Godzilla Vs. Gigan (my childhood favorite of the showa series) is a welcome change of pace after the last two kooky entries… even if it is about a monster-themed Disneyland that plans to launch a military campaign of extermination against a world-famous south seas island from the get-go.
All right, so the basic concept may not hold up to scrutiny, even before alien cockroaches in reanimate human corpses are introduced… nonetheless, this feels like a return to form after two major breaks from formula; indeed, it feels almost like a return to the pre-south seas days… something in the vein of Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster. Although the ensemble cast is much more along the lines of an Ebirah or vs. Kong group.
Regardless, while this has the earmarks of a very different era with its 70s-ness and stock-footage cost-cutting, it has echoes of a classical style that we haven’t seen in a while, even if it is dressed up in new trappings. It feels familiar and comfortable- a return to tried-and-true formula after some experimental and bizarre entries.
That said, it isn’t without its difficulties… and the characters reflect that. Gengo, our protagonist, is competent enough… but he also comes off as a whiner, a slacker, and only of… shall we say, moderate intelligence. Machiko exists only to agree with other characters and have a brother, while Shosaku doesn’t have much more to do. (At least he has enough personality and charisma to maximize his minimal role, though). And when the much-spoken-of Takashi finally makes the scene- he doesn’t really have enough of a role to be memorable.
By contrast, Tomoko, Gengo’s (Sister? Girlfriend? Wife? I couldn’t tell…) is strangely absent for so much of the middle stretch that it comes as a surprise she’s apparently one of our main characters… but once she returns, she becomes the most useful character of the bunch, using her black-belt to really start making some headway against the not-particularly-cunning heads of Children’s World…
…Whose ability to create an entire theme park within a year (and the construction of that pavilion has to have taken more than that!) despite no verifiable background- in fact, being heavily-public figures who also have death-certificates- no apparent finances, and no credentials to their charitable organizations, smacks of the laziest comic-book plotting; it makes no logical sense how these people could have accomplished this in the real world, where permits and background checks and record-keeping exist). Still, the pair of them are fairly effective in their creepy smugness, and there is
something a little unsettling about the dismissive boy genius.
While it’s a minor part, I really like the general who decides that the world’s only hope is Godzilla (presumably because all the world’s pilots decided to fly within ten feet of Gigan for their attack runs; seriously, you’d think that after the fourth or fifth death, they’d get the idea to keep their distance). He’s a small role, but far from the usual ‘incompetent authority figure’ general. The fact that he lends credence to the protagonists’ claims and sends an army demolition squad with them is appreciated, and his general genre-savvy nature (recognizing King Ghidorah from the sound of his roars, recognizing that Godzilla is in hero mode at this point in the series- though oddly, perhaps because of his prolonged absence, not recognizing Anguiras’ good-guy status. We’ll have to see if the military is more with-it next film…)
Speaking of the raid, I must assume that Gengo is possibly the world’s fastest artist, because I cannot figure out at what time during the pitched battle (which rather constrains the timeline) he managed to draw that full-size spread of the freedom fighters? And while I think the weather-balloon/zip-line gambit is really quite clever, the model-work there is truly atrocious. The string holding up the ‘weather balloon’ is almost as thick as the string representing the rope off the bottom. (And the difference in motion between a rising balloon and a small ball being pulled up is striking).
I do love the ‘no fuse or timer, we’ll just trick them into detonating the explosives themselves’ gambit, and that the picture of people is enough to get the guards to fire. (Also, notably for those guards- I do love the way that they run into the control-room after discovering the escape; it really does look for a moment as if they’re going to try and guiltily skirt their way through and try and track down the prisoners without the boss ever finding out they escaped).
As for the kaiju… my wife said that she thought this was the worst she’d ever seen Godzilla looking. I’m not sure I agree, but… yeah, the look isn’t a great one. Also, since this was the Kraken Media blu-ray, my print had neither the Japanese word bubbles, nor the English voiceover (when watching the Japanese language version), which is highly disappointing. Regardless, it is fun to have a separate set of sound effects indicating kaiju communication, even if you can’t understand what’s being said.
This is once again the taunting, anthropomorphized Godzilla… though hear, he proves a cunning strategist, to boot; he directs Anguiras’ attacks, owns Ghidorah pretty handily, sharpshoots Gigan- even his peril with the laser beam doesn’t occur because he falls into the trap, but because he s knocked, woozy and confused, into the area of fire. It may be safe to call this the most intelligent and non-animal that we’ve seen Godzilla yet, even over and above the problem-solver of ‘Vs. Hedorah.’ I mean, talking is one thing- but issuing tactical commands to a subordinate to coordinate battle strategy takes things to a whole new level.
And, hey- here he is! After a protracted absence (like, the entirety of the color run), Anguirus’ re-introduction in Destroy All Monsters pays off! After a lot of kaiju from that film ended up as one-off cameos, Anguirus see a reintroduction to the series proper, in the role of sidekick that he’s best-remembered for. Unfortunately, just as Doctor Who’s Silurians seem to serve only one purpose in their stories (namely, to die), Anguirus seems to primarily exist to get beat up and bloodied. However, he proves himself at the conclusion of the battle, taking on King Ghidorah with the scrappy pluck that always endears him to our hearts.
As the film’s new kaiju, Gigan is hilariously pathetic; getting shot down mid-flight multiple times, getting sat upon and wailed on… crawling away on hands and knees through the forest after the masers knocked him down. Even his primary ‘victory’ over Godzilla was pretty much the tower beam’s; he just capitalize don the insensate Godzilla afterward. The only time he was really intimidating were his buzz-saw flybys, that really seemed to be a fairly devastating attack. Regardless, he never came off as menacing; only a joke. Ebirah may have had his arms ripped off, may have taken only two atomic rays two completely kill… but at least he acted
like a contender. He postured; he put up a poor showing, but he still presented himself as someone to be reckoned with. Gigan, even when he was
delivering a devastating attack, still felt like a nebbish little coward getting in a lucky shot. He strikes me as the weakest kaiju Godzilla ever fought, at least in terms of presentation. Even the Kamacuras managed to generate more menace. Heck, even the giant condor seemed like more of a threat.
I love Gigan’s design- as a kid, he was my favorite kaiju- but in execution, he just seems laughably weak; an impression that overrides even his feats demonstrating otherwise. He just projects a lack of self-confidence and cowardice that pervades everything he does.
Ironically, King Ghidorah- whom I’ve always seen as a paper tiger- felt more powerful here than in most of the films about him; the force of destruction he was always advertised as (except for the ending, where he was badly beat-down yet again.) The choice to give the flying model red eyes was a nice touch, but helped to really emphasize the contrast between new flying footage, new ground footage set at night, and the horrible day-for-night darkening of stock footage from previous films featuring King Ghidorah, which was just so obvious, and really, really bad.
And the padding really wasn’t needed. As my wife pointed out, this feels like the formula of too many kaiju films; forty-five minutes of human-only plot, followed by a seemingly-20-minute sequence of kaiju rampaging that becomes a bit mind-numbing in duration, followed by roughly 40 minutes of fighting and human climax interspersed. Honestly, a little better distribution between the elements could’ve balanced this film a lot better… and by that point in the film, extra mindless-battle run-time was not needed. As a result, the film is a bit bogged down in pacing… though honestly, the film moves along at a decent pace despite it. There is some unclear editing (the shot of a hand grabbing the tape reel, for instance, and later the lighter being set down on a table just after Gengo is caught, both make it appear that the hero has bungled things and lost crucial evidence to the bad guys for a second… but neither were apparently intended
to appear mysterious or create tension, they were just ill-thought-out in their context), but generally, the human plot is engaging and keeps moving- moreso than any human plot since vs. Ebirah, for this reviewer.
The effects, on the other hand, let things down a bit more. Copious stock footage and the weather-balloon issue have already been mentioned… but in all honesty, Children’s Land never looks like anything more than a model; the Godzilla Tower especially is unconvincing. There is a nice scene where Tomoko and Gengo start to ascend the tower, and the model of the Tower is composited with real stairs- but even that standout effect is rather ruined by the subsequent scene where a handheld camera follows them up the staircase… not only is it bad day-for-night again, but it’s painfully
obvious that all four sides of the staircase face sky; it is not up against the side of a giant Godzilla sculpture.
(Also, as my wife and I were just discussing, we kind of doubt this relationship has much of a future; Tomoko mocks his manhood here, and has to keep on his back to get the slacker to make something of himself; he calls her a nag and unfavorably caricatures her in his art. It could just be- as with ‘you cheeky pig!’, that they have a very
teasing relationship, and just take all these snipes in stride… but it honestly seems like there’s a bit of trouble in paradise. My wife thinks Tomoko is indeed a nag and that Gengo should dump her for Machiko… while I, having been the exact kind of whiner about getting a job (hippie!) that Gengo is at the start, see him as a slacker and feel that Tomoko deserves better. I guess we’re always harder on the gender we are…)
Gigan’s buzz-saw effect is cheap but decent, aiming for a ‘spinning so fast they only look like they’re shaking back and forth’ effect, like a tire rim or airplane propeller seeming to spin backwards, which works well at a distance (though not so great up-close). The high-speed hits and blood fountain look great, the plane-attack missiles have a striking appearance even if the planes don’t look so convincing (especially at the moment of their destruction), and the city-destruction (that which is actually original) has a nice cinematography, with flame-lit Gigan having a great, modern look. The planetary sequences- including in-space kaiju reveal and loop-de-loop- are great… and I love the command center set (a great credits backdrop that really feels like it prefigures the Heisei era), particularly the way the back of Fumio’s office chair looks like the topography of a barren, alien world, just after we’ve seen a similar topographical Earth-globe in the chamber beyond. The laser beam and destruction of Godzilla Tower was great, too. But the death of the cockroach people, with its color-changing, top-of-the-screen superimposed flames and pretty-uninspired cockroach footage is just… yeesh. Unintentionally-hilarious. I applaud the ambition, but the execution is not so great.
The music follows suit with the visuals, reusing a lot of stock material- but the themes reprised are quality work, and welcome, so the soundtrack seems elevated by reprise, rather than drug down by stock footage.
All in all, Godzilla vs. Gigan is a flawed film, that would’ve been a lot stronger (despite a short run-time) sticking to its own original material. Gigan himself comes off as a joke; a pratfalling, incompetent, comic-relief kaiju and a vulture-opportunist, quick to capitalize on someone else’s handywork. But that’s a fun change of pace after the darkness of Hedorah, and it complements the slightly comic-book tone of the movie. The effects are a mixed bag, the characters a bit thin, the pacing struggles to overcome stock footage it didn’t need to use… in all of that, Godzilla vs. Gigan is a thoroughly average
film, neither good nor bad; a solid, middle-of-the-road, standard entry. Far from damning with faint praise, however, that’s a good thing; after a string of experimental, hit-or-miss entries, it’s nice to have a return to normal. And lurking within those unfortunate, encrusting encumbrances is a gem of a film- a lightweight rather than a classic of the genre, but still a fun, watchable entry that is sadly dragged down by a few of it’s weaker elements. Thankfully, however, they’re not enough to keep this from being a fun, entertaining entry in the Godzilla canon; childhood me wasn’t that off the mark.Added in 7 hours 38 minutes 35 seconds:
mschenk wrote:Why would they build Children's Land to brainwash the children of the world that monsters/alien insects aren't all bad, only to unleash Ghidorah and Gigan on the cities? I understand they were summoned to kill Godzilla, but why wreak havoc on the population?
I kinda got the impression that Children's Land was a cover (or at best, a contingency plan) to give them a reason to build a giant Godzilla-sized building to hide a ray-gun in. (That, or the theft of the tape and possibility of discovery forced their hand into a more aggressive version of their original long-game plan...)