The Godzilla 28 Movie Challenge - Number 18: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

The previous film (Godzilla Vs Biollante) was the most expensive Godzilla film to date – but it failed to appeal at the box office. In a hope to attract bigger audiences Toho doubled the budget and focussed on familiar alien visitation themes from the ‘70s movies and brought back fan-favourite baddy, King Ghidorah. The Showa era type plot gives this film an injection of nostalgia, but the main blast from the past is heard and not seen.


Godzilla Vs King Ghidora establishes a backstory which explain the origins of Godzilla, it turns out that creating a Kaiju is actually pretty easy – just expose a creature (or creatures) to a spot of radiation and voila! In this case the creature in question is a dinosaur which has survived on a remote island. 


The film doesn’t take place during prehistoric times though, in fact it starts in the future when the corpse of King Ghidora is being investigated. It is explained that King Ghidora had three heads but lost one while battling with Godzilla back in the 20th Century – we then go back to the 1990s, and also the 1940s, and at some point back to the future too – all this time hopping allows us to see how events have been manipulated to create moments designed to shape the future.

 

Rumours surface of a dinosaur which aided Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, survivors consider him a guardian figure and it was with great sadness that they left him to die after American forces fired at it leaving it mortally injured. Needless to say, it didn’t die – and exposure to radiation caused him to mutate into Godzilla.


No time is wasted introducing the time travellers, within minutes a UFO is sighted over Japan causing a large military presence – but instead of little green men (or Mysterions) holographic images of people from the future request a meeting with political leaders to discuss their plan. They claim that the future of Japan is grim, that it will meet its demise because of Godzilla. Apparently, drawn by nuclear radiation he will destroy the landscape and the resulting spread of radiation will destroy the country. These future-people are here to save Japan by going back in time (again!) to the Second World War and removing the dinosaur from the island so that it isn’t subjected to radiation and therefore never mutates into Godzilla.


The dinosaur is actually a pretty impressive suit – when this film was released work had started on Jurassic Park and to be honest the suitmation dinosaur in this film doesn’t look too shabby, even when compared to Spielberg’s blockbuster two years later. The dinosaur is a Tyrannosaur-type dinosaur with some styling to give it a Godzilla-ish look so that the Big G looks like a natural mutation of this scaly reptile.



The special-effects bar is set high early-on and the scenes of the dino-death (or so it seems) are actually quite harrowing as the creature is so convincing. In a scene reminiscent of the 1969 Ray Harryhausen movie “The Valley of Gwangi”, the poor dinosaur is attacked and left for dead. I sympathised with the reptile, though being maimed by mankind did shed some perspective on his propensity to stomp through human settlements!


The scene where the Japanese soldiers weep for their fallen dinosaur comrade is as stirring as you get in a film of this ilk and was nicely done. They stand in silence and reflect on the loss of their ally.

The plan is seemingly complete! The dinosaur was removed from the island and dumped in the sea thereby preventing Godzilla from being formed. However it seems there was an ulterior motive. The whole “Godzilla destroys Japan in the future” story was a fabrication. In actual fact Japan was all set to become an economic superpower, those pesky time travellers planned to prevent Japan becoming so dominant in the future all along by replacing the dinosaur with three evil looking monsters….


Okay, these Dorats may not look evil. In actual fact these little critters are adorable (aDoratble?) but when subjected to the radiation which should have created Godzilla, they mutate and conjoin (somehow) to form King Ghidorah!



Back in the ‘90s, it’s King Ghidorah who has rampaged through Japan and not Godzilla (who never existed), but you can’t have a Godzilla film without Godzilla and it’s eventually revealed that in an extraordinary sequence of coincidences  another Godzilla was created (either from the relocated dinosaur or another creature) and then irradiated further to make it the bigger than the original Godzilla. A pang of conscience from Emmy (one of the future-people) forces her to try and sabotage the plans and bring down King Ghidorah. Eventually this leads to a battle between the two beasts, and then a further battle – but only after some more time travel and some mechanical augmentation of King Ghidorah to replace one of his heads.

Time travel films are often mind-bending, but Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah seems to ignore key paradoxes and you end up with people referring to events they shouldn’t know about because they never happened (in their revised timeline). You soon learn to not expend too much energy following the timelines and instead focus on the visuals – and thankfully the film excels in that area.


Let’s look at King Ghidorah. This was the first time in nearly 2 decades that the 3-headed golden dragon appears in a Kaiju film. In previous films he’d started to look a bit ropey – especially when he was given a dodgy hair-do, but now he returns smooth and angry. Obviously, in this new timeline this is actually his first appearance. Throughout Toho history flying monsters seem to look progressively worse, Kaiju such as King Ghidorah and Mothra had fluid smooth movements but over the years they started to move their wings in a rigid fashion and their flying seemed to occur through sheer magic! Maybe King Ghidorah isn’t as animated as he was back in 1964, but at least his strings remain (largely) invisible here!


His spiked heads look menacing and beautiful, his golden scales actually look golden. His exterior looks tough too rather than baggy material – this gives him a more svelte appearance. Previously his torso has seemed a bit ballooned. The individual movement of his heads look good too, as good as you can expect from what is essentially a huge puppet. I’ve mentioned the bar is set high and that level of quality continues with King Ghidorah. Close up shots show the level of detail on both body and faces, King Ghidorah genuinely looks majestic!


His cyborg form as Mecha-King Ghidora is less impressive.  I know that the Mecha version of this baddie is a fan favourite and most will disagree with me but to me it looks bloated.


His mechanical head looks great, I can’t knock that, and the green eyes give it an evil appearance which really adds to the character.



The wings looks cool too – I guess on balance Mecha-King Ghidorah is actually pretty awesome.


But the torso and the tail prongs just make it look a bit unwieldy and spoils the overall look of the dragon.

Godzilla then. In short – he looks amazing.


This is essentially the same suit used in Godzilla Vs Biollante. There are some tweaks and differences throughout the film but nothing too obvious, the only jarring change is when a model head is used rather than the suit. The neck is different with the model more rigid and stocky than the suit neck which needed to accommodate Kenpachiro Satsuma’s head and is therefore more flexible and has a slight baggy appearance. I think a couple of different models are used as when viewed side by side you can see the differences in face proportions as well as the neck. But as these scenes are spaced throughout the film it’s not majorly distracting and probably just a way of using previous suits which can be sacrificed for action or water scenes.

Just look at the differences in shots to the structure and appearance of the neck and shoulders:


The head has lots of detail as before and a snarling lip. The mouth is super realistic (again like before) with teeth and gums resembling a large reptile and a textured moving tongue.


The dorsal spikes are bonelike, they are stubby on the neck with fat spikes on his back. He is a muscular Godzilla with powerful but not overly large legs.


One improvement is the feet, we see them in a few scenes and they are not flat underneath. I mentioned before that the dinosaur suit is one of the best Toho ever produced, well this Godzilla suit is also incredible and is one of my all-time favourite designs. It just manages to capture the right amount of reptilian features, it has character too, it’s unmistakably Godzilla.

There seems to be enough movement in the suit to allow for realistic movements with enough “lumbering” to convey the sheer size of Godzilla. That makes the fight scenes more animated at times.

There are 2 major battle scenes in the film, one with King Ghidorah and one with the Mecha-King Ghidorah.

The first scrap consists mainly of exchanges of deadly breath and biting – oh, and a bit of tail pulling.


The fight takes place in scrubland so there’s little in the way of scenery around them. This focuses attention on the Kaiju themselves and the fight soon gets physical.


At one point King Ghidora strangles Godzilla with his necks to the point that Godzilla starts foaming at the mouth.


Godzilla eventually uses his rarely used energy explosion move to expel energy from his body and free himself from KG’s grasp. A round of atomic breath then finishes off King Ghidorah – taking off one of his heads in the process!


The second fight features Godzilla fighting with an enhanced King Ghidorah. This time the battle takes place in the city and the cityscape provides a great backdrop.


In Godzilla 1984 the sense of threat posed by Godzilla seemed undermined by his relative size compared to his surroundings. He just looked a bit, well, small! But that’s not the case here. KG and Godzilla are bigger than before and they don’t look dwarfed by the buildings they are crushing even though the buildings are often pretty huge - high-rise offices really do rise high! At times they are looking around buildings and emerging into view from behind them, the landscape isn’t just ‘there’, it’s utilised.


The special effects work here is equally as good as Eiji Tsuburaya’s back in the ’60. When budgets dropped in the ‘70s we saw less urban areas and more scrubland fighting, but there is plenty of city-based action here.


Composite shots using real-life city shots are executed perfectly with very little in the way of black outlines ruining the shot.


Some models which appear for brief moments clearly aren’t as detailed as the actual thing but they definitely don’t look poor. Take this example here, when you study it, you can see the model contains some differences from the actual city - but it still looks incredible.


Godzilla also has a bit of a solo moment in the city and his scene boasts some incredible model shots, again – some of the best miniatures we’ve seen. The scenes here are incredibly well directed, this film is a work of art at times.

 

The city looks amazing – just look at it!



The metropolis is gorgeous and in most scenes are superb, there are a few scenes where buildings are clearly basic models, but most others are staggeringly detailed. Especially in the final battle scene which take place in the middle of the city and the individual moments where King Ghidorah or Godzilla rampage through the streets. This film contains possibly the best cityscape destruction in a Godzilla film to this point.

 

Godzilla causes destruction, as you’d expect and we get shots of him from all angles. Including an amazing shot from above.


Including from inside some of the buildings.


Godzilla’s signature Atomic breath seems to really build in his throat, it’s something you can’t depict well in a still image – but in the movie his atomic breath doesn’t seem superimposed, it gurgles up and spews forth.


Let’s have a look at some of the more dodgy moments now. Firstly, the American/English dialogue is as basic as it gets and sometimes jarringly bad. But this is a Japanese language film and there are very few English language lines – and they do make contextual sense even if they do sound childish: “Take that you dinosaur”. There are a few references to American films too – the classic “go ahead, make my day” line is actually uttered and there’s a joke which straddles the fine border between cheesy awfulness and genius when a member of the American navy spots a UFO and is told “You can tell your son about it when he’s born, Major Spielberg”.

The scenes of the humanoid robot ‘running’ did make me laugh, and although this film came out the same year as “Terminator 2” I can’t help but feel that this Godzilla movie was influenced by the Hollywood Sci-Fi modern-classic.


I did laugh at a couple of the very literal doorsigns. I don't know if the humour is intentional or whether it's simply a direct translation thing.


Godzilla fans will notice a welcome return of music composer Akira Ifukube. Apparently he was convinced to do the score for this film after he heard the terrible score for Godzilla Vs Biollante. I think that’s a harsh criticism of the previous films music as I actually thought it was a great soundtrack. But I can imagine that Ifukube winced at his music being reworked and his signature bombastic sound is back here. Using a mixture of his previous and new tracks, the score feels epic. There’s a full orchestra and it feels like an important part of the Godzilla film franchise is once more in place.

Speaking of familiarity – once again we get laser cannons – for 30 years we’ve seen weapons like these!


There was criticism in the past over a sense of anti-Americanism in this film. Personally I don’t see it, but if you’ve been raised on a diet of gung-ho, pro-American movies where God-blessed America is always there to save the day and plant a star-and-stripes flag, then I can see how seeing patriotism from a foreign perspective might be at odds with what you’re used to! Yes, American troops do get squished by a dinosaur, but instead of anti-American, this film is more pro-Japan. There’s a sense of national pride in this movie. After all, we learn that Japan becomes a super-power, and there are several stirring speeches and arguments over the ethics of using nuclear weapons. Godzilla is seen as a mighty force and a Japanese ally …“once again you fight for us” .

There are some familiar faces in this film from previous Toho Godzilla movies, the most obvious few being Megumi Odaka who reprises her role of psychic Miki Saegusa and Katsuhiko Sasaki who has made several Godzilla appearances, and of course Kenji Sahara who was in the very first Gojira film and many since.



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Cult Kingdom rating:  4.5 / 5 


A seriously flawed film at times. The main premise is essentially terrible – why did nobody question the plan of the future people? Surely if their plan was to deal with the 1944 dinosaur, then why not just do it? Why stop off in 1991 first and effectively ask for permission? The time travel aspect leaves you a bit bewildered and it sometimes doesn’t make sense, but the constant time hopping provides enough distraction to prevent seriously questioning the narrative! How do the Japanese remember and refer to something which was wiped from history and so never existed? How come it’s so easy to create a Godzilla? Ah well, never mind! The film looks great and the dinosaur suit is possibly one of the absolute best of any Godzilla film. Remember, this is a Godzilla movie – if you celebrate the dodgy science and accept that it makes no sense then this is easily of the most enjoyable Godzilla movies of the entire bunch.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you! I totally agree, I've never dived into the theory too much with Godzilla. The graphics and monster fights are great. I also appreciated a little back story of how King Ghidora was/could've been created. I generally steer away from the 90s movies, but this is one that I've seen and will watch again.

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