Saturday, August 31, 2019

Silver Screen Stories: The Dark Crystal

With this property's sudden resurgence in interest, I think it's high time I talked in depth about one of my favorite movies of all time, and in my humble opinion, one of the best films ever made.

In December, 1982, a movie quietly released that, while it made money, was not a big financial success, and certainly not a blockbuster hit. And yet, it was arguably the most unique display ever put to film, presenting arguably the most distinctive and inspiring cinematic world ever crafted. This was all done before the age of CGI and cheap movie tricks. This was done with a lot of grueling work and determined effort, led by a mad visionary and his merry gang. That man was Jim Henson, and that movie, was what I (and I believe he) consider to be his master work, The Dark Crystal.

Doing it the hard way. The right way.

Coming off of the raging success and cultural phenomenon that was The Muppet Show, not to mention teaching and inspiring entire generations with his contributions to Sesame Street, Jim Henson was a man suddenly finding himself wielding a certain amount of power and creative capital. With the additional success of his first film (though he didn't direct, a fact he later lamented), 1979's The Muppet Movie, and deciding to end his famous Muppet TV hit after only five seasons, while he felt they were still on top, he was ready to finally realize a project he'd been slowly crafting for years. Jim had always felt, even when he was first doing TV spots in the 60s, and then the early Sesame days on PBS, that puppetry wasn't "just for kids". In fact he was insulted by the notion. He took it not only as an affront, but also as a challenge, to prove that no, in fact, puppetry could be, and should be, for everyone. He realized that in a big way with his smash success, The Muppet Show, a show centered around cute and funny puppets, that aired on "Prime Time" TV, and appealed to people of all ages. He had already proven his point in spades, but to a creative madman like Mr. Henson, that was simply not enough.

He believed that puppetry could evolve. That it could, and should, go even further. And to fully illustrate and actualize his vision, he had just the project in mind. He had been thinking for years, of a story, grand in concept and adventure, set on an entirely alien world, yet embodying incredibly familiar and pertinent elements for we sordid humans here on Earth. Jim was the kind of guy who literally wanted to change the world, and in some small way, I think his most complex, most challenging, and at least as far as I'm concerned, his greatest work, achieved that.

Fantasy made real.

The remarkable thing about The Dark Crystal, is not just that it features (even by today's standards) super complex and advanced puppetry, and animatronic work that for the time was very bleeding edge and groundbreaking. It also isn't the excellent cinematography work or memorable, sweeping score. It isn't even the charming, frightening, and universally excellent characters the story presents. The MOST remarkable thing, if you ask me, is the fact that this movie creates an entirely original, unique, alien world, Earth-like enough to not be jarring, and yet very much not of this world. They didn't skimp when making this movie, even though they made it on a "paltry" budget of $25 million dollars. They squeezed every last drop out of that budget and their production time, and practically broke their backs creating and filming what, as far as I'm concerned, is the most lush, most vivid, most organic, and most fully realized fantasy/sci fi world ever put to film. And all of this while not having a single, regular human character, purely puppetry, animatronics, and a few long-shots of actors for fluid movement.

They went the extra mile and then some, probably in large part because of Jim's drive and obsessiveness to detail. He had a lot of collaboration and help making his dream a reality, but make no mistake, The Dark Crystal was Jim's vision and his baby. He wanted to craft an entirely foreign world, and while the film does feature some beautiful location shots as well, the vast majority of the film features just that: a living, breathing world that they built from scratch. And they didn't do the bare minimum, or even a great job. They did a fantastic job, probably even going overboard in the world-building department. Every rock, every weird alien plant, and curious little creature, from a spooky bog, to a dense jungle, and even soaring mountaintops, are all beautifully crafted and realized. Every single set, from the "Earth Mother" Aughra's mountain observatory, to the rustic Podling village, to the dusty Gelfling ruins, and of course the dark and daunting Crystal Palace, not a single square inch is left unattended. They weren't lazy with even the tiniest, most easily hidable corner of any set. This movie isn't just a water mark for puppetry, animatronics and special effects, it should be required viewing for set design and production as well.

Jen's teacher and father figure, urSu the Mystic.

Kira's family, the people who raised her, the Podlings.

As a child in the 80s, I can rightly say that this was indeed one of the movies I "grew up with". Even in the years before we owned a VCR, this must have played on TV, because I know I saw it several times. I have heard many people say that this movie "scared the shit out of them as a kid". But I honestly did not have that experience, and feel like most who say that are exaggerating. Yes, it has some scary parts, certainly the monster Garthim, which definitely did scare me as a kid a bit. But my memories of this movie are not of being "traumatized", as some hyperbollically claim. Rather, my memories of it are fond, happy ones. This world, and these characters really delighted and inspired kid me, so much so that it became one of my favorite movies of all time, and remains so to this day.

One of the film's many iconic moments.

Story-wise, at its heart, beyond the obvious themes of "Good vs. Evil", things coming full circle, and in a way, redemption, to me, the story is about the two main characters, Gelflings Jen and Kira. Both orphaned at a very young age, because of the Skeksis ordered extermination of their people, neither grew up knowing much at all about themselves or their own culture. In fact, before Fate had them meet as the story unfolds, they each had come to believe they were the very last of their kind. Jen and Kira are awesome to me, beyond just being the movie's heroes. They are also, in a way, "Soul Mates", and they lean on each other and come to each other's aid, throughout the tale once they're together.

Jen is, pragmatically speaking, the central protagonist of the tale, as he is who you meet first, he is the one given a quest by his dying master, and it is technically he who Destiny seems to have tasked with healing the eponymous "Dark Crystal", to save their world. But having grown up sheltered by the wise and gentle Mystics, while he did commendably make his way, alone, to grumpy Aughra's mountain, Jen is largely naive to the greater outside world. It is arguable that without meeting Kira and receiving her aid, he might not have completed his quest. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say, that much like the concept of "Soul Mates", the two of them really do compliment and complete each other in the tale. Jen with his higher learning and sense of purpose, and Kira with her knowledge of the natural world and seemingly endless compassion. They work together from the moment they meet, Kira joining him without a second thought, as if they belonged together, which honestly they did. And ultimately, without spoiling too much, it takes them both to meet their journey's end.

The Gelflings confronted for the first time by a Skeksis.

I've actually covered this film a bit in the past, in the second part of my "Top Favorite Movies" piece. In that article, I somewhat arbitrarily listed it at "Number 10", which isn't really accurate to where it should stand on my list of favorite movies of all time. This is legitimately one of those films that I almost never get tired of. I would likely get sick of seeing it for a bit if I saw it too frequently, but it is one of those movies that I can pop on almost "anytime", and still feel like watching it and enjoy it. Most movies, even many I adore, I have to be in a mood to sit and watch. This is one of those very rare films where that isn't so much the case. Having said that, if I were to "officially" say where this movie belongs on that list, I would at least say the Top Five. It's damn hard to think about pushing out the likes of Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, or The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. But in all honesty, when I really give it serious consideration, this probably belongs as my #3, or even arguably #2, behind only my TOP favorite of all time, the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated The Hobbit.

The Ritual of the Suns.

Seeing as I spoke at length about this movie in that aforementioned article, I think I might as well quote some of what I said there, as I don't mind saying it was pretty decent stuff:

"The ultimate end product, wound up being quite possibly the most dense, organic, living and vibrant fantasy world ever put to film, and that is including all of the massive-budget CGI films of the modern day. With a sweeping, majestic musical score, a dark but endearing story that Henson himself wanted to reflect the original, darker Grimm's Fairy Tales type material, a lot of deep spirituality and philosophy hidden in subtle layers throughout the film's world, and characters that were not only visually stunning and lifelike, but genuinely memorable. I remember seeing this movie as a young child, and having it evoke so many things from me at such a young age: fear, wonder, excitement, inspiration, you name it. I truly don't think this movie gets nearly the recognition it deserves, both for the almost impossible, monumental achievement it's even getting made and coming out like it did represents, but also for just genuinely being an amazing piece of film. And to think that the studios producing this master-work, were going to gimp it and give it minimal advertising, basically sending it out to die, because they "didn't get it". Thankfully, Jim cared so much about his baby, that he bought it back from the studio, and funded it's release himself, just to make sure it got a fair shake."

That last part is absolutely true. Jim not only wanted creative control of his vision, but he also wanted to avoid a situation that many great films (such as Big Trouble in Little China) suffered at the hands of Hollywood. That being the sheer idiocy of a major studio putting millions of dollars into a film, only to effectively "send it out to die" by releasing it at a bad time, and/or giving it next to no actual promotion, ensuring it will fail the box office. And again, while it was no mega-hit, Jim's shrewd and risky move paid off, as the film was a financial success, even if at the same time it somehow also got semi-ignored. It did, of course, go on to become a cult hit on VHS and TV showings, where I first encountered it, as I'm sure many other 80s (and perhaps even 90s) kids did.

Another great thing about this movie was the fantastic art it generated. You can already see some at the top of this article, but here are a few more:

A European poster, I believe.

Simply stunning detail.

Excellent "Good and Evil" contrast.

The simplest, and my personal favorite.

As I'm writing this, a new prequel series on Netflix now exists, and is available to watch. The movie itself has also, to Netflix's credit, been on their streaming service (as well as available to rent physically), for some time now as well. I won't speak too much on the series, though I've watched a few episodes so far, except to say that while it definitely has a few of its details wrong, which I feared, it does seem to have its heart in the right place, and is mostly pretty well done. The biggest criticism I'll lay at it before I move on, is to say, of course, that while the production crew should absolutely be commended for mostly sticking to the style of the original movie, as the vast majority of characters and creatures are still puppetry or animatronics, and there are no human actor characters, I STILL feel the show utilizes FAR too much CGI for my taste. The original masterpiece created an entire living fantasy world without it, I think outside of a few little flourished here and there, this new crew could have and should have as well.

Interestingly enough, this series was technically born out of an idea for a sequel film, called "The Power of the Dark Crystal", which was for decades stuck in what is known as "development hell", where it simply found no backing and gained no real traction. That concept, taking place years after the movie's events, was eventually turned into a twelve issue comic book series, released in 2017, which I still need to read. I had been somewhat excited by the idea of a sequel, and yet, frankly, much like this well-meaning prequel series, while it might have been cool, nothing can ever top, or even truly match, the original.

The one of a kind Aughra.

As far as this man's concerned, The Dark Crystal was and remains a singular cinematic experience, the likes of which had never been done before, and I do not earnestly believe will ever truly be done again. Of all the many incredible things that Jim Henson brought to life over his career, I really do feel like this movie was his "Magnum Opus", and from what I've gathered, Jim felt that way himself. I think he wanted to keep going, to try and do even more and go even further with puppetry, which to a limited effect he tried with the movie "Labyrinth", but while exceptionally well done, it just wasn't on the same level. I don't think any of his other works were, even as great as they were. To me, this movie embodied not only what he worked for and believed in as a creator, but I also feel it embodies Jim Henson the person. As if this movie, more than any other work, is his creative fingerprint. It certainly was his most unique, and probably the hardest thing he ever made. But he loved it, and so do I.

I genuinely feel bad for any person, especially any child, who has never seen this movie. Because I really do believe it is one of those "have to see before you die" type of films. I also think that it's difficult as numbed and jaded adults, to get the fully experience as (sadly) only a child can. My childhood sucked big time in a lot of ways, but I was fortunate in the respect that I got to experience movies like these when I was raw, open, and innocent. And if I had to say that any three words most represented what I feel Jim Henson tried to present to people with his works, it would be those three: raw, open, and innocent. I certainly think that was probably what he wanted to make us "big kids" be able to feel again, even if only for a few fleeting moments.

So as I often say with these pieces, if you've somehow never seen this movie, then please go watch it. If you haven't seen it in a long time? Give it another whirl. And for the love of all that's good and pure in the world, if you happen to have kids, MAKE sure they watch it too. Take care, and brace yourselves for the coming spooky season...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

80s Sci Fi Cult Classics

Most people are aware of the big hits of any given era of film. But much like the contrast between big hit songs on a given album, versus the "deep cuts", the remaining tracks that did not become radio hits, there are far more films that come and go in a given year, let alone a given decade, that sadly for often a combination of reasons (not all said reasons being sensible or fair) do not become big hit films. Some of these do, however, find life later on, and a fanbase, as they eventually come to be appreciated and even loved. These kinds of films are often referred to as "Cult Classics", as to their fans they attain a manner of "Cult" status.

 I wrote an article last year, describing in detail why I feel that one could make a VERY strong argument in favor of the notion that the 1980s were, overall, the single most prolific and successful decade for modern movies. Many other decades produced tons of incredible, even classic films, including the following 1990s. But "pound for pound", the 80s produced more great films, including major hits, in just about any genre you could mention, than any other decade. And along with that, the 80s also produced more than its fair share of "Cult Classics".

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ET.jpg
One of the greatest films ever made.

One of the most popular and prolific genres of the 1980s, was far and away science fiction. You had Star Wars, Star Trek, Back to the Future, Short Circuit, arguably Ghostbusters, and many more. Not the least of which, of course, was Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, which is the first movie I ever saw in theater as a small child.

Those are the movies most people know. Those are the big hits and the ones that made the big bucks, the movies that many consider "defined the decade". Which is a very fair assessment. But there are also the films that are lesser known, that didn't get the big success, yet in many ways are no less classic, and embody their era just as much. It is some of these movies, these "Cult Classics", that we are going to take a look at today.

This movie was my childhood.

Film: The Last Starfighter
Year: 1984
Director: Nick Castle

The Last Starfighter is one of the signature movies from my childhood, meaning that I grew up seeing it on TV, and later recorded on VHS. It appealed to me on many levels, from being a Star Wars esque "space opera" of sorts, to having a lot of quirky, comedic elements. But most importantly, to a kid who gradually fell in love with video games throughout the 1980s, it was a game about a kid who played a video game, and wound up being a real-life hero who saves the galaxy! I seriously doubt there were many 80s kids for whom a story like that would not hold at least SOME appeal.

This seminal 80s flick (as far as I'm concerned), was directed by Nick Castle, a cohort of John Carpenter, who in fact had been the principle actor to portray "The Shape" (Michael Myers) in the original horror hit Halloween. He would go on to have a major hit in the early 90s, with Dennis the Menace, but this was his first directorial taste of success, though it was a modest one at the time. While notable for its plot that centers around a video game, The Last Starfighter was also notable at the time for being one of the early movies, along with Disney's Tron, to make extensive use of computer graphics. In my opinion, the effects would be a lot better looking, and would have aged a lot better, if they had used traditional models effects work, ala Star Wars. But considering the time, the CGI was top quality. 

Teacher and Student.

The story centers around small-town boy, Alex Rogan (played by Lance Guest), a teenager who dreams of going to college in the city, and leaving his dusty trailer park home behind. Unfortunately for him, his girlfriend, Maggie (played by Catherine Mary Stewart), seems afraid of change, and isn't ready to leave their home and her grandmother behind. Frustrated with his boring young life, Alex's one real outlet, is the mysterious arcade game that resides at the park's shop, called "Starfighter". An incredibly (see: unrealistically) advanced game for the mid-80s, it's a first person space shooter, which Alex excels at, one night even beating the game and getting the high score.

What Alex didn't know, is that the game is actually a test, planted there by alien Centauri (played brilliantly by veteran actor Robert Preston. Finding himself approached, and essentially shanghaied, by Centauri, Alex is thrust far across the galaxy, to the headquarters of the Star League, the heroic outfit that he had played as in the arcade game! Centauri invented "Starfighter" to find new recruits for the Star League, making a tidy profit along the way, and Alex just so happens to be his newest find. The only issue is, confronted with the reality of being a REAL Starfighter, and fighting a REAL space war, he balks, and just wants to go back home.

Reach for the stars...

Centauri begrudgingly agrees to take him home, where an android "Beta" has taken his place so no one will know he's gone, but they don't realize that as soon as they left, the evil Kodan Armada launched an attack on the Star League, decimating it. And finding that one of the "Starfighters" has survived, they send an assassin agent to Earth to finish the job. As a kid, the scenes where the drooling monster Zando-Zan try to kill Alex (and his Beta), were truly frightening to me. But suficed to say, Alex realizes how much is at stake, and with his alien trainer Grig (played by Dan O'Herlihy) and one prototype Starfighter ship intact, he now resolves to train and attempt the impossible: taking on the Kodan Armada, as a lone Starfighter, just he and Grig alone. Just like in the arcade game.

It was a modest hit for its time, but as far as I'm concerned, The Last Starfighter is one of the best movies of the entire decade, and one of the best science fiction stories ever put to film.

One of the darkest moviea starring a kid, ever?

Film: Space Raiders
Year: 1983
Director: Howard R. Cohen

This movie is pure Roger Corman, in many key ways. Corman, as a director or producer, had a history of making use of the limited budgets and resources studios would throw his way. He also had a habit of making unplanned films out of extra filming time, old sets, free actors etc., from other movies he'd been working on. A fine example is this, 1983's Space Raiders. Written and directed by Howard R. Cohen, who also made the cult horror spoof Saturday the 14th, this film reused special effects and re-arranged scores from Corman's previous New World Films effort, 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars. If you've seen both movies, you can tell right away that a lot of the "space battle" and starship effects are shared between the two. Taken on that level, yes, this movie was fairly cheaply made. But that is not reason to dismiss it, however, as I'll explain.

Battle Beyond the Stars was a space-opera re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece Seven Samurai, which itself had been remade by Hollywood previously in the 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven. Space Raiders, on the other hand, as the title implies, is a story about a group of space pirates, who wind up accidentally taking on an unwanted child stowaway during one of their raids. Whereas Battle played it fairly straight, you could look at Raiders as something a bit more akin to a dark comedy. Though they share much of the same effects and many music cues, and are both technically "space operas", that is about where the similarities end. And for my money, while Battle is certainly a solid film, Space Raiders is a rare case where the movie made with footage from another, winds up being the better end product.

Just hangin' with the Boys.

The story centers around a group of pirates led by the Space Service colonel turned rogue, Captain C.F. "Hawk" Hawkens. His group make a raid on a storage depot, to steal a space freighter owned by a massive interstellar corporation referred to only as "The Company" (similar to 1979's Alien). When the firefight breaks out, no one notices a 10 year old boy named Peter, who had been playing in the depot, as he tries to escape danger by hiding in the very freighter the pirates are trying to steal. After the stolen freighter rendezvous with the pirate's own ship, the boy is discovered after he emerges from hiding, asking if they would please take him home.

At first, Hawk and company consider ransoming the child, as he's the son of one of The Company's corporate office types. But Hawk later has a change of heart, and promises that he will indeed make sure the kid gets back home safely. The rest of the story plays out both as a dark comedy, and progressively, more and more as a tragedy as well. While none of the crew initially seems to like the kid, and they certainly don't want him around, honoring Hawk's wishes, they go out of their way to protect him regardless, and it ultimately starts costing them their lives.

As far as I'm concerned, if you were unaware that Space Raiders reused effects and music from another movie, you really wouldn't be able to tell. And even so, it doesn't affect the film's story, which I feel is its strength. The core of the movie, is a tale of greedy, ruthless pirates, who wind up caving in to their "human side", trying to protect a child they didn't mean to kidnap. It is both a  heartwarming, as well as in the end, rather sad story. But I love this movie in spite of its warts, and I'd highly recommend it if you want a fun, relatively unknown 80s space movie.

Joe Dante's unheralded gem.

Film: Explorers
Year: 1985
Director: Joe Dante

Fresh off of his surprise 1984 mega-hit, Gremlins, Joe Dante was on top of the world. Or so one would think. Typically, in modern Hollywood, when a director has a massive hit like that, and Gremlins was more than just a hit, much like Ghostbusters it was something of a cultural phenomenon in the 80s, they are given a fair bit of leeway in their next project(s). Because as far as most money-minded Hollywood execs are concerned, if a director has a huge hit, that means they could potentially make MORE huge hits, which equals more money.

In this man's opinion, Explorers could have easily been that next smash hit, but unfortunately, even with his major Gremlins success under his belt, Paramount Pictures still rushed this film into production, and then didn't even allow Dante to completely finish it the way he wanted. Even the final editing was rushed, and then the studio didn't do enough to promote it, putting it out at the worst time, going head to head against the blockbuster Back to the Future. All of that taken into consideration, however, Explorers is still a really great film, and one of many that I somehow missed out on as a kid, but wished I had seen it, because I would have adored it.

The three young Explorers.

The film stars Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, and Jason Presson as a trio of pre-teen boys, attempting the impossible. Ben (Hawke), is the dreamer, an avid reader and watcher of anything science fiction, who daydreams of visiting the stars and having great adventures. As the story starts out, he is having a bizarre dream, centered around him flying over what looks like an enormous technological city, but what actually turns out to be a diagram for a highly advanced microchip. Upon waking, Ben tries his best to make a sketch of the diagram, and briefly wakes his friend Wolfgang (Phoenix), telling him about it. He later gives the diagram to Wolfgang, the son of scientists, who manages to make a real microchip, based on the diagram, which he connects to his father's computer. Along with their new friend, Darren (Presson), they start experimenting with their new discovery, which turns out to be a generator for a very powerful force field, which could conceivably carry them anywhere with zero gravity or inertia, even into space!

With the help of Darren, who happens to be very handy with tolls and building, they use an old abandoned Tilt-a-Whirl car, to craft their own make-shift spaceship. Running their first test drive with the force field, they fly around town, causing more commotion and havoc than they intended to, which brings unwanted government and police attention to their sleepy town, looking for UFOs. They are determined to try again, wiser for the wear, this time taking it to their ultimate destination: space. One of many "kids having crazy adventures on their own" films from the 80s, Explorers is an incredibly entertaining and heartfelt movie, serving as both a perfect slice of the 80s decade, but also as an obvious love letter by Dante himself, to classic science fiction.To me, much like Gremlins, the film has a ton of heart, and this intangible warmth and life to it that the best Joe Dante movies possess. And I would personally rank it as one of his Top 3 films, along with Gremlins and The 'Burbs.

Probably one of the most underrated films of all time.

Film: Enemy Mine
Year: 1985
Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Another movie I remember seeing as a kid. And to a child, not only did I miss out on many of the nuances of the plot, but I also found it to be rather scary, even though I liked it. Enemy Mine is a strange beast, in that it started production with a different director, Richard Loncraine, but he was removed early on, and replaced with German director Wolfgang Petersen, who was fresh off the success of the classic 80s fantasy film, The Neverending Story.

This film would go on to be a box office failure in the United States, but but not only was it one of the movies that proved that films could have a successful second life on the burgeoning home video market, it was also apparently THE first western science fiction film to be shown in Soviet Union theaters. It would up being a big hit over there, as a consequence, which in a way is ironic, considering that you could easily take the plot to be a parallel, in many ways, to the "Cold War" between the US and USSR.

From bitter enemies, to best friends?

While the special effects, sets and soundtrack are all really well done, and the acting is superb, it is the plot that makes Enemy Mine truly stand out in the slew of major sci fi films that came in the wake of Star Wars. As stated, there is a (Hot and) "Cold War" going on in the late 21st century, when humans have managed to make it out into deep space, and are colonizing other worlds. Unfortunately, another, more reptilian alien race, the Dracs, also has claim to some of those worlds, as the human "Bilateral Terran Alliance" (BTA for short) keeps pushing into their territories. And as these things tend to happen, instead of peaceful talks, war breaks out instead.

One particular BTA fighter pilot, Willis "Will" Davidge, winds up in a skirmish with some Drac ships, and crazed for vengeance after they shoot down some of his own, Will and his co-pilot Joey, chase a hit Drac ship down into the atmosphere of an unknown world. Their ship becomes damaged by the flying wreckage of the Drac ship, and both ships wind up crash landing on the surface. Joey sadly dies from injuries, and Davidge is left alone on a strange planet, with one hostile co-habitant. Finding the Drac ship remains, he learns that the Drac is still alive, and he initially tries to kill it, before later trying to steal some of its food, as he has none of his own. He gets caught, easily, and becomes the Dracs' prisoner, though they are quickly forced by a meteor shower and other circumstances brought on by this inhospitable planet, to work together for mutual survival.

Jerry and Davige's "son".

And that of course is where the story really shines. Forced to live together, alone, on this mostly barren rock, Davidge and Jeriba Shigan, who come to call each other "Da-Witch" and "Jerry" respectively, their relationship evolves over time. They go from being bitter enemies turned reluctant allies, to later coming to learn each other's language, and in Davidge's case, he even starts learning to read the Drac holy book. Jerry eventually becomes pregnant, as Dracs are asexual beings, and he eventually winds up dying in childbirth, leaving Jerry alone to raise a baby Drac, whom he names Zammis according to Jerry's wishes, all on his own.

I already feel like I gave away too much of the plot, if you've never seen it, but it really is a great, bittersweet story. The message that even bitter enemies can become friends, and that our "enemies" are not always as evil as we imagine them to be, and that there is always another way, are really heartfelt, and come across organically (not forced) in the course of the story. Plus they still ring true to this day. If you've never seen Enemy Mine, do yourself a favor and see it, as I think it's one of the most well done, and unique, sci fi films ever made.

Probably my favorite 80s sci fi film.

Film: Flight of the Navigator
Year: 1986
Director: Randal Kleiser

Outside of E.T. and Return of the Jedi, and of course The Last Starfighter, this was probably my top favorite sci fi film as a kid. And it's not hard to see why. Co-produced by Disney and Producers Sales Organization (snappy name, eh?), this is another film that is both VERY 80s, but also very unique. I don't think I've ever seen another movie or story quite like it, which to me is a good thing! It was directed by Randal Kleiser, who had previous success with Grease and The Blue Lagoon, and would go on to have future hits like White Fang and Honey I Blew Up the Kid.

The movie centers around a 12 year old boy, David Freeman, and his inexplicable disappearance, and reappearance. Traveling through the woods on a 4th of July night, in 1978, he and his dog are supposed to meet his bratty little brother, Jeff, to bring him home. Jeff jumps out from behind a tree, scaring David, and runs off, but before David can give chase, his dog runs off too, having found something. There seems to be something at the bottom of a creepy ravine, and trying to get a better look, David winds up falling in, becoming knocked out. He later wakes up, not knowing how long he's been out, and climbs back out, making his way home. But upon reaching his family's house, he finds that it is occupied instead by an elderly couple he doesn't recognize.

David and Max.

As he soon discovers from the police, it is now 1986, and he's been missing (and even believed dead), for 8 years. The police track down where his family now lives, and he is forced to come to grips with the fact that his parents are older, and his bratty little brother is now a mature 16 year old. The whole world has grown up around him, while he remains 12, and has missed out on 8 years of big changes. He agrees to be observed by NASA for what is supposed to only be 48 hours, and during their tests, they discover that for some reason, his brain waves carry unknown star charts, and various other information. He learns that they want to keep him longer, to learn more about this enigma, but just in the nick of time, he is also contacted by a telepathic voice in his head, who sends a robotic NASA courier to smuggle him to a remote hanger.

In the hanger, of course, is a strange UFO, with smooth, seamless features, that open up a door for David to enter. Inside, he meets "Max", a nickname he gives the sentient "Trimaxian Drone Ship", who it turns out, is the cause of his current predicament. As it turns out, Max had taken David as a specimen on his travels from the planet Phaelon. While studying David, they discovered that humans (allegedly) only use so much of their own brain capacity, so as an experiment, they filled his mind with information, including star charts, to see what would happen. Max brought David back home, but because of "Time Dilation", the round trip took 8 Earth years. And after dropping David back off, while looking at some flowers (yes, really), Max crashed into a power lines, and was captured by NASA.

"Max" from the outside, sleek as hell.

Because Max's memory was damaged in the crash, to be able to return his other specimens and get home, he needs the star charts that reside in David's mind. But first, they need to escape NASA together, and for that, Max needs David's help. They wind up going on wild adventures together, with much hilarity ensuing, but ultimately, David realizes that he is in the wrong time, and doesn't belong here. Plus he knows NASA will probably never leave him alone. So instead, though it is dangerous, he asks Max to take him back to 1978, when he was first picked up.

As a kid, I adored this film, and still do. It's a lot of fun, in no small part because of Paul Reubens voice acting as Max. Fresh off of his formal introduction to the world as Pee Wee Herman, in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Reubens brings some of that same manic energy (and even a bit of the same voice), due to Max's circuits being scrambled. Young child actor Joey Cramer also does a great job as David, and has a great chemistry with Max, who keep in mind is mainly represented by a robotic eye-stalk. But it also didn't help that ship is filled with several small alien creatures, which being a "Monster Kid", appealed to me greatly.

As I've said with pretty much all of these, if you've never seen Flight of the Navigator, do yourself a favor and watch it. It's a hell of a fun ride, it's funny, and it's an entertaining sci fi story to boot.


Before I go, here are some honorable mentions for lesser known 80s sci fi flicks:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai
Flash Gordon
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
The Ice Pirates
Invaders From Mars (remake)
They Live

Well that's it for now, though I may return in the future to do some other 80s genre "Cult Classics". Make sure to watch these movies if you haven't, and I'll see you next time!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Classic Songs: The Unforgiven

Almost literally six years ago today, I wrote what accidentally wound up a one-off piece in my collection of article "sub-series" here on Retro Revelations. I typically write about movies, cartoons/animation, or video games the most often. Once in awhile I'll throw out a bit on comics or toys or something like that. But this time, pressed for time and wanting something I could just talk about fairly quickly, I decided to write an article about music. For the record, I had fully intended this to also be an ongoing sub-series, but for whatever reasons over these many years since, I've just never gotten back to it, till today. And ironically enough, it's largely for the same basic reason: I'm pressed for time to get a June article out, and wanted something I could write a "simpler" piece about.

The original "Classic Songs" article, was about what is basically my favorite song of all time, "Dust in the Wind" by the progressive rock band Kansas. That song is a timeless masterpiece, and in my mind one of the very best songs written, in any era, period. The song I'm here today to talk about, I would also personally include in that company, as I also feel that it is one of the best written, most emotionally powerful songs ever made. It just so happens that the band who made it, Metallica, is my favorite band of all time. But it also just so happens, that while I love and adore "Dust in the Wind", the song "The Unforgiven", for me, carries a lot more personal weight and meaning.

A band that would come to mean a whole lot to me in my teens.

For a bit of personal background, as I've mentioned in past articles, my childhood was not an easy one. In point of fact, it was fairly dark and lonely in a lot of ways. When my grandmother passed away when I was nearly 14 years old, in the fall of 1995, I felt at the time, like I was finally "free", meaning that I no longer had to live under her far too often very controlling, and sometimes downright scary proverbial thumb. I was not explicitly glad that she died, by any means. But I was glad that, in my mind, I was finally free to, within the limits of a young teen boy, live how I wanted, without having to walk on eggshells and constantly live up to the demands or expectations of someone else. In that, I was partially right. I certainly was more free from age 14 onward than I had ever been beforehand. And I never quite had to live under anyone's direct, overbearing control again. But that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that my teen years wound up being as fun and fancy free as I naively thought they would be at the time.

Unfortunately for yours truly, while free from my grandmother, and allowed far more autonomy and agency in my young life as a result, my teen years would bring with them brand new flavors of struggle and suffering. As a child, and especially as a pre-teen, I had to deal with abuse, and fear, and psychological warfare, and loneliness, and frustration, and anger, etc. But during those young years, most of that came from one source. As I drifted further into my teens, and more specifically once I started high school in the fall of 1996, as many teens discover, no matter how good and stable their home life may be, the world began to shift for me quite a bit. I spent most of my childhood, and even junior high school, being home-schooled. I voluntarily chose to go to public high school, because I earnestly wanted to give it a try, but also because I wanted to go to the same school as my friend Brandon. I had sugarplum visions dancing in my 14 year old mind, of us super-best-pals having a bunch of classes together, and how totally sweet that was going to be. Not only did that not happen (we had exactly zero classes together), but as I would gradually come to learn the hardest way possible, I honestly should have kept my ass back in home-school.

Such a classic, ominous album cover.

My freshman year was somewhat rough, but manageable. I was merely a somewhat "nerdy" (though I didn't really look the part) social outcast, who didn't have much in the way of in-school friends. Though I did have a couple I had made, in addition to actual friends who didn't go to my school, like Harold. But for one thing, my pal Brandon, who at the time I was very close with, had to move out of state half-way through the year, around Christmas in fact, due to his dad's work. And during the spring semester, while nothing major happened socially at school, my home life started getting worse, and I had my first real drama with a girl I liked. Sufficed to say, the pain and anger that already existed in me from my childhood and pre-teen years, those fires began getting stoked towards the end of my Freshman year of high school. If I had been smarter, I would have chosen to go back to home school after that. But instead, for no especially good reason at all, I decided to stick it out, which I would come to regret immensely.

But one positive that did stick out during that latter part of my Freshman year, was that a school friend let me borrow Metallica's self-titled album "Metallica", otherwise known by fans and music aficionados as "The Black Album" (a play on the 1968 Beatles self-titled "White Album"). I had heard Metallica before, at least their biggest hit "Enter Sandman", and likely a couple of songs from their 1996 album "Load", such as "Until It Sleeps" and "Hero of the Day", on the radio. But I had yet to get super into them, or heavy metal in general. That all rapidly changed when I started listening to "The Black Album", as it instantly became, at the time, my favorite album ever.

To be fair, it's an epic work, with so many truly great songs. But on a more personal level, I felt like in my teen years it became something of a "Bible" to me, especially at age 15/16. So many of the songs really spoke to me, and resonated with me, about my life, about my own feelings and growing darkness within. I found that the fury and anger that a lot of heavy metal music possesses, I could not only relate to, but it also served to (at least temporarily) sooth the fury and anger I felt in myself. Songs like "Sad But True", "Holier Than Thou", "Wherever I May Roam", and even the beautiful ballad "Nothing Else Matters", really affected teenage me. But no song resonated with me more, for all the right AND wrong reasons, for all the most awesome, and most sad reasons, than "The Unforgiven".

"So I Dub Thee Unforgiven"

As for the song itself, while it bears no lyrical connection, both the title and the opening (reversed) horn in the song, are from the 1960 film The Unforgiven, a western which starred Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. The song also starts out with a haunting, melancholy acoustic riff, that does carry a bit of "western" flavor. But then just when that opening has set the mood, the chorus storms in with a heaviness that absolutely belies the anger, frustration and bitterness that the song's character feels. Lyrically, the song tells the story of an unnamed boy, who is someone constantly being manipulated and controlled and oppressed/suppressed as he grows up. A child who doesn't get to be the person he wants or do the things or live the life he wants to, as he grows into a man.

Even if you 're unfamiliar with the song, knowing what little details I've shared about my own childhood, I'd imagine you can easily see how this song "spoke" to me. In a lot of mostly sad ways, it really felt like the song was telling the story of my own life. A feeling that I'm sure many who have heard it and cherished it over the years have shared. The song's verses are fairly heavy and angry, while the chorus is an alternately light and mournful refrain. James Hetfield, the frontman/singer and main lyricist of Metallica, did this deliberately, as he wanted to make a "ballad" that was against type (many rock/metal ballads, especially Metallica's, had soft verses and a heavy chorus). And on an emotional level, it is super effective, as the shift in tones from the angry verses to the lamenting chorus, really do help tell the song's story.

The story of a man who has struggled his entire life to be who he wants to be, while outside forces constantly try to subdue him and "keep him in line". Ultimately, he grows up to become what sadly far too many children in modern society do: hollow shells of their childhood selves, bitter and burnt out from being told to "grow up" and cast aside their dreams and passions. As an old man, the song's protagonist is too tired to struggle anymore, and he quietly, pitifully gives up and dies. Certainly not happy subject matter, but it wasn't meant to be. And given the progressive nature of the song's story, going from childhood to young adulthood, to middle age and finally old age and death, it is something that people of any age can relate to and identify with, even if for sad, shitty life reasons.

From left to right: Jason Newsted, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, and James Hetfield.

As a complete entity, "The Unforgiven", to me, is a fairly perfect song. It "fires on all cylinders," so to speak, and it really does hit all the right notes. both literally and figuratively. It has a perfect mix of heaviness and softness. It has an emotional resonance in the smooth marriage of instrumentals and lyrics, that both feels genuine, and is so easy to resonate with. It has a very strong storytelling quality, it's a song with a definitive story to tell, not just a bunch of slapped together lyrics that happen to rhyme. That is, as an aside, something I feel James Hetfield got better and better at as he got older, was being a storyteller with his lyrics. Instrumentally speaking, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, with the prompting of producer Bob Rock, was pushed to record arguably his best solo for this song. Most of Hammett's solos, and to be perfectly fair, most of ALL rock/metal solos, are more or less just the musician showing off, shredding and noodling their way through something that more often than not, doesn't actually fit the context or story of the song much. But Kirk's solo on "The Unforgiven" is near flawless, in both its execution, but also it fully fits the story and tone of the song, and feels like it actually adds to the song, instead of just being part of it.

Metallica would actually go on to make two "sequel" songs to this. The first, coming two albums later, on 1997's "ReLoad", was "Unforgiven II". Musically it was purposefully this song's opposite, starting with a heavier intro, and then sliding into softer verses, then picking up the heaviness again for the chorus. Lyrically, it was more of a love song, speaking more about the struggles within a relationship, though ultimately being a bit more hopeful than the original song's rather dire story. It even borrowed a few similar lyrical refrains, which I felt was a nice touch. Then many years later, on 2008's "Death Magnetic", they did "Unforgiven III". This song has a similar heavy verse, softer chorus vibe to the original, but it starts out with a very nice symphonic bit, led by melancholy piano. Lyrically, "Unforgiven III" tells more of a metaphorical story, of a man "lost at sea", lost in his own life, always out searching for that elusive "gold", while ignoring the perils and details of his real life. I like both songs a lot, though I like U3 better. In fact it's my favorite song off of "Death Magnetic". But I'll always love the original the most.

Metallica live.

Ultimately, as I foreshadowed, my choice to remain in public high school for my Sophomore year, was a massive and even tragic mistake on my part. My personal home life, and strained relationship with a mother who hadn't raised me, continued to get progressively worse, especially as 1997 turned into 1998. And at school, in some kind of teenage way to reflect my shitty life, and how it made me feel inside, I started wearing mostly all black, and eventually even got a (pretty sweet) London Fog trench coat, and black boots, and started painting my nails black sometimes, etc. In other words, while I was more of a "metal kid", for whatever that's worth, I still made the social mistake of gravitating towards the resident "Goth kids" at school, who I naively thought might be "my people" and would understand me, etc. Not only did that turn out to not really be true, but looking even mildly (and trust me it was mild by comparison) "Goth", wound up earning me a completely undeserved shit-ton of harassment and straight up bullying, on what would become a near-daily basis. I found no peace at school, no peace at home, and often enough even just being out walking in public, or somewhere like downtown or the mall, I would even find myself the victim of harassment purely over my vaguely "Goth" looks. Once someone even threw a full "Big Gulp" cup from 7-11 at me while I was walking somewhere.

It was a really brutal, painful, and difficult time in my young life, being only 16 by then, and even after I made the wise decision to (finally) go back to home school for my Junior year, the rest of my teens were still no picnic. I dealt with a lot of anger and bitterness and loneliness and depression. I was often suicidal, or at least thought quite a lot about dying. And one of the only things that helped me on any meaningful level, not friends, certainly not "family", was music. And more than any other band or artist, Metallica's music helped me quite a lot. It helped me deal with all the bullshit and pain, it gave me some small kind of outlet. It helped me to get by, to survive. And perhaps no song helped me, or certainly spoke to me more, than "The Unforgiven". Not to be too much of a bummer, but I'm sorry to report that even in my now basically late 30s, the song's story still resonates with me far too much. But I am still bound and determined, as I was as a headstrong teenager, to not let the song's final verse and ending, be mine. One of these days, hopefully sooner than later (it's been too long coming), I am hopeful that my life will finally fully diverge from the song's path. But I guess until that day finally comes, as far as "songs that tell my life story", I could do a hell of a lot worse.


Whether you've heard the song before or haven't, I'll leave you with the lyrics, and a link to the song itself.

New blood joins this Earth,
And quickly he's subdued.
Through constant pained disgrace,

The young boy learns their rules.

With time the child draws in,
This whipping boy done wrong.
Deprived of all his thoughts, 

The young man struggles on and on, he's known.
A vow unto his own, that never from this day,

His will they'll take away.

They dedicate their lives,
To running all of his.
He tries to please them all,
This bitter man he is.

Throughout his life the same,
He's battled constantly.
This fight he cannot win,
A tired man they see no longer cares.
The old man then prepares,

To die regretfully.
That old man there is me.

What I've felt, what I've known,
Never shine through in what I've shown.

Never be, never see,
Won't see what might have been.

What I've felt, what I've known,
Never shine through in what I've shown.
Never free, never me,
So I dub thee Unforgiven.

You label me, so I'll label you,
And I dub thee Unforgiven.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Godzilla Chronicles: Son of Godzilla

It's time once again, for another installment of the Godzilla Chronicles! Last time around, I talked about what was very possibly the first Godzilla film I ever saw, and one of my top personal favorites: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, also known as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep! That film was directed by one Jun Fukuda, and he would go on to direct the following installment in the series, and the subject of today's article, Son of Godzilla. He would later have a second stretch as the main Godzilla director in the 70s, for three future movies.

This mid-60s period represented a slight change in the "Godzilla Team" at Toho Studios. The creator of Godzilla and "Suitmation" in general, and Toho's top special effects man, Eiji Tsuburaya, had started his own company, Tsuburaya Productions, who made "Tokusatsu" or special effects shows for television, aimed at younger audiences. Their first creations were a trilogy of shows with the "Ultra" heading, starting with Ultra Q in 1965, and being followed by the more famous Ultraman and Ultra 7 in 1966 and 1967. The basis of these shows, was largely similar to the sci-fi and monster fare that he had worked on for Toho for years, dealing with strange occurrences and giant monster battles. Ultraman would of course go on to become a long-running franchise of its own, long after Tsuburaya's death. Meanwhile, while he still supervised the special effects for Sea Monster and Son, Tsuburaya was stepping away from being THE special effects guy at Toho, leaving it to younger men who he had trained.

Godzilla looks much more bad ass in this art than he does in the film.

For his part, frequent Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube didn't do the scores for Sea Monster or Son either. He did, however, continue working with Godzilla godfather, director Ishiro Honda, on the 1966 and '67 films War of the Gargantuas, and King Kong Escapes. Ishiro Honda himself during these years was taking a break from the series, though clearly he didn't stop making monster movies. Gargantuas was a follow-up to the bizarre but great Frankenstein Conquers the World (aka Frankenstein vs. Baragon), from 1965. And Escapes of course, saw Toho once again making use of the American King Kong license, this time in his own independent film, which itself was a loose spin-off of the Rankin-Bass produced cartoon The King Kong Show. Escapes featured on similarity with Son specifically, that I'll get into a bit later. Honda and Ifukube would both return to the series in 1968, in what at the time was somewhat intended to be the final bow for the Godzilla franchise, Destroy All Monsters.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla share many similarities, which I doubt are fully coincidence. For one thing, they both feature smaller scale stories, which take place on islands, moving away from the more epic, world-saving nature of Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). The tone and style of the films was also distinctly different from Honda's films, having a somewhat lighter, more "fun" atmosphere to them. Part of this was due to lighter, more contemporary "60s" sounding scores, by composer Masaru Sato. It was also partly the subject matter of the stories, moving away from monsters invading Japan or alien attempts at conquest. Sea Monster was clearly inspired by James Bond in tone, dealing with a secret terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Son of Godzilla dealt with something as simple as a scientific weather experiment, which I'll elaborate on momentarily.

Derp Sr.

Derp Jr.

But first, the proverbial elephant in the room, needs to be addressed. In my opinion, Son of Godzilla features the worst Godzilla suit in original Showa series, and arguably the entire franchise, by far. Mainly on account of how absolutely silly and, to be non-Politically Correct for a moment, "half-retarded", they made poor Godzilla's face look in this. Tsuburaya Productions had co-opted the previous Godzilla suit, my personal favorite, used in Monster Zero and Sea Monster, and repurposed it as a new monster for Ultraman. And whoever designed the face of this new suit, thankfully only used for this one film, should have been slapped. Subsequently, the design, especially the face, for King Kong in his own '67 film Escapes, looked equally "Derpy", with goofy eyes and a dumb-as-fuck, snaggle-toothed mouth. Something was going on in 1967 at Toho Studios, and I'm not sure I want to know what.

The titular "Son" of Godzilla, who would later be referred to both as Minya and Minilla (depending on versions of the movies), also happens to look extraordinarily goofy, and also "half-retarded". But that is a bit more acceptable, considering he's supposed to be a "cute", goofy, clumsy child-monster, who is also the film's comedy relief. In general, in the mid-60s, Toho was moving the Godzilla series away from its scary "monster smashes everything" roots, and more towards a "monster smashes some things, but means well" tone. Godzilla was making the transition from force of nature sent to remind arrogant humans who's boss, to more of a "heroic" character who defended the Earth from threats other than mankind. But for the love of God, why did they design his face in this to look SO stupid? Mind you, I don't HATE it. But it still doesn't look good, at all. And I WOULD have told you it was possibly the worst look for Godzilla ever, that is, before 2016's "Shin Godzilla" came out. THAT thing, which I refuse to call "Godzilla", is the worst/dumbest looking thing Toho has ever created. So "Musuko-Goji"? You're off the hook, bro.

You can't make an omelet...

So back to the actual film itself. Son of Godzilla, previously stated, features a fairly small-scale plot, centering around a team of scientists who are carrying out top-secret, but hardly sinister experiments on a remote island. The island, called Solgell Island, is the chosen location of the Japanese government, to carry out weather-manipulating experiments, in the hopes of improving agriculture for a growing world population. These experiments were going alright, until the day that a stereotypically nosy ass and "do anything for a story" reporter comes to the island. If you ask me, getting that big "scoop" is certainly not worth having yourself transported all the way to some remote island, just to snoop around a team of scientists. But that reporter would learn a thing or two, as not long after his arrival, the creatures that you see pictured above, gigantic praying mantises called "Kamacuras" show up, and start wreaking havoc with the camp.

Not only that, but they also manage to unearth a giant egg (though not quite Mothra giant), which they immediately start attacking, trying to make themselves the world's largest omelet. And thus enter Godzilla, who I suppose has some kind of mystical Sixth Sense about his kid being in trouble, because he hauls ass out of nowhere, swimming to the island just in time to save the "so ugly he's cute" Baby G from certain doom. Now, Godzilla fighting giant bugs, especially ones that are significantly smaller than him, isn't exactly threatening, nor does it make for terribly long fight scenes. That is something else that Sea Monster and Son have in common, aside from tone and taking place on islands: the fact that Godzilla faces, shall we say, a lesser caliber of opponent. But at least with Sea Monster, the titular creature, Ebirah the giant lobster is huge, about as big as the Big G himself, and in those fights, Ebirah arguably had the advantage of being a natural sea creature. Seeing Godzilla trash big mantises with little trouble is funny, but also sad. But as the audience will soon learn, this film isn't really about Godzilla and him fighting things.

Teaching the boy how to breath thermonuclear radiation.

A dad's work is never really done.

The actual meat and potatoes, so to speak, of Son of Godzilla, as I myself would learn when first watching it as a teenage rental, is all in the title of the film. It's centered around the alleged "son" of Godzilla, and the relationship between him and pops. Godzilla, at least at first, is full of what is generally referred to as "tough love", and even smacks the kid around a little, trying to teach him the hard way how to be a proper rompin', stompin', rampaging giant monster. The little guy has trouble from the outset, living up to Big G's legend. For one thing, he can't breath radioactive flaming breath worth a single shit, instead puffing out embarrassing "smoke rings". It turns out that little Minilla can't roar worth a damn as well, instead emitting what can best be described as goofy ass "donkey noises". He also, all in all, just isn't that tough, as it turns out even infant Godzillas are kinda weak. Godzilla eventually manages to get the kid, who also doesn't like fighting, to pops' dismay, to confront the bully mantises that were gonna fry him for dinner, and he does manage to turn the tables on them. With some help from dad, of course.

One thing of note to mention, is the very nature of Minilla himself. Where did he come from? Is he truly a baby Godzilla? Is he actually related to Godzilla, much less his actual son? None of this is ever really addressed, here or elsewhere. But it is generally accepted by most fans that yes, Baby G is in fact Big G's kid. Which of course lends itself to more questions, such as where is Mama G then? One possible answer I came up with for this, years ago, is the idea that most of these super-gigantic monsters, are so big and so terrible, that perhaps they simply don't reproduce much. And I thought, what if many of them, even Godzilla, similar to Mothra, are technically "Asexual" in the sense that they simple lay an egg when it's time, by themselves. In that way, Godzilla "gives birth" to the next Godzilla, eventually. An extention of this private theory of mine, led to the idea that the Godzilla we see in the rest of the Showa films, past the first where the original Godzilla dies, must be the "Son" of that Godzilla. And thus maybe Minilla is the "Son" of THAT Godzilla. Which led to the more disconnected private fancy, that maybe the Godzilla featured in the Hesei era films, is actually Minilla grown up (with a radically different disposition no less). And thus maybe "Godzilla Jr." that shows up in the Hesei series, grows up to be the Godzilla featured in the totally-disconnected 2000s "Millennium" movies.  The idea doesn't quite work, of course, but it's still a neat idea.

Cue hawt island jungle girl.

Much like Sea Monster, Son also features a cute but tough island girl, though this time around the "island girl" is actually a Japanese girl named Saeko, whose scientist father had died on Solgell Island years before the research team showed up. At first hiding from the team, and nosy reporter Goro, she eventually reveals herself to them after trying to steal their clothes, and later still, she helps them by letting them stay in her cave after Godzilla careless steps all over their camp. Ultimately, she even winds up saving their lives, as the entire science team conveniently falls victim to a tropical illness, one which she knows the cure for. Unfortunately for everyone involved, even the Godzillas, in procuring said cure, she and Goro also accidentally wake up the island's true secret terror.

Spiders are scary, even to giant monsters!

While the Kamacuras are certainly a minor threat, at least to Godzilla Jr., they are not the true villain of the movie. As it turns out in the final act, the TRUE threat of Solgell Island, is ginormous, scary ass spider called Kumonga. It seems ol' Kumi had been sleeping, hidden under dirt and rock, for who knows how long. When the human kids woke his ass up, he was both grumpy, and hungry, so he wanted some human snacks. The girl, Saeko, who had formed a bond with Little G, feeding him fruit and such, managed to call to him when they were in trouble, and so he and his dad came stomping in. It was then that Kumonga realized he had a much bigger dinner available, and went to work.

Unlike the mantises, a giant spider actually proved to be a problem for Godzilla. It spews webbing, very similar to larva Mothra's cocoon silk, which has the same basic effect on Godzilla (and son). Being very stick, it somewhat immobilizes him, giving Kumonga the advantage. But of course, SPOILERS, in the end, with a bit of his son's help no less, the Big G manages to trash the spider, and all is well. Or is it?

Baby it's cold outside.

Major SPOILERS here, but in the end, the science team's experiments are too much of a success, creating an extreme winter on the island, which the team themselves must escape from. As for Godzilla and Son, they just kinda huddle up, and prepare to go into hibernation, I guess, turning into a lovely winter yard ornament. If I had been able to see this movie as a kid, this ending would have been, to me, extremely sad, and would have left me unsatisfied with the movie as a whole. Because as a kid, I took everything in movies at face value. Hell, 9 year old me took a film like Plan 9 From Outer Space dead serious.

Speaking of which, as I mentioned earlier in the article,  I didn't get to see this movie until my teens. I'm pretty sure that it was one of a handful of Showa Era G-films that didn't play on TNT's MonsterVision, or wasn't available on VHS at the local Wal-Mart, that I later rented in my teens. Others of this nature would include Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. As for Son of Godzilla, I'm sure when I first saw it, given my disposition in my teens especially, while I didn't HATE it, I probably wasn't terribly impressed. To be honest, this is one of the weaker Showa films. Godzilla's look is uncharacteristically goofball, the plot is arguably thin (by kaiju film standards), and the enemy monsters, while cool looking, aren't very threatening.This is a movie, while I wouldn't have loved the ending, that I wish I had seen as a kid instead.

In fact I wish I had been able to see ALL of the Showa Era Toho monster movies as a kid (probably not Matango), because not only was that 9-13 year old era my most fanatical when it came to Godzilla. But in general, kids are just more open and experience everything fuller, bigger, more raw if you will. I know that was certainly the case for me. There are a shit-ton of older movies, even 80s and early 90s movies I missed out on as a kid, that I wish I had been able to see when I was more innocent, less beaten by the world and jaded, etc. Son of Godzilla is one of those, because I know I would have overall gotten more out of it, and enjoyed it more as a child. As it is, as an adult, I have come to have a greater appreciation for the film, and do enjoy it now, for what it is.

While it's hardly my favorite classic Godzilla movie, and it wouldn't be on my Top 5, or perhaps even Top 10 recommendations of Showa Kaiju films to watch, I'd still recommend it. It's easily one of the "cheesiest" of the bunch, a term I don't really like to use when referring to old movies with older special effects (and typically low budgets). But it's a fun, oddly heartwarming movie in it's own weird way. So if you're ever in the mood for some "corny" fun one evening, give it a spin!


Seeing how this is now the ninth entry in my Godzilla Chronicles sub-series, and seeing as how the new American production "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" just released in theaters, I thought I'd take the time to lay out the previous articles in chronological order thus far, for your reading enjoyment:

1. The Beginning

2. Gojira (aka Godzilla: King of the Monsters)

3. Godzilla Raids Again

4. King Kong vs. Godzilla

5. Mothra vs. Godzilla

6. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

7. Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero)

8. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster