The fandom is known to seek out the original versions of Toho’s films when at all possible, and for good reason. American distributors sometimes cut scenes, alter music and even add sequences to movies.
The Return of Godzilla (1984) faced a similar treatment when it was brought over to the US as Godzilla 1985 by New World Pictures. However, while fans are quick to turn their nose up at the version for its “young general, evil Soviets, Dr. Pepper vending machine” ways, the American version did a lot of things right. Now I’m not defending Godzilla 1985 as the better version, it’s not. The US version added some awfully pointless scenes, but I feel it should be recognized for the many positive changes that were done.
Many things were altered about the 1984 movie, some more respectful than others, and some did improve the film. Below is a list of some of the greatest alterations New World Pictures did when preparing The Return of Godzilla for the US market, in order of enjoyment.
Less “Foreigner” Dialogue
“This is no time to be discussing PRINCipals…”
Bad acting from non-Japanese actors is a norm for a lot of the Godzilla franchise. The Showa films used to address this by dubbing over most of them, even though the caliber of actors like Nick Adams and Russ Tamblyn was high and their performances great. The Return of Godzilla started a new trend of leaving the original actors’ dialogue in.
While the performances are better in this film than the ones that would follow, there is still cringe worthy moments. Oddly, the US version elects not to dub these over and keeps the original performances. Thankfully, though, Godzilla 1985 instead removes a lot of these lines. This does have a negative by-product though on a few of the scenes that employee them. The best example is the Soviet submarine sequence, which has a lot of the lines cut. This includes axing the cheesy nuclear “conflicto” line. However, the removal gets to the point where the scene feels very brisk, totally removing the tension the sequence was going for.
On the scale of changes, this one does some good along with the bad.
Making Tokyo Actually Seem Evacuated
This is a pet peeve of mine, but in The Return of Godzilla Tokyo never feels like it’s actually evacuated. The film makes an effort to show daytime evacuation scenes as notice is given that Godzilla is heading toward Tokyo… and then night falls and the city still seems packed with people. This includes footage of a bustling shopping district that reacts to Godzilla almost on top of them. In fact, it feels like most of Tokyo kind of ignored the evacuation notification.
New World Pictures addresses this by using the shopping district shot without the crowds below and two other major contributions to make it feel like Tokyo actually made more of an effort to evacuate.
The first is the removal of a crowd scene that happens after Godzilla collapses from fighting the Super-X. This occurs almost immediately after Godzilla falls over, making it feel like there were throngs of people, in running distance, of Godzilla while he was attacking Tokyo’s downtown area. I mean this isn’t just a handful of people who might have struggled to evacuate, this is a regular flash mob that shows up on cue and is held back by police in riot gear who are also immediately on the scene (Godzilla has quite the entourage). All of these scenes were wisely removed.
The next contribution is through the ordering of scenes. When the Japanese government announces that the Russian nuke has been launched at Tokyo, we get shots of them announcing this to crowds and footage of citizens rushing into subways. It gets a smirk: shouldn’t these people already be evacuated? New World instead takes this footage and places it just BEFORE Godzilla arrives. This is much better, making it feel like the final stages of the evacuation rather than a second attempt to evacuate the people who must not have listened the first time.
Cutting Bad Effects
While special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano was at the top of his game for the 1984 film, the production does exhibit the Japanese norm of being uneven in its effects. It’s rare for any Tokusatsu (Japanese special effects films) to not exhibit this, often having at least one below par or cringe worthy effect. This is largely due to the tight schedule that most Japanese productions are created under. The Return of Godzilla has a few, and thankfully these were cut from the US version.
First up is the Shockirus attack, which is much longer in the Japanese version. Godzilla 1985 cuts a little too much here, but it does remove the greatest offending point: the part where the prop jumps onto actor Ken Tanaka’s back. It’s totally unconvincing as it dangles part on the actor, part off, being held by the actor. This segment is not only better left forgotten, but also doesn’t make sense in the story, as Tanaka’s character Goro Maki turns around and the Shockirus that was on his back is suddenly across the room (!?) and then jumps on his chest.
The other offending special effects shots are numerous, but are all related to the “real size” Godzilla foot prop. Sadly, the prop is not only unconvincing but also just doesn’t match how the foot looks in other scenes. Given the budget probably spent on these scenes, one can sympathize with director Nakano wanting to keep them in, but they aren’t particularly exciting on their own and the film benefits from their removal.
Trimmed Super-X vs. Godzilla Battle
In the original version, Godzilla seems very lethargic at some points. The worst offender of this is during his initial battle with the Super-X.
For the battle, Godzilla stands around for long spans of time before and when he is first confronted by the Super-X. This includes standing in place as the ship approaches, before the ship starts to fire its flares, during the flares, and even after being injected by the cadmium missiles. Other than roaring, his only response is a belated atomic ray AFTER Godzilla is having issues breathing from the cadmium… and Godzilla continues to stand, off on a small monitor, while the prime minister and his staff go over the likely scenario of the nuke that the Soviets just launched. FINALLY the movie cuts back and Godzilla collapses into a building, as the cadmium begins to affect him. The editing structure is painful, and oddly de-emphasizes Godzilla during what should be a key sequence.
The US edit is much more concise, with faster pacing that doesn’t make it seem like Godzilla is just sitting there perplexed for what feels like an hour while the Super-X does it’s thing. The editing makes Godzilla feel more appropriately hostile, as his first response is to attempt to blast the craft with his ray, which has no impact thanks to the ship’s shielding. The Super-X then responds in turn with the flares and cadmium missiles, which cause Godzilla to topple over without the needless minutes of him standing in place. It’s an infinitely more engaging turn of events than what happens in the original cut.
The second battle after Godzilla awakes is good in both versions, although even here the US version makes a wise cut of a long scene as Godzilla waits for the Super-X to emerge from behind a building.
While most of the improvements to the film can be chalked up to editing choices, and most of the negatives associated with the added scenes, this alteration does buck that trend. As Godzilla ascends into the volcano, Raymond Burr’s Steve Martin gives a heartfelt speech about the monster:
Nature has a way sometimes of reminding man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up terrible offspring’s of our pride and carelessness to remind us of how puny we really are in the face of a tornado, an earthquake, or a Godzilla. The reckless ambitions of man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now, Godzilla, that strangely innocent and tragic monster, has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us… remain…
While much of the dialogue for the new film leaves some to be desired, the overly poetic closure feels on point. Burr’s delivery is also impeccable, giving some new closing meat to the film during a sequence that was otherwise dialogue-less.
The Return of Godzilla features two songs, both of which were removed when New World Pictures edited the film. The first is “Good-bye Sweetheart Godzilla” and the second is the “Godzilla: Theme of Love”. If those song titles sound out of place for the more gothic 1984 film, it’s because they are.
The first song is actually done by the main actress of the film, Yasuko Sawaguchi. It’s heard on the radio during the opening on the small leisure boat before it finds the Yahata Maru. It really cuts through the mood, being way too happy and poppy, as its placed between the fishing ship struggling the night before and the upcoming sequence of the Shockirus. If the original film crew placed the song there as a moment of humor, it missed the mark and feels more like Toho was looking for some place to just cram and promote Sawaguchi’s musical career.
The second song is better, but also unneeded. It’s located during the movie’s credits, as Godzilla is trapped in the volcano. Done by The Star Sisters, the song is actually in English and has the singers saying: “Good-bye now Godzilla, good-bye now Godzilla, until then… take care now Godzilla, take care now Godzilla my old friend… Sayonara ‘til we meet again.” Yes there was a saddened relief felt by the characters as Godzilla was falling into the volcano, but the lyrics of the song feel totally out of place. It would fit much better as a finisher on one of the 1970’s films, as opposed to one where Godzilla returned to his evil roots.
For the record, I don’t dislike either song, but feel neither fits with the 1984 Godzilla film.
Added Music by Christopher Young
*drum roll* …and the greatest achievement from Godzilla 1985 is the added music. Original composer Reijiro Koroku did a phenomenal job on the movie’s score. It’s one of the better in the franchise, and the dark, moody music fits the gothic motif of the production perfectly.
The fault of the music is not in the themes themselves, which are incredible, but rather than the sequences that lack them. Realizing this, New World Pictures tapped the musical work of composer Christopher Young to fill in the blank sequences. While Young is a very prolific composer now, having scored films like Spider-Man 3 and The Rum Diary, he was relatively new to the industry back in the mid-1980’s. The source of the music is actually the score for Def-Con 4, which was released in the US just five months prior.
Young’s score not only fits well with Koroku’s music, but was brilliant in its own right, and likely would have been very obscure if not for its use in the Godzilla film. The added themes from Young greatly improved certain, previously music-less sequences. The best examples include the eerie search through the Yahata Maru, the Soviet Submarine scenes before Godzilla attacks and the high rise evacuation by helicopter. The new end credits also utilized a new suite of music that nicely mixed Koroku’s music with Young’s to great effect.
As a side note, a lot of the musical score for Def-Con 4 can be found on an old 1990 Intrada CD release that we have reviewed on the site.
Agree or disagree with this list? Feel free to list your own things Godzilla 1985 did better than The Return of Godzilla in the comments below.