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Godzilla (1954)

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  • Godzilla (1954)

    The original masterpiece from Ishiro Honda that inspired arguably the most enduring "franchise" in film history. I use the term franchise in quotations because in my opinion Godzilla is more like a genre than a franchise at this point, with films varying in quality from this (at the very top) to countless campy trash classics, and a few bloated and abysmal failures. This started the formula, and as such the story is much what you would expect from a Godzilla movie. Godzilla has awaken from the sea, and has come to inflict as much destruction as possible upon Japan. What sets this film apart from it's followers and is it's astute sense of social context. This film isn't just an entertaining monster movie, but also is greatly concerned with issues of ethics and atomic power. This film spends a lot more time on justifying Godzilla's presence, the back story being that he is monster of man's creation, as he is the result of atomic energy. When it becomes apparent that he is impervious to all known weaponry of man, it becomes obvious that a new form of weapon will be necessary. One doctor has developed such a weapon, an oxygen destroyer, but this doctor is a very ethical man, and knows that if he turns his weapon over to the military it will be used again for less humanitarian reasons. There is also the conflict of the zoologist, played wonderfully by Takashi Simura, whom I've grown to be a pretty big fan of, through his many films with Akira Kurosawa, who argues that the important issue is why Godzilla is unharmed by the atomic weapons of man, rather simply than how to destroy the monster. In short he feels it is more important to understand Godzilla and why he wants to destroy human society, than it is to destroy him, and continue on the course that man has taken. This film couldn't have been made anywhere but Japan, and there are obvious ties between the nihilistic destruction of Godzilla and that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. This social commentary is delivered very poignantly and is not exactly subtle, but those of you who don't have any interest in context or rationalisation won't be disappointed either. This is still a highly entertaining monster Sci-Fi/Monster film, just one that has more of a brain than is usually expected or possibly wanted by some. Effects wise this is more or less what you would expect, but the stark black and white removes the campy air that usually drags Godzilla films down, and overall it feels much more haunting and menacing than most of the films that followed it. In short required viewings if you've ever been even mildly entertained by any Godzilla film. If you haven't, you still owe it to yourself to see this, just check your preconceptions at the door, because this is so much more than what audiences have come to expect from the Godzilla name. 5/5.
    Last edited by SIXFEETDEEP; 02-28-2012, 01:38 AM.
    More reviews http://666feetdeep.blogspot.com/

  • #2
    Love it! This one, and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack are the only two Godzilla movies i really love and reccomend to others.
    sigpic

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    • #3
      I love Godzilla. He was a huge part of my childhood.

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      • #4
        The Ishiro Honda film is a very well made, and classic film. Everything works. The storyline, the monster, the drama, the score, the commentary, the direction. Everything.

        I also very much respect the Americanized 1956 version as well. As it's the film most of the world had seen and knew of for decades that led to Godzilla becoming a fixture in popular culture.

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        • #5
          I'm not a huge fan, but I respect the original as a deconstruction of atomic fear. The acting and script is blunt, but nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what's the value in subtlety?

          What I've never understood is the idea of a guy in a rubber suit as an imposing antagonist. I suspect that's why all the later films refitted Godzilla as a campy hero.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by Dead & Messed Up View Post
            What I've never understood is the idea of a guy in a rubber suit as an imposing antagonist.
            The man-in-suit was more commonplace before the days of CGI becoming the norm. Ever see Alien? Another imposing antagonist that's essentially, yes, a man-in-suit.

            I suspect that's why all the later films refitted Godzilla as a campy hero.
            It wasn't until the 5th movie in the series (and mid way thru it at that) where the big G ceased being villainous.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Godzilla King of Monsters View Post
              The man-in-suit was more commonplace before the days of CGI becoming the norm. Ever see Alien? Another imposing antagonist that's essentially, yes, a man-in-suit.
              Obviously, but there's an enormous difference in terms of execution. Ridley Scott did a fantastic job working with man-in-suit limitations (mostly by hiding it as much as possible), and his villain was supposed to be man-sized. Having what is very clearly a man in a rubber dinosaur costume walking past miniatures is disappointing.

              Even for the time. I mean, the film was inspired by the American film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, but the filmmakers didn't have the resources to invest in stop-motion photography, and their window of opportunity to make the picture was already small. Godzilla's creation was Corman-esque, in that it's not worth marveling at the execution so much as the fact that they went ahead anyway. Bully for them, but the result is cheesy and distracting.
              READ ME AT horror films 101
              03/28/12 - Feature: Candle Cove
              03/26/12 - Review: The Maker of Gargoyles (Clark Ashton Smith)
              03/04/12 - Review: The Video Dead (Robert Scott)

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              • #8
                The CGI Godzilla in the 98 version is beyond awful. I loved the man in the suit Godzilla from the original and from the sequels that followed.

                With that in mind, as much as I love the 1954 version (and even like the Americanized one) I'm a bigger fan of King Kong (1933) and the modern day monster films The Host and Cloverfield. Granted though without King Kong or Godzilla The Host and Cloverfield wouldn't even exist.
                Horrorfest 2013

                This has nothing to do with where I came from, or what happened to me... I would've ended up here no matter what. I made a choice, I made a choice to provide a counterbalance to all those things that we hold good... and pure. You chose journalism, okay.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Dead & Messed Up View Post
                  Obviously, but there's an enormous difference in terms of execution. Ridley Scott did a fantastic job working with man-in-suit limitations (mostly by hiding it as much as possible), and his villain was supposed to be man-sized. Having what is very clearly a man in a rubber dinosaur costume walking past miniatures is disappointing.

                  Even for the time. I mean, the film was inspired by the American film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, but the filmmakers didn't have the resources to invest in stop-motion photography, and their window of opportunity to make the picture was already small. Godzilla's creation was Corman-esque, in that it's not worth marveling at the execution so much as the fact that they went ahead anyway. Bully for them, but the result is cheesy and distracting.
                  Contrary to popular belief, suitmation (a process more or less perfected during this era) wasn't a clear science, and alot of what was seen in Gojira/Godzilla was extremely experimental. Right down to the man-in-suit walking past miniatures, and evoking a sense of size and power.

                  Later films, involving the man-in-suit as an antagonist, undoubtedly enjoyed the luxury of seeing what worked best, and what could possibly work better. Godzilla, on the other hand, was clearly a empirical work in progress, and one that not only turned out to be a financial success in both the east and the west (thanks to some smart editing that made it more americanized for western audiences), but also a film that clearly endured and kickstarted an entire genre.

                  Where Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had the time along with animation, Honda had to work within the confines of what he was dealt, and I doubt any majority of giant monster fans, or film fans in general to be perfectly honest, would say Beast is the superior film. Despite the so-called distracting cheese.

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                  • #10
                    I've gotta agree with Godzilla King of Monters on this one. The man in suit practice is what it is. Honda did incredibly well with his limited resources. I didn't find it distracting at all, as it was what I was expecting from the get go. I'm also a lot more impressed by what film makers are able to accomplish despite their limitations, than what someone can produce by throwing more money at the problem. The 98 Godzilla is laughable compared to the 54 rubber suit one, and I find the CGI a lot more distracting. I was not aware of the The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms so can't comment on the so-called superiority of it's stop motion animation. Special effects were at a primitive stage at this point though and film makers had to take risks to find out what worked best. Sometimes these risks worked, other times they didn't. Given the legacy of 1954 Godzilla, I'd say it was a success. Especially since it's actually a top notch film a side from the special effects with great story, character's and social critique giving it depth and purpose.
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Godzilla King of Monsters View Post
                      Contrary to popular belief, suitmation (a process more or less perfected during this era) wasn't a clear science, and alot of what was seen in Gojira/Godzilla was extremely experimental. Right down to the man-in-suit walking past miniatures, and evoking a sense of size and power.

                      Later films, involving the man-in-suit as an antagonist, undoubtedly enjoyed the luxury of seeing what worked best, and what could possibly work better. Godzilla, on the other hand, was clearly a empirical work in progress, and one that not only turned out to be a financial success in both the east and the west (thanks to some smart editing that made it more americanized for western audiences), but also a film that clearly endured and kickstarted an entire genre.

                      Where Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had the time along with animation, Honda had to work within the confines of what he was dealt, and I doubt any majority of giant monster fans, or film fans in general to be perfectly honest, would say Beast is the superior film. Despite the so-called distracting cheese.
                      And more than kickstarted a genre, it kickstarted a movement in film. That the lowly monster/horror/sci-fi movie can have a clear, well defined message that will be listened to with respect. On top of that, as you mentioned in greater detail, it is a big stepping stone for special effects with the suits and miniatures.

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                      • #12
                        Ultimately, it's all a point of opinion. Any form of special effects can be branded as distracting, particularly those predating CGI. Though the camp that would come to encompass the Godzilla series would tend to highlight what might be considered an inferiority of monster suits, what sold the monster to me in the original was the anticipation of Godzilla's reveal, the quality of the miniatures, the low-angle shooting, the high contrast lighting, the high-speed filming, and the weight and quality of the suit itself. Though the rubber suit method would generally become more and more laughable, the 1954 Godzilla was, hard though it may be to believe, innovative, and the level of destruction reached by the man-in-suit among miniatures method was something that was never reached in stop motion effects. Additionally, though I have always loved BF20KF (haha), what really made Godzilla a horrifying monster was the way the film depicted the human misery in monster's wake in a way that no other monster film had done before and made the Hiroshima/Nagasaki connection all the more potent.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Godzilla King of Monsters View Post
                          Contrary to popular belief, suitmation (a process more or less perfected during this era) wasn't a clear science, and alot of what was seen in Gojira/Godzilla was extremely experimental. Right down to the man-in-suit walking past miniatures, and evoking a sense of size and power.
                          Let's be clear that I'm in no way criticizing the ambition or spirit of the effects team, only the end-result. I think it's laudable to try and stretch a budget and try something new, and props to them for that. Godzilla as a monster, though, looks too unconvincing and cheap to me.

                          This isn't some sort of bias either. Them! runs into a similar problem. Like Godzilla, it admirably hides the monsters for a while, but then they finally appear, and they simply aren't satisfying. Not only because they couldn't live up to the suspense (Stephen King's ten-foot-bug paradox), but because they aren't impressive as puppets.

                          Where Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had the time along with animation, Honda had to work within the confines of what he was dealt, and I doubt any majority of giant monster fans, or film fans in general to be perfectly honest, would say Beast is the superior film. Despite the so-called distracting cheese.
                          I find both films dull in equal measure, with Godzilla earning a slight edge due to its depiction of fallout both nuclear and social. I much prefer something like The Incredible Shrinking Man, which carries much more intelligence, poignancy, and suspense in its pulp analysis of mankind minimized by nuclear fears.

                          Originally posted by Niallist View Post
                          ...what sold the monster to me in the original was the anticipation of Godzilla's reveal
                          Agreed here. The best part of the film is the first quarter, where the people are parsing out the clues of Godzilla's arrival. It also carries some pleasurable irony, since most viewers know Godzilla as an icon, and these people have no idea of what to expect.

                          ...what really made Godzilla a horrifying monster was the way the film depicted the human misery in monster's wake in a way that no other monster film had done before and made the Hiroshima/Nagasaki connection all the more potent.
                          I could almost imagine the film working without us ever seeing Godzilla, because those are the most potent images in the film. The people dying, the fires consuming the cities. I remember reviewing the film a year or two ago, and those sequences felt like national therapy of a sort. Yes, we all went through this. God help us, this happened.
                          READ ME AT horror films 101
                          03/28/12 - Feature: Candle Cove
                          03/26/12 - Review: The Maker of Gargoyles (Clark Ashton Smith)
                          03/04/12 - Review: The Video Dead (Robert Scott)

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                          • #14
                            Probably the thing that makes me like this movie so much is the human drama. Though I love all of the others in the series, I can't think of a single one where I became anywhere near as invested in the characters as the first, nor where the characters were as well developed. In the subsequent films, I feel like I'm only waiting for the monsters to resurface. At best the human drama carries its own, and at worst becomes downright cringe-worthy.

                            But the main characters in the original, particularly Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Yamane, carry a gripping and poignant human story along with them. Takashi Shimura is one of the best actors of Japanese cinema (at least within my narrow scope of knowledge) and I still tear up when Serizawa sacrifices himself and Ifukube's beautiful chorus comes in.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Niallist View Post
                              Probably the thing that makes me like this movie so much is the human drama. Though I love all of the others in the series, I can't think of a single one where I became anywhere near as invested in the characters as the first, nor where the characters were as well developed. In the subsequent films, I feel like I'm only waiting for the monsters to resurface. At best the human drama carries its own, and at worst becomes downright cringe-worthy.

                              But the main characters in the original, particularly Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Yamane, carry a gripping and poignant human story along with them. Takashi Shimura is one of the best actors of Japanese cinema (at least within my narrow scope of knowledge) and I still tear up when Serizawa sacrifices himself and Ifukube's beautiful chorus comes in.
                              Wholeheartedly agree with alot of this. And I believe director Ishirô Honda would go on to say that out of all the films he directed, Gojira was indeed his best work. Where the sequels became increasingly more and more geared towards juvenile audiences, the original 1954 film was essentially a monster, disaster, and art movie all rolled into one. Crisp black and white, strong message, transgressive politics, impossible choices, mutable reality, forbidden love and moments of deep visual poetry. All of which played a part in making the film stand out from typical saturday matinee fare that's been mentioned in this thread.

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