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Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster - Review

(a.k.a. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster)

A Review by Mike Bogue

3 Stars - Good

Japanese release: Dec. 20, 1964

American release: Sept. 13, 1965 (specific release date uncertain; released by Continental)

Direction: Ishiro Honda

Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa

Music: Akira Ifubuke

Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka

Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster Still. "Bad as I wanna be!”  That could easily be Ghidrah’s motto.  For in his first film, he reigns as villain supreme while Godzilla and Rodan are reduced to protectors of the earth and part-time cut-ups.

(Note for purists:  I’m going to use the spelling “Ghidrah” throughout this review since that’s how the English title spells the monster’s name.)

Each of the film’s four monsters -- yes, four! -- enjoys an impressive entrance.  Rodan literally pecks his way out of Mount Aso, frightening tourists as he takes to the skies.  At night, Godzilla emerges from the ocean and obliterates a luckless ocean liner with a blast of his atomic breath.  But Ghidrah’s debut is perhaps the highlight of the entire movie.  A wonderful combination of pyrotechnics and optical effects, Ghidrah’s birth from the huge orange-red fireball that erupts from the meteor proves spectacular, the extraterrestrial terror gradually morphing from a flaming conflagration into a solid, bat-winged, three-headed dragon; this sequence displays Toho special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya at his best.

Oh, have I forgotten Mothra?  The colossal caterpillar appears before any of the other monsters as its two tiny fairies sing on a Japanese TV show.  Mothra is seen to be bobbing slowly in the background while island natives (who look the same as in Godzilla vs. The Thing) genuflect to the laid-back larva.  This proves to be a fairly convincing scene, and it is entirely appropriate to introduce Mothra, the “good” monster, in this serene manner.

The film’s human plotline basically serves to bridge the monster scenes, which is usually the case.  It does offer the interesting notion of a princess of Salgina surviving an assassination attempt by stepping out of an airborne plane (!) at the behest of a strange voice and an even stranger (and unexplained) bright light.  Later, she turns up in Japan claiming to be a Martian.  Her prophecies reveal that although Mars enjoyed an advanced civilization centuries earlier, Ghidrah appeared in the Martian skies and quickly reduced Red Planet society to a mass of molten rubble.  (In the Japanese version, the prophetess claims that she is from Venus instead of Mars.)

Monsterwise, Godzilla and Rodan meet in Yokohoma and begin sparring across the Japanese countryside.  Ghidrah, meanwhile, proves to be a threat not only to Japan, but perhaps to the entire world.  Desperate Japanese authorities implore Mothra’s fairies to help, so the two tiny twins summon the lumbering larva from Mothra Island.

Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster Still.

Of course, Mothra realizes she has no chance against Ghidrah – this would be a little like an earthworm taking on a Gila monster.  So the mighty larva finds the still-battling Godzilla and Rodan and, showing herself to be a sort of kaiju Henry Kissinger, holds a monster summit on the slopes of Mount Fuji.  How?  By talking to Godzilla and Rodan, who naturally talk back – all in monsterese, of course.  But fear not – the twin fairies are on hand to translate.  As Mothra presses her argument, Godzilla resorts to creature cussing, causing the fairies to exclaim, “Oh, Godzilla!  What terrible language!”

Feeling a little like Ralph Nader after another failed election attempt, Mothra decides to confront Ghidrah on her own.  But as soon as she crawls into sight, Ghidrah begins blasting the plucky caterpillar with its electrical ray discharges.  But wait!  Like the U.S. cavalry (or should that be the JSDF?), Godzilla and Rodan arrive on the scene, and soon it’s three monsters against one as The Greatest Battle On Earth commences.

Many of the fight scenes between Godzilla and Rodan in the middle portion of the movie are quite good.  And there are some great matte shows featuring rural Japanese fleeing in the foreground while the King of the Monsters and the Flying Monster wage combat behind them.  One particularly keen moment occurs when Rodan airlifts Godzilla, eventually dropping him atop some nearby power lines.

Unfortunately, some of the battle tactics prove ridiculous.  For example, the two titans’ round of “monster volleyboulder” reeks.  It’s likewise silly when, as each kaiju lobs a big rock back and forth, we see Mothra looking from monster to monster as though witnessing a tennis match.

A bit of “monster humor” also taints the big battle against Ghidrah.  Godzilla waddles forward like a toddler and falls on his face, receives a backside blast from Ghidrah, and sometimes acts as though he’s auditioning for a bout of championship wrestling.  But most of the fight against Ghidrah works well enough -- especially the mid-air collision between the space monster and Rodan.  Still, in general, the contest could have been more dynamically staged.

Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster Still.

Nevertheless, all that said, the majority of monster stuff in Ghidrah is top-rank.  The golden dragon’s incarnation is truly inspired.  Formidable in appearance, Ghidrah’s huge wings, twin tails, and snaking heads remain well-articulated throughout.  And Ghidrah’s weird, electronic vibrato offers an otherworldly touch.

Ghidrah’s city devastation is also impressive, featuring detailed urban miniatures blown to smithereens by the space monster’s crackling electrical rays.  This ranks as one of the most enjoyable examples of “city razing” that the Showa series offers.  Godzilla and Rodan get to indulge in some minor damage, but nothing as extensive as Ghidrah’s rampage.

Technically, most of Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects compare favorably with his best work from the fifties and early sixties.  Likewise, Akira Ifubuke’s music soars at its “monster maestro” best.  (It’s a shame that the Americanization dropped some of Ifubuke’s best cues, especially when Godzilla and Rodan appear in night-time Yokohoma.)  And Ishiro Honda’s direction keeps things moving at a fast pace.  Despite its flaws, Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster remains one of Toho’s most entertaining monster movies from the sixties.

Still, Ghidrah marks the bridge between Toho’s “serious” monster movies and its more juvenile 1970’s creature films.  The first two-thirds of Ghidrah are handled well enough, but the final third finds not only the advent of unwelcome monster humor, but the very roles of Godzilla and Rodan in transition.  Soon The Big G would basically become a kiddie superhero.  But, fortunately, that was still a few movies away.

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