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Overall Rating
4.54

Awesome77.03%
Worth A Look: 9.46%
Average: 8.11%
Pretty Bad: 1.35%
Total Crap: 4.05%

4 reviews, 50 user ratings


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Godzilla (1954)
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by Mel Valentin

"Sadly, doesn't live up to its reputation or my memories."
3 stars

Revisiting childhood favorites always comes with a risk, a risk that memories have been carefully self-edited to highlight only the positives, and to minimize or erase the negatives. Unfortunately, revisiting the first, pre-kitsch "Godzilla," minus the admittedly risible Raymond Burr footage that was added for the American release (which, to be honest, I miss), proves the point that some memories are better left undisturbed.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters essentially created the formula for Japanese monster flicks, a formula actually borrowed from Ray Harryhausen's 1953 radioactive dinosaur-on-the-loose flick, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Harryhausen's film had, in turn, looked back to King Kong (Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien, supervised King Kong's revolutionary use of stop-motion animation for the titular monster), but modernized the storyline by adding nascent fears about the (negative, potentially devastating) consequences of living in the nuclear age.

Borrowing the reawakened, mutated dinosaur premise from Harryhausen's film, Godzilla first follows a series of sea and land attacks by an unseen monster, then switches to hand wringing among ineffectual Japanese bureaucrats and military types, while also clumsily incorporating a predictable romantic triangle (two-thirds of the triangle are bland and colorless). Eventually, Godzilla (actually "Gojira" in Japan, changed to "Godzilla" for English-language audiences) begins to get bolder, first showing himself (assuming, of course, that Godzilla is a "he") to panic-stricken villagers on a small island, and finally making his way to Tokyo, for the signature stomp that seemingly destroys most of the city.

What did I remember from multiple childhood screenings? The early scene of Godzilla attacking the fishing boat (an obvious model, a portent of things to come, with model work that's always painfully, and unintentionally comically, obvious), to Godzilla's first actual appearance, peeking out over a hill (an obvious hand puppet that bears little resemblance to the man-in-the-suit used for the remainder of the film), to Godzilla stomping the (miniature) Tokyo in an extended, seemingly slow-motion ten-minute scene (the Godzilla suit worn by the actor was so heavy he could barely lift and move his feet), to the final scene, a surprisingly moving, downbeat ending.

Unfortunately, I didn't remember (or more likely, my critical skills were yet to be developed) the interminable expository scenes with government officials, scientists, and the military plotting ineffectual responses to Godzilla, the heavy-handed, on-the-nose dialogue about the dangers of the H-bomb and nuclear fallout, and a slipshod, meandering narrative, and whose major, but limited, point of interest (because he's onscreen for a relatively limited amount of time) is an emotionally tortured, mentally unstable, eye-patch wearing scientist, complete with semi-secret "mad scientist" laboratory with beakers and giant electrical transformers.

Still, even if Godzilla fails as entertainment, it retains lasting value as a "cultural artifact," as a film that captures the fears and unresolved traumas connected to Japan's involvement in the Second World War. Of course, one or two comments are made about the Pacific War (a tertiary character in exactly one scene mentions Nagasaki, another tertiary character, huddled with her children on a street corner as Godzilla attacks attempts to comfort her children by telling that they will soon join their father in heaven, an oblique reference to the war's devastating effect on the male population). Missing, of course, is any soul-searching that places blame and responsibility for the war on the Japanese and the leaders who started the war.

As a figurative metaphor, Godzilla served to externalize contemporary fears, anxieties, physical and emotional traumas and move them into the realm of fantasy and horror (and the "safe" realm of dreams), where they were more easily assimilated or sublimated. As such, Godzilla allowed Japanese moviegoers a temporary catharsis their lose in Second World War (and the physical devastation and massive loss of lives) never allowed them.

For the gift of pleasant, if partially remembered, childhood memories and Godzilla's status as cultural time capsule, "Godzilla" deserves no more than a marginal recommendation, and there, primarily for fans of the Japanese monster flicks interested in seeing how it all began. Seen cold, however, "Godzilla" probably doesn't deserve a passing mark.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1657&reviewer=402
originally posted: 09/26/05 06:20:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.
Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/12 CORDWAINER SMITH A forcible sci-fi message film of the 1950s. Excellent. 5 stars
4/17/12 keith miron I like the mean Godzilla 4 stars
11/06/10 Sugarfoot Who doesn't enjoy Godzilla movies a little? 4 stars
6/21/09 Brad Barrett well said Mark Radburn and Jordan! 5 stars
3/16/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Some images look as if they were lifted from the depths of hell. Scary. 5 stars
11/24/08 Craig D. Surprisingly excellent. It's good because it's good, not just because it's old. 5 stars
3/14/08 Wes He picks up a bus and he throws it back down! 5 stars
11/20/07 David Cohen Built on horror rather than camp charm, very effective 5 stars
6/06/07 Max Overrated, but good 4 stars
11/11/06 David Pollastrini classic 5 stars
9/14/06 Kyle Davis The Greatest of them all! Thumbs Up 5 stars
7/02/06 R.W.Welch Hokey but well plotted 50's pop classic. 4 stars
6/16/06 Mark Radburn Wake up Kcaj and Poopy Woopy you shit-heads, Godzilla rules and you two guys suck 5 stars
5/24/06 Kcaj A masterpiece of boring, stupid crap. 1 stars
4/22/06 Poopy Woopy ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!! 1 stars
12/24/05 Green Gremlin This sure beats the 1997 Matthew Broderick fiasco !!! 5 stars
11/05/05 Jordan Roger Ebert hates this film, burn in hell you fat bastard 5 stars
10/29/05 George Jobson Godzilla towers above all monsters 5 stars
9/26/05 Carolyn Rathburn Wonderful old movie. you just can't beat the classics 5 stars
9/17/05 Aaron Savage I LOVE THIS FILM!! 5 stars
8/15/05 cristeen69 Godzilla can't be beat even in this time a classic!! 5 stars
7/30/05 Josh A Highly watchable Monster Movie 5 stars
7/24/05 Ben Farmillo Godzilla is truly the Monster that never dies, King Kong doesn't exist 5 stars
7/12/05 Kieran Friend Godzilla is a Masterpiece, The Granddaddy of all monster movies 5 stars
7/03/05 Matt Sutton Godzilla, You 5 stars
5/23/05 Luke BlackAdder Godzilla is a classic, King Kong is no fun 5 stars
5/18/05 Steven Brady Hail to Godzilla 5 stars
4/01/05 Mark Radburn Godzilla is the world's greatest monster 5 stars
11/26/04 alien assassin this leaves the bloated 1998 remake for dead ! 5 stars
8/21/04 Tyrantis It's great monster movie with a good message. 4 stars
7/25/04 Robert Patrick An A+ perfotmance! 5 stars
6/18/04 Wendy Lohman Forget the "Godzilla" you know--this film really has something to say! 5 stars
6/16/04 franknutz see the original it is one of the great movies of our time 5 stars
6/16/04 Chas E A Classic 5 stars
5/20/04 Renna cool for it's time/a classic 5 stars
2/19/04 Barry M. Brown Absolutely one of the best films ( bar none ) american, or japanese ever made !!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/12/04 Miguel The original 1954 version stands as an artisic expression of the atomic bomb experience. 5 stars
4/01/03 Godzillafan54 this movie is what i live for! not the crappy american one! Go Go Godzilla!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/27/02 Charlie Björklund Dont confuse this with the others. Kickass movie! 5 stars
4/02/02 Dojo Futisuju BAD 1 stars
3/28/02 NeuroManson Makes you think when 50+ lbs of rubber suits can outperform 2 million dollars in CG effects 5 stars
3/17/02 john one of the best!Not to be mistaken for the 1998 godzilla here in america 5 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith Raymond Burr is out of place in Japan... He's Perry Mason/Ironside.. not for monster movie 4 stars
6/21/01 Gman2887 The greatest monster film of all time, made by the masters of the genre! 5 stars
6/21/01 Kook As much loved as it is, this really was a hokey flick. Watchable. 2 stars
6/19/01 Captain Spyro The greatest of all Godzilla films!!!! 5 stars
2/16/01 Steve in Prague A dark, moody, brilliant masterpiece 5 stars
3/08/00 David Rogers This is not one of Godzilla's best. But hey it's Godzilla. 5 stars
2/21/00 eejitgrrl This is the REAl lizard king!!!! 5 stars
3/13/99 Ah Dooey There was a Japanese monster movie!? 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  27-Apr-1956 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Jul-1956 (MA)




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