Friday, November 25, 2011

Godzilla Vs. Gigan

1972 ***1/2

In 2002 I tried to do a Godzilla binge but I quickly lost the taste for it. The structure, visuals, music --they're all too similar from movie to movie, and it all turned into a hazy blur of model planes and dramatic violins. Since then I take kaiju movies in small doses every once in a while, and I find it a rich and rewarding experience.

As I've grudgingly concluded, you can't escape the necessity for human characters in these movies, but I'm happy to report the goofballs who carry us through this tale come from the always-charming Scooby Doo template. It's not a perfect comparison; Fred is a manga artist who faints a lot, Daphne's a bitch with a black belt, and the talking dog is Velma's scientist brother.

But we totally got a Shaggy

Fred takes a job doing some concept sketches for a new amusement park. His employers plan to bring world peace to all children by building a life-sized model of Godzilla and some buildings that look like mushrooms. When Fred comes by to drop off some drawings, he runs into a mysterious girl I'll call Velma, who drops a reel of audiotape on the ground. From there Fred gets entangled in adventure, as it turns out his new bosses are cockroaches from outer space who will use these "action signal tapes" to control a pair of space monsters and thereby subjugate the Earth.

"And you will ALL live in mushroom buildings!"

There's an episode of Police Squad! in which Drebin and Norburg open a fake locksmith shop to root out neighborhood extortion, and while Drebin is constantly on the case, Norburg is lost in ways to make the shop flourish. "How about Two-For-One Fridays, boss?" I get the same vibe from these aliens, who are still hiring concept artists for the park the same week they intend to level Tokyo beneath monster feet. Later they display more superior planning acumen by tracking Fred back to his apartment using secret transmitters in a pack of cigarettes they give him, instead of just looking up the address on his resumé.

"Nobody move or I will LAPEL you to a bloody pulp!"

Meanwhile, Toho Studios regular King Gidorah (with the three heads) and new monster Gigan hear the call of the Action Signal Tapes and start laying waste to countless miniature buildings.

Which doesn't mean they can't also enjoy a good joke together.

As you probably know by now, I am a nut for movies and shows that feature little models. A few years ago Julie got me the complete Thunderbirds series for Xmas, and chuckled to see the sheer number of times I would squeak with delight as another tiny panorama was consumed by hellfire. Heck, even the establishing shots made me clap, with all that "21st century as envisioned by the 60s" style.

The best movies in the kaiju tradition feature a banquet of such footage, my absolute favorites being the ones where even I start to wonder if it's a little too much. Godzilla vs. Gigan delivers a feast to challenge the best; I timed a full seven minutes of city-trashing and car-stomping without a single shred of human dialogue. (The quantity was obviously aided by reusing some old footage, as the opening scenes of Gigan's nighttime antics are intercut with King Gidorah's raining down his mouth-lightning from a beautiful daytime sky.) In gathering screenshots I've decided to start a collection of images solely dedicated to exploding miniature refineries.

It's art I tell you!

Eventually the heroes of the movie show up, Godzilla and his little buddy Anguirus, who debuted way back in the second-ever Godzilla movie (which I've never seen). I suppose that makes him Toho royalty, but from the way he's constantly getting his ass kicked I had to peg him as Monster Island's resident nerd monster, the one Godzilla takes along to fights to make him look more badass by comparison.

I mean, he's a quadruped, so the guy in the suit is on his hands and knees the whole time. That's just pathetic.

There was a time when I'd make fun of my sister for watching soap operas (not DCD, another one), but I stopped doing so when I realized she was feeding the same need that I fed with comic books. Similarly, watching these monsters fight made me more sympathetic to fans of professional wrestling. It's never worked for me, but it's the same idea: larger-than-life colorful characters who hurl at each other with ultimate ferocity, but somehow always drag the conflict out to a satisfying viewing length. By this point in the ever-expanding Godzillaverse (nearly 20 years old in 1972), that's exactly how these monsters behave. Sure, they kick rocks at each other and fire their mouth beams, eye beams, atomic breath, etc., but that's just their version of bashing someone's head with a chair. Mostly it's a lot of punches, kicks, headlocks and general bitchslapping performed by guys in enormous rubber suits upon a ring littered with puny buildings and vehicles. It doesn't matter if I can't suspend my disbelief, because the reality of the situation holds the same place in my monster-lovin' heart.

"Hey man, thanks for letting us in to defense HQ when all we did was scream "COCKROACHES FROM SPACE!!!"

This movie was yet another Creature Double Feature treasure that I actually only ever saw once. I cherrypicked it from its brethren because of one particular plot detail I had to confirm. When Dr. Scooby and the gang are handed a bunch of army men and dynamite to deploy, they hatch a clever plan.

"Heeeey, these sound like they're full of pop rocks."

The plan involves these brightly colored packages of explosives and getting the bad guys to shoot at them. And how best to do that?

"Oh my god, it's THEM! And they're stylized!"

This was the detail I had to see again to believe: the life-sized black-and-white manga art meant to fool the enemy. Either space cockroaches don't see color or they see everything as drawings, but the gambit totally works, probably in an attempt to shoehorn in some irony. Who would have though that the enemy they hired to draw stuff might draw something?

Back before we broadened the acceptable fare for Horrorthon viewing, I myself defined this kind of monster brawl flick as off limits. There's certainly nothing scary about it, even for kids. But if you're looking for a good one to watch, this is a solid bet. The characters are amusing enough and there are enough exploding buildings and melting tanks to tide you over 'till Christmas.

Now, you wanna see some mushroom buildings go down?

"Dominant male monkey space bird mothafucka! Come ON!"


(I may be a little obsessed with the mushroom buildings.)

1 comment:

Catfreeek said...

Love the Scooby Doo reference and love your comparison to professional wrestling. It's going to take me some time to get through all these reviews, but the payoff is worth it. I totally love these monster flicks as well, this one is actually part of my collection. I also just recently acquired the Diamajin trilogy, I'm very excited about it!