For starters, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah was once my favorite Godzilla movie. I don’t think I’ve outgrown this kind of film; I’m still a fan of many bizarre kaiju flicks. But I think the initial awe at the origin plot, time travel, and the updated Ghidorah and Godzilla has just worn off with time, and the fundamental flaws of the film are far more visible now. The sub par acting, poor character development, and special effects blemishes have become more obvious. Also, the Americanization of the film is saturated with terrible dubbing. These negative aspects do not, however, detract from the positives of the film: the triumphant return of Akira Ifukube and the raw innovation of a back-to-Showa, kitschy plot. However, the storyline did create a swiss cheese continuum of eye-brow raising “huh, wait…?” moments with the paradoxical time travel aspect. Nevertheless, the film is light-years from a disaster, and it was a substantial box-office success.
In the year 1992, the sudden arrival of time travelers from the distant future spread wonder amidst the Japanese populace. These Futurians from the year 2204 returned to this time period to warn the world that Godzilla would soon strike again and completely destroy Japan. These people from the future assembled a task force of three of three contemporaries, Kenichiro Terasawa, Professor Mazaki, and the psychic Miki Saegusa, to accompany them to the past in order to prevent Japan from experiencing total annihilation. In 1944, on Lagos Island in the South Pacific, a furious battle between a young, un-mutated Godzillasaurus and US troops struck awe in the time travelers. The US troops retreated, and the Godzillasaurus was left on the brink of death. Teleporting the wounded beast to the cold depths of the Bering Sea, the Futurians apparently defeated this denizen of the Mesozoic before it could mutate during the Bravo H-Bomb tests and cause a tremor in modern society.
Upon their seemingly triumphant return to the 1990’s, it became abundantly clear that not all was as it appeared. A new, three-headed dragon had appeared… King Ghidorah. The advent of this creature was the direct result of Futurian duplicity. Bred from genetically altered animals placed on Lagos (by the Futurians), King Ghidorah grew to immense size, and packed a terrible punch in its dreaded golden gravity beams. The seemingly benevolent temporal wanderers were, in truth, actually attempting to topple Japan before it could become a corrupt political and economic superpower in the relatively near future. Little did these Futurians realize that a nuclear accident in the Bering Sea, during the 1970’s, had already thrown an unexpected, and highly ironic wrench in their works. The Godzillasaurus had mutated, it was 100 meters tall, and it was a virtually unstoppable juggernaut that could seriously ruin the the time travelers’ plans for destruction. Now, the two abominations would be bought together to battle, but the question remains… who is the greater menace, King Ghidorah or Godzilla?
The plot is probably the most interesting aspect of the film (next to music, of course). It’s also one of the redeeming values that saves the film from disaster. Formulating a specific origin for the Heisei Godzilla is an enormous treat. Even the Showa timeline, though it showed theoretical evidence for the origin of Godzilla in the original movie, never revealed actual footage of said origin. The fact that Godzilla is shown alive during World War II really shakes up preconceived notions about the character, as well as the continuity of the series as a whole, thereby adding a creative new dimension (which was, unfortunately, not really pursued in future films). The only big problem here is the time travel aspect, which has sparked countless debates. The best explanation seems to be that the creature that mutated into the original Godzilla wasn’t the one that was relocated, and the one that was relocated became the modern Godzilla. No matter how strong the resolve of many arguments, undoubtedly questions will continue to remain and arise due to the bizarre nature of this unorthodox Godzilla film.
While the plot is a refreshing, Showa-esque romp through time travel and genetic oddities, the acting leaves much to be desired, from most parties involved. Yoshiyo Tsuchiya is the outstanding performance in this film, even though he’s one of the supporting actors. His ability to portray emotion, although reserved, is still light years ahead of the other cast members! The scenes where he encounters Godzilla face-to-face are actually some of the most sorrowful and touching moments in the 90’s Godzilla films. Reprising her role from the previous film (the first actress to do so in the Godzilla series since Emi and Yumi Ito), Megumi Odaka adds a charming, and familiar presence to the film… solidifying tight Heisei continuity. Her role, unfortunately, isn’t all that powerful, nor is her character explored very far in the plot of this entry in comparison to the prior film. The main character Kosuke Toyohara, is one of the deader performances to abound in this movie. There seems to be little emotion, and little motivation, let alone a solid basis in character development to help him out… and he’s the hero! Amidst the protagonists, nobody else really stands out, at all. The villains are the only other interesting characters in the movie, but the performances here are weak as well. Chuck Wilson and Richard Bergerwell don’t seem very experienced in their craft. Granted, they’re speaking Japanese, so I have to give them superb props there, but the performances are just so cheesy Saturday-morning cartoon villainy (that phrase used to have meaning). They’re like watered-down Xiliens. At least Anna Nakagawa has something with which to work. Her role as the woman torn between her misguided ideals, her patriotism, and her love is quite intriguing… in theory. But again, she isn’t very skilled in her craft, and she seems to have that 80’s “I’m your newest girlfriend, MacGyver” persona about her. Finally, there’s Robert Scott Field, as the Terminator. I didn’t say the Terminator, did I? I’m sorry, I meant to say Lobot. Wait… I mean M11. Ok, so it’s obvious some inspiration was derived from other sources when this character was made. So, how well does Field handle the performance? He has the role of an android, I guess he’s about as proficient as any other actor in the traditionally deadpan, and sometimes quirky android role. Although, he does run funny (yes, I know it’s a terrible SFX shot, but I couldn’t resist).
For those of you, like me, who will see the dubbed version, this must be said: UGH! In the eighties, at least they tried. Now, it just seems like a joke. Granted, it isn’t as bad as All Monsters Attack (1969) by a long shot, but it is still so groan-worthy that it borders painful. The voices have that hearty theatrical quality that just borders on the realm of cheese.
Quickly forgetting the dubbing… we must move on to the aspect of this film that won an award: special effects. Hmm, it’s a fairly uneven effort. Forced perspective in the initial Godzillasaurus battle is a little annoying, but it’s always obnoxious to know they’re cheating. The Godzillasaurus suit itself is fairly impressive. There’s a nice reptilian hunch, complete with brownish, scaly skin (as compared to the charcoal bark texture of the mutated Godzilla). When the final Godzilla is shown in the movie, it’s a slight, yet noticeable improvement over the previous film. Though the differences are minute, the thing to note here is that the catlike features have been downplayed this time around, and a much more ominous, prehistoric façade has replaced it. As for Godzilla’s foe, King Ghidorah, the work here is, again, a mixed bag. King Ghidorah’s design is sleek, and in my humble opinion, an improvement over the Showa design (dodges rotten tomato). The only problem is that there isn’t enough fluid movement in the suit, and it actually falls flat in the area of organic illusion compared to its Showa counterpart. And it gets really inorganic in the flying scenes (jet scene in particular), but the terrible composite effects during these scenes doesn’t help either. As for the creatures that become Ghidorah: the Dorats, they are met with almost complete failure. Sure, they’re cute, but they’re SO unrealistic (they must be the precursor to those terrible Furbies). Mecha-King Ghidorah, while suffering from some of the same problems, is actually less of a concern in regard to a lack of fluid movement, due to the expected inorganic nature of a cybernetic monster. Getting away from the suits for a second, one should bring up the Ghidorah shadow… it’s just off, perspective-wise and in general appearance, and is luckily only a quick rotoscoping blemish (although it sticks with you). But speaking of rotoscoping, the beam work is fantastic here. This has to be one of my personal favorite breath effects for Godzilla, sparky crimson streaks amidst a spectral blue column of fire. And the gravity beams are a major improvement over the Showa timeline as well, more resembling streaks of glowing energy than ever before. But let me derail the rotoscoping critique to focus on models before moving on. The model work here is proficient, especially in the final Tokyo scenes. However, it certainly isn’t The Return of Godzilla (1984) proficient (although it is doubtful that few will ever be). Finally, the sets must be mentioned. Yes, the MOTHER ship sets look fairly Star Trek-ian… but they are still pretty pleasant to the eyes, especially considering the last futuristic sets Godzilla audiences saw were the aluminum foil control rooms of the 70s kaiju epics.
Concerning music, this film is a major contender not only in the Heisei timeline, but in Godzilla history as a whole. Granted, most of the themes are remakes. The UFO theme is a redo of the Godzilla and King Kong fight theme from the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) (particularly interesting due to the fact that this film was first planned to be a remake of said film), the battle between the jets and Ghidorah is a redo of the “Get Rodan!” theme from Rodan (1956) (you guessed it), and the repetitive Godzillasaurus theme has vague, yet discernable similarity to city-destruction themes from Godzilla (1954). King Ghidorah’s theme has been updated as well, giving it a much heavier bass quality, which is, again, an upgrade in my humble opinion (dodges a rotten pineapple). Godzilla’s theme also makes it’s triumphant reappearance, heard in stock as the main title of the previous film, but here, in full force as the greatest sign that the Maestro had finally returned to the series.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is, regrettably, a rather unappreciated entry in the long running G-series. It’s biggest contributions are an origin story, the return of Akira Ifukube, and the advent of a 100-meter Godzilla. Otherwise, there are some poor special effects and some rickety character development only barely holding this film aloft. Still, I can’t deny that it was, only quite recently, my all-time favorite Godzilla film, and if you don’t enter this movie with preconceived notions, you can end up enjoying it on a very fun level. It’s certainly not a bad movie, perhaps even a smidge underrated.