Wednesday, August 13, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah

Sometimes the only way to fight monsters is with time travel.

1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante had been a disappointment at the box office, and Godzilla series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka thought he knew why - the idea of having Godzilla face off with an entirely new monster had been the wrong path to take. As development on the next installment began, Tanaka believed that pitting Goji against a kaiju who was familiar to the audience would almost certainly bring fans back to the cinema.

The initial plan was to produce a new version of the most successful Godzilla film ever: Toho Studios wanted Godzilla to have a rematch with King Kong. The problem they quickly ran into was the fact that Ted Turner's empire now held the rights to Kong, and it would've cost Toho too much to get the giant gorilla back into their cinematic universe. The fallback option of replacing King Kong with the robotic MechaniKong, which had been featured in Toho's 1967 movie King Kong Escapes, was briefly considered, but the studio didn't want to risk being sued for featuring any sort of Kong, so the project was ultimately abandoned. Whoever Godzilla would be fighting would need to be entirely owned by Toho for certain.

The character that was decided upon was one of Godzilla's greatest foes, King Ghidorah. Biollante director/co-writer Kazuki Ohmori was brought back for directing and scripting duties on a film that brings the three-headed monster into the new era of the franchise that began with The Return of Godzilla in 1984. Another returnee, and a very welcome one, was composer Akira Ifukube, providing the music for a Godzilla film for the first time since 1975's Terror of MechaGodzilla.

Unexpectedly, this new take on the Godzilla/Ghidorah rivalry opens in the year 2204, at which time the crew of a submersible are scanning the corpse of King Ghidorah, which lies at the bottom of the Sea of Okholsk. Only two of the monster's heads remain; he lost the other during a battle with Godzilla in the 20th century.

Back in 1992, although Godzilla rests at the bottom of the Sea of Japan, kept dormant by the anti-nuclear bacteria was that shot into his system in Biollante, there's something else strange afoot in Japan: a flying saucer spotted in the Tokyo area that disappeared near Mt. Fuji.

Journalist Kenichiro Terasawa, who's known for writing about unusual subjects, is offered the chance to write an article on the UFO, but opts instead to interview the elderly man who is protesting a theme park called Dinosaur World, objecting to the place because, he says, he has seen a dinosaur with his own two eyes.

According to the man, this encounter happened on Lagos Island, a small island between the two larger islands of Luol and Kwajalein in the South Pacific, on February 6, 1944. He was a soldier at the time, fighting in World War II. When the American Navy attacked the islands, every Japanese garrison in the area was annihilated except for the one this man was in. His garrison would have also been wiped out if the dinosaur living on Lagos Island hadn't protected them from the American troops.

This event has caused the man to believe that dinosaurs are sacred creatures, not to be sullied by things like Dinosaur World, and that the dinosaur of Lagos Island will rise up to protect all of Japan if the country is ever in danger.

Investigating the man's story, Terasawa finds someone who can corroborate the tale, someone else who was also saved by the dinosaur but who disagrees that Dinosaur World is an insult to dinosaur kind - Dinosaur World owner Yasuaki Shindo. Shindo has kept his encounter with a real dinosaur secret for nearly fifty years.

Terasawa also discovers that Lagos Island was the site of H-Bomb test detonations in 1954. The year Godzilla first appeared... Could the radiation from the H-Bomb have mutated that dinosaur into Godzilla?

Terasawa's theory is proven when the inhabitants of the UFO reveal themselves to the people of Japan. They're not aliens, as you would expect, but rather representatives of the Equal Environment Earth Union who have travelled back in time from the year 2204 in their flying saucer time machine on a mission to save Japan from a disastrous future.

The Futurians (American men named Wilson and Glenchico, a Japanese female named Emmy Kano, an android called M-11, plus some fodder crew members) claim that Japan no longer exists in 2204, having been destroyed by radioactive pollution caused by Godzilla rampaging through the country in the 21st century. Guided by a book entitled "The Birth of Godzilla", the book which Kenichiro Terasawa is only now preparing to write, the time travellers have confirmed that Godzilla originated as that dinosaur, the Godzillasaurus, that was seen on Lagos Island in 1944. To save Japan, the Futurians plan to go back to 1944 and teleport the Godzillasaurus from Lagos Island, ensuring that it won't be there to be mutated by the H-Bomb tests in 1954. Godzilla will have never existed.

Although one would assume that the mission would be easier to go to Lagos Island sometime between February 1944 and the H-Bomb detonations in 1954, a time of peace on the island when the dinosaur was clearly still there, the Futurians plan to go to the island on the same day as the battle between Japanese and American forces that the dinosaur participated in. They have also chosen three people to accompany them from 1992 to 1944 - Terasawa, dinosaur expert Professor Mazaki, and psychic Miki Saegusa from the Paranormal Research Center's "Godzilla team", a character who was introduced in Godzilla vs. Biollante and would be featured in every subsequent film in this era of the series.

The arrival of the time machine to February 1944 is observed by two members of the American Navy who decide to keep the sight of this strange craft a secret, although it is a story that one of them - a Major Spielberg - will be able to tell his son someday. A nod to Steven Spielberg, who was born in 1946.

On monitors aboard the time machine, which is impervious to 20th century weapons, the Futurians and their companions witness as the story they've heard plays out - Commander Shindo's garrison is protected by the Godzillasaurus, who wipes out the American soldiers that had them cornered. The battle does, however, leave the dinosaur severely weakened by all the firepower that was used on it.

When Shindo's garrison evacuates the island on February 14, the dinosaur is still incapacitated, which makes the Futurian's job of teleporting it elsewhere much easier than it would have been otherwise. Dropping themselves into the middle of World War II was a good idea after all.

The Godzillasaurus is teleported off of Lagos Island, effectively wiping Godzilla out of history. Oddly, when the time travellers are preparing to go back to 1992, Emmy releases the crew's pets, a trio of tiny winged creatures called Dorats, which were created through biotechnology and can sense the emotions of their owners through microwave impulses. The Dorats are left behind on Lagos as the time machine blasts off out of 1944.

The presentation of time travel in this film is quite odd, because when the time travellers arrive back in 1992, everyone waiting for them there still has the same lives and memories they had when the group departed. Even though they were successful in stopping Godzilla from being created, everyone still remembers him as if he existed. All their actions really did was to cause the dormant Godzilla to blink out of existence.

But at the same moment Godzilla disappeared, a new monster appeared, flying over the Pacific Ocean. The winged, three-headed King Ghidorah. And he's heading toward Japan. When Ghidorah reaches Japan, it's just like old times. He immediately starts destroying everything in his path, smashing structures, blasting energy beams from his mouths.

As the people of Japan try to find a way to stop the monster, characters familiar with the time travelling expedition are quickly able to deduce that King Ghidorah is the result of the three Dorats Emmy left on Lagos Island being exposed to the same radiation that created Godzilla. The three small, sweet creatures merged together to form one giant, evil monster.

This is a completely different approach to and origin for Ghidorah than in the first era of the series, where he was simply a creature from outer space.

The biotech aspect of the Dorats makes King Ghidorah completely controllable by the Futurians. The monster operates under the orders of Wilson, who has it sent all over Japan to wreak havoc on specific cities.

As it turns out, the Futurians are not here to save Japan from destruction. The story they told was a lie. Japan still existed in 2204, and was in fact the richest nation in the world. So rich that it owned South America and Africa and was a bigger force than America, China, and all of Europe. Seeking to equalize the power of nations, the Futurians want to destroy Japan before they can pull so far ahead of all the others.

Even though Emmy was the one who released the Dorats onto Lagos Island, she was not privy to all of her fellow Futurians' plans, and objects to what they're doing with King Ghidorah. She abandons her fellow time travellers and sides with the people of 1992. After the super-strong android M-11 causes some problems for her (and sustains some damage very similar to the damage Arnold Schwarzenegger endures in the Terminator movies), Emmy re-programs him to join her in the revolt against their pals.

The rich and powerful, corporation-owning Shindo of '92 is part of a plan to fight back against King Ghidorah in the only way they can think of, since the military's weapons have no effect on the monster: they have to recreate Godzilla. The Godzillasaurus is believed to be in the Bering Sea, and Shindo owns a submarine with nuclear capabilities that could be sent to the area to blast the dinosaur with enough radiation to make it again become Godzilla.

Godzilla shouldn't exist in this version of 1992, but Miki senses that he does. He's out there... The crew of Shindo's submarine discovers that it is indeed Godzilla, not the Godzillasaurus, in the Bering Sea when they reach the creature. Godzilla destroys the submarine.

Godzillasaurus wasn't on Lagos Island for the H-Bomb tests in 1954, but he was in the Bering Sea when a nuclear submarine sank in the 1970s. The submarine was never salvaged, and the radiation from it was enough to turn Godzillasaurus into this new version of Godzilla, which stands 100 meters (328 feet) tall rather than the previous 80 meters (262 feet) tall.

Godzilla isn't clearly seen on the screen until 64 minutes into this film's running time, when he rises from the depths and begins making his way toward Japan. In the Godzilla suit for this film was Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played Goji in every film of this era.

The veteran who was protesting Dinosaur World was right. If Japan were ever in danger, Godzilla would rise again to protect it. As Shindo says, "Once again, he'll fight to save us all." Godzilla wades into battle with the Futurian-controlled King Ghidorah.

While the kaiju are duking it out, Emmy, M-11-, and Terasawa raid the flying saucer to stop the dastardly time travellers. Fisticuffs and lazer gun shootouts ensue... But even after the villains of the piece have seemingly been defeated, with the Futurians meeting a particularly satisfying fate, the people of Japan still have Godzilla to contend with. He's not quite the hero Shindo and the protestor have made him out to be...

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is an entertaining sci-fi adventure with a fun, intriguing story (although one that comes up short in the logic department) that keeps the viewer invested throughout. As interesting as the time travel and Godzillasaurus aspects are, it's mind-blowing how long it takes for all of this to play out, and as such how long of a period it keeps Godzilla off the screen for.

When Godzilla does finally rise from the Bering Sea, his fight with Ghidorah is rather lackluster. It's merely a stop on the way to Godzilla once again attacking Tokyo... An attack that leads the human characters to devise a plan to send Emmy to 2204 to revive King Ghidorah as MechaGhidorah and send him back to 1992 to stop Godzilla. Returning to 2204, Emmy finds that the "Godzilla destroyed Japan" lie has come true.

By the time the MechaGhidorah plan is suggested, all this back and forth in the story has become laughable. They needed to teleport Godzillasaurus to prevent Godzilla from existing, create Godzilla to stop King Ghidorah, and now create MechaGhidorah to stop Godzilla... What a mess. Couldn't Kazuki Ohmori have streamlined this in some way? Godzilla going bad after defeating King Ghidorah is completely unnecessary when the point of the story is to stop the treacherous Futurians.

Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah make it very clear that overly complicated is Ohmori's style.

And yet, if you don't let the muddled screenplay and absence of Godzilla for the majority of the running time drag you down too much, this film is still a highly enjoyable romp.

Audiences responded very positively to the film when it was released in Japan. It was exactly the hit that its producer and the studio were hoping it would be. Its success confirmed that viewers were interested in seeing Godzilla tussle with familiar monsters, and the following film would provide them with more modern versions of classic kaiju.

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