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Posts Tagged ‘Godzilla Vs Destroyer’

Well, initial reports that Pacific Rim turned out to be a bit of a flop seem to have been somewhat overstated, with the film currently well on its way to turning a healthy profit. Nevertheless, what this means for the future of the Hollywood kaiju movie remains to be seen – I suspect a lot is riding on the success (or otherwise) of next year’s remake of Godzilla.

If we’re talking Japanese-style monster movies then as far as most people are concerned we’re basically talking Godzilla and Toho Studios. For the last ten or twelve years, though, I have felt vaguely guilty simply because my own personal favourites in this genre have emanated from elsewhere: specifically, the Gamera movies made by Daiei in the late 90s. Part of the problem may be that simply getting hold of the more recent Godzilla films is, in the UK, rather challenging: most of the Showa movies made between 1960 and 1975 have had some sort of proper release, but with a few exceptions it’s very hard to track down anything made since the late 80s.

In an attempt to rectify this lamentable gap in my knowledge I sat down and watched one of the mid-90s Godzilla films via the medium of a popular video-sharing website: I know this is ethically dubious, and I do feel a bit guilty, but it did mean watching the film in a dodgy Tamil dub with atrocious subtitling, so I think I paid my penance at the time.

The movie in question was… well, here’s a thing. The Japanese title is Gojira Tai Destoroyah, which is fair enough, it’s Japanese. You would therefore expect the English title to be Godzilla Vs Destroyer, right? But no: apparently it’s still called Godzilla Vs Destoroyah. Apparently this is due to trademarking issues and Toho not being able to copyright ‘Destroyer’ as a monster name. I’m not terribly impressed with ‘Destoroyah’ as a fix for this so-called problem and have half a mind to just call the beastie in the film Destroyer and let the writs fly as they may. I suppose it is just possible there are bigger problems in the modern world.

gvsd

Anyway, Takao Okawara’s movie opens in traditional style with Godzilla rocking up in Hong Kong, intent on some of the usual colossal property damage. But all is not well with the great beast: his usual greenish hue and healthy blue-white aura of Cherenkov radiation have changed to a fierce red-orange and he appears to be giving off colossal amounts of heat. (The image of Godzilla striding through boiling water, his skin glowing like lava, is a striking one.)

The world’s assembled Godzilla experts (I love the fact this film is set in a world where ‘Godzilla expert’ is a respected career) come to the conclusion that Godzilla has developed a heart condition: and as his heart is a nuclear furnace this is potentially bad news for the whole world. If the reaction inside Godzilla continues to escalate out of control, very shortly he will either detonate like a enormous nuke or melt his way through the earth’s crust.

Meanwhile – and, believe it or not, the Godzilla-is-about-to-inadvertently-devastate-the-planet plotline is arguably the B-story for much of the film – digging work in Tokyo bay is disrupted by the discovery of a colony of incredibly ancient organisms from the pre-Cambrian era. The creatures appear to have been mutated by exposure to the Oxygen Destroyer, a fearful weapon deployed in the bay in (and against) the original Godzilla in 1954 (is the Godzilla in this movie the same one or not? I must confess to having lost track). They are rapidly mutating and growing as they do so, posing serious problems for the Japanese defence forces.

The mutant creatures soon coalesce into a single giant monster, which the awe-struck boffins who’ve been prodding the plot along this far realise is the embodiment of the Oxygen Destroyer: hence, they christen it Destroyer (let’s not argue about this).

At this point, credulity goes off on one of those tangents familiar to any viewer of Godzilla’s exploits, as – faced with the unstoppable incarnation of one of the most horrifying weapons ever devised – the Godzilla experts perk up and realise they could potentially use Destroyer to solve their meltdown problem. All they need to do is lure a colossal, dangerously radioactive super-powered dinosaur into the centre of Tokyo where it can battle another even more dangerous monster to the death! What could possibly go wrong?

Well, on one level, this is a fairly standard Godzilla movie from the 90s, as you can see. Godzilla wanders around in the background being vaguely menacing for most of the film, while his final opponent is given an origin story in the foreground. Fair enough, but the thing that should make Godzilla Vs Destroyer distinctive is more apparent from one of its alternate foreign titles, to wit: The Death of Godzilla.

Some historical context for the uninitiated: this movie was made in 1995, at which point Toho had been cranking out Godzilla movies at the rate of one a year for about half a decade. A rest for the big feller was prescribed, as far as Japanese movies were concerned: meanwhile, an American remake was in the early stages of pre-production (ultimately to appear as the reviled Emmerich Godzilla). So this was the first attempt to deliberately and permanently conclude a series of Godzilla movies.

Here is the main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyer: as a regular vehicle for its star, it’s acceptable – but as a grand finale and last hurrah for a screen legend, it’s simply not quite there. There’s an attempt to tie the plot of this film into that of the 1954 original by using stock footage from it and referring to various characters (and it’s always nice to see Takashi Shimura in a film), but it does feel a tiny bit contrived, and the fact remains that the appearance of Destroyer just at the time Godzilla enters his terminal condition is an enormous coincidence.

The nature of Godzilla’s demise is also far from satisfying. It’s never really explained just why Godzilla has gone into meltdown (although I am prepared to admit this may be down to dodgy Tamil subtitles), and it appears to happen off-screen prior to the film’s start. Apparently it’s just one of those things which eventually happens to you if you’re a radioactive mutant super-powered dinosaur. (For all of this, the actual scenes of Godzilla snuffing it are undeniably potent, even though they are instantly undercut by the final shot of the film.)

The movie also suffers from one of the key problems with the Heisei Godzilla films, which is that Godzilla doesn’t really have a consistent characterisation: it’s understandable that Toho wanted to shy away from the jolly superhero version of Godzilla who was firmly in place by the late 60s, but they never quite found a satisfying replacement for this. the result is a series of films in which Godzilla is the star, but also the primary menace. As the former, he has to appear impressive and powerful; as the latter, he has to ultimately be defeated. Needless to say some convoluted plotting results, and Godzilla remains an ambiguous, monolithic figure, difficult to identify with.

I think it would have been a much more resonant conclusion to the series if they had finally resolved this, making Godzilla a much less ambiguously heroic character in his final battle. It would have been relatively straightforward to have Destroyer brutally beat up Baby Godzilla, as happens in the actual film, and for an enraged Godzilla to embark upon a quest for revenge – but for him to have to overstretch his powers in order to defeat Destroyer, with the final meltdown coming as a result of this. This would have the advantage of making Godzilla’s death a heroic self-sacrifice, worthy of such an icon, rather than just something that happens, as is the case in the actual film.

Anyway, decent as this is by the standards of 90s Godzilla movies, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy, the first film of which was also released in 1995. This isn’t to say that the two series have nothing in common – they’re in the same genre, after all, sharing the same influences and reference points. At one point Godzilla Vs Destroyer tips a nod to Aliens in the same way that Gamera: Advent of Legion doffs its hat to Them!, while it looks like Kaneko himself was paying attention to Godzilla’s demise: a scene in which Godzilla is swarmed by multiple small Destroyer-beasts seems to me to directly anticipate an identical sequence in Legion.

Perhaps the main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyer is the sheer weight of significance it is inevitably required to carry: the need to treat Godzilla and his demise with appropriate respect, homage the original movie and its characters, wrap up the Heisei continuity, and include various other necessary elements (ranging from music to some plot devices) doesn’t leave it with much room to be its own movie. At least dealing with a previously-ridiculed character like Gamera gave Kaneko more room to innovate. As it is, Godzilla Vs Destroyer is a workmanlike entry to the series, but it doesn’t come close to hitting the targets it sets for itself.

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