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The Nostalgic Attic: Godzilla 1985: The Legend is Reborn (1984)

7 May 2014

Godzilla 1985: The Legend is Reborn (1984)

" Godzilla is a warning. A warning to every one of us. When mankind falls into conflict with nature, monsters are born."

By the time Toho Studios released the 15th installment in the Gojira series, Terror of Mechagodzilla, in 1975, the budgets were down, the box office was down, and interest in general for the mighty Godzilla was down. Despite some great entries in the series prior to 1975, fatigue and apathy seemed to be setting in with the fanbase, with Terror having the lowest attendance out of all the films to that point. Toho made the decision to hold off on any further sequels for the time being. The intention wasn't to can the series altogether, but just to step back and see where the land lay.

Ultimately, they stepped back far enough to allow nearly 9 years to pass before delivering a new Godzilla feature. Tying in with the 30th anniversary of the original film seemed like a good idea, and a great way to reboot the series with a fresh start. By dropping the 'versus' aspect of Godzilla and his monster enemies that had dominated the sequels, it would allow the film makers to get back to the allegory that made the original film so endearing. So how does Godzilla 1985 stack up against the rest of the films in this seemingly endless saga?

Several months after a volcanic eruption, a fishing boat is seemingly attacked by a giant monster in the same area. A few days later, reporter Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka) finds the boat, intact and adrift. After boarding it, he discovers the crew dead, apart from one survivor, Hiroshi (Shin Takuma). Moments later they are both attacked by what looks like a giant sea louse which was hiding in the cupboard. Back on land, the Prime Minister is advised that Godzilla has attacked the fishing boat, but due to fears for national security, the story is quickly covered up. Unable to print a word on it, Goro is sent on an assignment to interview a scientist who is working on biology related to Godzilla, Dr Hayashida. He also meets Hiroshi's younger sister, Naoko (Yasuko Sawaguchi), who is working as a lab technition. He advises her that her brother is alive, and she rushes to the hospital to see him.

Meanwhile, Godzilla strikes again, scuppering a Russian submarine. The Russians, believing it to be the work of the Americans, plan retaliation. The Prime Minister is left with no choice but to intervene and tell them it was Godzilla. Soon after this, Godzilla attacks a nuclear reactor on an island off the coast of Japan, and seemingly drains energy from it, before following a flock of birds back out to sea. Dr. Hayashida, after witnessing this incident, figures that Godzilla's brain may be like that of a birds, hence why he responded to the bird calls.

Not long after this, Godzilla is spotted entering Tokyo Bay, and the city is ordered to be evacuated. Leaving a trail of destruction behind him, with the standard missiles doing little to stop him, the Russians decide that it's time for action and launch an atomic bomb. Will the military's new weapon vehicle, the Super X, be able to stop Godzilla before the bombs level the city for good? Or will Dr. Hayashida be able to bring Godzilla peacefully from the city and put him to bed for good?

If you saw this film when I did, ie, on release on video in the mid-to-late 80's, then the version you would have seen is most likely the 'Americanised' 1985 cut of the film. You see, the film was originally released as 'Return of Godzilla' in 1984 in Japan. It ignored all the sequels to the 1954 film, and used this new reboot as a way to link back to the original. It was then picked up by New World Pictures in the states, heavily re-edited with new footage added. Much like the original Gojira, the footage featured Raymond Burr as the 'Steve Martin' character, and it changed the tone of the film considerably. This new cut was then given cinema and home video distribution, and went on to be the version most of us grew up watching.

Since then, the original cut has become available (though I've only ever had it on bootleg), so it's quite easy to compare the two versions now. So do the two compare? Sadly, neither are stone cold classics, but the Japanese cut is the triumphant contender. The original version feels a tad overlong, with several scenes dragging on quite a bit, especially in its first half. There is a lot more drama and political discussion here than many Kaiju fans may be willing to sit through. These are minor complaints, though, as it is a welcome return to the serious 'mankind being punished' nature of the original film. The drama is good, so I never mind sitting through it, and the acting is engaging enough.

Godzilla himself looks great, and does well without the playful humour that had entered the series. The sets range from excellent to passable. The city rampage is well executed, but the earlier attack on the nuclear power station feels less than convincing. Same can be said for some of the shots involving the Sea Louse; it really does look like a piece of plastic on strings in parts. Still, once again, minor quibbles regarding the effects, they are 'good enough' for a Godzilla film, and they never detract from it. There are usually a lot of complaints in this department about this film; it's just that there was no other way to make a film like this, even on the budget Toho spent. The only other way to film the monster/destruction scenes would have been via stop motion, a la Dragonslayer, and to be honest, I don't think that would have worked very well at all. Sure, it looks like a guy in a rubber suit. But when ever has he not looked like that?

Special effects aside, the climax feels a tad clunky in places; there seems to be too many shots of Godzilla just standing there doing nothing, or of the Super X just hovering around facing the beast. Being one of the few films that feature just Godzilla by himself, the action never feels as lively as it does in many other entries, and this is evident in the latter stages of the film. The American cut, on the other hand, is much leaner, running 16 minutes shorter, in fact. Gone are some of the slightly worse looking model and effects shots, as well as some of the longer dramatic moments, but the re-editing of the Russian/American missile moment to make the Russians look like the bad guys is fairly unforgivable. I guess it was still during the cold war, so...A mention should definitely be made of the politics, as it does feature quite heavily in the film. The film makes no bones pointing towards the 'jump the gun' nature of America and Russia, when it comes to nuclear weapons, and instead show themselves to be more interested in preservation. It's no surprise, as the film makes many links back to the 1954 Gojira, which condoned heavily our race to use such destructive powers.

The worst aspect of the American cut is, of course, the new footage. It just doesn't really add anything to the film. Raymond Burr reprising his role from the original is fine, but it just doesn't feel right in the mix, in hindsight. The dubbing is also fairly atrocious, but that shouldn't be any surprise. This adds an unwelcome, cheesy feel to the film, and is one of the major reasons for avoiding this version. It takes away the fact that this film was supposed to be a return to the serious roots of the series, and not something to be laughed at by the audience. It hardly seemed worth it, in the end, as the film didn't do well theatrically, even with the changes. It meant it was nearly 15 years before another Godzilla would hit the cinemas in the States, even though Toho got back to 'business as usual' with the underrated Godzilla VS Biollante in 1989.

 Sadly, the film is now the only Godzilla film not available on DVD or Blu Ray. We could really do with a special edition that has both edits, preserving them for Godzilla fans to make their own minds up on. Myself, I generally would opt for the original cut, but it would be nice to have a non-VHS transfer of the American cut. As a kid, I loved the atmosphere of it. The opening is like a horror film on board the fishing boat, and the serious tone works well for the most part. It will always have a special place in my heart, being the first Godzilla film I watched as a child. It's just a pity the film isn't as tight as it could have been. It's definitely not essential viewing, but if you are a Godzilla nut, then no doubt you will have already seen it.


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At 8 May 2014 at 03:40 , Blogger Wes M said...

Excellent post John, another nice rarity, really enjoyed discovering this one. Serendipitous too – earlier on I was checking out reviews of the new Section23 Blus of Godzilla vs the Sea Monster, Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, Godzilla on Monster Island (all positive) and getting pretty excited – I’ve never put together a Godzilla collection in the past due to the amount of patchy releases over the years, but the Section23 discs look like winners. Anyway, I’m planning on sitting down with King Kong vs Godzilla over the weekend (the only Godzilla flick I have aside from the Criterion Gojira Blu) and am looking forward to a bit of Tokyo stompin’… Godzilla is another touchstone of my youth – not in a major way like Friday the 13th or Elm Street, but one of our gang of pre-teeners had a tape of Son of Godzilla and it was always on, and I suppose in its own small way was probably the first Japanese film I ever saw… I was just checking out the trailer for Godzilla 2014, and against my better judgment and my mistrust of PG-rated summer juggernauts, it looks seriously good – those scenes with the special ops skydiving into a combat zone to the strains of Lux Aeterna really put the hook in me – phew!

At 8 May 2014 at 08:40 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks Wes! It really is murky territory when dipping your toe into the realms of Godzilla on DVD, you really can never be sure on what you are going to get. I have so many of them at this point that I don't think I'll bother collecting them on Blu Ray, 28 films really is too much for me to start trying to replace at this stage of my life, it was a struggle even getting to the point I'm at right now, which is about 90% complete on my collection. I know there will always be issues getting good masters for these films on Blu Ray, as there seems to be a lot of issues with licensing surrounding them, and only old masters being made available a lot of the time. Even the lovely looking R4 sets of the Millenium and Heisei series aren't without their flaws, as Godzilla 2000 is still the dubbed version, and rights issues have kept both the film discussed above and Godzilla Vs Biollante out of the set. Luckily I nabbed the latter when it got released last year, as it's now out of print and the price has sky rocketed.

Agreed though, this was the stuff of Saturday mornings for me, and is still the best time to watch any of the original 15 films in my books. It definitely brings me back. I actually was given tickets to the premier to the new flick today, I can't wait! I think it could be good fun, and it has a genuine fan and decent filmmaker behind the camera. I will let you know after Sunday...

At 14 May 2014 at 00:48 , Blogger Wes M said...

John I grabbed a screening of King Kong vs Godzilla over the weekend and really had a fine time with it. The film is uneven – with way too many scenes of added exposition for American audiences, and I was a little dismayed to discover than there does not seem to be an original Japanese version – is that right ? Anyway, it hardly mattered in the end, the action at ringside with Godzilla squaring up to what must be one of the ugliest looking cinematic King Kongs, was just great. I’ve always felt kaiju movies demanded a leap of faith, you sort of have to take your chances and hope for the best, and while some of the opticals looked really clumsy, in other places the effects were surprisingly great – like a shot of a sedated Kong being towed towards the Japanese mainland on a huge raft. By the way, in that particular scene I got momentarily excited when I thought I spotted a young Takeshi Kitano as one of the navy extras, until I did the sums and realized Beat would have been about 15 in 1962. John, with such a comprehensive collection of Godzilla, you should consider doing a primer on the series, (or at least a post on yr collection) - I know a lot of people like me have no idea where to begin…

At 14 May 2014 at 03:36 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, not sure on King Kong Vs Godzilla, it's the one I know very little about, as I've only ever watched it once; though I may re-visit it soon now that you've brought it up. I know there were talks of a different ending in Japan, but I never dug further to see if it was rumour or fact. The only DVD I know of for the film is the Universal disc (on DVD or Blu) and I know it's English language, though not heard on any alternate cut. Sorry to not have any further info for you.

Agreed with your thoughts on kaiju in general; you need to be fairly forgiving on many aspects that we come to expect in western cinema, with effects being high up there. It's strange that many westerners have essentially quite a snobby attitude towards these types of films; we generally don't like our monsters to have this much 'personality' as Japan does, as we tend to lean more towards the 'Alien' styled monsters for our cinema. I was actually surprised with the new Godzilla film, in how they managed to make G have more facial expression than I would ever have expected, and same goes for the 'bad creatures' in it; they could have been straight out of Godzilla 2000 in their look.

I have a few Godzilla-related posts coming this week, Wes, I'm just a bit behind (life getting in the way, pffft). I might do a guide, as you've suggested, to give some kind of 'crash course', perhaps. Will see what I can do!

At 9 July 2014 at 20:39 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

Gentlemen! Glad I could join you! I'll get to Godzilla 1985 in a moment - let's throw in some info on King Kong vs Godzilla first. The film was probably the third most "Americanized" after the original movie and 1985. The Japanese version had no American newscasters with children's books on dinosaurs - and those screen minutes were devoted to more drama with the Japanese cast. Growing up with the American edition I still love it - but I respect the Japanese version a lot. The widely rumored "two endings" is an urban legend - in both versions Kong pops up and swims off - but a Godzilla roar can be heard; signalling the Big G's survival.

I saw Godzilla 1985 in the theater - my first Godzilla movie in the theater - though I was old enough to have seen the mid 70's movies as a kid - it just never happened. But I bicycled to the theater as a college freshman to see the return of the legend to the Big Screen. I quite like this quieter "no monster tussle" first entry in what is now thought to be the second series of Godzilla movies. And, again, I respect the Japanese original and would love to own it - but the sheer audacity of bringing an agreeable Raymond Burr back is irresistable to me. Of course, they pretty much keep the "Steve Martin" moniker under wraps as that name would provoke huge laughs in the mid 80's - if there's anything Raymond Burr was not - it was a "wild and crazy guy." So it's "Mr. Martin" throughout. I also think that despite what might be seen as a campy aspect to these added scenes - the American producers and filmmakers were taking all this fairly seriously; the Dr. Pepper commercials in the middle of the sequences notwithstanding. I also will lightly defend the re-edit of the American/Russian scene - it was a VERY hot time in the Cold War - so of course the American side took the shot to paint the Russians as baddies. But we truly believed the Russians WERE baddies. And - if the film had been given a Russian release with Russian re-editing - you know they would have flipped the thing 180 and made the Americans the villains. We just got there first. You know...like the moon. ;)

At 11 July 2014 at 01:37 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Craig, thanks as always for your insight. Great to know you caught these in theatres, I had to make do with the rental a year or two after it hit the shelves. I think the film holds up quite well, and growing up, I never had an issue with the Raymond Burr scenes. I think for me though, when watching the two cuts back-to-back, the re-edit loses out a tad. As I said though, the original does have its flaws too.

Regarding the added scenes, according to 'the internet', the producers in the states really wanted to up the camp factor of the new scenes, but decided to trim it back somewhat, with some of the lines making it through to the shooting script. I think it still shows somewhat, especially in regards to the somber tone of the original cut.

Ha, and to be honest Craig, the American/Russian scene is only super obvious when you watch both cuts, and as you said, we were filled with the idea on the evil Russians too, throughout cinema and TV growing up. We are usually so used to it from media from the era that watching it all these years it made perfect sense that the Russians were the bad guys; you just don't have to think twice on it.


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