Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) [Tristar]

Class: Staff
Author: Godzillawolf
Score: (3.5/5)
April 14th, 2010 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is one of the better Godzilla films, but it is still plagued by several faults. It's a mixed bag, but nevertheless, the pros outweigh the cons. Godzilla is back as a juggernaut of destruction, and Ghidorah, though no longer a destroyer of worlds, is still the pawn of the film's true antagonist as he cuts a path of destruction through Japan. Also worthy of note, this is probably the single most confusing Godzilla film in history, due to a time travel subplot that poses an apparent paradox at first glance.

The movie begins in the year 2204 as a futuristic submarine discovers the massive form of a golden dragon. Partially decapitated, the three-headed beast barely clings to life…

In the present, Kenichiro Terasawa, a wealthy writer renowned for his science fiction work, pursues an interesting story surrounding a veteran of the Second World War who claims that a dinosaur saved Japanese troops on Lagos Island. Terasawa concocts a theory that the Bravo H-Bomb tests in 1954 mutated that very dinosaur into the nuclear leviathan of today: Godzilla. This is further supported by pictures he obtains of the dinosaur, which bear a clear resemblance to Godzilla.

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of a UFO that was recently sighted over Japan reveal themselves to be humans from the year 2204. They claim to have returned from the future in order to stop Godzilla from ultimately destroying Japan. They also confirm that Terasawa's theory about Godzilla's origin is indeed correct, and they plan to return to Lagos during the Second World War to keep the dinosaur from ever mutating into Godzilla. One of their members, Emmy Kano, along with their android, M11, return to the past with Terasawa, Miki Saegusa, and paleontologist Professor Mazaki. The dinosaur (a Godzillasaurus), having suffered severely from his encounter with American troops, is teleported to the Bering Sea. There, it is surmised, he will never have the opportunity to mutate into the monster he is today. But in the midst of this temporal tinkering, three genetically mutated animals from the future (Dorats) are set free on Lagos Island…

The time travellers' true intentions are revealed in the present. Though Godzilla has disappeared, the three-headed golden hydra King Ghidorah has taken his place. As the merciless dragon quickly cuts a path of destruction across Japan, an unthinkable defense strategy is considered: send a nuclear submarine to the Bering Sea to mutate the Godzillasaurus into an opponent for King Ghidorah. However, it isn't discovered until the eleventh hour that the Godzillasaurus was already mutated by a nuclear submarine wreck years earlier. With a double-dose of radiation, Godzilla now rises from the depths, a staggering 100 meters tall! The question now is what's worse? The bioengineered, madmen-controlled nightmare King Ghidorah, or the living weapon of mass destruction himself, Godzilla?

The plot is one of the film's best aspects. For one, we finally have a precise origin for Godzilla, something never fully revealed in the Showa era. Time travel is an interesting device; however, there is an apparent paradox to this subplot, particularly due to the fact that although Godzilla is apparently removed from the timeline, everyone appears to remember him (and people continue to remember the events of the pre-Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah movies in subsequent films). The only logical explanation is that by moving the Godzillasaurus to the Bering Sea, the 1980's Godzilla was born of the earlier nuclear accident mentioned in the movie. Not only can The Return of Godzilla (1984) and Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) occur in the altered timeline, but Godzilla (1954) can also logically occur simply because, as stated in the Japanese version of The Return of Godzilla (1984), it's a different Godzilla. Another intriguing plot point is the idea of intentionally creating a new Godzilla to defeat King Ghidorah, which, in turn, leads to the ironic necessity of reviving King Ghidorah to deal with the insurmountable menace that is Godzilla.

Acting is a bit of a mixed bag, especially when compared to the superior performances of the previous film. While Anna Nakagawa (Emmy Kano) does manage to stay afloat, Kosuke Toyonaka (Kenichiro Terasawa) ranges from too flat in some scenes to over-the-top in others. On the other hand, Yoshiyo Tsuchiya's portrayal of Yasuaki Shindo is one of the strongest in the film; he shows real emotion and his “face off” with Godzilla towards the climax of the film (combined with the sorrowful musical accompaniment) makes this scene one of the greatest in Godzilla history. As always, Megumi Odaka pulls off her role as gifted psychic Miki Saegusa in great fashion, this time coming across as less distant. The two main human villains of the film, Wilson and Grenchiko (Chuck Wilson and Richard Berger respectively) prove to be proficient villains. They manage to make their characters very slimy and duplicitous, but some of their mannerisms are still rather cliché. Speaking of which, Robert Scott Field's handling of villain-turned-hero M11 is pretty much a combination of all theatrical android standards, but he still manages to give a rather descent performance with what little he's given.

Likewise, the monsters and effects are a mixed bag. Godzillasaurus is realized fantastically; he actually looks like Godzilla as a dinosaur! The Big G is an improvement over the previous film, appearing far more physically powerful and vicious thanks to the removal of some of the feline attributes that defined his previous façade. His atomic ray and nuclear pulse are also excellently rendered; his breath weapon boasting crimson streaks that connote even greater power. While King Ghidorah is definitely an improvement over his Showa counterpart, the monster as a whole still lacks in some areas. During the flight scenes, the wings barely move and the entire effect appears too stiff. On the other hand, his gravity beams are a sharp improvement. The necks lack the floppiness that plagued the original suit. There does appear to be a greater level of neck control; however, they tend to come across as too stiff at times. Though King Ghidorah is an overall success, this incarnation pales in comparison to Grand King Ghidorah's suit several years later. Mecha-King Ghidorah is probably the shining star of the film. He appears more realistic than his fully organic counterpart, and the variety of weapons (beam-based and otherwise) are all quite successful. On the other hand, the Dorats are just stinkers effects-wise. Though unrealistic, their cuteness factor and the scene where they can be seen crying shortly after they're set loose on Lagos Island does make one feel for these victims of circumstance. Finally, the miniatures are a superb success (especially the futuristic vessels), as is the control room aboard the UFO (known affectionately as MOTHER). While somewhat reminiscent of other standard sci-fi control rooms, it's still a pretty cool environment that stands apart.

Music, on the other hand, shines all the way around, as this film marks the triumphant return of Akira Ifukube. Godzilla's theme is ominous and fitting, as usual. The UFO's accompaniment is rather engaging, and as an interesting side note, this theme is a remake of the battle music from the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) (even more interesting due to the fact that this film was originally meant to be a remake of the 1962 film). M11's pursuit of Emmy and Terasawa is another theme worthy of note. It starts out ominously before it mutates into faster, sci-fi fare. King Ghidorah's theme is also quite fitting, updated with a heavier emphasis on bass.

In closing, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah has its pluses and minuses, but overall it is a solid work worthy of any Godzilla fan's collection. Just be prepared for the time travel confusion, because it can appear paradoxical at first glance (and therefore requires a greater knowledge of the Heisei timeline to fully grasp). Those who can look past the shortcomings of this movie will likely find it a very enjoyable cinematic getaway.