Sunday, March 30, 2014

Countdown To Godzilla: Godzilla vs Destoroyah

Original poster for Godzilla vs Destoroyah,which is actually pretty badass...
      Alright, here we are, still 47 days from Gareth Edwards' Godzilla and we're jumping a full 41 years ahead from the last Godzilla film we watched and tonight's subject matter is 1995's Godzilla vs Destoroyah, the final film in the Heisei, or second, series of Godzilla films.  For the record, this series of films do not have Godzilla being the savior of humanity like the later Showa series films.  Godzilla is more like an anti-hero in this series.  Sure, he'll whomp the shit out of another monster, but he'll still obliterate any civilization in his path.
     Okay, so upon watching this movie, it was a bit of a mistake on my part simply because there are characters who came from some of the previous Heisei entries that are present here and I had no idea what they were about, but that's nothing a little research couldn't fix.  Before I elaborate on the plot of this film, I'll fill you in on any missing details.
     There is a character in this film named Miki Saegusa, played by Megumi Odaka, who first debuted in 1989's Godzilla vs Biollante, that has psychic powers that she can use to communicate with or, in extreme cases, control Godzilla.  In 1993's Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, she is a member of G-Force, a special anti-kaiju task force.  An egg is discovered that hatches into a baby Godzillasaurus and Godzilla seeks out this infant due to an unexplained psychic link and while the baby, now named "Baby Godzilla," is frightened of Godzilla at first, Miki convinces him to go with his new adoptive parent and the two creatures find home on a place called Birth Island.  By the time Godzilla vs Destoroyah rolls around, Baby Godzilla has become Godzilla Junior, looking more like Godzilla, only about half his height and with smaller spines.  Much like Godzilla's previous offspring, Minilla (or Minya), Godzilla Junior is a bit nicer than his adoptive father, actually saving Miki at one point in this movie.  Miki has formed a psychic bond with Godzilla Junior and has grown quite fond of Godzilla and Junior, despite her place of employment.  Okay, I think that gets us caught up, so let's move forward.
Godzilla's new look for the film.  Don't worry, it's gratuitous to the plot.
     Okay, so the movie starts out with Miki flying in a G-Force helicopter to find Birth Island a charred smoking rock.  Cut to Hong Kong where an orange glowing Godzilla surfaces in the bay, making the water steam and boil around him and he begins wreaking havoc on the city, spewing orange atomic fire instead of blue.  A G-Force meeting determines that Godzilla's heart is basically a nuclear reactor core that is currently in the process of melting down.  If the core goes critical, the entire world will be wiped out.  Miki grows concerned over the fate of Junior because her powers are fading and she can't get a mental lock on him.  G-Force recruits a scientist that has been working on an oxygen tampering experiment similar to the oxygen destroyer that killed the original Godzilla back in 1954 while using Godzilla Junior to try and lure Godzilla into a convenient location to dispose of him, but in doing so, the scientist accidentally helps create Destoroyah, a mutated Pre-Cambrian life form that came from a soil sample that was effected by the oxygen destroyer back in 1954.  A frantic race against time ensues to not only get rid of the Destoroyah creature, but to make sure that when Godzilla falls in his final battle, the Earth does not fall with him.
Destoroyah (aka Destroyer), one of the most unique Godzilla villains.
     Well, I'll just come right out and say that I liked this movie and I don't think I could truly do it justice without giving some stuff away soooo spoiler alert!  It may sound silly to put said alert on a review for a nearly twenty year old film, but I'm just covering my ass.  I won't go too much into the acting and what have you because the version I watched was dubbed over with English.  Naturally, the voice overs aren't terrible but they aren't great either.  I didn't mind because that's just par for the course with English dubbed Godzilla films and I won't get my manties in a twist over it.
     Let's talk about Destoroyah.  This is one strange motherfucker because first it starts out as very tiny organisms that dissolve all the fish in the aquarium, then evolve into man-sized nightmares that have extendable Xenomorph-style mouths, then to even LARGER versions of that, and THEN they can combine into one Hugh Jazz version capable of shifting from flight form (as shown above) to ground form.  This guy does not fuck around, and why should he with a name like Destoroyah?  Now, in the film, he is referred to as "Destroyer," but from what I heard, Toho could not trademark that name, so they officially named it Destoroyah.  Besides, as James Rolfe pointed out, it's so much more fun to say Destoroyah, especially when you say it with gusto ("DESTOROYAAAAHHHHH!").  I will say this through, the scene where the Special Forces unit is fighting the Destoroyah crabs in the power plant will make you scratch your head and wonder if you're still watching a Godzilla movie because it really does feel like something more along the lines of Aliens or Predator.  I myself loved the practical effects used to bring the crabs to life and wish that we could see more of that in current films.

Godzilla Jr vs Destoroyah's ground form.
     Alright, here's the part of the review that makes me that asshole blabbermouth you always see at the theatre who gives away the ending so if you like what you've read thus far, stop reading and go watch this movie...still here?  Okay.
     With the plot revolving around Godzilla's body falling apart like whenever I try to build shelves for my man cave and the fact this was the final film in the Heisei series, you're probably wondering, "Soooo, Godzilla doesn't make it, does he?"  Well, he doesn't but he does.  This was the final film to be made before making way for an American Godzilla film and since the film went into production around Godzilla's 40th anniversary, Toho decided that it was time to put the big guy down.  This was a huge deal, enough that even CNN did a story on it.  During the final fight with Destoroyah, Godzilla Junior gets beaten to the point of near death.  After an unsuccessful attempt to revive Junior, Godzilla thinks he is dead and goes ballistic, unleashing everything he has on Destoroyah but also triggering his meltdown.  The Special Japanese Defense Forces use freezing weapons on both Godzilla and Destoroyah, smashing Destoroyah to pieces and keeping Godzilla's energy contained enough that the world is saved but Tokyo is now uninhabitable.  To see Godzilla's skin melt away as he lets out one last pitiful roar is actually very sad.  Check it out below.

     In case you're wondering what that ending bit was, the healthier looking version of Godzilla at the end is actually a revitalized Junior, absorbing the old Godzilla's radioactivity (so people can still live in Tokyo) which mutates him into an adult, showing in a not-so-subtle way that even if he is physically gone, Godzilla's legacy will carry on.
     Not really sure what else I can say about this one, aside from I really enjoyed it.  In closing, if you've enjoyed the other ones, Godzilla vs Destoroyah is not one that should be overlooked.  Great fight scenes, some of the best special effects to come out of the Toho films and a surprisingly emotional end, it was the send off that the King Of The Monsters earned.  Check back later as we look at...what?
Aw, shit.
     -The Cynic

Countdown To Godzilla: Dinosaurs Attack Follow-Up

     47 days until Godzilla!  Seems like maybe a couple months ago that we were reading the description for the SDCC12 teaser.  My, how time flies.

     Alright, I know I said I was going to be doing a review of 1984's The Return Of Godzilla, but my searches for a Blu-Ray/DVD copy on Amazon or a working torrent or reliable streaming site featuring the original Japanese cut turned up with empty hands.  So, in lieu of this, we're going to backtrack a bit and retread on the topic of Dinosaurs Attack!

     So, as you probably recall from my earlier blog, I had rather enjoyed DA, despite its absurdity, but questioned whether or not the story would flow better as a graphic novel instead of the rushed format the final issue had.  Well, I pre-ordered the graphic novel and was surprised to find that it was released a week ahead of schedule (so it arrived with my copy of Thor: The Dark World) and when I sat down to read it, it works much better as a graphic novel.  Not only because it breaks any barriers that would've been put up by the individual issues and the ending doesn't feel as rushed, but upon reading it again, the story takes place over a very short time frame so it helps if you read it in one sitting uninterrupted.  If you are wanting to look into DA, read it in this format.

     Now you're thinking, "Really?  You made a new blog just to tell us THAT?"  If that were the case, yeah, I'd be right there with you thinking, "Really clutching at straws there, Cynic."  Nah, the other, more important reason behind this blog is this...

     What you see here is an original retailer pack of Dinosaurs Attack cards from 1988.  A friend of mine, Professor Josh Turner, who is the curator for The Turner Museum Of Natural History in Cleburne, Texas, came into possession of a couple of these boxes from a friend who had a comic shop that unfortunately went under.  His friend was hoping that Prof. Turner would be able to hand out cards to any of the children attending the museum as souvenirs.  However, given the lack of scientific accuracy and the graphic content of the series, Josh decided against the idea and he's not overly keen on the series itself, considering how it vilifies even the most non-vilifiable dinosaurs (like the Hadrosaurs), so he messaged me after I posted my review asking if I'd be interested in having one of these.  Since I enjoyed the comics, I figured it'd be nice to have the cards that spawned them, so we traded my nearly 200 doubles from my Jurassic Park trading cards for a box of these puppies.

     The first picture there shows the full box of 48 packs, each containing five cards, one sticker and a piece of petrified bubble gum.  The gum was petrified back in 1988, so I'd hate to see what it's like now.  Anyway, the second picture is of the promotional poster for retailers to put up in their shop, so it's a nice little add on for the collection.  I wanted a set of the cards to look at and thumb through rather than constantly looking them up online, so my son and I began opening the packs and sorting out the cards and stickers.  By the time we had opened enough packs to make a complete set of 55 cards and 11 stickers, we were so close to making a second complete set that we decided to keep going.  After 41 packets, we stopped because we had enough to make two complete sets of cards and three complete sets of stickers, one set I gave to my son.  I messaged a fellow DA fan asking if he'd be interested in having a set of cards but he said no, so maybe I'll throw the extra set and the doubles up on eBay later this week or something.  If you're only missing one or two of the cards, I might be able to help you round out your set.

     I just wanted to share this little addition to the DA collection and now I feel obligated to get the original 1991 Eclipse comic just to round out the set.  I've got some laundry that needs folding but while I do that, I'm going to watch some material for the next review: the final film in the Heisei Godzilla series and what was intended to be the big guy's last hoorah, 1995's Godzilla vs Destoroyah.

-The Cynic

Friday, March 14, 2014

Countdown To Godzilla: Gojira Review

    Okay, here we are 63 days until Gareth Edwards' Godzilla hits theatres and today we're looking at the movie that started it all: 1954's Gojira.

     Japanese fishing boats begin disappearing near Odo Island, prompting the local shipping company to launch an investigation to try and figure out what happened.  As ships keep disappearing, a few survivors wash up on Odo Island, only to die immediately after, although one says that the ships are being sunk by a monster.  When a group of reporters witness the destruction first hand while investigating on Odo Island, a research team is sent to try and determine what is really going on.  It turns out that the dead sailor was right and a 50 meter tall monster the island elders call "Gojira" (American translation is "Godzilla") is to blame.  More investigation uncovers that Gojira was created by the radiation from nuclear weapons.  Soon, the creature arrives in Tokyo and both the military and Tokyo's residents realize that the creature is as powerful as the nuclear tests that spawned him, putting the fate of their country (and possibly the world) at stake.

Classic image of Gojira/Godzilla wreaking havoc.

     Okay, background!  On August 6th, 1945, the Allied Forces dropped an atomic bomb on the town of Hiroshima, Japan after the United States called for a surrender of Japanese Forces in the last stages of World War II, threatening "prompt and utter destruction" if they didn't.  Three days after Hiroshima was bombed, another Japanese city, Nagasaki, received the same treatment.  Japan would then announce its surrender to the Allied Forces on August 15th and sign the instrument of surrender on September 2nd, thus ending World War II.  Not surprisingly, the horrors of such events have never truly gone away and the events were still fresh in director Ishiro Honda & producer Tomoyuki Tanaka's memories when they began work on Gojira.  The film has a background story as interesting as the film itself, as this was supposed to be a completely different project altogether, but that project fell apart and Toho Studios just said, "Guys, you have production time to use, just make a movie.  Any movie!"  Tanaka had recently read of the Daigo FukuryĆ« Maru (The Lucky Dragon), a fishing boat that had been exposed to radiation by the thermonuclear device test in the Bikini Atoll in March 1st, 1954 and was inspired by the American film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (rightfully so, damn good film) to bring in the monster-movie angle.  Sci-fi novelist Shigeru Kayama wrote the original story while Honda and Takeo Murata wrote the screenplay.  Toho held a contest to determine the name of the monster, the winner being "Gojira," a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale.  I could go on, but we got a movie to review!

Haruo Nakajima (in suit) and Momoko Kochi (Emiko) having fun on the set in 1954.

     Okay, I'll admit it.  I'd never seen this version of the film before, only the American 1956 version Godzilla: King Of The Monsters.  Hell, there's a LOT of the Godzilla movies I still haven't seen.  I had always wanted to see the original Japanese cut of the film but as a kid I was never able to find it.  Just as well, because had I watched this version when I had the VHS of King Of The Monsters, I probably wouldn't appreciate Gojira and its themes as much as I do now.  Most people see Gojira/Godzilla as something of a joke, a goofy cheap effect that does nothing but fight and smash other cheap effects.  These kind of people need to sit down and watch Gojira, as this film is an allegory of the horrors of nuclear testing made by the people who experienced it first hand.  The tone of this film is incredibly serious, treating Gojira's attack as if it were something akin to a natural disaster.  With most of the other Godzilla films, if you see him crashing through a city obliterating civilization, you think to yourself, "Okay, just waiting for the other monster," or, "Look at the effects!  LOL!"  With Gojira, there's that feeling of hope being lost while looking at the burning skyline of Tokyo or as the military's defenses prove to be not even distractions to the creature as the intent was to show the creature as the atomic bomb personified.  This was a tone that would be lost to the series for thirty years until 1984's Return Of Godzilla (or Godzilla: 1985, if you're watching the American version).

This part, a woman holding her children amidst the rampage assuring her children they'll soon be reunited with their father in the afterlife, is especially haunting.
      Now it's hard for me to tell if the actor's performances were good, scene chewing or whatever simply because this is an older film with (presumably) older acting styles and since the version I watched was Japanese audio with English subtitles, I spent more time reading the dialogue rather than taking in the intensity of any performances.  That being said, I found the story flowed well, keeping the audience engaged in the characters enough that you aren't just looking down at your watch waiting for Gojira to arrive.  The creature doesn't reveal itself until about 28 minutes into the film (if I recall correctly) and those 28 minutes are not a chore to sit through.  I do not recall if the love triangle between Emiko, Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) and Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) was in the King Of The Monsters version, but it didn't feel forced here, providing a path to a crucial plot development that could save humanity but destroy it alike.  I also was glad to see that not every person was all for obliterating Gojira on sight (despite the sense it would make).  Emiko's father, Dr. Kyohei Tamane (Takashi Shimura) flat out asks the question, "Instead of simply trying to find ways of killing it, why don't we focus on what's keeping it alive?"  These questions go on unheard, but blame a guy for trying.  Perhaps if he had actually gotten his paleontology right earlier in the film, people would've been more likely to listen (dinosaurs roaming the Earth two million years ago?  What kind of scientist are you?).

Gojira easily working his way through Tokyo's electric defense.
     Background history of the film?  Check.  Acting and character discussion?  Brief, but check, so let's talk effects.  You might think that there wouldn't be much to say about a guy in a suit stepping on miniatures, but you'd be wrong.  Being in the Gojira suit was apparently Hell.  First off, the very first suit that was made was so heavy and stiff that it proved unusable.  Even with the redesigned suit, Nakajima would overheat and become very dehydrated and exhausted, actually passing out at one point.  Even with a valve to drain sweat from the suit, the Gojira suit could only be worn for three minutes to avoid suffocation (makes Mark "Crash" McCreary & John Rosengrant's experiences in the Jurassic Park Velociraptor suits sound downright pleasant).  However, Nakajima must've exuded enough testosterone to throw a Herculian laugh at these setbacks as he continued to portray the creature until he retired in 1972.  At first the idea was tossed around to film Gojira in color, but Toho said "Eff that," because they wanted the nighttime attacks on Tokyo to give Gojira a more frightening and mysterious look, shrouding many of his details in darkness and (in my opinion, anyway) preventing the audience from getting a truly great look at the monster in full detail.  At it turns out, filming in black and white also hid some of the wires used in the effects shots and making it feel less like you're watching a guy in a rubber suit and more like you're seeing the story as it unfolds.

Ogata, Emiko & Serizawa with the device to use against Gojira.
     I'm not saying that I'm doing cartwheels saying that this is the best movie ever, but there's little doubt why fans will swear up, down, left, right and center that this is the best film in the Godzilla series and quite possibly the best kaiju (Japanese for "giant beast") film.  I'm used to this film gaining nothing but praise, so I found it surprising when I learned that upon its initial release in Japan, Gojira was received with rather nasty feedback, accusing the film of cashing in on the misery that their homeland had incurred during World War II as well as the Diago Fukuryu Maru incident, labeling it, as Honda told Tokyo Journal, "Grotesque junk, something that you'd spit up," much like how I've said why I'll never watch World Trade Center.  Despite the initial negativity towards the film, Gojira would go on to win the 1954 Japan Movie Association Award for Special Effects and be nominated for Best Picture, only to lose to Seven Samurai, which, from what I've heard, is nothing to be ashamed of.  Thankfully, as time went on, Japan (and the rest of the world) would grow to appreciate the film more and it reached such popularity that it went on to spawn an astonishing 27 sequels in Japan alone, not to mention the American releases of Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, the 1998 trainwreck by Roland Emmerich & Dean Devlin and, of course, the upcoming Gareth Edwards' version.  The monster's legacy is not limited to film either as there are multiple games, novels and comics sporting the giant monster.

Including a recent arc from IDW featuring a cameo from the 1998 creature, which I still like.  The creature, I mean.  Screw the movie.

     Gojira is one of those movies that its hard to talk about without sounding like you're just parroting what has already been said about it, but at the same time, it's fucking Gojira.  If you consider yourself a kaiju fan in any way, shape or form, go watch this movie as the kaiju genre would be nothing without it.  Perhaps one day I'll watch both this and Godzila: King Of The Monsters to compare the two.
     Well, I hope you enjoyed reading my take on the classic Gojira.  As fun as it would be to pull a Cinemassacre and review every Godzilla film ever made, a) it's been done and b) many of them have a more light hearted tone than what I feel the upcoming film will have.  Check back later as we jump forward thirty years and look at the direct sequel and beginning of the Heisei series, The Return Of Godzilla.

-The Cynic