The Godzilla 28 Movie challenge: Number 13 - Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Godzilla Vs Megalon is the thirteenth film in the franchise, and I suppose the unlucky association seems apt given that this is regularly cited as one of, and often *the* worst film of the series. It also happens to be one of a small group of Godzilla films I saw often as a kid, and even though it may have quite sizable flaws, I can’t help but look fondly at it through a rose-tinted haze of nostalgia.

The film reuses (yet again) the alien-race-using-Kaiju-against-humanity formula – but in an effort to feign originality the aliens are replaced by members of an underground society. By underground society, I don’t mean a political group who operate secretly – I literally mean a civilisation who exist deep within the Earth. It is revealed that ‘Seatopia’ is an ancient sunken land which existed within a bubble and developed technology to survive. The inhabitants wear a combination of glam-KKK outfits and strange Roman style clothes (to highlight that they are an ancient race) which showcase their impressive chest hair.

They are a peace loving people who are displeased with our nuclear weapons testing, so angered are they that they drain a great lake, attempt to steal a robot called Jet Jaguar, and summon the giant beast Megalon to annihilate we surface dwellers …I can't help but think that these violent acts seem to run contrary to their peace loving values. Godzilla Vs. Megalon suffers from some sloppy narrative and the Seatopians are very much at the centre of it. According to the film, Seatopians were submerged 3 million years ago and developed tech to enable them to exist. It is assumed that before the ‘bubble’ ran out of air (or burst!) that this ancient civilisation had time to develop tech which the rest of the overworld still isn’t close to achieving. It might also be worth mentioning that 3 million years ago is outside the scope of human existence - modern humans evolved around 0.2 million years ago …maybe aliens from another planet would have worked better after all!

Despite the actual title of the film, this movie becomes ‘Jet Jaguar Vs Megalon’ with Gigan and Godzilla joining the fray also. Godzilla and Gigan feel a bit shoe-horned in, an after-thought. But in a way they are.

In a way to similar competitions here in the UK where school kids are asked to design a Doctor Who villain (remember the Abzorbaloff?) a contest was held in Japan to design a character for Toho. A robot character won, Jet Jaguar was born! It was seen as a way to cash in on the massive success of Ultraman (there are key visual similarities between Jet Jaguar and Ultraman) but the project had issues and the film was redrafted to include Godzilla so that a well-known character could prop up the film. I’m guessing Jet Jaguar wasn’t the success Toho had hoped for given that this was his first and last film appearance.

The set-up is far from original, and the film also suffers from an overuse of stock footage. In the past we’ve seen stock footage used really well (it worked nicely in Godzilla Vs Gigan) but the difference in visual quality is too obvious, especially when scenes which are now a decade old are being recycled. The aesthetic of the older footage is softer and differently tinted, even if you can’t remember seeing it (five) times before, it’s obviously older footage. At one stage you can even see Kaiju who aren’t even in this film! There’s a scene where Megalon is destroying a building and you can see something large moving around inside it from where the footage was originally showing another monster. And there’s a shot where you can actually see a familiar, scaly Kaiju foot demolishing a bridge which is supposed to be toppled by Megalon’s beam!

The original effects do look superb, Tsuburaya’s legacy is safe. The detailed streets must have taken ages to create, hence why they keep getting used. But it’s not just once or twice – I am now seeing scenes for the fifth or sixth time! I keep seeing the same scenes of military vehicles and destruction. There’s a scene in Godzilla Vs. Hedorah where an industrial plant is destroyed and I’ve seen it in 3 films in a row now!

The mass evacuation scenes have appeared several times before too, I’ve seen the same tank get melted about 4 times and how many times has the shot of the helicopter alongside the tanks been shown?!! I think this has been used in half a dozen films now!

In addition to stock footage, the same shot of the laser canons is shown 6 or 7 times in this film alone!

Thankfully for the makers of this film, Megalon’s yellow weapon looks very much like King Ghidorah’s lightning attack, which means that stock footage of King Ghidorah’s attacks on the city can be directly lifted and shifted into this film. However, it is sometimes obvious when we see more than one beam hitting buildings!

Although money was saved by padding out the film with stock footage, kudos has to be given to the special effects team for what is actually one of the best uses of practical effects in a Godzilla film. There is a scene where Megalon bursts a dam and the scene is incredible. The dam itself looks very realistic, when used alongside the footage of an actual damn you really can’t tell the difference. Convincing modelwork is all about the low level detail – realistic textures and the smaller elements which make a scene look convincing. The dam is a prime example of how to do it right, it’s a gem of a moment in a film which is generally derided.

Equally as impressive (and far more difficult on a technical level) is destroying the dam and have it look realistic – but again, this is achieved in spectacular fashion! The way the wall breaks and the diluvial carnage ensues feel completely convincing. Instead of a trickle of water, or a burst of water onto a miniature set – this feels like a huge deluge of water putting the surrounding environment under immense pressure and force.

In the same scene we see a container truck, and if you look below at a comparison of the actual truck and the miniature model, the model shot doesn’t look like a poor reproduction of reality at all, it’s genuinely brilliant work.

Unfortunately a scene where a Seatopian man is thrown from a car doesn’t look as realistic! The miniature model has very flexible limbs (and different coloured clothes to the live action actor) so as he rolls down a hill, his arms and legs whip around in a crazy way! Also, a metal container with 2 people inside is thrown hundreds of feet into the air and lands with both the folk walking out unscathed!

There's a clear attempt to entertain younger audiences and keep a flow of action. Early on there's an epic car chase down steps and through a quarry, it's not not quite The Italian Job but wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond film, especially with that jaunty ‘70s music.

Actually, I think the James Bond influence is strong in the Godzilla films from this era, the baddies and their henchmen, the hi-tech bases and evil organisations. There are stunt sequences and the whole chase is punctuated with a comedy moment when the bike driver falls off (after a pathetically minor skid!) and empties a load of concrete onto himself as he tries to stand up. …I almost expected Roger Moore to raise an eye-brow and crack a one-liner.

Now, let’s look at the Kaiju here. Firstly, Jet Jaguar.

[I usually start with Godzilla, but this film really was a vehicle for Jet Jaguar, he even gets his own funky theme song at the end.]

Jet Jaguar is a colourful robot which is clearly aimed at the younger audience, he looks like an action figure and can do amazing things like fly.

In the scenes where a model is used to show him in flight, the arms look a little too long!

His eyes light up and he communicates mainly using strange arm signals and a fairly standard but subtle Kaiju 'noise'. He looks quite cool and the child appeal must work - many years ago I thought he was awesome, but now I'm 35 he doesn't quite excite me as much!

I understand that you have to suspend belief to enjoy Kaiju films, but an element of reality, or at least or being grounded in fact is required to stop it from being a farce where the drama is undermined. Jet Jaguar is just too big a leap of faith to make and it's entirely down to lazy story telling.

For a what is essentially the project of an electrical engineer, Jet Jaguar's capabilities are advanced to the point of being bonkers. You'd think that flying despite having no discernible propulsion system or fuel storage would be amazing enough. But in addition he uses a type of sign-language that even Kaiju can understand. All he does is move his arms slightly and Godzilla nods to signal that he understands what is being asked of him. Jet Jaguar, who looks like a giant toy, is instantly accepted and taken seriously by the military who are happy to put the robot at the heart of their plan to stop the crazed Megalon, their only query being “will it work?”, the answer is even more simplistic (“yes”) and that's the debate over.

Things get even more bizarre.

When he breaks from his programming and start to run of his own volition there's no suggestion of a glitch or a malfunction. Instead a blasé comment is made about him developing his own will. At least Short Circuit was struck by lightning but there's no explanation as to how Jet Jaguar becomes a sentient being! And yet the craziest aspect to Jet Jaguar is still to occur - Jet Jaguar, completely from nowhere, without any hint that it was possible, breaks the laws of physics and develops the ability to increase his own size!

It’s a turn of events so shocking that even Megalon pulls a “WTF!” expression!

Speaking of Megalon, he's not 
the scariest of creatures. He resembles a 50’s B-movie monster. He has wings but doesn’t seem to use them, he simply flies by levitating! He has the look of a cockroach with a few embellishments.  He has a star shaped ‘thing’ on his head which can shoot a laser-type weapon and can fire explosive balls from his mouth.

..and often the strings are plainly visible!

Megalon is a bit like a crap Gigan! They both have a protrusion on their head, have big metal hands and mandibles on their mouths which open and close. The toolbox once again provides inspiration, where Gigan had a buzz-saw on his chest, Megalon has rotating screwdriver/drill hands!

In another leap of faith, the Seatopians manage to contact Gigan and get him to team up with Megalon. He looks similar to the previous film but rather less animated. For a start his buzz-saw doesn't see any action other than during a moment of stock footage.

So lets's look at the Big G now. This suit is a very unpopular one, Godzilla has undergone quite a radical redesign of the face and now looks, well, cute. Personally, I love this suit, I really do – and it’s probably because it’s the first Godzilla suit I ever saw. For many years this *was* Godzilla for me. Just like Roger Moore was my Bond and Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor – this was my favourite look for Godzilla. Although I prefer the more aggressive look now, I still have a strong fondness for it. The mouth is almost like a duck’s bill and the eyes are large in proportion to the rest of the head which gives him a more youthful look – like a playful kitten!

The eyes move and are the most expressive yet, the teeth are now quite short and neat rather than large and menacing.

Clearly Toho didn’t want to wreck the new suit by getting it wet so moments after seeing the new Godzilla, we see a completely different one jump into the water. This is actually the scene from Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster where Godzilla escapes the soon-to-be-exploded Monster Island!

There’s a noticeable lighter patch on Godzilla’s tummy, which I’m assuming is the way in-and-out of the suit.

The last film (Godzilla vs. Gigan) was the last where Haruo Nakajima wore the Godzilla suit, so in addition to the new appearance, Godzilla even walks different! It’s a ‘springy’ more casual walk with a hint of jauntiness rather than a slow lumbering one. So we have a Godzilla with a new look and a new personality. That anthropomorphic development over the last few films has reached a peak now with Godzilla exhibiting lots of personality – he even squares up to the baddies when he sees them by doing kung-fu style poses!

By now Japan is used to Kaiju, they're a way of life - and besides which - Godzilla is an ally now, a leviathan who comes to our aid rather than a fearsome creature. We get an insight into the world of Kaiju-aware society. When Megalon appears, a radio broadcast reporting the sighting isn't sensationalistic and saturated with panic, instead it's more a sense of ‘yet another monster’.

The inter-Kaiju action (otherwise known as "fighting"!) isn't that epic. Megalon appears and jumps about (he really does) and then battles with Jet Jaguar. The fighting isn't bad, it just doesn't seem as great as the battle in Godzilla Vs. Gigan, apart from the parts which are actually directly lifted from Godzilla Vs. Gigan! Jet Jaguar becomes giant-sized, they grapple, fall over a bit, it kind of leaves you wondering that if JJ can change his size at will, why not grow to twice the size of Megalon and destroy him with one kick?

The highlight of this early battle is Megalon flying around in circles and Jet Jaguar collapsing with dizzyness - I didn't realise that robots could get dizzy.

Soon Gigan joins the mix and the terrible two team up to beat up the giant robot.

A theme of the last film and this one is camaraderie. And once Godzilla joins the melee it's not all just about the fighting, there's plenty of love too. Godzilla's relationship with Jet Jaguar is a friendship to rival that with Anguirus! One of the first things we see them do is shake hands!

When walking towards fire, Godzilla even holds his arm out to protect JJ who then repays the favour by letting Godzilla jump on his back so he can fly them to safety - Kaiju-cuddles!!!

The biggest bromance moment though, has to be when Godzilla is cradling the head of his fallen comrade while his own head is actually on fire.

Because the fighting is quite cartoony and the plot so light, there's no real sense of danger. The re-used scene from Godzilla Vs. Gigan where Gigan slices into Godzilla's shoulder is the only nasty bit of the battle.

We see more brutal moments from a kid when he flies a model plane into the face of a Seatopian and bloodies his nose!

The over-the-top slapstick fighting is eptimomised by the insane move Godzilla does at the end when Jet Jaguar holds Megalon so that Godzilla can do a crazy-ass horizontal ninja-kick, so bonkers that it's repeated just in case you thought you were imagining it the first time!

There isn't much for the human characters to do here, they simply join the dots between scenes, add some action and provide the set up or exposition. They don't stand out but neither do they seem poor.

The music in the film doesn't feel like a great film score, it's closer to 70s incidental music and quite distanced from Ifukube's bombastic scores which elevated the earlier films. I think one of the main issues with this film isn't that it doesn't take itself seriously, it's that it doesn't take the established subject matter seriously. No effort is made to generate drama or peril, it's just a chain of events which are designed to hook the attention span of a child long enough to move to the next scene.


Cult Kingdom rating:  1.5 / 5 

This reminds me of the second Planet Of The Apes film (Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, 1970) when a serious and critically acclaimed film was followed by an installment which undermined a lot of what generated the initial success. Godzilla Vs. Megalon has dated badly and is terrible in comparison to the 1954 original, however it is important to note that the the two films had completely different aims and intended audiences. 
The best scene in this film is towards the beginning (the dam scene) and it's a genuinely fantastic moment. It's just a shame that level of quality isn't achieved again. 

Godzilla's redesign works for the purposes of making him a hero for children, and although I like the suit, I realise it's only because of the warm fuzzy feeling I had as a kid watching my Kaiju hero. The lack of aggression and the removal of the animal from the creature leaves Godzilla pretty empty.  He lacks the striking appearance of a fearsome beast, and so do his foes, it's now just big beings fighting, nothing seems to be at stake. He may be a heroic figure now but he comes across as a bit dumb, you never take him seriously. For me Godzilla is at his best when he is neither hero nor villain - he is just Godzilla, existing as a giant creature with no ethical motive rather than a cartoon-like dinosaur.

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