We’re six films into the Godzilla franchise now and so far each film has represented a significant first – whether it be the first time Godzilla appeared in colour, the first time he fought another monster, or the first appearance of King Ghidora. However this film will always be most remembered for being the one where Godzilla dances…
A recently discovered planet orbiting Jupiter has been found to be emitting radio-waves. Two astronauts head to “Planet X” where they discover they are not the only life-forms there. Humanoid beings offer protection to them and their ship. As they head underground they are briefed on the dangers of surface-living, a huge monster terrorises the planet and the beings are forced to live underground. The natives are more than happy to show their nemesis to their new Terran friends, and it looks decidedly familiar – what they call “Monster Zero” is better known on our world as King Ghidorah!
The Planet X people explain that they have already used their resources trying to destroy the creature and all they can do is wait for it move on to another part of the planet. They casually ask for suggestions and then suggest and idea of their own – well, it’s more of a trade; they want to borrow some Earth Kaiju. The astronauts are sent back home with orders to report the proposition – to swap Godzilla and Rodan, in return for a cure for cancer.
As usual, Ishiro Honda directs but the film seems to take on a slightly different look. Maybe it’s because of the addition of alien tech, but either Honda or cinematographer Hajime Koizumi seem inspired in ‘Invasion of Astromonster’ with some wonderfully framed shots and some unique angles to the monster action (more on that later). All that space action still feels very “Godzilla”, but with the usual big 4 involved (Tanaka and Honda [producing and directing] Tsuburaya and Ifukube [visual effects and score]), it’s no surprise, the film is in safe and familiar hands. After the disappointing Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster movie (which *should* have been awesome), this is a step-up in quality. Yes, there are flaws here – the usual pseudo-science we’ve come to enjoy will raise the eyebrows of any scientist (it took our primitive Earth rocket only 30 hours to reach Planet X), and the reasons for a brother’s disapproval of his sister’s boyfriend makes one of the films heroes less likable (he comes across as an overbearing bully at times). Also the plot seems unnecessary, the last half an hour could have occurred without the first hour – the Planet X folk could have sent King Ghidorah and controlled our Earth Kaiju in the first place, there was no need for the initial theatrics and pretending to be our friends! But there’s a lot to celebrate too…
Tsubaraya’s miniatures set a new benchmark for quality, a lot of the action takes place on Planet X which essentially a rocky terrain – but it looks absolutely believable. On Earth when we do see buildings, they look intricately detailed – even if they only get a small amount of screentime before being stomped/flooded/set of fire, they look superb. The vehicles are the best yet, especially the huge, hulking trucks carrying scientific equipment. They move in a realistic way and even sound realistic. The wide range of Earth and Alien equipment was crafted with acute detail, they act as embellishments which allow the film to transcend any flaws.
There are moments in the film which are quite breathtaking. At one point a satellite dish is zapped by a flying saucer, the dish looks *HUGE*, I’ve visited satellite stations and the one in this film does not look like a model, it appears ginormous – it could pass for the real thing. Once attacked it buckles and starts to fold in on itself (reminiscent of the melting pylon in the 1954 Gojira) and I watched that same scene several times to take in the impressive work.
An equally impressive scene involves a bridge – in my write-up of the previous film I mention the mediocre destruction of bridge which simply topples over like a cheap toy. But here we see the metal twist and the fittings are ripped away. The low-level detail is staggering and it adds drama to a film which otherwise would just be a cheap-ass B movie!
I mentioned the flying saucers above – they have the generic flying saucer shape but instead of a grey metal finish they look almost ceramic.
They have an iridescent quality to them and don’t clumsily dangle and swing in the sky, they have fluid, smooth movements and do things which must have been difficult at a technical level (such as flying into, and along, a tunnel-like opening).
The way they splash and disrupt water appears as natural interaction with the landscape. When a flying saucer lasers the edge of a cliff to get to Rodan it looks as convincing as any modern CGI effect, but it’s not only the flying saucers causing disruption - there are of course monsters!
Godzilla’s suit isn’t the best in this film – but it’s also not the worse. His has a long neck which seems barely able to support the bulbous head (like back in King Kong Vs Godzilla).
The moving eyes remain though and they add expression to his scaly face.
It’s certainly a step backwards after the fantastic suit from the last two films. Instead of a defined muscular shape with clear limbs, the suit looks like a suit – slightly ill-fitting and a bit baggy. The film gets away with it though as there isn’t actually that much Godzilla action in this film, and the action we see either contains a lot of movement or focuses more on specific aspects of Godzilla’s body.
The impressive model work is put to good use by Godzilla, instead of long shots of him trampling through buildings we see close-ups of houses as his feet crash through them. This is a unique perspective, the houses are very detailed and wood is splintered and walls explode as the clawed foot of Godzilla tears through the structure. I waxed lyrical about the bridge earlier on, and once again I can’t praise Tsuburaya enough – although I know these are models, a full size model foot crashing through an actual house couldn’t have looked more realistic. Similarly, Godzilla's tail features heavily in some scenes, instead of relegated to background action it is seen from the ground level as it swipes and drags through dwellings which all adds to the sense of scale.
Godzilla’s entry isn’t that great here – he basically gets levitated out of the ocean and flown away in a bubble-like forcefield. But once awoken he does what can only be described as a yawn and a stretch, it made me chuckle and gave him personality. The anthropomorphism of Godzilla had been developing over the last couple of films and he would become even more human-like over the next few films. The ultimate example being his celebratory dance after kicking King Ghidorah’s golden arse, the films defining moment!
Also – as usual I must point out Nakajima’s suffering for his art, while donning the Godzilla suit he takes a missile to the face
There isn’t much actual fighting here, at first there’s a few rock kicks and a few stones thrown and I was worried it would be a pitiful recreation of the last fight, but the monster mash develops into a rather amusing fight with Godzilla performing hand-to-neck boxing moves and Rodan grabbing King Ghidorah’s tail.
Rodan looks better than previously seen. There aren’t many close up shots of him but his movement is less wooden and when he fans his wings to create gusts of wind, his wings look more like actual wings as opposed to slow, stiff appendages.
King Ghidorah looks as good as he did previously. This magnificent beast, just as with Godzilla, is seen destroying buildings with his feet and we even see him land on roof – causing the building to collapse. The lightning effect is still impressive and as it arcs across surfaces we are treated to little explosions and scarring of ground. You can see the strings at some point, but not with any real detrimental effect.
Future Godzilla films would be guilty of cobbling together scenes from previous films to produce a cheap, shoddy final product. This film does contain some stock footage from the original stand-alone Rodan movie, however it’s integrated well and although there is a difference in the aesthetic, it’s not jarringly bad and serves the film nicely rather just being lazy cost-cutting.
One humorous moment occurs between all three Kaiju, after being knocked semi unconscious they lay on their backs with their legs in the air – it’s a bizarre moment!
The cast contains some old Toho favourites with several former Godzilla film actors taking up fresh roles, most obviously Akira Takarada and a host of humanoid aliens.
A notable cast member is Nick Adams, regarded as an underrated actor who always seemed to be on the brink of breaking into the big time (but who died tragically early, aged 36). He adds an interesting element to the film. For a start he’s an American actor who has a James Dean kind of ‘cool’, so there’s a difference in style which is very apparent. A lot has been said about his onscreen chemistry with actress Kumi Mizuno, after playing romantically-linked characters in 2 films there has been speculation that the pair were involved in real life.
One of the main reasons this film is highly regarded is because it has compelling elements such as very human stories, and a clear (if flawed) science-fiction plot. The monster element is excellently executed but ultimately it’s a small part of the film. This fits in with the hokey science fiction films of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s – films such as Mysterions or Saturn 3, films which are aren’t exactly ‘hard Sci-Fi’ (2001: A Space Odyssey was under development when this was released) but are still enjoyable gems in the genre.
Cult Kingdom rating: 4/5
This isn’t so much a Godzilla film as a 1960’s Sci-Fi adventure which happens to feature Godzilla. It’s a fun film which is well crafted in terms of visual style and special effects. It’s not a classic film, but it’s eminently watchable and restores confidence after ‘Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster’ which promised much but delivered little. Absolutely essential viewing for fans of practical effects and 60’s Science Fiction.