Rental Corner: “Godzilla” still powerful since 1954
Before I review the reboot, I figured it would be fair to discuss the original 1954 Godzilla and its American recut. My expectations were very low in this “re-watch” as I didn’t remember much of both cuts aside from the conclusion and some destruction. Well with that said, how well do these two hold up. To be honest, they both do…to an extent.
The original Japanese cut is very much serious with political overtones of weapon testing and themes of when man defies mother nature. It’s interesting to see village folks associate a radioactive creature to their own culture thinking myth over scientific fact. It’s a shame they do go a bit deep in the first half but then it switches over into a message about dealing with two different monsters; man against mother nature and mother nature against man.
This is shown further with a scientific expert that has a deadly weapon that might be the key to stopping Godzilla. The problem is that this is a weapon of ultimate destruction and fears if it gets placed in the wrong hands, it would be a powerful tool that would be used carelessly. Things like this really echoes the after effects of the World War II attacks as we see the true tragedy that strikes the city and its civilians from Godzilla’s rampage. This is more than a monster movie. It’s an allegory for how deadly and tragic war can affect us.
The scenes with Godzilla attacking Tokyo is a marvel in its own right. Its crude but yet something about how it’s staged and the use of models and puppets is mesmerizing. I recall Roger Ebert calling the special effects crude and comparing it to King Kong’s more fluent use of stop motion claiming a 1930s movie having more believable effects. Here is where I beg to differ. King Kong is a far different movie as Godzilla is. And while marvelous, creative and groundbreaking as Kong’s effects were, one must understand these effects were for the time. Even the cuts to Kong’s mechanical head seem off-putting but what holds it together is the effort.
Sure Godzilla is a man in a rubber suit but he is really giving it his all as a real person is near explosions and all sorts of pyrotechnics. Now, which is more putting the effort here? A stop motion creature or a man who has to be near buildings blowing up to the point he could be deaf? You decide.
If I did agree with Ebert on one thing, it’s the ending. After much carnage, things get subtle and quiet as Godzilla’s defeat comes at the same weapon that one professor feared earlier. It’s not a heroic ending where things come out unscathed as one man gives life to bring down a giant monster. Its moving and powerful but maybe a bit too soft. After seeing much destruction, its something that really undermines Godzilla after what damage he can do and is brought down by a simple task.
Even phoned in more is the words of a professor who claims that if more bomb testing is done, more Godzillas would appear. May I remind he is pointing this out after a man sacrificed his life and doesn’t give much comment about that. It still has a haunting tone that will stay with you for a while.
The American recut is a different take. It removes much of the subtle political overtones and instead brings entertainment. Raymound Burr is a reporter caught in the middle of the carnage and gives the film a near documentary style that is unique in its own right. This version goes to great lengths to give the illusion that he is there but yet we can obviously tell when the new scenes come in and when the Japanese cut appears. At least its a better effort than Godzilla 1985 (more on that in the future) and they do try so I’ll give where it is due but wish it was handled better.
Gone is the phoned in message and instead a message of hope is placed. To compare, I miss the message because it gives viewers something to think about. Its a shame much of the debates scenes are axed down and referenced to the Hiroshima bomb are heavily toned down as they would have made a much darker but interesting cut.
Overall, both movies still hold up but I feel the original version is your better bet. At times it does talk about elements on the H-bomb but does it without being too preachy. When Godzilla is on-screen, you feel his dangerous presence which has always been around since he first rose from the sea. Here is hoping that after 60 years of terror and bringing on a franchise that has its huge array for fans, that what we get will honor the king of the monsters at long last.