Friday, December 3, 2010

REVIEW: Ghidorah

三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦 (San Daikaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen)

Released: 1964

Ishiro Honda

Haruo Nakajima
Katsumi Tezuka
Shoichi Hirose
Yosuke Natsuki

Running time: 92 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

You have to love a movie that features two giant monsters (one a lizard, the other a pterodactyl) fighting it out by bouncing huge boulders off each other's heads. Or one that features a massive caterpillar latching on to the tail of a fire breathing three-headed space monster. Or one that includes miniature twin fairies who can break up assassination attempts, star on TV and sing distress calls to farflung creatures. So what if one movie had all those things? You'd have Ishiro Honda's "Ghidorah" - a goofy, fun-filled romp of a movie that moves from one odd scene to the next. The giant monsters don't even come into the picture until the second half of the film, yet there's still enough strangeness before they do to fill several movies. From an ancient Martian taking over the body of a young princess and forcing her to jump out of a plane before it explodes to insane "scientific" theories about warps in space that can enable a person to safely land on the ground after jumping out of said plane, this is a movie that knows where it stands.

So by calling it "goofy", I'm not trying to denigrate it as a bad movie that doesn't know what it's doing. Honda knows exactly what he's doing - this is pure Saturday afternoon movie house entertainment. The plot is absolutely contrived to lead to a final perfect storm of monster carnage - Ghidorah must battle Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra if it plans to decimate planet Earth in the same manner as it did Mars so many millennia ago. Shortly after Ghidorah lands on Earth (in the form of a giant meteorite that glows and is magnetic), the spirit of an ancient being from Mars arrives to warn the population of its extreme power. The spirit chooses the princess as its corporal entity in order to deliver the message to all of humankind. Newspaper reporters, geologists, detectives and other scientists all get in on the action. Meanwhile, Godzilla and Rodan seem to feel that they need to show their faces again and, since they both have the maturity of a 5 year old, begin to battle each other right away. It's up to Mothra (whose twin fairy handlers had just by happenstance been on local TV) to bring both Godzilla and Rodan together so that they can collaborate to defeat Ghidorah. After all, Mothra tells them, it's their planet too, no matter how much they may not like humans.

While Honda's earlier efforts had a strong focus on the consequences of humanity playing with atomic weapons, "Ghidorah" doesn't seem to care so much about making any kind of wider statement. You could make a case for its moral being about the need for cooperation between different countries when faced with similar threats, but the film is now a full decade beyond the original "Godzilla" and there seems to be little need for a "call to action". This seems to free up the movie to be what it really wants to be - a good old fashioned "give the people what they want" picture. This doesn't mean that Honda has sacrificed any artistic control, though, since the film is chock full of little touches that suggest a careful and deliberate hand was guiding the proceedings from the get-go. The framing of each shot has been thought through and the pacing is effective. Having said that, it actually somewhat benefits from a English dub that never quite matches the speaker's tone with their mannerisms.

This is Godzilla's fifth appearance on film (Mothra's third and Rodan's second), but the first time he is actually of any help to the Japanese people. If he seems a bit peripheral to the main story and not quite as unstoppable as before, he's no less entertaining.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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