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The Nostalgic Attic: The Nostalgic Attic's guide to... GODZILLA

15 May 2014

The Nostalgic Attic's guide to... GODZILLA

When a new entry in a long-established series comes out, or more likely these days, a reboot, there are plenty of film fans who like to dive into the previous entries if they haven't seen them. To catch up, as it were. A new Star Wars film in the works? No problem. Three films to watch. Friday the 13th or a Star Trek? Things get a little tougher here, with both coming in at 12 films per series, and that's not even mentioning the TV shows. So, when something like Godzilla lands with a hyped up marketing campaign and mega-bucks production values, and with a whopping 28 entries in the series, what's a newcomer to do?

It would take a lot of man hours to try and make it through them all, and to be honest, I could imagine them all blending into each other like a green, rubber-suited nightmare. So I've taken some of the pain out of it for you, and providing you with everything you need to know, plus ten films from the series you should definitely check out.

First off; know your era's. 

Despite the colossal amount of entries, the films themselves can be broken down into era's, to help simplify things. And to simplify things even further, we will just take the era's on continuity. From the very first Godzilla (1954) up to the Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) falls into what is known as the Shōwa Series, due to the reign of the Shōwa Emperor until his death in 1989. Technically, Return of Godzilla (1984) falls into this era also, but as it ignores all previous entries, apart from the original, we will have it as the start of the next era, known as the Heisei Series. The Heisei Series includes everything from Return of Godzilla to Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995), each following on from the last. By the time the American film came out, Toho were ready to launch their own Big G assault on the world again, with Godzilla 2000 (1999) which started what was known as the Millenium Series which lasted up as far as Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Each entry in this series essentially stands alone, but uses the original 1954 film as its' springboard.

Next, know your monsters.

Those who have only ever seen the original or the American film may not be aware that Godzilla is rarely the only monster on screen. Expect some serious monster-mashing in the new film. Godzilla may have started out as the misunderstood bad guy, but by the time Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster came out in 1964, the big green fella was becoming the good guy, defending Earth from invaders and threats. One of his best known allies was Mothra, who also had her own series of films. King Ghidorah became one of the most well known enemies Godzilla had to face, but none were quite as powerful as the almighty Mechagodzilla. Some films had one-off monsters to be defeated, such as the incredible Destroyer, or the woeful Megalon. The less said about Minilla, the better...

Know the legacy.

Godzilla has become one of the most recognisable Japanese cultural icons, and is still hugely popular today. The original film had a huge influence on their cinema, thanks in part to the popularity of atomic monsters in the 50's around the world. As I mentioned above, Mothra had her own series, but there were many others that became big in Japan that didn't have quite the same impact around the rest of the world. Rodan followed hotly after the original Godzilla film, and crossed over into the Godzilla series eventually. Other series by non Toho companies emerged, such as the goofy Gamera films (the re-booted 90's series is essential viewing), Ultraman, and the Daimajin films. Other highly regarded modern films, such as Cloverfield, Pacific Rim and The Host, all owe a dept to that big green lovable rogue.

Right, now that's out of the way, it's time to watch some films.

Ten films you should try and watch. 

1 - Godzilla (1954)

It goes without saying; start here if you've never seen a Godzilla film before. A monster borne from man's folly with nuclear weapons wrecks Tokyo for the very first time. I can't imagine the impact of this film playing in Tokyo for the first time, less than a decade after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The original Japanese cut is the way to go too; it's dark, brooding and makes great use of its special effects.

2. Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964)

Coming ten years after the original, but only the 4th in the series, it was the first to have a cross over monster from another Toho production. During a wild storm, Godzilla is blown ashore and buried under mud, along with a giant egg belonging to Mothra. Soon Godzilla is loose, and the people of Tokyo need the help of Mothra to stop the big green menace. This one is a firm fan favourite, and it's not hard to see why. The characters are likable and somewhat interesting, and it has a firm anti - 'big business' vibe to it, along with the cries over damaging our world with nuclear energy. The monster fights are great, and the lengthy scrap at the end is worth seeing. Be warned that this is the first time that Mothra's fairy friends, the shobijin, make an appearance in a Godzilla film. I quite like them, as they spice things up a bit, but if you are looking for 'dark and broody', you won't get it here.

3. Ghidorah, The Three -Headed Monster (1964)

Made back-to-back with Mothra Vs Godzilla, this one isn't quite as good. After a princess is abducted by a UFO (!) , she predicts the coming of death to planet Earth. Death comes in the shape of King Ghidorah, his first appearance in a Godzilla film. it's up to Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan to team up against this enemy, and save planet Earth. This film is the turning point in the series for many fans, as firstly, Godzilla isn't the villain, and secondly, it introduced some of the goofy humour that many hate. Me? I love it, even if the first half is a bit talky. Where else will you get to see Godzilla and Rodan hurling rocks back-and-forth at each other, like a game of tennis? Or King Ghidorah blasting Godzilla in the crotch with electricity? The end battle makes up for any of the flaws you can find.

4. Destroy All Monsters (1968) 

Originally intended to be the final Godzilla film, Destroy All Monsters not only has one of the coolest titles ever, but it also had the most amount of monsters in any Godzilla film, until that title was taken away by Godzilla: Final Wars. All of Earth's terrible beasts have somehow been confined to Monsterland, but a mind-controlling race of aliens known as the Kilaaks unleash them again, making them attack the major cities of the world. They then plan on using King Ghidorah to destroy the monsters, but luckily for us, things don't go to plan. Featuring eleven monsters in total, the film is a great big bundle of joy for kaiju fans. It does have it's dull moments here and there, but the destruction and final battle are fantastic. 

5. Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla (1974)

This one is the first appearance of Mechagodzilla, and the bad ass steel beast doesn't disappoint. Godzilla seems to be having an off day with humans again, or is he? After he scraps with Anguirus, something metallic is seen beneath Godzilla's skin. Yup, it turns out that those pesky aliens have built a mechanical Godzilla, and want to destroy the world. In steps the real Godzilla, and some terrific fights ensue. The last great film from the Shōwa series, this is another fan favourite. I personally love anything with Mechagodzilla in it, so it always comes out on top for me. There are the usual dull moments here and there that became a staple of the Shōwa series, but still, it holds up just fine. The effects also looked a bit better than some of the more recent kaiju outings from the time period.

6. Godzilla Vs Biollante (1989)

Picking up where Return of Godzilla left off in 1984, Godzilla Vs Biollante would be the first of the new series to feature an adversary for Big G. Keeping with the darker tone established in the earlier film, it concerns a scientist working with pieces of Godzillas DNA, that was removed from the wreckage of Tokya after the last attack. He creates a 'anti nuclear energy bacteria', in the hopes of destroying Godzilla once and for all. Secretly though, he is also working on a genetic mutation of the Godzilla DNA combined with that of a rose. Yup, it sounds bonkers, but the film works really well. This one seldom gets as much love as other entries, but I like the dark tone to it, and the ending is great. You might not see this one popping up on many lists, but I dig it a lot.

7. Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Yup, King Ghidorah is back, in a fairly bonkers entry in the Heisei Series. this one involves the time-travelling Futurians, who plan on using King Ghidorah to destroy Japan in order to keep it from becoming a successful nation in the distant future. The film is as batshit as it sounds, and it had its' controversies with fans and critics alike. Nevertheless, the film is a blast, with some great special effects and some serious, city-stomping carnage. the final fight is well worth seeing. Sure what else are you here for?

8. Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1994) 

In the final film of the Heisei Series, Godzilla is having some heart problems. The poor guy is one city-stomp away from total meltdown, and the government need to stop it before he essentially nukes the whole planet. Scientists (when will they ever learn?) try and replicate the original oxygen destroyer bomb used to kill off Godzilla in the first film, but instead meld the formula with Precambrian organisms, resulting in a mutation. These mutations, known as 'Destroyers', scrap it out with the Japanese army, but eventually evolve into a giant ultimate Destroyer. The stage is set for a serious showdown, and one that isn't without it's sad moments, too. It really is a fantastic closing to the very fun, but short series. And even the inclusion of Godzilla's adopted son, Godzilla Jnr, can't stop this one from being great.

9. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

 Bringing in the respected director of the Gamera trilogy re-boot was a great idea, as it resulted in one of the most stylish and bonkers films of the Millenium Series. In this one, Godzilla is the villain again, complete with ghostly white eyes and all. he is hell-bent on destroying Tokyo, as he represents the spirits of those who died in WW2, looking to remind the new generations to 'never forget'. Luckily for Tokyo, the guardian spirits are around to help out, and soon Mothra and Baragon are on his ass. Sadly, Baragon is no match for him, and the spirits awaken King Ghidorah, getting his one chance at playing the good guy. We get a really great looking monster film, here, with some up-to-date effects combined with the old fashioned latex suits. they aren't shy on killing humans here, either, as it has quite the hefty body count. It has only a few patchy moments involving the mystical old guy, but the film is terrific for the remaining running time. 

10 - Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

My final film on the list, and another controversial one with Godzilla fans, no doubt. Using the skeleton from the original dead Godzilla, scientists use it to create Mechagodzilla, in the hopes of using it to destroy that big green guy who keeps crushing Tokyo. Sadly, things don't go so great when the DNA inside the skeleton recognises Godzilla's roar, sending the Mech haywire. The film has some really nicely done character stuff, which is surprising, focusing on the pilot of Mechagodzilla and how she deals with her past trauma. The fight scenes are spectacular, and how could I not finish up with some more mechagodzilla?

So there you have it, if you get a chance, dig into some of these films if you haven't seen them before. There are a few wild cards you could thrown in if you have seen the original already, like Return of Godzilla (reviewed here), Godzilla 2000 (I really like it, even if it has some weak moments) or the fan base-dividing Godzilla: Final Wars. Either way, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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At 15 May 2014 at 10:11 , Blogger Tailormade Weddings said...

Quite enjoyed number 9 the other night! Even with Godzilla as the villain I was still rooting for him!

At 15 May 2014 at 10:45 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

It's really great fun; but hey, I will root for Godzilla no matter what he's doing!

At 15 May 2014 at 11:11 , Blogger John Mooney said...

'DNA inside the skeleton recognises Godzilla's roar, sending the Mech haywire'... What I love is that they try to keep it as grounded and realistic as they can. SCIENCE!!!

At 15 May 2014 at 11:42 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

That isn't even the worst offence against science in Godzilla films. I'm pretty sure they rip the spacetime continuum a new asshole a few times, too.

At 16 May 2014 at 01:10 , Blogger Wes M said...

I’m the guy in the first sentence of this excellent primer so this is exactly the kind of Rough Guide to Godzilla I was looking for, and with 28 films deep, (wow!) picking out 10 big hitters is much appreciated – as is my habit with these kind of things, my instinct is to go from the beginning but it’s not always the best approach... Great posters as well John, the artwork is consistently brilliant throughout, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is especially fantastic... I’ve only seen a few Godzilla films over the years but I’m definitely a Godzilla for President kind of a guy - I just like the idea of a man in a rubber suit stomping his way through a toy-town metropolis. Most definitely agree about Cloverfield, and The Host (the two I’ve seen) – Cloverfield is a film I’m warming up to more and more with every screening, and I also love Adam Yauch’s video for The Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic with the Robot squaring off against the Octopus Monster – a great homage.... Yes, Destroy All Monsters really is one of the great movie tiles, and if a proto-Detroit no wave band hadn’t lifted the name, somebody else would have. Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla has a nice ring to it as well, it rolls off the tongue with a pleasing symmetry ! Wonderful stuff John !

At 16 May 2014 at 01:22 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, no problem at all, and thanks for the suggestion! I'm the same as you; start from the start, but that could actually put people off, I think. As the tone of the films differ wildly from each generation, so do our tastes when growing up. And there is no continuity that you REALLY need to worry about, just pick a few titles, sit back and have a blast. Saying that, there is still no guarantee you will even enjoy my choices - many of these lists are dogged with nostalgia - but it's a good place to start, and will help determine which stuff you like and don't like.

The art work has always been incredible, I've been campaigning for Godzilla posters in our house for years! We just don't have any more wall space at the moment, sadly. Cloverfield was one I caught in the cinema knowing nothing about it or the producers, and I was blown away. It was stuck in my head for days, and I still love it. It did some really smart things, like keeping the action from eye level - seems simple and obvious, but it was something that rarely happened in 'giant monster' films - and the same goes for focusing on the real, everyday people, and not the military or scientists.

That Beastie Boys video is definitely a classic. We were definitely too old for the whole Power Rangers thing too, in the mid 90's, but I wonder how kids who grew up with it would feel about the old Godzilla films. There is probably a part of their reptile brain still yearning for guys in rubber suits trashing cities...

Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla sounds like the heaviest heavy metal band ever! I have a soft spot for Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack! just due to the sheer madness of naming a film that. You should see the title sequence...

At 16 May 2014 at 03:04 , Blogger Wes M said...

John, I have an explanation for Cloverfield. When I first saw the film (on DVD) I was a little underwhelmed – I liked it but at that point I really had my fill of the found footage film. That ancient argument of why would you continue to film under such extreme circumstances, really reached its tipping point with a screening of Diary of the Dead – there’s a scene early on it that film where the cameraman strays in front of a mirror to reveal him lugging around a huge heavy camera while zombies are flying out of the woodwork – with that scene I thought the found footage film has crossed the rubicon and I though oh fuck it, I’ve had enough of this. Even the epistolary format of something like Bram Stoker’s Dracula was bothering me – the idea that a band of people battling vampires would gather their thoughts and take the time to write it all up in their journals, was prosperous. Thinking about it now, the problem wasn’t Dracula or George Romero, but me – for a time I seem to have gotten stuck rationalizing the films I was watching, which is a bad business to be in for someone who loves Phantasmagoria. Thankfully, it didn’t last, I think a few weeks of Lovecraft-reading put paid to all that and since then I’ve gone back to Cloverfield with fresh eyes and have really come 'round to it, as a smart, stylish, expertly judged, modern classic. I’m even starting to like Prometheus as well these days... ANYWAY ! I’ll slip off the psychiatrist’s chair and try steer this comment back on to the business as hand – all this Godzilla stuff has me pretty excited – I’ve got Mill Creek’s Blu of the Daimajin trilogy winging its way from the US and after that I’m gonna grab the Section 23 Godzilla films. In the meantime, if I can grab some time at the weekend (I’ve already got some Masters of Cinema and Flipside titles lined up), I’d like to revisit The Mysterians and Atragon. Both films didn’t quite grab me like Matango (which is one of the great Sci-fi Horrors of the 60’s), so the time is just right to re-acquaint myself with them…

At 16 May 2014 at 04:59 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, that's all very reasonable, I went through a point in my early twenties where I was quite dismissive on many genre films (I think we've discussed that before) and in fairness, if a film was going to push you over the edge, Diary of the Dead is the one that could do it. The film annoyed me no end, and I attempted to re-watch it recently, and found it the exact same. I wouldn't dare even put Prometheus near my Blu Ray player, as idiotic and entertaining as it was, I think it would just really wind me up on a second viewing. Still, sometimes you need to just put the emotions you experience over the rationality of what you are watching, especially in the horror genre.

Excellent, the Daimajin set is great, and if you are good for Mill Creek, do yourself a favour and pick up their trilogy of Gamera films from the 90's if you haven't already gotten them. They actually surpass the Godzilla series in many ways, and the final installment blew my socks off.

Sounds like you have some great stuff lined up for the weekend, can you believe I haven't seen The Mysterians or Atragon? Both are on my list, so I really need to get to it, being a die-hard 50's sci-fi kinda guy. Love to hear your thoughts on them when you get finished.

At 13 July 2014 at 20:05 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

This is a great post - a wonderful primer for those who missed out on the great Saturday and Sunday afternoon TV screenings back in the day. Well thought out Ten to See as well.

At 14 July 2014 at 02:04 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks Craig, would love to see your top ten!

At 14 July 2014 at 20:41 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

You have inspired me - let me see what I can get together in the not too distant future.


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