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Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack - Review
Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack - Review

(a.k.a. GMK)

A Review by Mike Bogue

3 Stars - Good

(Released in Japanese theatres in 2001; officially available on North American DVD in 2004)





Direction:  Shusuke Kaneko

Screenplay:  Shusuke Kaneko, Keiichi Hasegawa, and Masahiro Yokotani

Music:  Ko Otani

Special Effects:  Makoto Kamiya

Monster Suits:  Fuyuki Shinada

Producer:  Shogo Tomiyama




GMK Still. One of the most controversial of recent Godzilla movies, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, or GMK for short, is in some ways the best of both G worlds -- highly reminiscent of Godzilla's "glory days" from 1954-1968, yet rife with 21st century sensibilities.  Director Shusuke Kaneko, who directed the recent Gamera trilogy, gives his “take” on Godzilla by making the Big G perhaps the most sinister Gojira since the famous kaiju’s 1954 debut.  Indeed, two of Godzilla’s opponents – Baragon and Mothra – seem to be little more than irritants to the towering kaiju king.

Nevertheless, the monster scenes soar, and Baragon is probably my favorite kaiju in this one.  I liked the original Baragon of 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers The World, so seeing him "revised" with only minor alterations to his stout reptilian frame is a real treat.

Baragon’s clash with an evil, white-eyed Godzilla is one of the best monster wars ever.  The tunnel-boring kaiju’s realization is terrific, and he (actually “she”) gives a spirited performance; the composite shots in these scenes are likewise impressive -- seamless and convincing.  Tenacious to a fault, GMK’s Baragon has the heart and pluck of Rocky Balboa – but unfortunately, the kaiju lacks the physical size and heat ray of his former self!  Baragon is clearly outmatched by Kaneko’s Evilzilla.  (It would have been better for Baragon to have tunneled beneath the earth and reappeared to battle Godzilla alongside his fellow Guardian Monsters King Ghidorah and Mothra.)

Speaking of the big bug herself, Mothra's incarnation fares well, highlighted by effective CGI intercutting with the mobile puppet.  Mothra’s design is more insect-like than usual, as witnessed in both her legs and antennae. Too bad Mothra couldn't put up more of a fight against Kaneko's decidedly sinister Big G.  It would’ve been nice if Mothra had at least retained her “poison powder” a’la Godzilla vs. The Thing.

King Ghidorah, on the other hand, turns out to be a genuine problem for Kanekozilla – the thousand-year dragon keeps getting whupped yet comes back for more!  I liked the final touches of hearing King Ghidorah’s otherworldly warble from his sixties days and seeing him bombard Godzilla with a barrage of lightning blasts.  Unfortunately, the three-headed kaiju’s appearance disappoints.  The stylized facial designs appear more mask-like than organic, and the wings aren’t big enough.  Ah, if only the wonderfully designed King Ghidorah from Rebirth of Mothra III had been used instead!

As for the storyline, it works in terms of the characters, but appears confused in terms of the monster motivations.  We are told that the souls of the many Asian victims of World War II have invaded Godzilla and are now directing the Big G to destroy Japan.  Why?  Because the Japanese have forgotten about the horrors of the war.  As others have noted, this bit of admittedly inventive G business is never developed.

GMK Still.

Of course, I really prefer Godzilla remain in the “science fantasy” realm in which he was originally created.  Introducing occasional fantasy elements such as Mothra is fine, but I think the Big G works best when his existence and motivations are confined to pseudo-science.

Converting King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Baragon from their original film roles to “Guardian Monsters” of Japan is okay.  But seeing Mothra and Ghidorah retooled yet again (apparently for Japanese box office purposes) was uninspired.  In place of the mighty moth and golden dragon, I wish Kaneko had gotten to use the two monsters he originally envisioned – Varan and Angilas.

Fortunately, the character storyline works.  Yuri’s blossoming from tabloid reporter to bona fide journalist is convincing, and some of the final moments and conversations between Yuri and her admiral father are actually touching.  Too bad the ending robs the story of the poignant heroic sacrifice it tacitly promises.

As for Godzilla, Kaneko seeks to make the monster an object of terror once more, as he was in the Big G’s debut film.  At times, Kaneko succeeds, such as during the moody Bonin Islands sequence.  But too many of Kaneko’s monster victims overact, sometimes wildly, and some of the main cast’s thesping is virtually over-the-top; these attempts at humor work against the re-establishment of a scary Godzilla.  After all, the original Godzilla didn’t need comedy relief to succeed as a grim, nightmarish allegory of atom-bomb horror.  Indeed, comedy can often vitiate terror rather than enhance it.

Of course, unlike most other Godzilla movies, GMK makes it clear that people are dying left and right.  In addition, GMK’s monster king appears deliberately cruel; dark irony is also included in at least two sequences – one concerning a terrified hospital patient who survived a previous Godzilla attack, the other involving a suicidal businessman.  For these reasons, the film is definitely not for small children.  Indeed, the fact that GMK was theatrically co-billed in Japan with a kiddie Hamutaro feature is nothing short of bizarre.

One interesting but apparently little discussed aspect of GMK is its depiction of Japan’s young people.  For the most part, they are portrayed as vandalizing hellions, amused by the thought of drowning a harmless dog.  Of course, they fall victim to both Guardian Monsters and Godzilla alike.  But is Kaneko saying that the youth of Japan have generally become callous, spoiled hedonists?  Apparently so.

Technique-wise, the film smarts from some unfortunate flubs.  Continuity goes out the window in at least two instances – the trees seen in the reflection of the school room window that are not there when looking out from the classroom, and Yuri falling from the bridge window head-first, though her boy friend then grabs her wrist (more likely it would have been her ankle).

GMK Still.

However, one moment sometimes dubbed a “mistake” apparently isn’t.  When Yuri and her male companion fall from the bridge and plunge some two hundred feet, we see that King Ghidorah belches forth some sort of enormous air bubble that rushes to the surface, apparently cushioning the couple’s blow as they hit the water.  This implies that Ghidorah is deliberately saving the courageous duo.

The special effects are mostly good, offering plenty of explosions and crumbling miniatures.  The Godzilla design is striking, aided by deft animatronics that give the monster a distinct personality – albeit a mean one.  The life-like head and face appear especially ominous.

The CGI work involving Mothra and King Ghidorah is nice.  It’s particularly effective when Mothra, moving at high speed, buzzes past Yuri and a group of soldiers, buffeting them with strong winds.  Also, a scene in which a CGI Ghidorah flaps over Tokyo Bay in pursuit of Godzilla makes the golden dragon appear realistic, its beating wings and heaving body more convincing than ever before.  However, the suitmation used to bring Ghidorah to life just doesn’t match up to the CGI Ghidorah’s credibility.

All tolled, despite its deficiencies and shortcomings, GMK offers wonderful entertainment.  Viewers are treated to spectacular destruction, epic monster battles, and a strong human interest storyline.  While not the “great” Godzilla film that Kaneko envisioned, GMK is still a worthy addition to the Big G canon.



DVD NOTES

Sony Tristar’s DVD of GMK is made from a clear, sharp print, and the widescreen transfer is excellent.  Viewers may choose between an English dubbed track and the original Japanese language track with English subtitles.  Unfortunately, the subtitles are simply the dialogue from the English dubbed track.  Also, a serious mistake occurs when the subtitles (and dubbing) have Japanese submariners exulting upon firing a missile into King Ghidorah – though their intended target was a wound of Godzilla’s.  Their facial expressions make it clear that they aren’t really overjoyed by this misfire.  Still, it is nice to hear the actors speaking in their native language.  Sony TriStar is to be congratulated for finally presenting Godzilla movies to the West the way they always should have been – subtitled and letterboxed.



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