Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) [Continental Version]

Class: User
Author: Destroyer
Score: (4/5)
October 23rd, 2011 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth, known famously as Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, is the fifth Godzilla film and a major turning point that would shape the rest of the Showa Timeline. This film holds a special place in my collection. Why? Is it because this was the first time Godzilla began filling the role of protagonist? Is it because this would be King Ghidorah's debut? Those are two splendid reasons, but for me, the thing that really makes this so special is raw nostalgia. This was my first ever Godzilla film! I got this thing on tape when I was four years old. It was so magical seeing Mothra rally Godzilla and Rodan to battle the intimidating King Ghidorah. It has been some time since I last watched it, but I do feel it's finally time to give my thoughts on this gem.

A mysterious meteorite crashes in Japan, a foreign princess begins to claim she is from another world and prophesies times of turmoil, Godzilla and Rodan have awoken from their slumber and attempt to annihilate one another, and Mothra is left in the middle as the only mediator capable of bringing together two of Earth's greatest monsters to repel a three-headed harbinger of doom.

This film is a bit darker and more serious than than some of the Godzilla-as-protagonist films that would follow. The acting tends to steer clear of the quality issues that would plague the more lighthearted fare. The dialogue isn't too cheesy, and it's amazing when you contrast it against movies like Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).

Akiko Wakabayashi manages to churn out a rather memorable performance as the otherworldly princess Selina Salno. Despite her rather deadpan delivery, she manages to conjure up a rather haunting atmosphere of uncertainty. The human villain this time around is Chief Assassin Malmess (portrayed by Hisaya Ito), whose performance is surprisingly solid. His cold and "strictly business" demeanor evokes a sort of visceral dread (he even has the whole sunglasses thing going for him). Naoko Shindo (played by Yuriko Hoshi) is a fine female lead who is very fortunately presented with a strong and competent role in the unfolding plot. The rest of the cast seems to do well with what they're given, and with Ishiro Honda at the helm, direction is almost definitely part of the winning solution.

The monsters are the real draw, of course. This was Godzilla's last bout as a card-carrying villain in the '60s. The suit boasts some menacing features, including rotating eyes. It's a much better costume than some of the ones we'll see later on (e.g. Godzilla vs. Gigan [1972]). Rodan, if you can imagine, looks even more menacing than the Big G. They prove to be worthy opponents, effectively reaching a stalemate. The Mothra Larva looks nice, but it's a little sad to see this little one getting tossed about.

We can't forget about King Ghidorah, of course. I'm sure the filmmakers didn't quite realize that this beast would become such an iconic pop culture legend, recognizable even outside of the esoteric circles of the kaiju fandom. It's pretty obvious in retrospect; after all, who wouldn't enjoy watching a three-headed dragon from space tear up the scenery with a golden barrage of gravity beams?! With a malevolent persona and a towering build, the King of Terror challenges the King of the Monsters with a bit of healthy competition. Complete with a cackling roar and an unending thirst for chaos, this monster is the highlight, a true villain with his own "Watch out, he's here!" theme.

The effects are pretty decent, as the suits move realistically. They are somewhat of a sight to behold even to this day. King Ghidorah's iconic energy weapon looks great onscreen, but alas, Godzilla's atomic breath looks like a cloud of aerosol spray.

Pacing is an unfortunate problem with this movie. It takes way too long for the monsters to show up. At least the humans scenes aren't quite as dull as those found in Destroy All Monsters (1968). Nevertheless, it takes about 40 minutes to get some bona fide monster action.

Stand out scenes include King Ghidorah's entrance. That was truly something else! Rodan picking up Godzilla and throwing him like a rag doll was a spectacle and really painted the terrifying pterosaur as a force with which to be reckoned. The final fight was was just plain epic, an example of kaiju teamwork at its finest. My favorite scene of all is the "dialogue" between Mothra and her two soon-to-be-ally monsters. It's a sequence that really humanizes these beasties. When Mothra goes off to fight alone, Godzilla and Rodan look at him with a sense of honor and are finally persuaded to help; a classic scene.

The soundtrack is really excellent, and Rodan and King Ghidorah's leitmotifs would become a staple of their respective characters for years to come. Rodan's theme is a hyper intense piece in F Minor with an almost Arabian aura. Ghidorah's lumbering accompaniment marches across the D diminished scale and produces a thunderously ominous vibe. If it could be summed up in a single word, that word would be "beware". Though remixes would find their way into future Godzilla films, these are some of the best incarnations and truly pump up the drama with aplomb. There is one non-music sound error to note. A mistake can be heard when Rodan rises for the first time, as Godzilla's roar is mistakenly used.

No matter what, I'll always enjoy Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. It's a great entry in the franchise. With a little more monster action, it could have been one of the best. It's not quite up to part with its direct sequel Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), but it more than stands on its own two feet.