuna on this island! This might be one of my favorite performances of suit actor Haruo Nakajima as there's a lot of fun, almost humane acting from Godzilla in this film. The way he observes the evil Red Bamboo base and changes his methods of attacking are a level of intelligence we haven't seen before. Of course, it's not all thoughtful destruction, because he's gotta play boulder volleyball with Ebirah too! Man, he sure does love throwing rocks around with other monsters (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and GHIDORAH also show him engaging in stone tossing)! These distinct shades of personality are probably due to the fact that EBIRAH was originally a vehicle for King Kong, and it's not hard to imagine the ape performing the same actions. The most obvious example is when Godzilla has his own Ann Darrow-esque moment and spots babelicious Infant Islander Dayo. The image of the beauty calms the beast, and the King of the Monsters simply sits down and relaxes for a few moments. Hey, maybe he wouldn't be so smashy all the time if he settled down (SON OF GODZILLA, you're on deck next...) But this nice respite between woman and kaiju is soon interrupted by A GIANT FRIGGIN' CONDOR!
I hadn't seen EBIRAH in quite a while, so the sudden attack of a big bird was a little surprising to me. It's a sequence that comes outta left field since the characters have already noticed Godzilla and Ebirah on the island, and you'd think that someone would've taken note of a large condor swarming the area. Red Bamboo really should've scouted other places for their nuclear plants! And just like how it flew out of nowhere, Godzilla promptly sets it aflame, and it dies a roasty death, out of the movie and the characters' consciousness. No one comments on how odd it was! It feels like 1) a way to include more kaiju content in the third act and 2) an echo of Kong defending Ann from the T-rex in KING KONG with big G trying to protect Dayo.
Another way the film tries to pack in more kaiju is the inclusion of Mothra, but sheesh, she really drags her ass to help until the very end when she picks up everyone from the exploding island. She's... asleep the whole time and needs to be awakened? Sure doesn't sound like the monster that tore up Rolisica to find her twin fairies. Speaking of the fairies, though pop duo the Peanuts famously originated the roles, they're replaced this time by another set of musical twins known as Pair Bambi. They do fine, yet one can't shake the feeling that it's "off" not seeing the Peanuts in their proper characters in this franchise cycle. Did this trip to Infant Island seem different to you, Luca?

LUCA:

Hahahaha "Pair Bambi". Yeah, I immediately noticed the recasting -- I was expecting the fairies to be recast at least a decade into the proceedings, so it was a bit jarring to see new faces so soon (3 years!) after the original actresses' debut, but let's face it: It's not like the Mothra fairies are complex or even remotely recognizably human characters. And I don't even mean that in a bad way! They're appropriately alien for mystical creatures in a children's film, their mannered, even stilted deliveries being part of their charm. You're right in Mothra dragging her feet, but hell, I was enjoying the shenanigans on Banana Island well enough that I didn't mind. If anything, I enjoyed that they called for her help and got off the island thanks to her. It's like a helicarrier showing up in a Thor movie -- it's just part of the universe!
Speaking of that incredibly random Giant Condor fight, that's where the INCREDIBLE GIF MOMENT of the movie happens! After Godzilla has fried the Condor (an amazing phrase in itself) he turns to the camera and taps his snout in a knowing gesture of "Ayyy we understand each other, don't we kids?". Fuck yeah we do, G! I hope he'll be back to teach those evil Red Bamboo thugs a lesson since they pretty explicitly say stuff like "Warn headquarters!" and "Do you think we've heard the last of them???" -- although seven kaiju movies in, I have a sneaking suspicion there's just as good a chance of us never hearing of them again!
Interesting little tidbit, Travis, about it having been designed as a Kong adventure, originally. It definitely explains the island setting (a new thing for this series) and G's overall more heroic attitude. Just goes to show that sometimes, rights issues can lead to artists creating great new stuff. No Flash Gordon rights for George Lucas gave us STAR WARS, no Frankenstein rights for Toho gave us KING KONG VS GODZILLA, and now no King Kong rights (anymore, somehow) gives us EBIRAH. I, for one, feel that I am reaping the benefits of this legal adversity. I'm hoping that for SON OF GODZILLA they couldn't get the rights to LEPRECHAUN or something.

TRAVIS:

Fun Toho fact, Luca! That nose tap moment from Godzilla is also a reference to the then popular Wakadaisho ("Young Guy") films the studio was producing. These were vehicles made for popular rock star Yuzo Kayama as the dashing athlete Yuichi Tanuma. Over the course of seventeen (!) movies, he would show off his amazing prowess in any sport from soccer to ice skating to swimming to ultimately running the New York marathon in the final entry. In EBIRAH, big G homages Yuichi's signature move to rub a single finger up & down his nose after wowing everyone with his impressive abilities. Audiences (teens in particular) went to theaters to see Kayama in droves, with the Wakadaisho films actually rivalling Godzilla in popularity and box office. It's no wonder that Fukuda (who directed many of the Young Guy entries) was tasked to helm this youth oriented kaiju tale. 
Times were changing for Godzilla. Over the past few films, he dipped his toe in the spy, sci-fi, and teen genres to sustain his presence. The biggest threat of all would come from television as big monster shows began to dominate the kaiju market, making it easier for children to stay at home for their creature smash up fix rather than head to theaters. Possbily taking a page from the TV playbook, how did the King of the Monsters pull viewers back in after such a long time? By adding a kid, of course! What baby daddy drama awaits him in SON OF GODZILLA? We'll have the test results soon!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hans Zimmer's Batman Problem

Let's get this one out of the way first.


Batman is such an iconic and often re-interpreted character that this fantastic tune actually has competition for being the best Batman theme. In my mind, that is. I know Batman fans are a touchy lot, so I'ma go ahead and add that caveat. Here's its primary competitor:


When Tim Burton left the franchise and was replaced by Joel Schumacher, composer Danny Elfman was replaced by Elliot Goldenthal. Goldenthal's Batman theme isn't as ubiquitous in pop culture as the previous two, but I like it nonetheless. The music definitely did not take as steep a plunge in quality as the overall movies did with the Burton-Schumacher transition.



It's grand and operatic, pretty much in Elfman's style, but different enough to say Goldenthal put his own stamp on things. This is appropriate given that the Kilmer and Clooney Batmen were supposed to be the same guy as Michael Keaton (this was in the days before there was such a thing as Cinematic Universes). Unfortunately, when Schumacher's second outing, 1998's BATMAN AND ROBIN, was not very well received (to put it politely), Warner Bros. put Batman in deep freeze (ha ha) until 2005's reboot BATMAN BEGINS. They had to wash the stink of the previous Bat right out of their hair, and so they tried to make the movie as different from the previous ones as possible. Hans Zimmer, creator of What Blockbusters Sound Like since at least CRIMSON TIDE, brought a little of that GLADIATOR/THE ROCK-esque Zimmer flair to Batman.




BEGINS and its sequels (THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy) were massive successes, so this is what Batman pretty much sounds like to a generation of kids. This is fine and dandy.

Warner Bros. had another problem -- Superman. They'd tried to bring him back in 2006, a year after BEGINS, but unlike the stylistic break that movie signified from the last Batman, a new POV would be wholly absent from the Richard Donner-beholden SUPERMAN RETURNS. After RETURNS' failure to capture the public imagination, WB decided to Superman it up again with 2013's MAN OF STEEL, no doubt in some hurry to get a big comic book movie out there, spurred on by Christopher Nolan's decision that 2012's THE DARK KNIGHT RISES would be his last Bat-movie and the massive success of the interconnected Marvel movies.



MAN OF STEEL - THE DARK KNIGHT
David Goyer - David Goyer
Hans Zimmer - Hans Zimmer

Yup, it was quite clear that WB wanted a Superman movie that "felt" enough like a DARK KNIGHT movie that it would catch on, down to the absolutely unfounded decision to make the MAN OF STEEL title pop up only at the end of the movie.



With MAN OF STEEL making enough money for WB to greenlight a sequel that would serve as a springboard to a bigger shared (Marvel-like) universe, there are a lot of nerd eyes on director Zack Snyder and his team wondering what sort of Batman they'll come up with. You see, the MAN OF STEEL sequel will be a "Batman vs. Superman" movie with a whole new, non-DK Batman.

So here we have composer Hans Zimmer in the rather unique position of having reinvented the cinematic sound of Batman in 2005, being asked to reinvent Superman's sound in 2013 in a movie that tries its darnedest to ape nu-Batman... now being asked to reinvent Batman's sound AGAIN... in the same universe of "his" DARK KNIGHT-like Superman... that (one can only assume) sounds different enough from  Zimmer's 2005 Batman sound to stand out as its own, non-DARK KNIGHT Batman.

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just do this again hans nobody gives a shit at this point

  


Kaiju Kavalcade #6: INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (1965)


LUCA:
Blast-off! INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER/MONSTER ZERO starts off in space, for the first time in our Toho-trek. Astronauts Glenn and Fuji are on a reconaissance mission to Planet X, a newly discovered planet in our solar system. Why had we never seen it before? "It's very dark", says a scientist. Good enough for me! Back home, we meet Tetsuo and Haruno, two lovebirds who wish to marry, if only Tetsuo could get Haruno's brother's blessing -- astronaut Fuji. Tetsuo is a poor inventor who has invented an... electric rape whistle? It makes an annoying sound and is called "the Lady Guard", so I think that's what it's supposed to be? He hopes a deal with Ms. Namikawa from Educational Toys Inc (???) will bring him the financial stability necessary to impress Fuji. In any case, in the exciting subplot, Glenn and Fuji have a run-in with strange lightning phenomena on the surface of Planet X and are invited to join its people (I'll call them the X-men for short) in their underground lair. The X-men are a seemingly peaceful society, plagued by King Ghidorah, and short on water. They wish to "borrow" Godzilla and Rodan to rid them of the three-headed menace, and will richly reward Earth for their kindness -- a "tape" with the cure for cancer on it!
Lemme talk about one particular preconception that's been shattered in doing this series: "Godzilla vs. [x]". We're six movies in and we still haven't had a movie called "Godzilla vs. [x]"! I think this indicates an intention to make a (relatively) diverse array of sci-fi spectacles, movies that feature Godzilla, rather than "Godzilla movies". Travis, stop me if I'm wrong here! This movie definitely qualifies as "a movie featuring Godzilla", as G is basically reduced to a supporting player in the devious machinations of the X-Men in their attempts to colonize the Earth. (It's not much of a spoiler, people; As Glenn and Fuji travel back to offer the X-Men's proposal to Earth leaders, Honda closes the sequence out with a fade-out on a sinisterly chuckling X-Man with threatening music.) I can't help but feel a little short-changed here, Travis. I definitely didn't get as much kaiju-bang for my buck, especially coming off of GHIDORAH.
The aliens and their hilarious adherence to "the computer" are entertaining enough, but the most interesting thing about the alien menace is that they're a pre-2001 creation. Kubrick's movie was of course hugely influential in any Hollywood depiction of space/space adventure, so it's cool to see something predating that, and even Star Trek! I think they're a clone society? Or is that just the women? I'm not sure! Anyway, it's cool to have some far out sci-fi concepts in a kaiju movie such as rooms of gold and computer-mandated romance, but I wish the movie had paid off a little more in the monster mash department. What say you, Travis?
TRAVIS:
You're not wrong in observing the diminished kaiju content this time around. Planet X represents the strongest sci-fi content in the series yet, and of all the aliens that would show up in the franchise, they're probably the most memorable. Their shaded visors recall the style of the Yakuza, and I like how it's kept ambiguous if they're a robot or clone race. Their invasion of Earth is the real centerpiece of the plot with the monsters only being pawns in the grand scheme. Because Godzilla and Rodan are brainwashed for most of the movie, their brash personalities are kept to a minimum too. On top of all this, the actual smash up scenes feel shortened. Both the Planet X fight and the big ending battle are well done yet only clock in about a few minutes in length each. Not only that, but the three monster city destruction is padded with re-used footage from RODAN and MOTHRA. Definitely a let down from the four kaiju sushi roll known as GHIDORAH.
How to make up for the small amount of monster carnage? By getting dashing American movie star Nick Adams of course! Though it may be jarring to see a US actor fit comfortably among the Japanese cast, it was not uncommon during this time to see Hollywood performers head overseas for starring roles for Toho and other studios. ASTRO-MONSTER is actually Adams' second kaiju flick, having previously dealt with Baragon and a freakishly giant Frankenstein's monster in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Though he was often labelled as a second rate James Dean (who he was famously friends with), he delivers a fine performance here, not a bit of irony detected when he shouts "you stinking rats!" at the X-men when they zap his girlfriend. Him and Akira Takarada also share some great astronaut buddy chemistry. "You should have left your sister packed in ice," teases Adams of Takarada's disapproval of his sibling's prospective fiance. Their palling and joking around actually reminds me of Tsukioka and Kobayashi back in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN. How chummy!
With every review, we've tackled the slow anthropomorphism of the monsters. Director Honda and SFX master Tsuburaya would often disagree on this catering towards children, and it's in ASTRO-MONSTER that we reach the point of no return for the Showa era. After sending Ghidorah packing on Planet X, Godzilla proceeds to victoriously hop up and down in a joyful, gravity-defying dance ("A happy moment," the lead X-man observes in the English dub). Honda fought against it, but Tsuburaya always saw the movies as meant for kids, so Goofzilla's Party Jump was kept in. Luca, even though the original stark GOJIRA is my favorite, I have room in my heart to accept and enjoy the antics of Godzilla the Friendly Superhero. What did you make of that particular moment, and do you feel this "kiddie glove" handling of the kaiju has been detrimental or beneficial for the franchise?
LUCA:
Oh, I love the constant pandering to children that's going on! In fact, Godzilla's victory dance was the best part of the movie for me! It is, in fact, a bit of a bummer that we get such an awesome and characterful Godzilla moment in a film that otherwise relegates the kaiju to brainwashed weapons of mass destruction. Kaiju as WMDs is a very cool idea, honestly, but one that was perhaps best suited in a movie that doesn't have one of its main monsters dance a victory jig. This movie is essentially a step back in everything, huh? Not only do we get fewer monsters than last movie, we also get quite a very small amount of them. The X-Men were okay to me, but not quite weird or interesting enough to distract from the lack of monster action. The humans were, again, okay, but nothing great. I will say that I very much liked the interracial romance between Cpt. Glen and Space Clone Girl. Alright, technically it was an interspecies romance, but the X-Men are about as alien-looking as Kryptonians. So here we have a romance between for all intents and purposes a Japanese lady and an American man. That's nice for a 1965 movie! It doesn't end well, but their feelings were shown be sincere.
Oh, and I would be remiss not to remark upon the indignities suffered by Godzilla, dating all the way back to KKvG, in which Kong rammed a tree down his throat! In MvG, he is dragged by the tail by Mothra, in GHIDORAH he is picked up by Rodan and tossed crotch first onto some power lines, and in ASTRO-MONSTER the X-Men's saucer pick up a slumbering Godzilla with their telekinesis rays with his tail firmly tucked between his legs in a foetal position. Aw man, why you gotta expose a sleeping G like that to the world at large! Speaking of the world at large, Toho's fascination with western religions continues, as a random bishop/cardinal tells a united Japanese government yet again that "all [they] can do is pray to God". Adams' presence does indicate a stronger desire to really sell this movie in western markets, so I suppose this is the first movie where a nod to christianity shouldn't feel weird. Personally, I don't like such defeatism in my monster movies. Stop that, Toho!
Ghidorah is a tough sumbitch, huh? Adversary in two movies in a row, and he gets away both times. Granted, they could only make him retreat when it was Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan, so it would have been weird if Godzilla and Rodan alone would have killed him. But there's something pretty ballsy about having your villain very explicitly get away while your two hero monsters are MIA. Not that the movie is very pessimistic about them being gone -- hell, it's also hilariously blasé about DESTROYER OF WORLDS Ghidorah still being out and about, but that's another story. I cracked up when someone posited the very sensible question:
"Do you think Godzilla and Rodan are dead?"
and he gets the answer
"Probably not."
Japan knew the score in 1965 even. All in all, a so-so entry for me, Travis. Where does ASTRO MONSTER rank for you in comparison to the movies we've seen so far?

TRAVIS:
The word "fine" comes to mind when it comes to ASTRO-MONSTER. There's nothing significantly bad or painful per se when watching it. The story moves along well, the acting is believable, and the action scenes (though pared down) are still exciting and executed greatly by the Toho SFX team. Perhaps what makes the movie seem by the numbers is its lack of "hook". GOJIRA and GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN reflect post WWII Japan, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA pit the King of the Monsters against marque name monsters alongside lessons about nature and industry, and GHIDORAH was just a fun bento box of creatures, assassins, and Venusians. ASTRO-MONSTER in comparison has a routine science fiction story of seemingly friendly aliens who are up to no good. There's a bit of brainy stuff to chew on with Namikawa disobeying "the computer" by falling in love with Glenn, but we don't see enough scenes of them together to feel the weight of their doomed romance when she's killed, and it's a cliche theme that's overly familiar in the sci fi genre. And I agree too, Luca, that WMD kaiju is an exciting idea, just a bit lacking here. Wait till we get to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and then we'll have some real mind controlled monster fun!
You also made a point earlier about how we haven't reached a true GODZILLA VS. (FILL IN NAME) title yet in the series. Was this intentional by Toho to distinguish the films from each other? I'm not sure. But don't worry, Luca, because next we'll have our first "properly named" versus movie with GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER! From space to the seas!