Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1954)

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Godzilla is remade and cinema history could be made again. From the review I read at The A/V Club, director Gareth Edwards has achieved a Zilla film above anything else since the 1954 original. I’m excited. So much is at stake here; everything since I was six years old and fell in love in the radioactive dinosaur; everything that was at stake and lost with each Godzilla sequel or remake. Sadly, even Toho, the studio that hatched Gigantis, arguably failed at every other film within the respective universe. I remember even as a kid, I was deplored by the direct sequel Godzilla Raids Again.They didn’t even get the roar right! If you lose that then you lose the meaning of Gojira. It was made less than a decade after the original! Let me explain what the original did well, as a prototype, and as a classic piece of cinema.

First of all, the original still holds up well today, because it exhibits foundational film making principles. It’s a horror film, and horror done right; horror, not in the slasher sense, but more akin to Alfred Hitchcock. It is horror, as all horror films should be, in the imagination of the viewer, not in the details of vision. For the first thirty minutes, you don’t see the monster. You see signs of it’s destruction, or even more telling, the reaction of those that do see it’s awesomeness, in the word’s true sense. When you do see it in the first act (and I’ll continue to address the abomination in gender-neutrality, since ascribing sex was done after the classic, and only endears us to “him,” something one doesn’t do towards a terror), the view is fleeting, and partially obstructed (at what Raids Again screwed the pooch). Not only does the 1954 film obscure the antagonist, but also morally-askew characters, like the mad scientist Serizawa. A well arranged shot introduces us to the him through a lattice of beakers, tubes, and Bunson burners; and he stands profile, so we only see him from his eye-patched side. When we initially see his experiments, we only see his fiancée’s face aghast, illuminated by electrical bursts in front of her. This creates a mystery and a foreboding to what they mean to the audience, which is ultimately revealed to be Tokyo’s saving boon. To be short, the 1954 film’s cinematography is superior to many modern films. The A/V Club says this year’s is better.

The story and pacing is done right: a remarkable stunt for a foreign film that spliced American-shot footage into a completely Japanese movie. The cuts are so clean and sets so similar that you’d hardly realize it unless you knew the tricks of film (I almost second-guess myself and believe the Japanese and American versions were shot simultaneously). And instead of eradicating all Japanese dialogue, like most American adaptations, they wisely left much in, creating a feeling that the audience is spectating an almost private national crisis. I’ve never seen this trope used before, and it gave me a new sense of drama. Raids Again adapts every bit of Japanese into Engrish, and although it’s done with clumsy finesse I feel like in some way the story had to be sacrificed. Some dubbing is done in King of the Monsters, but I feel like it changed very little plot.

Raymond Burr does an excellent job at portraying a reporter for a Chicago-based world newspaper. This concept is the most obvious part to be added after principal photography, but it serves as an indeed perfect medium to serve Western audiences. The character’s die-hard resolution to report for the globe, even if it demands his death, inspires duty.

Without relent, the film is somber in a way no horror film has been. On behalf of the deceased, a radio reporter relays a request for national prayer. A choir sings a hymn during the [SPOILER] death of Godzilla [END SPOILER]. Serizawa commits seppuku, as a disgraced samurai would at his failure to serve his master—in this case, science and the love of nature. As a deliberate and direct allegory to weapons of mass destruction, it instructs and pleads with the world what to do in the literal wake and ruin of Fat Man and Little Boy.

I highly recommend a viewing of this movie before seeing the 2014 remake, not to see if they keep to source canon, but to see if a comparable message is present. The old film is heavy, and I expect the new one to be Gareth-gloriousness as was his Monsters (2010), and Bryan Cranston-beauty, as we knew him in Breaking Bad, but to fall short in lasting lessons.

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