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Godzilla vs. Megalon - Review

A Review by Mike Bogue

1½ Stars - Poor

Japanese release: March 17, 1973

American release: 1976 (released theatrically by Cinema Shares)

Direction: Jun Fukuda

Screenplay: Jun Fukuda

Original Story: Shinichi Sekizawa

Music: Riichiro Manabe

Special Effects: Teruyoshi Nakano

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka

Godzilla vs. Megalon Poster. Okay, I’ve now seen Godzilla vs. Megalon in the pristine widescreen version The Sci-Fi Channel frequently airs.  And yes, in this format, it does look better – the color is bright, the images sharp.  But looks alone do not a good monster movie make.

And speaking of looks, the kaiju in this film – other than Godzilla and his Ultramanish sidekick – aren’t too shabby.  In terms of (relative) effectiveness, Megalon’s costume fares the best, with its insectile mouth and beetle-like shell and wings.  However, this Seatopian defender is a tad too bulky, and its on-screen jumps, many of which result in unlikely trajectories, are obviously wire-manipulated.

Back from the previous Big G entry, Gigan looks just as strange as before (according to this film’s English dialogue, Gigan hails from Starhunter Universe M, though at one point the M is placed between Starhunter and Universe).  Part bird, part robot, part farming implement (i.e. the scythe “hands”), Gigan remains one of the only true kaiju cyborgs.  His design displays imagination, and it is well-proportioned, though his “buzz saw” seems more than a little useless at times.

As for garish Jet Jaguar, he’s more colorful than a rainbow but not nearly as bright.  And that’s all I shall say about him.

(There, thought I was going to say something snide, didn’t you?  Like “Jet Jaguar has a smile stiffer than Cher’s last face lift.”  Or “Jet Jaguar gets his wardrobe exclusively from Calvin Klown’s.”)

But now we go on to Godzilla.  Oh, my.  The horror indeed.

Now I know some G fans really like this Godzy design.  For example, in Brett Homenick’s spirited (and recommended) defense of Godzilla vs. Megalon in G-FAN #70, he claims that this G incarnation is “cool.”  But no one can really deny (and Brett doesn’t) that the simplified, playful look of this megaro-goji was intended to appeal to the small fry in the audience.

I contend that this Big G design is the worst ever, what with its big, googly eyes and overall puppy dog look, a countenance more befitting the King of the Muppets than the King of the Monsters.  Indeed, more than anything else, the Big G of Godzilla vs. Megalon resembles a disastrous cross between a Godzillasaurus and a sock puppet.

Now around this time, fanciers of this much-maligned G movie are shaking their heads, gnashing their teeth, and perhaps devising insidious schemes with which to punish The Unbeliever.  But before any of you Megalon aficionados out there start calling me up with threats to hold my Beatles CD collection for ransom, read on:

When I recently watched Godzilla vs. Megalon in its widescreen version, during the first half or so of the film, I actually found myself enjoying it.  That’s right.  Enjoying.  This.  Movie.

I can’t explain it; I won’t ever try.  But I actually found the first thirty or forty minutes or so entertaining.  Now I didn’t say I found them particularly good.  I just said I found them entertaining.

Godzilla vs. Megalon Still.

But during the middle third, whatever elements my susceptible psyche had found enjoyable appeared to evaporate like dew under a sun lamp.

Soon the movie became just a series of improbable plot points and wearying stock footage.  It’s really bad when, as each snippet of stock footage appears, you can mentally name the movie from which it was swiped.  It’s also depressing.  For example, for the city destruction scenes, Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster is excavated more extensively than the trench for the Panama Canal.

As for the story, it is seriously undernourished (some might even say anorexic): Due to undersea nuclear testing, Seatopia declares war on the topside world, sending forth Seatopian mascot Megalon to pillage the surface nations, inexplicably starting with Japan, which possessed no nuclear weapons whatsoever in the 1970s.  (Now does this make any sense?  Why didn’t the Seatopians go after America, Russia, or China instead?)

Meanwhile, Goro, the inventor of robot Jet Jaguar; his younger brother Rokuro, who is dubbed with what must be the most irritating “child” voice of all time; and Goro’s friend Hiroshi, who apparently rooms with Goro, encounter ineffectual Seatopian spies who plan to nab Jet Jaguar.  They need the robot so they can (1) make an army of robots and (2) use the gaudy automaton to guide Megalon.  Eventually, the human protagonists rather easily overcome the Seatopian agents, perhaps explaining why Seatopia apparently has no standing army with which to confront the surface dwellers.

Then again, maybe they should have sent burly, bare-chested Seatopian leader Robert Dunham to infiltrate a seventies L.A. disco.  His heavy sideburns and mustache just scream “Rock on with your bad self!”  Of course, he does a lot of screaming anyway, mostly at Megalon, to get the apparently hearing-impaired kaiju to wake up and raze the landlubbers.

Now the point has been made by Megalon defenders that Seatopia’s motivation to attack the surface world is more substantive than belligerent world conquest.  Because nuclear testing has destroyed a third of its country, Seatopia declares war on the topside inhabitants in retaliation.  Dunham even notes that Seatopia doesn’t want to send Megalon forth to demolish the surface world, but that the empire must defend itself from the earth-dwellers.

All this is true enough, but the majority of the film is handled in such a juvenile manner that any hopes of establishing a serious plot point are all but lost.  Godzilla vs. Megalon is mostly geared to young children, and the majority of kids could care less why Seatopia unleashes Megalon – they just want to see a lot of sci-fi action and monster fights.

Besides, attempts to establish a credible milieu for Seatopia are dismal.  Pretty much all we see are a couple of unimpressive sets, one of which features the bust of a big idol before which a troupe of Seatopian women ludicrously dance in slow-motion.  When you compare this meager world-staging with the Mu Empire’s more elaborate and convincing sea civilization in Atragon, for example, you realize how one-dimensional Seatopia’s realization really is.

Godzilla vs. Megalon Still.

But back to the story in progress: After being taken over by the Seatopians, Jet Jaguar guides the direction-challenged Megalon towards the city.  But after Megalon smashes a dam, Goro regains control over Jet Jaguar and sends him flying off to Monster Island to solicit Godzilla’s help against the marauding Seatopian monster.

Without Jet Jaguar’s guidance, Megalon now starts crazily jumping all over the place, as though desperate to relieve himself.  (Apparently even evil kaiju don’t heed nature’s call in public.)  Conveniently, Megalon only seems to need Jet Jaguar’s guidance when the plot calls for him to – otherwise, the big bug seems to blunder about just fine.  Well, almost just fine.

Meanwhile, worried Seatopian leader Robert Dunham gives an order to dial up Starhunter Universe M and tell them to send Gigan right away.  I wonder if his second-in-command called collect?  If not, can you imagine the size of Seatopia’s phone bill?  No wonder they don’t have enough money to buy Dunham a shirt to cover his entire chest.

Anyway, Megalon and Gigan mix it up with Jet Jaguar, but just when things look bleak, Godzilla comes skipping to the rescue like a demented knight in rubber armor.  The battle that follows is either a joyous delight or a blasphemous horror, depending upon the viewer’s particular tastes.

And guess who’s bidding bye-bye to Godzilla at the end?  Yes, it’s that adorable little tyke Rokuro, whose unspeakable vocals could cow even Cthulu into whimpering submission.  That’s not the Japanese child actor’s fault, of course, but after hearing that insufferable voice, it’s no wonder Godzilla beats a hasty retreat.

Oh, and then there’s Riichiro Manabe’s music score.  Manabe resurrects his frightful squawking Godzilla theme from Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, and otherwise delivers a forgettable score no better and no worse than those of many seventies quickies.

And we mustn’t forget the special effects.  Yes, I know poor Teruyoshi Nakano had almost no money and even less time to lens his visuals.  That’s a shame.  But that still doesn’t keep most of his effects from being sub-par.  (To be fair, Nakano’s effects for Godzilla 1985, a G film on which he had far more money to spend, are considerably better, and his effects for 1973’s Submersion of Japan are reportedly first-rate.)

However, two of Nakano’s newly shot visuals for Godzilla vs. Megalon compare favorably to the work of Eiji Tsuburaya, and they’re both worth noting.  At the film’s beginning, the draining of the lake is effective.  And later, even more successful is Megalon’s destruction of the dam.  This spectacular and carefully filmed sequence easily ranks on a par with the better destruction scenes of Godzilla’s 1960’s entries, and reminds one of the impressive dam breach in Mothra.  (In G-FAN #45, Globe Meter columnist David McRobie implies that Godzilla vs. Megalon’s dam break is even better than the one in 1978’s big-budget Superman.)

Godzilla vs. Megalon Still.

As far as direction goes, Jun Fukuda’s pacing is erratic and undisciplined.  Several of the “human plot” scenes come off as awkward, even amateurish.  Again, this is probably the result of a rushed shooting schedule; Fukuda’s work on Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla is far better.

In addition to the other technical aspects of the film, the hurried production takes a heavy toll on the screenplay.  As Nakano noted, “The screenplay was completed right before the crank-in.”  Unfortunately, this hasty story scribbling shows.

For example, take the means by which Jet Jaguar becomes king-sized.  One of the characters lamely informs us that the colorful robot “somehow” programs himself to grow giant.  This notion is, to say the least, highly contrived – and sounds more like wish fulfillment magic than technology.

The bare bones storyline did have potential.  And if Shinichi Sekizawa had written the screenplay instead of just the story on which the screenplay was based, the script might have been much better.  But alas, it was not to be.

And in any event, even if the story had been improved, there were still those monster battles to contend with.

For fanciers of monster humor, Godzilla vs. Megalon must provide a kaiju eiga feast.  We get to see Megalon yucking it up, Megalon and Gigan fighting dirty, Godzilla performing tail-sliding drop kicks, Godzilla and Jet Jaguar shaking hands, and so on and so on and so on.

All I can is, the film’s monster battles mostly just seem bizarre.  For the serious or even quasi-serious Godzilla fan, the effect of viewing this “comedic” kaiju combat is nothing less than stupefying.  Never has the Godzilla series suffered a more sustained series of infantile skirmishes.

For example, in one scene, Megalon starts flying in ever-faster circles around Jet Jaguar.  The mesmerized robot starts spinning, as though he’s standing on a rotating platform (which he apparently is), until he gets so dizzy he falls down.

If you find this funny or thrilling (or both), nothing I can say will matter to you.  But if you find (1) the notion of a robot getting dizzy ridiculous and (2) a rotating platform coming out of nowhere so that Jet Jaguar can spin round and round an unacceptable intrusion of the “fourth wall,” then you’ll probably find the monster battles of Godzilla vs. Megalon a trying experience, if not to say an outright test of your cinematic fortitude.

Of course, fans of Godzilla vs. Megalon (and I know you’re out there) will not be put off one whit by what either I or any other dissenting kaiju eiga fan has to say about this movie.  And who would have it any other way?

In truth, if I had been eight or nine when Godzilla vs. Megalon made its North American theatrical debut, I might regard the movie with nostalgic fondness.  But note I said might, not would.  (After all, as a ten-year-old, I was put off by the sporadic “kaiju komedy” of Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster).

Godzilla vs. Megalon Still.

And I have to admit that to a kid, the Godzilla vs. Megalon trailers would have looked great -- it’s little wonder that they captivated monsterstruck children of the seventies.

However, I didn’t see the film until it appeared in its truncated NBC version hosted by a G-suited John Belushi in 1977.  Now at that time, I had seen several previous Godzilla epics, but I had only seen them once, and not recently, so I wasn’t aware that the destruction footage was re-cycled.  Little wonder that I remember thinking the film’s “urban renewal” scenes rocked.  But as I watched the movie with some college chums in the dorm’s TV lounge, I recall thinking that most of the film was just plain bad moviemaking.  Several of my peers agreed; I recall one saying, “Guys, this is awful.”

Ultimately, I had to concur – and still do.

Well-intended and well-argued reappraisals notwithstanding, Godzilla vs. Megalon continues to represent the Big Guy at his absolute worst.  It may look like filet minion in its current Sci-Fi Channel widescreen print, but to this G fan, it still goes down like canned Spam.

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