Tag Giant Monsters

Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield (2008)

Some thing has found us

New Yorker Rob is ready to leave to start a new job in Japan when his friends hold a going away party from him. Things get complicated for Rob and his friends when what seems to be an earthquake rocks the city and a massive explosion is seen in the distance. Fearing a terrorist attack, the party goers flee down into the street below but are confronted by a giant monster which has suddenly started to attack New York.

 

One of the better ‘found footage’ films out there, Cloverfield uses its gimmick to maximum effect as much as possible. They’re a Marmite kind of film – you’ll generally love them or hate them and I tend to fall into the latter more often than not. There’s only so much disbelief I can hold when idiots continue to film whatever is happening using their cameras or mobile phones, even putting themselves in danger to do so. If you or I were in the situations that people find themselves facing in these type of films, the last thing I’d want to do is ensure that I’m recording everything as some morbid memorial for when I’m killed off. You’ll up sticks and run like the wind. Jerky or frenetic camera movements, out-of-focus shots, not quite getting a clear look at things in the sense of a traditional film – these are all hallmarks of the found footage film and Cloverfield has them in abundance. You can almost forgive some of them here due to the nature of the chaos that erupts during some scenes but it can be frustrating at times to be teased with a good look at the monster only to be robbed at the last minute. These hallmarks weren’t as common back when Cloverfield first hit the cinema and so the novelty factor was still fresh.

Fresh is what Cloverfield feels like for the majority of its running time, at least the last two thirds of the film. It’s not your traditional giant monster movie and offers up a unique approach to the material. Ever wondered what it would be like being stuck in a city whilst Godzilla and friends did a number on it? Well here’s a first-person look at just that. In many ways, Cloverfield is the film that the most recent Godzilla film so clearly wanted to be. There are some great scenes of destruction, all seen from the ground up and the characters always feel a moment or two away from certain death. As soon as the film kicks into gear with the first attack about twenty minutes in, Cloverfield rarely lets up. With a budget of $25m, a paltry figure given today’s blockbusters, these scenes are especially effective in conveying a sense that this is carnage on a grand scale. The very famous trailer with the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty flying down the street gives the audience a flavour of what to expect. Equally as effective and chilling in its realism is the scene in which the monster destroys the Brooklyn Bridge. Seeing a giant monster attack from a human’s point of view certainly makes the experience something unlike anything Toho ever cranked out for Godzilla.

Cloverfield does seemingly take an eternity to get going which is its main drawback. I can understand the need to engage with the characters but this is not a traditional character-driven narrative in the sense of a normal film. Found footage films rely on the nature of the situation to sell the story, rather than characters – they’re meant to behave in the same way that the audience would behave being in their situation, not try to sell the story through dialogue or expression. However, the first twenty minutes or so here runs like someone’s awful home movie compilation. Then as soon as the monster strikes, all of this build-up is literally out of the window because we now only see the world through the eyes of one person. We can’t hear conversations that characters are having across the street (whereas in a traditional film we become omniscient and can see and hear everything). We can’t go and explore anywhere else. We’re stuck wherever the cameraman goes – and if the other characters aren’t with him, tough! It’s at this point where characterisation is virtually pointless in a film like this because the audience is just wanting a first-person experience be it a giant monster attack, a zombie attack ([REC] or Diary of the Dead), ghostly encounters (Paranormal Activity), stranded in outer space (Apollo 18) or trapped under the ground (As Above, So Below).

The good thing is that with the found footage approach, there comes a deliberate attempt to withhold as much information about what is going on as possible. There’s no explanation scene in which some scientist reveals the entire plot for the benefit of those unable to work things out. Hell, you don’t even get a good solid look at the monster. Cloverfield skimps on the details and hopes that the sucker punches to the gut that it continually delivers are enough to keep you guessing and holding on for more information. It’s a fine line to tread but the film works to leave the audience on tender hooks. Yes, you may feel a little frustrated when you finish watching but I’d rather scratch my head in a positive way and let my brain do some imaginative guessing than be spoon-fed everything Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich-style.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect to Cloverfield is its post-9/11 subtext in which the audience is placed smack bang in the middle of an unprecedented catastrophic scenario. We watch the horrific events unfold through the lens of the camera, unable to take our gaze away from what is happening. From the images of buildings collapsing, loud, fiery explosions raining debris down from skyscrapers and then, in the most uncanny shot of the film, a dust cloud slowly working its way along streets, engulfing those who dared to escape its grasp, Cloverfield will be harrowing viewing for anyone who sat through 9/11 in the comfort of their living room, eyes glued to the TV.

 

I’ve tried to be rather vague with more specific details of Cloverfield because it’s worth a watch without knowing too much about it. The first-person experience really hammers home some of the intensity of the destruction and chaos, whilst leaving the audience craving more. Ironically, the only way they’d have gotten more is if Cloverfield had been a traditional monster movie with shifting focus on characters and narratives – but then this would have taken away the personal, eye-level experience to which Cloverfield works so well to create. Arguably the pinnacle of the found footage genre, though that’s not really hard to become.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

IT CRUSHES! KILLS! DESTROYS!

A nuclear submarine on its maiden voyage is attacked by a mysterious object from the depths. A large chunk of rubbery tissue is pulled from one of the vessel’s propellers and examined by two marine biologists, who conclude that it came from an enormous octopus. The military dismiss their findings, until the creature begins sinking ships and making its way toward the west coast of the United States.

 

Well in 1950s America, a giant radioactive monster wouldn’t go anywhere else, would it? (Well, maybe except for Godzilla!) This was a decade dominated by ants, locusts, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and space monsters all growing to enormous size and attacking America. The nuclear monster era was here, in a time dominated by the very real threat and fear of atomic bombs being used by the Soviet Union. Capitalising on this fear and paranoia, cinema churned out a ridiculous number of varying quality B-movies during this decade, spanning the likes of Earth Vs The Spider, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, Them! And The Deadly Mantis to name but a select few entries. Devastating attacks on mankind weren’t just confined to the land and air though and It Came From Beneath the Sea stands up in the corner of the sea monsters to make a name for itself.

Cult stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen had made his first solo effects feature film two years earlier with classic The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the earliest of the 1950s atomic monster B-movies. Seeing how popular these films had become, he jumped at the chance to make another one when approached by producer Charles H. Schneer. This was Harryhausen’s first collaboration with Schneer and it was to be the making of a fantastic partnership which would change the way cinema looked at special effects, with the two men pioneering work in classics such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts within the next ten years. Schneer was fully supportive of Harryhausen’s talents, often exceeding budgets in order for the maestro to finish his work to the best possible standards – you just wouldn’t get that level of trust in today’s film market.

With only one man producing the special effects, it was clear that the octopus wasn’t going to be on screen for a lot of the time and so other filler was needed to keep audiences hooked. Sadly, It Came From Beneath the Sea fails to engage the viewer when the monster isn’t around. There’s a really awkward romantic love triangle sub-plot between the main characters and it’s so tedious that you don’t care who gets who by the end. The usual military types spend plenty of the film bickering about the best course of action to prevent disaster from happening and there’s a team of scientists racing to find a way to stop the monster before it’s too late. I’m all for a bit of plot development but seeing the same faces standing around talking isn’t a great use of time. The addition of a news reporter-style narration to proceedings adds nothing to the film except a few extra minutes of running time and a cheap way to provide the exposition that the boring dialogue fails to get across.

When the scenes of destruction arrive, they are pretty good but are over far too quickly. The octopus only has six tentacles (an infamous fact down to Harryhausen not having time or money to animate eight) but this doesn’t stop it from doing some damage, taking out ships before arriving in San Francisco for a very famous attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s more action than the majority of the aforementioned giant monster movies provided but still seems somewhat lacking. Sadly the final confrontation with the octopus doesn’t deliver a knock-out blow when it needs to and the film ends on a rather a weak note.

Kenneth Tobey was a familiar sight in the 50s, starring in two of the decades greatest sci-fi films in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and The Thing From Another World and lends his usual gung-ho schtick to the military role he is required to play again. Co-star Donald Curtis also popped up in another Harryhausen film a few years later, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and portrays the same military role. You’d think that everyone back in the 50s was in the army with the way they get all of the main roles in these films! They’re both bland in parts that require nothing more of them but to regurgitate military mumbo jumbo to each other.

 

It Came From Beneath the Sea is never built up as one of Harryhausen’s best and there’s a good reason for that – it’s not. Whilst the animation is excellent, the excitement is lacking and there’s not enough action to keep the film from sinking. However, it was another learning curve for Harryhausen and another showcase to craft his art, which he would refine over the coming years.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Millennium Bug, The (2011)

The Millennium Bug (2011

What’s Bugging You?

Fearing that the Y2K Bug will bring about the end of civilisation as the year 1999 draws to a close, Byron Haskin takes his new wife and his daughter camping at an old ghost town in the Sierra Diablo Mountains. But whilst there, they are kidnapped by a bunch of inbred hillbillies who need new breeding stock for their family. However, the arrival of the millennium also coincides with the once-every-thousand-years appearance of a giant monster which starts devouring everything in its path.

 

Part The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, part low rent Sy Fy creature feature movie, The Millennium Bug is a strange independent horror film which has come around about ten years too late. The Y2K Bug was THE talking point in the months running up to New Year’s Eve in 1999, with thousands of people across the world barricading themselves up in shelters, arming themselves with guns and stocking up on food in case the world ended thanks to the perceived-inability of some clocks to compute that 2000 was actually 2000 and not 1900. As it turns out, nothing happened that night and those people suddenly found themselves looking a little bit silly and wasting a lot of time, energy and money preparing for the apocalypse that never was.

Continuing along with this silliness comes The Millennium Bug, the directorial debut from Kenneth Cran, which delivers a plenty of low key fun without ever threatening to turn into a full blown cult classic. Those expecting the monster of the title to be the main focus of the film will be disappointed, at least for the first half of the film. The Millennium Bug plays out like a poor man’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes at first, introducing the standard genre tropes of a bunch of middle-class Americans being subjected to an arduous ordeal at the hands of some inbred hillbillies. Though it’s played tongue-in-cheek, it’s still very much run-of-the-mill backwoods horror material which has been played out to death over the last ten years or so. Banjo-strumming rednecks with mutant kids are hardly innovative inclusions into an overcrowded genre pool but that’s about the only characterisation you’ll get from them, or any of the characters for that matter. I’ve seen a few people say that they were about to switch off at this point and I was one of them because it’s not really what you’re expecting.

However, things do go a bit crazy when the titular big appears halfway through and the film changes gears. Heading into more traditional monster movie territory, The Millennium Bug suddenly gains the momentum it urgently needed in the first half and begins to showcase the obvious talents of the filmmakers across a number of areas. Whilst the script is still pretty muddled, at least the focus of the film is now squarely on the monster and the gory goodness that it brings with it.

I had expected the bug to be on the same size and scale as the usual Sy Fy or Asylum creature feature flicks so was surprised to see it looking like some reject from a Godzilla film. The thing is huge! The makers of the film, going under the moniker of No CGI Films, clearly set their stall out from the beginning and eschew any form of CGI, opting to bring to life the monster through the use of old school techniques including using miniatures and Godzilla-style man-in-a-suit moments. The use of these practical effects over CGI has its perks and pitfalls but at least gives the film a low budget, almost drive-in quality. This looks like it could have been some late 80s/early 90s straight-to-video monster movie. If you’ve been brought up on a diet of CGI extravagance then this may not be to your liking. But the mixture of miniatures and models and some clever camera tricky really go a long way to sending you right back in time to an era of simpler filmmaking. Major credit needs to go to the effects department because they do a far better job of bringing to life this gigantic fiend than 90% of big budget blockbusters have done using teams of animators on computers.

It isn’t just the monster that is ‘au natural’ but the gore is very much of the Sam Raimi / Peter Jackson old school variety.  The bug does chomp down on a few people, with an animatronic mouth filled with rows of massive teeth being used to good effect, but there is also lots of human on human violence as the hillbillies and family fight it out too. Expect axes to the face and a few stabbings with a generous helping of blood to go with them.

 

The Millennium Bug is a frustrating film. On one hand, you have a really solid monster movie with some excellent effects and lashings of gore. But on the other hand you have a poor backwoods horror film which comes off more campy than threatening. The two elements never work well together and the muddled approach that results from this really stops the film from breaking through to the next level. It’s a little rough in places, to be expected given that it’s a debut film, but you could do a lot worse.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Monsters of mass destruction

Godzilla and the other giant monsters of Earth are being held on Monster Island, a virtual prison which allows them to live in peace but will not permit them to escape its boundary. But then suddenly the monsters start appearing all over the world, wreaking havoc on major cities from Beijing to New York. It turns out that aliens called the Kilaaks have taken control of Monster Island and are using the Earth’s monsters to destroy the planet.

 

Like Universal did when they ran out of ideas for their famous horror monsters back in the 40s, Toho studios turned to pitting their famous giant monsters against each other in order to bypass the creative drought that the long-standing series had suffered. With Godzilla having already destroyed Japan back in 1954, how many times could the giant lizard repeat the same trick without it getting repetitive? The answer was once because in the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, the big G was pitted against Anguirus. From then on, Godzilla found himself competing against a slew of giant monsters from Mothra to Rodan and even King Kong. After a few lacklustre efforts, Godzilla’s popularity was on the decline and so Destroy All Monsters was dreamt up as an all-guns blazing swansong to end the series on a high. Ironically, the film made Godzilla more popular than ever before and it still ranks up there amongst many fans favourite Godzilla film.

I must admit that I’m one of those fans. Destroy All Monsters is not just the pinnacle of the daft 60s and 70s Godzilla films where the monster became Earth’s saviour but it’s also an entertaining sci-fi film which delivers a whole mix of light-hearted action, comedy and groovy special effects. But let’s cut right to the chase– there is one sole reason why this is one of the, if not the most, popular Godzilla films and that’s because of the massive roster of monsters that make an appearance of some kind here. Toho really pulled out all the stops for this one, assembling a gigantic cast of monsters from their vast catalogue of films. Not only do you get Godzilla, the monsters with their standalone films like Mothra and Rodan, and previous series baddie King Ghidorah, but you get appearances from Anguirus, Spiega, Minya, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon and Manda. Some have more to do than others: Anguirus and Gorosaurus play integral roles in the final battle whilst Baragon and Varan literally have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos (due to how poorly-maintained the monsters suits both were). But the fact that they’re all here adds a uniqueness to the film that would not be replicated until Godzilla: Final Wars.

The vast array of monsters involved lends the film to all manner of destruction. Mothra attacks Beijing, Rodan does in Moscow, Godzilla takes on New York and they all converge on Tokyo for one of the series’ most impressive city-stomping scenes yet. Not one or two but four monsters unleash their rage upon Japan at the half-way point of the film. Director Ishirô Honda really puts on a spectacular show of destruction with the monsters first smashing Tokyo to pieces and then the army mustering whatever they can to try and stop them. This scene alone in Destroy All Monsters represents a high point for the Showa series of films (those made up until 1975) with its use of pyrotechnics and miniatures – the knowledge that had been employed in the previous Godzilla films all comes to fruition. All of the material is new and there’s no use of stock footage from earlier film, though ironically enough since the footage here was so good, it crops up again and again in future films.

These scenes of miniature city-mashing pale in comparison to the film’s finale, an all-out battle royale featuring the monsters fighting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Yes it’s just a bunch of guys in suits hitting each other but it’s the series’ most entertaining moment and something that the series really tried to emulate in later films to no avail. It’s a bit one-sided as the Earth monsters team up to fight King Ghidorah but the space monster holds his own. The editing during this scene is top drawer, there’s plenty of special effects flying around and the camera does a good job of capturing the mayhem and, as the news reporter covering the scene proclaims, the “monsters’ cries of horror and sudden death.” It’s a crazy fight which only takes up about six minutes of screen time but it’s the most memorable six minutes of the entire series.

You’ll be much more inclined to forgive the silly alien story when there is the promise of a massive monster mash at the end of the film but the plot about the Kilaaks trying to take over the Earth is one of the most charming of the series. Yes, the alien invasion plot had already been used in the previous film, Invasion of the Astro Monsters, and would go on to be a series’ stalwart over the coming years but this is the best incarnation of it. Its charming comic books antics pit long-time Godzilla actor Akira Kubo into the hot seat as an astronaut who leads his crew on the mission to put a stop to the Kilaaks’ plan. The aliens, whilst not displaying the greatest sense of fashion in the world, are slimy and cocky and it all adds up to a rousing sub-plot which enhances the monster action. The cast is filled with a whole array of regular Godzilla faces and they’re all great.

Series composer Akira Ifukube brings to life the film with one of his most famous scores. From the opening chords of the pumping title theme to the classic Rodan theme playing and more sinister musical numbers for the Kilaaks, Ifukube populates the film with some sterling music which accompanies the scenes brilliantly, enhancing the action with bombastic nature or underscoring the devious nature of the alien invaders. Say what you want about the nature of the Godzilla films but Ifukube’s work across the series is outstanding.

 

Destroy All Monsters represents the pinnacle of what the Godzilla films came to embody and has rarely been matched for its popularity since. Holding itself firmly on the right side of the camp border and delivering some of the series’ most memorable set pieces, for sheer spectacle alone this one has never been topped. It’s essential viewing for not only Godzilla lovers but fans of kaiju the world over.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Roasting Anything In Its Path!

A spotter plane pilot for a Japanese fishing fleet crash lands on a barren island where he witnesses two giant monsters fighting each other before falling into the ocean. He reports his findings to the Japanese government as soon as he is rescued and their worst fears are realised. Another giant monster, similar to the original Godzilla, is alive and well and there is also another giant monster. Without the oxygen destroyer weapon that killed the original Godzilla, the Japanese people must find another way to stop these rampaging monsters before they destroy Japan and each other.

 

Within six months of Godzilla smashing Tokyo to pieces in Godzilla, Toho had this sequel ready to go to ride on the success story that the original had turned out to be. Considering the special effects sequences involved in this one, that’s a staggering turnaround in such a short space of time. Like Son of Kong was to its predecessor, so too does Godzilla Raids Again suffer immensely from being too much of the same too soon.

The rushed production schedule is evident in the lack of a real story to the film. Yes, Godzilla films are hardly known for their intricate plots but this one literally just dumps a pair of giant monsters into Japan and has them fighting each other for a bit. At least the later Godzilla films introduced all manner of weird alien (who all looked Japanese anyway) races trying to conquer Earth as their human subplot to fill the human screen time. This has nothing of the sort and as a result, barely squeezes over the hour mark for running time. Given that there’s also some flashback footage from Godzilla, the whole thing smacks of being a quick cash-in.

Godzilla Raids Again introduces what would become the staple of the Godzilla film for many, many, many years to come – that of Godzilla fighting another giant monster. It’s perennial fan-favourite Anguirus who makes his debut here, giving him the distinction of being only the second kaiju to appear in the long-running Toho franchise. Anguirus would later go on to become one of Godzilla’s most faithful allies (and would regularly get his ass kicked by King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla). Whilst later fight scenes between Godzilla and his giant monster opponents were more drawn out affairs, the fights, or I should say scraps, between the two monsters are pretty timid affairs. They claw and scratch at each other a lot, more primeval and animalistic than the later tag-team cheese fests, and the fight scenes are strangely filmed at a faster rate, giving the impression of a Benny Hill sketch. The monster suits also look a bit cheap and nasty, especially Anguirus. But the first fight scene between the monsters is a historic moment marking the first time that any two monsters did battle in a Japanese kaiju flick.

It’s clear that everything was done quickly and some of the effects look really dated, even in black and white. But I’ll give credit to the miniature makers as the city sets look fairly detailed and there’s plenty of buildings being smashed to bits. A common failing of later Godzilla film was that the monsters started fighting in the city but conveniently ended up in fields and hills where the studio set consisted of little more than a grass floor. Here, the monsters tussle with each other right in central Osaka, making sure that no buildings are left in their wake.

Bizarrely, the big fight between the two monsters, usually the epic finale of these films, comes at the halfway point in the film which means that for the rest of its running time, Godzilla Raids Again plays out like a poorer retread of the original with Godzilla getting back to finishing the job he started on Japan. Osaka is the target this time around, presumably because Tokyo was still in such a mess from before. That said, Godzilla than handily hops across to a couple of remote islands in order for the finale on top of a glacier.

Like the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again was re-edited for American audiences and released under the strange moniker of Gigantis, the Fire Monster. Taking away Godzilla’s name took away the fact that this was a sequel. I don’t get the logic in that but hey, I’m not a producer. Either way, the film still serves little point in existing. There’s no new story to tell, the nuclear messages have been toned down and the monster fights are grossly underwhelming.

 

Make a sequel that’s virtually the same as the one before it with less money and told to do it in six months is no mean feat so it’s a good job at least something managed to click with Godzilla Raids Again and it stumbled upon the template for many Godzilla films to come. Few fans would regard this in their top five Godzilla films with the opposite being more likely. It’s the weakest of the first few films in the series by a long way.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera (1965)

Gamera (1965)

An unnamed jet carrying a nuclear bomb is shot down over the Arctic, exploding upon impact and melting the ice. In doing so, it releases the giant monster Gamera from an icy tomb and it proceeds to head straight for Japan to destroy it. A team of scientists and military personnel must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

 

After Godzilla‘s monstrous success, It was only a matter of time before another Asian studio decided to try and ride the coat tails by producing their own giant monster movie. Toho had dominated the kaiju market with their array of giant monster movies conquering the cinemas including Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. Not to be outdone, Daiei Studios gave the world Gamera. Bizarrely enough, Gamera found a fan base in Japan and become a hotly-contested rival to Godzilla’s crown. Gamera eventually went on to star in his own series of films both back in the 60s and early 70s and then in the more recent 90s and 00s. The recent revival gave Godzilla a big run for his money.

I’ve already mentioned Godzilla a few times already. You see, It’s hard not to make the comparisons between Gamera and Godzilla since Gamera only exists due to the other’s success. Both consequences of atomic radiation (though Gamera was awakened by it, not created by it), both reptilian monsters than can spew deadly breath, both head to Tokyo for a spot of city-smashing, both seem impervious to the army’s attempts to stop them and both are seemingly killed off only to re-emerge a few years later in the sequel. But whilst Toho aimed their franchise towards the adult market, Gamera is solely directed towards the kids.

Later in the series, Gamera would always become friends with a little human Japanese boy who would call on him for help whenever another monster arrived to take over. There are few signs of this infantile approach in Gamera but likewise there are no signs that this was geared towards a more mature audience. There are no pretensions about atomic testing here. Godzilla had been there, done that and was now Japan’s protector rather than his destroyer. Gamera has some thinly-veiled messages to fire off about the Cold War between America and Russia but they seem forcibly added to the film to give it some more gravitas.

Gamera is an interesting design but not in a positive sense. He’s not just a giant turtle but one with a jet-powered shell that can make him fly. He can retract his limbs just like an ordinary turtle but then blasts fire out of each hole, sending him rocketing through the sky like a UFO.  Not only does Gamera look daft but he acts daft too. He’s not the primal force of nature that Godzilla was but rather a dorkier monster with a goofy face. The scenes of him smashing up the miniature cities are average at best, made worse by the ridiculousness of the monster suit.

For budgetary reasons, Gamera was filmed in black and white and whilst this does cover over a lot of the obvious cracks in the special effects, it proves to be a feeble contrast when you look at other films released the same year. Over at Toho in 1965, Godzilla and Rodan were doing battle with King Ghidorah in glorious colour in Invasion of the Astro Monsters. Gamera’s quaint black and white approach pales in comparison and gives it a much older look – you’d quite happily buy into it being a mid 50s sci-fi film. The step-down in quality from the Godzilla films is amazing and whilst the crew who worked on Gamera weren’t as experienced at producing miniatures, the gulf in class is amazing. They don’t vary the scenes of destruction and it gets tiresome watching Gamera pummel the same buildings over and over again. On the plus side, Gamera might just well be the first kaiju film to show humans being incinerated by the giant monster.

The human characters don’t add anything to the story either. All they do is stand around in between monster attacks and discuss what they can to stop Gamera. It’s a good job that there are plenty of attacks because they’d run out of conversation pretty quickly otherwise. There’s a fair selection of stock characters on offer but you’ll never remember who half of them are by the time the film finishes. Their eventual solution to the Gamera problem, trapping him and launching him into space, must rank as one of the most idiotic ways of all time to dispatch a giant monster. Better off launching the film reel with him.

 

It is the only real Asian rival to Godzilla but unfortunately Gamera doesn’t even come close to beating Toho’s all-conquering radioactive monster. Gamera arrived at the monster party ten years too late and is out-gunned by his kaiju counterparts in every aspect.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

It’s a Major Monster Meltdown!

Godzilla’s heart is on the verge of a nuclear meltdown and he is nearing death, which is worrying for the planet as the eventual radioactive fallout would create a huge firewall around the world, destroying all life. The G-Force, an anti-Godzilla task force set up to stop Godzilla, are tasked with finding a solution to this rapidly-approaching problem. Meanwhile, the remnants of the oxygen destroyer weapon used to kill the first Godzilla has somehow mutated into a horrid monster which threatens to destroy Japan. Can Godzilla stop the beast before meltdown?

 

After a successful resurrection in the late 80s and early 90s, Toho decided it was time to time to kill off Godzilla as they had ‘creatively run out of ideas’ for him. It’s a bit rich that they said that, having made twenty-one other films about a giant radioactive monster! Having just signed the rights across for the disastrous 90s American version too, Toho also felt that it would be impractical to have two competing franchises running at the same time so the time was right to retire their version (oh how they wish they had been in possession of a crystal ball!). I’m not revealing any spoilers here that I shouldn’t do because it was public knowledge that Godzilla would be killed off in Godzilla Vs Destroyah. Toho publicised the hell out of it for obvious cash reasons and made sure that, for once, a Godzilla film would have a definite ending.

Simply put, Godzilla Vs Destroyah is one of the finest Godzilla films ever made. Toho put everything they had into giving him an amazing send-off. Gone is the ludicrous camp that infested the 70s. Gone is the silly comic book vibe. Gone is the tag team wrestling. Gone are the alien invasion plots. Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the most dark, grim and downbeat film in the series. This is brutal, physical and no-holds barred monster movie making at its most lethal and disheartening. It is the culmination of years of trying to mesh modern day special effects with the old man-in-a-suit methods of monster making from Toho’s past. They’ve come a long, long way from the days of trying to spot the zipper on the rubber suit.

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was the biggest Godzilla production that Toho had produced and very penny of the budget goes up onto the screen in some form. The new Godzilla suit, brought to life with a fiery orange glow and blowing out smoke every few minutes, is a remarkable special effect which must have been hell for the stuntman inside. Godzilla looks more reptile-like than ever but the addition of the glowing orange skin really makes this version of the monster more human than ever before. We can almost feel the pain of the monster as he roars and breaths fire, slowly dying a horrible death. It’s a shame that they didn’t let loose the chains and have him completely run riot across Japan like never before and he conveniently serves the bulk of his rage for Destroyah.

Destroyah is one of Godzilla’s most physically imposing opponents ever envisioned. There are numerous stages to the monster’s development but it is the final incarnation which provides the ghastly Devil-like creature that Godzilla battles during the finale. It’s like something out a H.P. Lovecraft tale. Destroyah gets billed as Godzilla’s most fearsome rival and whilst the two monsters do battle, the result is never really in question. Godzilla doesn’t lose, ever…or does he in his final fight? Regardless of who wins, the two monsters smash the hell out of Tokyo in the amazing night time battle at the end of the film.

This final confrontation is one of Toho’s finest special effects extravaganzas. I thought the three way battle between Godzilla, Rodan and Mechagodzilla in 1993′s Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla was impressive yet this blows the socks of it by a mile. There is all manner of beam weaponry exchanged between the two monsters, with explosions, sparks and clouds of smoke going up every few minutes. The superbly detailed miniature cities take a pummelling here and the whole thing is captured with some fantastic shots. Shooting the fight at night really hammers home how much Toho had learnt about these type of scenes.

The main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the rather weird detour it takes quite early on during one of Destroyah’s early stages of development. This turns into some sort of pseudo-Aliens flick as a team of soldiers is picked off one-by-one by loads of mini-Destroyahs inside a warehouse. The human aspect of Godzilla films was never really embraced as anything except filler in between the monster fights and there are no exceptions here. Some of the faces from the previous films return for one last hurrah, including Megumi Odaka as Miki Saegusa, who sets a record of six consecutive appearances in Godzilla films. Toho were never ones to adhere to any sort of continuity with the Godzilla series so to see her back again is a bit of a shock. This is even more puzzling when you consider that Godzilla Vs Destroyah cherry picks what it wants to take from the previous couple of films including Godzilla Vs Space Godzilla but mainly refers back to (and includes footage from) the 1954 original.

Of course, what would a Godzilla film be without a classic soundtrack courtesy of Akira Ifukube. Not only was Godzilla bowing out but this was Ifukube’s swansong for the series and he saves some of his best until last. The fight music is riveting as always but it is the final piece during Godzilla’s meltdown which not only draws an end to Godzilla’s career but Ifukube’s as well. It’s a highly emotional pairing and if you’re a fan of Godzilla, I dare you to remain dry-eyed as we witness the colossal monster wither away before our eyes.

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was and still is the pinnacle of Toho’s Godzilla films. It’s an absolute must for any true Godzilla fan – action-packed, featuring the best special effects of the series and featuring an unforgettable finale. Whilst Toho would resurrect Godzilla only a few years later in Godzilla 2000, this, for me, is his ultimate swansong.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933)

A Monster of Creation’s Dawn Breaks Loose in Our World Today!

Producer Carl Denham and his film crew head off to an uncharted Pacific island to finish shooting a movie amongst the superstitious natives who worship a huge gorilla named Kong. What they don’t realise is that Kong is real and the gigantic beast abducts lead actress Ann Darrow after she is offered up as a sacrifice. Setting off in pursuit of her through the perilous jungle, Denham realises that there would be more money to be made if they could capture Kong alive and put him on show in New York.

 

What can anyone say about King Kong that hasn’t already been said? Still one of the biggest cinematic spectacles ever made, King Kong has stood the test of time as an iconic, landmark film in history. Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows how it pans out. Even if you haven’t seen the original, the two remakes, countless imitations and numerous spoofs and references will have mapped out the film from start to finish. I suppose the attraction of watching King Kong nowadays is to become a part of history by immersing yourself in a film that transcends time.

I think people forget when this was made whenever they launch into criticism. King Kong was made in 1933, right in the middle of the Great Depression and only six years before the start of the Second World War. Countries were broke. People were penniless. It’s amazing to ponder the mindset of anyone trying to make something as grand and as spectacular as this during that time given how much of a financial risk it would be. Even the limited technologies available to filmmakers back then failed to deter Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack from attempting to break the mould and make a film that would be like nothing else that had come before. One can only imagine the reaction of being alive in the 30s and being used to the sort of films that were being made back then only to be confronted with King Kong on the big screen. The cultural impact is just too immense to even consider.

The likes of cutting-edge effects-driven spectacles such as Jurassic Park and more recently Avatar have rivalled King Kong‘s screen impact for newer generations but never topped it. There is just something awe-inspiring about the way in which this was all put together back in the 30s – a real labour of love for the cast and crew. Sadly, there is no question that King Kong has dated. From the Orientalist caricatures of the indigenous natives to the 30s fashions and the chauvinist sense of place that men and women both held in films right to the crackling sound and speeded-up action sequences, King Kong has seen its best days long, long gone. The acting by the three leads is of the old school ‘larger than life’ mould where they’re not so much as portraying characters but blustering through theatrical dialogue with all of the determination of a Renaissance dramatist. The script is full of schmaltzy old fashioned macho hero/damsel-in-distress nonsense but given the time period, it’s all perfectly acceptable.

Willis O’Brien deserves a lot of the credit for the success of King Kong. His legendary stop-motion special effects still hold up extraordinarily well today, turning Kong from a special effect into a fully-fledged character. Kong is invested with more heart and soul than 90% of human characters in every other film made. His mannerisms, expertly rendered by O’Brien, such as rubbing his eyes, shaking his head or pounding his fist instil the monster with a scary sense of humanity. He may be a thirty-foot ape but that still doesn’t stop the audience from immediately warming to him and eventually feeling sorry for him when he’s treat the way he is by mankind. The infamous, surprisingly poignant ending, atop the Empire State Building must rank as one of cinema’s greatest climaxes, both tragic and awe-inspiring at the same time. Equally as impressive is the fight between Kong and a T-Rex which finishes up with Kong breaking the jaw of the dinosaur in a show of raw, brute strength. To today’s audiences, the special effects will seem ‘fake’ but suspension of disbelief isn’t hard when the film is this good. O’Brien’s landmark effects paved the way for the likes of Ray Harryhausen to go further in pushing the boundaries of technology and in turn he influenced the next generation of artists like Spielberg, Jackson and Cameron. No King Kong, no cinema as we know it today.

The beauty with King Kong is that it’s not just visually impressive but it tells one hell of a story. People forget how well it plays out, full of thrilling action scenes, heart-stopping chases and romantic sub-plots. The build-up to Kong’s first sighting is skilfully manipulated. The dangerous trek through the jungle, featuring all manner of dinosaurs to pick off the crew, is as exciting as it is scary. Anywhere between thirty and forty of the crew are killed off during the film which is pretty horrific by today’s standards, let alone the 30s!

King Kong also saw the first time that an orchestral score was used to enhance the images on screen rather than have stock music run randomly alongside it without any sort of presence or purpose. Max Steiner’s score for King Kong saw the introduction of leitmotifs, where one recurring piece of music would be attached to an idea, person or place, saw its birth here. These ‘theme tunes’ could be sped up, slowed down or slightly altered given what was happening on-screen – think of the Imperial March theme from The Empire Strikes Back and how that was re-used in different forms across the series, or the shark’s theme in Jaws which was slowed down or sped up depending on the situation. It is a pivotal ingredient that we take for granted in film nowadays but something which saw its genesis back in 1933.

 

I could go on forever about King Kong and haven’t even scratched the surface in regards to the relationship between ‘beauty and the beast’ which led to the film’s most famous quote. I can’t say that it’s one of my favourite films because it’s not. But there’s no denying just how big of an accomplishment this film was and how much of an industry-defining impact it had. Still one of the biggest cinematic spectacles of all time, King Kong is quite simply put one of the greatest films ever made. It truly is the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Travelers from the future arrive in present day Tokyo bringing news with them that that in the next century, Godzilla will return to Japan and destroy it once and for all. They have a solution though: to travel back in time and destroy the dinosaur that eventually mutates into Godzilla after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Earth people agree but they find out that it is a dastardly plan by the time travellers to unleash their new monster on Japan: King Ghidorah. Without Godzilla to save them, who will save Japan from this three-headed terror?

 

The feeble Return of Godzilla in 1984 and the disappointing Godzilla Vs Biollante in 1989 certainly revived interest in Godzilla after a nine year gap but the results had been somewhat underwhelming. Had Toho made a mistake in shelving Godzilla for so long before he was reborn in the 80s? Return of Godzilla was a poor man’s remake of the original with more cutting edge special effects and Godzilla Vs Biollate saw the giant lizard return to his old school roots by pairing off against another giant monster. But they were hardly classic entries in the series which had become more known for its city-stomping and monster tag team fights than any serious post-atomic messages. With Toho’s 50th anniversary approaching, they wanted to celebrate in style by giving Godzilla an old school opponent to fight. King Kong was primarily considered but the rights were too costly and so Toho decided to take a step into Godzilla’s past and resurrect one of his most famous and feared (and my favourite) opponents – King Ghidorah – in order to give their anniversary some major box office clout.

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is arguably where the second wave of Godzilla films really kicked off in earnest. Whilst it doesn’t totally eschew the more serious nature of the previous two films, it allowed some more of the camp and alien invader nonsense of the past to creep back in and soften the edges somewhat. What you get is one of the best instalments of the entire franchise, if you can make it past the first half an hour of complete and utter gibberish that is. The film is ambitious, I’ll credit it with that. Not just content with introducing some aliens with a blatantly-sinister agenda like the 60s and 70s had in abundance, the film borrows from The Terminator with a futuristic android who can run faster and is stronger than anyone as well as a confusing time travel story.

This is one really perplexing film where the film messes around with its own timeline so much that it gets out of control. It tries to be clever, toying with the story by jumping backwards and forwards in time with the old cause and effect routine but it’s not as smart as it thinks it is. Temporal paradoxes are not the strongest point of Godzilla films and if you even try to decipher the logistics behind most of what happens here (events here also effect the following sequels which make reference to this a fair bit) then you’ll be left scratching your head in confusion. The idea behind going back to reveal Godzilla’s origins is good but the execution is appalling as the film flits between 1904, 194 and 2204. At some points during the film, Godzilla is the hero and Ghidorah is the bad guy and then roles are reversed once the films shifts the time continuum. To be honest, once the fights begin, the head-scratching ends.

Forgetting the silly story and focusing on the stronger points of the Godzilla films, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah eventually delivers giant monster battles all brought to life with then-modern special effects of the 90s. The miniature cities look convincing and there’s plenty of explosions and buildings crashing down as the monsters fight each other hand-to-hand and then later with their beam weapons. This is the first of the modern day Godzilla films to really go to town on the destruction and it all looks fantastic, giving you a tantalising taste of what was to come later in the decade.

King Ghidorah gets a sleek new update for the 20th century, having his majestic and awe-inspiring three-headed form retained in earnest. My only disappointment with this new version of the monster is that it lacks the classic roar that the old King Ghidorah had. This new roar sounds pretty feeble and couldn’t be any less intimidating if it tried. Godzilla retains more of the animalistic look that the previous two films had given him, a far cry from the cheesy perma-grinning superhero of the 60s, and he’s back to being really angry with Japan. It’s a suit made to look primal, aggressive and dinosaur-like and it succeeds in keeping the monster from becoming too human. In a funny way, when the monsters fight each other it’s almost like they remember their prior history – impossible since this takes place in a different timeline but you still get the sense of some deep personal issues between the two!

Sadly, the English language release of the film contains some of the worst dubbing I’ve ever heard – the travellers from the future, two of whom are American, are dubbed by some atrocious English-speaking people that I wouldn’t even call voice actors. Whoever was doing the hiring seems to have gone out of the way to find the two silliest voices to dub over. Thankfully a lot of their droning is drowned out by the quality score by returning composer Akira Ifukube, brought back to the series to give it some much-needed audio impact. He resurrects some of his classic old themes including the brilliant Monster Zero March.

 

With an ambitious, if convoluted, story, some excellent special effects and plenty of monster fighting, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is one of the most entertaining instalments of the series. But both Godzilla and King Ghidorah come a little too late in the film to hold it back from being one of the true classics.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (1967)

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (1967)

Even mightier than ‘King Kong’!

An expedition to a remote tropical island leads to the discovery of a baby reptile unlike anything seen before. Ignoring the protests of the natives, the expedition takes the monster to a zoo in Japan. This prompts the baby’s significantly-larger parents to go searching for their offspring leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

 

Japan’s oldest major movie studio, Nikkatsu, had decided to jump on board the ‘kaiju’ bandwagon of the 60s. This was an era in which Tokyo had been destroyed countless times by the likes of Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra and Rodan courtesy of the folks over at Toho and Daiei studios. Even London had received the wrath of Gorgo and Copenhagan had drawn the short straw with the laughable Reptilicus spewing its green goo all over the capital. Giant monster movies were all the rage, so why not get in on the act and potentially spawn a whole franchise of popular monster movies? Well the idea was good in theory but the execution is woeful. Gappa, The Triphibian Monster could well be one of the worst giant monster movies to ever come out of Japan and over forty years later, that still holds true.

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (also known as Monster From a Prehistoric Planet, a title which makes no sense whatsoever as they’re not space monsters) is, to put it bluntly, a terrible entry in the kaiju cycle. It borrows heavily from Gorgo about a baby monster which is taken from its home and put on display only for its parents to come looking for it – well borrowing is a bit gentle, more like stealing. Unfortunately it also borrows Gorgo’s sluggish pace and even manages to slow that down. At the end of the day, it’s a film about giant monsters smashing cities which takes about three quarters of an hour to get them down to business. Even then, the action is quickly skirted over and is lacking in energy and passion. Kaiju films should never be this dull and insipid.

In the meantime, the film throws in a couple of human sub-plots to keep the monsters off-screen for as long as possible. There’s the obligatory scenes of the ‘cute’ baby monster, which is ugly as hell but it’s meant to be cuddly and stuff, in captivity and making the audience all gooey-eyed over it. Throw in one of the native kids who hitches a ride back to Japan (and who has, rather alarmingly in today’s politically correct world, been smothered in shoe polish to make him look ‘native’) and a greedy editor (of a magazine called Playmate – but alas it’s not the one featuring naked chicks) and you have enough padding to keep the Gappas off screen for as long as necessary. And believe me they’re off screen for a good deal of the running time. The lousy international dubbing doesn’t help matters either though I’m pretty sure that it’s the same voices as those behind the Destroy All Monsters dub and that added a goofy touch to the film. Unfortunately there’s no such added bonus with this one.

Let’s face it, the Gappa monsters sound good on paper – giant bird-like monsters that can fly (well they do have wings) and swim and they have Godzilla-like breath weapons. Once you see them on the screen, this positive image is completely thrown out the window with some of the worst monster suits ever designed. These are the type of suits that bring up the phrase “if you look carefully, you can see the zipper.” Not only do they look pitiful but the miniature cities upon which they unleash their wrath look exactly like miniature cities. When they start smashing the place up, they do like the men in suits that they are. Whilst not every Godzilla film managed to maintain this illusion, at least effort was made to portray the monster as real and not as a hokey special effect. Complaining about the special effects is a waste of time really. I wasn’t expecting much and it’s on par with the worst of the Godzilla and Gamera films as far as these go. It’s just that the effects are done without any hint of enthusiasm and the effects team look to be going through the motions at every opportunity.

 

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster is a clunker of a kaiju film, no better or worse than some of Toho and Daiei’s worst efforts, but a clunker nonetheless. The effects have become somewhat of a joke over the years, even appearing as stock footage monsters in a hilarious scene in BBC comedy show Red Dwarf where the characters mock the quality of the suits.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆