Direction: Koji Hashimoto (U.S. scenes directed by R.J. Kizer)
Screenplay: Shuichi Nagahara (U.S. scenes written by Lisa Tomei)
Original Story: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Music: Reijiro Koroku
Special Effects: Teruyoshi Nakano
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
In many ways, this remake/sequel to the 1954 Godzilla takes
the ship of everything that worked dramatically in the original and sinks it with an iron fist. The
much-criticized Americanization incurs part of the blame, but much of the fault
lies with the Japanese original.
In the first Godzilla, the “message” worked because it was largely
understated. For example, the monster itself remained mysterious – the
creature seemed to be part Odo Island monster-god, part prehistoric animal, part nuclear
metaphor. Its Tokyo tour-de-force was clearly a reenacting of the
bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is reinforced by scenes showing a burned out Tokyo the day
after Godzilla’s carnage – the tableau over which the camera pans clearly
resembles Hiroshima after the atom bomb.
But nowhere in the original Godzilla – not even in the 1956 Americanization
– does anyone bluntly state that Godzilla is like a walking nuclear weapon,
much less that he is one. This concept is subtextual. It’s there, but it’s
never made explicit. Even the notion of Nature with a capital N striking back
in the form of Godzilla goes unstated.
Unfortunately, Godzilla 1985 bludgeons the viewer over the head with Godzilla’s atom
age significance. Professor Hayashida states that Godzilla is a “nuclear
weapon” that was created by civilization, that Godzilla is a “victim,” and that
“men are the only real monsters.” The Big G is also likened to a force of
nature, which is interesting, but the scientist also tells us, “The beast has a
purpose.” These expository moments fall flat – dead weights that are both
pompous and heavy-handed.
The Americanization doesn’t help matters any, what with Raymond Burr telling the
American general that we must “understand” Godzilla and “perhaps even try to communicate
with him.” (Where are those monster talk interpreters the twin fairies of Mothra Island when
you really need them?)
Later, Burr delivers a hopelessly pretentious monologue spoken over the movie’s
closing scenes, stating among other things that Godzilla is “strangely innocent
and tragic.” (Innocent?) These sentiments are backed up by footage from
the Japanese film in which the Prime Minister and other officials weep as
Godzilla meets his fate in the fiery core of Mount Mihara. What
are they crying about, for kaiju’s sake? Godzilla probably killed at
least a few hundred people during his earlier trashing of Tokyo, and
none of his actions seemed the slightest sympathetic.
Of course, that is the movie’s main problem: telling instead of showing.
What we are shown is a ruthless radioactive monster that goes out of
its way to attack Tokyo. What we are told is that the Big G is
tragic, innocent, and victimized. The monster’s actions in the film play
counter to the fretting contentions of the main characters regarding Godzilla.
The story has other problems too. The characters discover that birds calling at a
certain frequency mesmerize Godzilla, so they set up a sound transmitter to
lure the monster into the volcanic Mount Mihari. As other reviewers have noted, this is like
something out of a fifties Grade-B sci-fi flick. It makes getting rid of
Godzilla amazingly simple, but it is perhaps the least satisfactory strategy of
defeating Godzilla to be found in any of the monster’s twenty-eight films.
(It’s also interesting to note that this means of luring Godzilla seems to have
been completely forgotten in the next six Heisei Big G movies.)
Even the film’s critique of the arms race during the Cold War era appears befuddled.
The Japanese refuse to let the U.S. or Soviet Union use nuclear weapons to destroy Godzilla. Yet when
the Soviet nuclear missile is fired at Tokyo from space, the means of stopping it is another
nuclear missile, this one fired by the Americans. On the one hand the movie seems
to condemn nuclear weapons per se, but on the other hand, the salvation of Tokyo turns
out to be a nuclear weapon!
Of course, it’s true that the resultant “radiation storm” (if that’s what it is)
unleashes lightning that revives Godzilla (apparently the Big G makes a great
lightning rod, or maybe this is evidence of divine providence). So maybe the
movie is trying to say that even when a nuclear weapon is used for a good
purpose, it still reaps tragic results.
Moving from the film’s pretensions to the Americanization, as all good G fans know, New World
tampered extensively with the original Japanese footage. For one thing, New World made
the decision to film new scenes that would again feature Raymond Burr reprising
his role of reporter Steve Martin from the 1956 Godzilla, King of the
Monsters. This was a great idea, but unlike in the 1956 Americanization,
Burr is completely detached from the action in Godzilla 1985. He spends
most of his scenes in a cheap-looking military base of operations intoning
ominous declarations while he and the military watch Godzilla’s attack unfold
via TV monitors. He also has to co-star with Dr. Pepper and Travis Swords as a
Southern-fried, smart-mouthed major.
The Americanization also removed many scenes from the Japanese original, including
a nice shot in which Godzilla’s image is reflected in a glass skyscraper. Also
of note is the re-structuring of the scene in which the Russian naval officer
fires a nuclear missile. In the original, he is trying to prevent the launch,
whereas in the Americanization, he deliberately fires the space-based missile
But once you get beyond the weak story and the unfortunate Americanization, there
is plenty to like about Godzilla 1985. Although Teruyoshi Nakano’s
special effects run hot and cold, they are always entertaining. Some of the
miniatures – the fishing vessel tossed about at sea, the Russian submarine –
are first-rate. Others don’t fare quite as well, such as the toy laser trucks
driving through the streets of a model Tokyo. Often, both good and bad effects can be found in
the same sequence, such as Godzilla’s attack on the nuclear power plant. Much
of this segment is first-rate, but some moments are inadequate, such as the
close-ups of Godzilla’s feet trampling plant apparatus that unconvincingly explode
like the miniatures they are. This might not matter so much if the film’s look
and tone weren’t so grave, but the film obviously wants to be taken seriously
and compete with “the big boys” special effects wise, and it only partially
In addition, fans are divided over The Big G’s comeback look. Personally, I find
it okay, but it scarcely resembles the 1954 Godzilla, and it isn’t nearly as
impressive as the G designs Koichi Kawakita was soon to devise. The
much-publicized 4.8 meter Godzilla-Cybot is a bit disappointing too in terms of
range of movement and usage in the film.
Still, The Big G enjoys plenty of good moments. His Tokyo rampage isn’t quite as
extensive as one might hope, but it’s satisfactory. Much of Super-X’s battle
with Godzilla proves enjoyable. And there are plenty of spectacular explosions
The best thing about Godzilla 1985 is that, given the sorry state of the G
series during the seventies, it was a definite move in the right direction. The
film began the successful Heisei series, in which the special effects of
Godzilla movies would receive a noticeable upgrade.
Entertaining if flawed, Godzilla 1985 is well worth any giant monster fan’s time.