Thursday, August 31, 2017

Godzilla Chronicles: Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

Finally in our Godzilla Chronicles journey, we come to the first film in the series that I have no childhood history with. Most of the "Showa Era" films I saw as a kid, either buying the tapes at Walmart, or seeing them at some point on TV (such as TNT's MonsterVision). The exceptions to that, were this, Destroy All Monsters, and Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. These three I would have to wait to see until either my teens, when I would finally manage to rent them, or in the specific case of this film, I'm fairly certain I didn't finally see it until my 20s.

The last Godzilla film we discussed, Mothra vs. Godzilla, came out in Japan in April 1964. In a very quick turn around, this film ALSO came out the same year, in December of 1964. And while both were directed by the always great Ishiro Honda, I have to say, having re-watched this again just recently for this article, this is perhaps his weakest work, from a cinematic standpoint, as a director. The only other Showa G-Film I can really compare it to in that regard, is Godzilla Raids Again. The original film released in Japan in November 1954, and its direct sequel (which Honda did NOT direct), was rushed into production, and reached theaters less than six months later, in April 1955. The difference being, that while that second 50s film was most certainly rushed, in some ways it is still a more coherent, "steady" film than Ghidorah is.

Well EXCUSE me, Princess....

That isn't to say that I don't like the film, I do. In fact I like ALL of the Showa era films on their own merits. It is merely to say that, of all of the Ishiro Honda films I've ever seen, and certainly out of all of the Showa era Godzilla films, this one is the most...shall we say, erratic. There are many times during this film, where there will either be an abrupt jump to another scene, a small scene that seems kind of pointless, or even a scene or two that feel like they directly contradict earlier scenes in the film. The movie doesn't do the most amazing job of telling its story in a fully flowing and compelling way. I would even go so far as to say, out of ALL of the Showa films, this one feels the most like its plot is just stumbling along until it gets to some monster fights.

Pictured above, is the central character of the plot, the Princess Selina Salno of Selgina (say that three times fast), another fictional tiny nation in the Showa Era "Tohoverse" (as I like to call it). The film begins with her on a plane, bound for Japan for some kind of diplomatic excursion (or perhaps just to vacation, the plot doesn't really say). There is a brief set-up scene of a cop (Detective Shindo) being assigned to protect her while she's in Japan, because there is a suspected assassination plot. But we are also shown a scene (presumably in her home nation, it again doesn't specifically state), where a mysterious man receives confirmation that an assassination plot is in fact being carried out. Then before you know it, and before the poor princess can even get her bedtime drink, she is suddenly (and randomly) contacted by a mysterious voice which speaks directly into her mind, telling her she must immediately jump out of the plane. As soon as she does, BOOM, the plane explodes, and the world thinks the princess lost.

The REAL star of the show.

From there, the princess (having been found by a fisherman floating in the sea), shows up in men's street clothes, at various places professing impending doom and disaster. And though naturally nobody listens to her, of course, she always seems to be right. She claims to be from the planet Venus, and it is later explained that she (more or less) is possessed by the spirit (or mind?) of a Venusian, whose home world the TRUE star of this movie, had utterly decimated in the distant past. The "Mysterious Psychic" appears and claims that disaster will arise at a mountain, and BLAMMO, a new Rodan wakes up from it's slumber (the original two having died in his 1956 solo film). She later shows up at a ship launching, to warn that badness will befall the cruise, and SHAZAM, Godzilla pops up from the depths, pissed about being beaten last time by insect larva, and he destroys the ship.

This continues until finally, she warns that an even bigger threat than these two is coming, in the form of a mysterious asteroid that has crashed into the mountains, with strange magnetic properties. Oh, and having figured out that maybe the Princess actually isn't dead, mysterious and ridiculously dressed bad guy, who maybe wants her dead so he can rule her country but it's never explicitly stated, sends assassins to Japan to finish the job. In a nutshell, this film's worst offense, is that it has a super-janky plot, which often seems to jump around quite a bit without giving more than very vague hints or references. I would like to blame this in part on the film being rushed out the same year as the previous Mothra film, but again, Godzilla Raids Again had less than half a year from conception to theatrical release, and it still has a much more consistent plot. To be clear, none of the Godzilla plots would likely be nominated for an Oscar, but, they are typically consistent, and at least make sure to tell you who's who, what's what, and tell it all in a clear, steady fashion.

The film's heroes.

So, criticisms of the film aside, let's get down to the real meat and potatoes of this thing. The movie has TWO real highlights, that make it worthwhile:

1. The fact that this is the first time we're seeing Rodan again since the 50s, AND it's the first time that Godzilla and Rodan meet, and thus, fight.

2. As the very title of the film implies, it also serves as the introduction to Godzilla's greatest monster foe, the most powerful monster he ever runs into in the Showa era, King Ghidorah, the terrible and just plain mean Three-Headed Space Dragon.

To the first point, the first half or so of the movie, outside of janky human plot points that can at times make your head spin a little, is highlighted by the fact that both Rodan and Godzilla appear, and they eventually meet up, and spend a good deal of time trying to kick the crap out of each other. Surprisingly, in an interesting choice on the filmmaker's part, whereas in Mothra vs. Godzilla he is depicted as being this nigh-unstoppable god who adult Mothra barely dents, and the baby Mothras only defeat because they catch him off guard, in this film, Rodan actually holds his own against "The Big G". Which is, as I say, a bit surprising because while he does have the advantage of flight, so did Mothra, and he doesn't even have her last-ditch poison dust attack. In fact, Godzilla straight up blasts him with his patented thermo-nuclear radioactive breath, like point blank, at least twice, and Rodan just shrugs it off. That is something no other monster had really been shown capable of, as it seriously hurt Anguirus, Mothra, and even goofy-ass King Kong.

But then again, Anguirus doesn't have any "offensive" powers either, outside of his teeth and claws (and his defensive spiky shell), yet he also held his own against Godzilla in Raids Again. Either way, seeing these two brawl it out is a treat for any Kaiju fan, and that bastard Rodan actually almost gets the best of Godzilla, pecking him on the noggin and knocking Godzilla a little silly in the process. The fights between these two are almost kind of comical, in a similar way to how the fights between Godzilla and King Kong were.

Just Wreckin' Shit.

Meanwhile, as for the second point, that mysterious asteroid, which scientists had been camping out in the mountains and studying, finally up and explodes, and from a pretty wicked ball of flame (or pure energy?), the titular monster Ghidorah forms. Naturally, being the incredibly generous and considerate soul that he is, The Ghidster (as his friends call him), commences trashing Japan even more than Rodan and Godzilla had been, and it doesn't seem like anything's gonna stop him. In fact, we learn from the Venusian-controlled Princess, that it was Ghidorah himself who had effectively turned Venus into a "dead" planet. As monster back-stories go, that's pretty legit. You can't get more threatening than "I could destroy your whole world" level.

So with that in mind, the craziest plan possible is put into effect: Operation - Let's See If We Can Get These Monsters Who Hate Us and Always Trash Our Cities To Fight This New Monster Who Hates Us and Is Also Trashing Our Cities! To effect that plan, they decide to enlist the help of the only surviving Mothra larva (because one died for SFX convenience), so that she can get the two gargantuan brutes to sit down and talk. Doesn't go super well at first, as they don't like humans and they just wanna throw down. But finally, baby Mothra decides to try and take on the space demon alone, and it is the brave act of self-sacrifice, with a "cute" little caterpillar getting its ass kicked by "Gravity Beams", that spurs the monsters to action.

Bet this looks familiar.

So now people finally get their very first all out crazy "Monster Bash", as the three monsters pool their abilities to drive the beast off. Notice that I didn't say defeat, much less destroy. Because part of the entire point of King Ghidorah, is that he is some serious shit, a monster so powerful that Godzilla (at least in the Showa series) actually CANNOT beat him on his own. It may be SPOILERS, but the good monsters beat on Ghidorah enough that he has had it with Earth and flies back off into space. Somewhere along the way, the Princess finally regains her memory and control of herself, and her would-be assassins get krushed with a capitol K. And she assumedly goes back to her home country where everything will be just...fine? Sure, let's say that is what happens, because the film's actual plot obviously doesn't much care.

For the monster scenes, and Ghidorah's introduction in particular, "The Three Headed-Monster" is a worthwhile Godzilla film for any fan of the series or genre. But as a film on its own merits, I must say, monster brawls aside, it is definitely one of the weaker Godzilla films. Mainly on account of the plot and narrative style being a total mess. But if you can ignore that, it's a fun time nonetheless. It isn't on my top recommendations for Godzilla films, but I'd say it's still worth seeing.

And with that, NEXT TIME in the Godzilla Chronicles, we'll finally get to what is my TOP FAVORITE Godzilla film of all time...stay tuned!