The Godzilla 28 Movie Challenge - Number 17: Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Godzilla 1984, though not a flop, was hardly a great success. Despite a definite jump in quality and a return to a more ‘serious’ Godzilla movie, I personally feel that the film lacked a sense of terror or danger. Godzilla looked as though he was dwarfed by the landscape and not capable of much more than causing some big insurance claims for damaged buildings. It did however demonstrate that there was investment in new technology with new molding processes and an animatronic head. It also represented a return to less childish storytelling.  If a Godzilla film is to be more mature and not just a campy monster melee then it needs an element of drama; Godzilla Vs. Biollante reintroduced the much needed element of fear by not relying just on the monsters – just as Nuclear Weapons were the real threat in the 1954 movie, weapons technology again underpins the tension in this title.

For the third time in Godzilla history, this film relies on a public competition – and a dentist called Shinichiro Kobayashi had his story modified into the final screenplay for Godzilla Vs. Biollante, his story which focussed on bio-engineering and human/plant genetic splicing was tinkered with to give us the final screenplay.  Those themes remain, however the reworked script by writer/Director Kazuki Omori adds familiar anti-nuclear elements too. The film is a direct sequel to the 1984 movie and starts with footage from the previous film to establish the fact this this continues from the events at the end of Godzilla 1984, which you may recall featured Godzilla being lured into a Volcano after the destruction of anti-Godzilla weapon “Super X”. In all the chaos, bits of Godzilla started dropping off (but intentionally, this isn’t a reference to the dodgy suits from Godzilla Vs Gigan!) and some of his cells have been retrieved, this is central to the plot of the movie.

The more serious tone continues, however a culmination of several plotlines converge to produce a film which is visually pretty amazing but a narrative nightmare! As mentioned, the prime focus seems to be Godzilla’s cells, everyone wants them. Immediately after the events of 1984 there are several groups scrambling around his genetic material. These people have guns and are not afraid to use them, there’s even a terrorist attack at a rival technology institute in (the clearly made-up country of) Saradria in which their collection of cells are destroyed. The blast also kills Erika – the daughter of Doctor Shiragami, a boffin who has been hoping to splice together Godzilla and plant genes to create super-plants which can grow in dry desert conditions. He may have lost his precious cells, but losing his daughter is too much to bear, thankfully her soul is absorbed into a rosebush so as long as he waters her regularly – she’s always with him. All this violence is a shift in Godzilla. Clearly destruction is big part of the films, and although we have seen person-on-person violent acts, they have been quite rare with most destruction at the expense of monsters, aliens, robots …or buildings.

Back in the 1984 movie we saw that a series of measures were in place should Godzilla appear, similar measures have been taken again – a new weapon, the Super X-2 has been constructed! In addition an “Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria” has been developed in the hope that it can be deployed to destroy Godzilla. Also, Doctor Shiragami finally gets to complete his genetic splicing plan and creates a Godzilla-Rosebud hybrid (imbued with the soul of his daughter). Godzilla Vs Biollante eventually becomes a series of events which enables all three of these measures to be pitted against the Big G, with Biollante being the main event. Thankfully the film doesn’t plod through them all – ticking the measures off one-by-one until we get to Biollante. As the level of threat increases the counter measures are stepped up. Biollante doesn’t just appear at the end, we see it grow – quite literally, and morph into different forms until it becomes the fearsome organism of the films climax. These measures show how seriously the previous attack has impacted Japan, there's even a memorial lounge to commemorate the event - formed from one of Godzilla's footprints.

There’s a prominence of computer displays and digital images,  this reflects the desire of the time to see computers in film. Now we have a system of Godzilla ‘alerts’ which range from a sighting to an actual appearance in the middle of a city. This is a great way of ramping up tension in the film as various computer screens displaying alerts are used throughout, we get a sense of escalating threat with a corresponding defence reaction. It also gives the film an excuse to throw in lots of exposition.

This is the late 1980s now and computers are an everyday thing rather than a “technology of tomorrow”. By this time computer generated graphics and CGI effects were commonplace in film where it was starting to replace practical effects and there was a feeling at the time that such effects had to be utilised in order for a film to look modern. This was probably even more important in a film using suitmation  - years of low-budget ‘man-in-a-rubber-suit’ movies pandering to young audiences had turned Godzilla from a ground-breaking horror franchise (even if the horror was short-lived) into something which was almost universally ridiculed. 

And of course, Godzilla does turn up – just as a class of psychic children have predicted…

So let’s look at the Big G. Godzilla appears to have had a makeover since the last film, or perhaps the heat from the volcano melted him into a new form – but he looks beastly, and that’s a good thing. The head has shrank down and is more lizard-like, it has a mean expression with a steely stare and eyes which are less ‘cartoony’. As before there is an animated head used for close ups but it is cast from the same molds so the switch between scenes is seamless (unlike in Godzilla 1984 where the differences were quite extreme).

The teeth are less like jagged fangs now, instead he has rows of sharp teeth – and look at that tongue! It moves and had a realistic texture.

The body isn’t padded any more – it’s pure muscle, the chest looks a little boxy from the side, but not overly so, and the neck has no visible transparent ‘viewing membrane’. The dorsal spikes are less ‘spongy’ and more spiky. This is a mean looking Godzilla, a dragon monster who appears more physically capable rather than a lumbering mass dragging his tail through the streets of Japan. I said in my Godzilla 1984 write-up that Godzilla seemed dwarfed by his surroundings, now he’s a formidable force. Even his roar sounds more menacing.

For the water scenes there's a different head, it looks the same, just more rigid and has a 'traditional' hinged mouth.

This may be called “Godzilla Vs Biollante” but Super X2 also features. The Super X in the previous film was dispatched by Godzilla with relative ease. But this is flown remotely and has beefed up weapons. The main one being a reflective screen to reflect Godzilla’s atomic breath back at him. It was successful  - to a degree, it turns out that it could only take so much. But the reflective shield was an inventive way of dealing with the Big G, and although the shield may have been damaged you can’t help but feel it was a successful test of concept.

In addition it has the usual array of guns and missiles, which seem to force Godzilla back. It’s an impressive machine and another Godzilla vehicle which would be perfectly at home on Tracy island!

So, now let’s focus on the other title monster, Biollante.

Despite seeming a bit naff (a mutated rose bush), Biollante manages to be one of the most awesome creatures in any Godzilla movie. It’s fantastic. It’s initial form is essentially a giant flower with long tendrils capable of grabbing and maiming those around.  It’s more savage than it sounds.

But the awesomeness level is turned up to 11 when the Godzilla genes start kicking in and the thing mutates further. It becomes huge, much larger than Godzilla and resembles a giant reptilian creature with floral growths which are much more than garnish! The jaws are massive and monstrous, the whole mass is genuinely intimidating and you really believe that Godzilla has found a foe capable of doing some real damage.

The battle scenes are impressive on Godzilla Vs Biollante.  The first such scene features Godzilla against the Super-X 2, the new and improved Super X is defeated but the overall concept is proven to be more effective than its predecessor. There’s a further battle scene with the Super-X 2, but this scene is more concerned with infecting Godzilla with the new “Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria”. The actual fighting between the two isn't vey dramatic, but the scenes set in the city look superb. 

The first battle scene with Biollante is a fairly swift affair– but Biollante’s form is little more than just a giant flower at this stage and it is blasted into submission. But not before Biollante can spits toxic sludge capable of burning Godzilla. The second time these two foes battle, the scene is epic. Biollante is massive in its final form, but you only really appreciate the size when seen with Godzilla with it/her to give a sense of scale. 

Godzilla struggles against the giant plant. Not only is Biollante *huge* but it is able to stab him with sharpened tendrils while continuing acid attacks and physical bites with those huge teeth. Godzilla is already weakened by the bacteria injected into his skin which is causing him to overheat and feel weak.

The fights with Biollante feel different to the stuff we’ve seen before. There has been a tendency to rely on the ‘standard’ move set of atomic breath, rock throwing and the odd grapple. But the battles with Biollante rank as some of the more imaginative due to the range of abilities Biollante is able to deploy against the King of the Monsters. The overall look of the film continues the more serious tone of the 1984 movie. The plot might be a mess at times and quite insane in its scope, but this never looks dumb. I would go as far as to say that this is the first truly “modern looking” Godzilla movie. The cityscapes look excellent, it is perhaps less convincing than the Tokyo models from the 1984 film, but the more open views here mean that Godzilla can stand out more. The truth is that late 20th century Japan looks very different to 1950s Japan and high-rise buildings have become the new monsters of the skyline, they dominate now.

Godzilla may not be the biggest thing in the city, but he is clearly capable of causing destruction.

And there's a fantastic aerial shot of Godzilla walking up the river into the city...

The visual effects are excellent here, you’ve already seen the beasts and fights between them above, and they look amazing. The practical effects are among the best I’ve seen and there are stand out moments, a scene where Biollante is walking over land could have looked terrible, but it looks superb.  Godzilla has frequently featured models representing cities, various buildings and vehicles, but the detail on the monsters has been sadly lacking sat times. That had to be addressed, audiences are expecting more and more and Godzilla Vs Biollante delivers. 

The splicing together of actual footage and models matches the excellent editing we’ve enjoyed in the past, there are scenes involving boats and helicopters which much be models, but there’s no way of telling.

The film is incredibly well directed, the battle scenes are handled exceptionally well, especially where Biollante is concerned. The size is communicated well through the screen, and artistic angles and lighting are used to frame shots in ways which make for iconic scenes.  It’s obvious that the creative vision is strong with this title and the soundtrack is strong too. The modern soundtrack fits the film perfectly and classic Ifukube music is also utilised which ties the film in nicely with the franchise’s history – especially when you consider that Godzilla 1984 ignores all films after the ’54 original, which makes this the third part of a trilogy. Whenever Godzilla is mentioned we hear his classic theme and Super-X 2 also has a really catchy theme of its own.

Godzilla was originally an analogy of atomic destruction and in Godzilla Vs Biollante is also used to highlight wider moral issues relevant to a more modern audience. There are discussions held about the ethics of weapons of mass destruction and politicians using science and scientists for their own benefit. There’s an argument put forward that because nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan and now they have Godzilla (or at least his cells), it’s only fair they use them to defend themselves. But there are also concerns that in the process of defending themselves they could create something equally as destructive. The morality play concludes however with the doctor refusing to continue his research even though he now has ample supply of Godzilla cells. Once he recognises the desire of others to have access to the technology and the destructive potential, he feels that it is just too dangerous, like Dr. Serizawa in the 1954 Gojira refusing to let the plans for his oxygen destroyer to be made available. This really adds depth to a film which otherwise could be seen as quite silly.

Godzilla Vs Biollante is entertaining and there always seems to be something going on. You’re always aware that things are building and Biollante is getting stronger. This is regarded as one of the better Godzilla films and is a bit of a fan favourite, it’s easy to see why. Biollante is an exceptional monster, there’s multiple storylines which add some depth and peril to a film franchise which has at times just been a few loosely linked together battle scenes.  But it’s not without issues…

There are a few flaws; a cryogenic freezing chamber is clearly just a row of filing cabinets. And a scene where an airport is evacuated because of Godzilla approaching seems very serene – the stock airport footage doesn’t work – nobody looks remotely bothered that all flights are cancelled, let alone panicked because there’s a giant atomic monster coming! But that aside, there is a sense of panic now, and this is another break from the ‘cheaper' films set on remote islands where there are no human populations to react to the threat of a giant beast. We see scared people running through the streets of Osaka and when a concert is evacuated the resulting exodus is more convincing – even if nobody seems dressed for a pop concert!

The acting is of dubious quality. There are lines delivered in English which are wooden, there’s a great example when a dude comments on an attractive lady: “she’s not a bad sight”. But my favourite has to be the exclamation made by a chap when looking through the blinds of a building to see the huge mass of Godzilla stood right outside, instead of shrieking or cursing, he utters “Damn, it’s Godzilla” with absolutely no emotion. He sounds like Napoleon Dynamite.

The main cast don't draw you in, they are ever present but never seem to matter too much. Even though they are pivotal at moments, you just never care for them.

There’s a dependence on the supernatural here too. From kids with Extra Sensory Perception to Miki Saegusa - a woman able to talk to Godzilla using her psychic abilities. The psychic element adds little to the film, and although Saegusa’s communication with Godzilla does form part of a pivotal moment, it still seemed unnecessary. One of the problems with the (terrible) Hollywood 1998 movie was that Godzilla ‘disappears’ in a city, the same thing happens here but thankfully a psychic who speaks fluent plant and Godzilla is able to locate him. Godzilla’s location does cause problems though, the military assume Godzilla will appear at Ise bay and all forces are sent there leaving Osaka bay completely free of any military might. Needless to say, Godzilla turns up at Osaka – instead of protecting the bays near Godzilla, they just protect one and hope that’s where he’ll turn up.

While I’m on the subject on supernatural events, there’s a huge leap of faith when it comes to Erika. By adding some of her DNA to a rosebush we are to assume that her soul entered it and that she is able to have some limited control on the actions of Biollante. It seems strange to take issue with something like this in a film which completely bonkers anyway – but it just adds a silly fairytale element to a film which really tries to be more gritty. Especially when Biollante turns into its spore/dust/star form and forms her face in the sky. I can see why it was included, in a film which lacks any real character development it was a shot at trying to put some ‘heart’ into the film, but ultimately it was just cheesy. It is stated in the film that plants have their own mental energy and it’s no surprise we’ve finally found someone who can communicate with them. This is typical of the pseudo-science which often crops up in these films. Something quite bonkers is accepted as well-known fact. Similarly, when Biollante mutates it is said that Godzilla’s attack must have had an effect on Biollante’s cell division – there’s no evidence at all that this was the cause yet this is concluded seconds after the attack!

I mention heart, the only real empathy you feel in this film is for Godzilla. The poor brute is getting acid attacked, impaled and infected with bacteria! You really do feel sorry for him! At least his ending is left open. …speaking of endings, there’s a shock ending that I really didn’t expect! I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, it’s a violent unexpected moment which may simply have been shoehorned in to add drama. 


Cult Kingdom rating:  4/5 

One of the most watchable Godzilla films. Action and political espionage culminate in a monster battle with the most impressive looking monster in the film franchise so far. As I have already said, this is a landmark film for Godzilla – it’s the first truly modern looking Godzilla movie and manages to include contemporary issues such as the cold war and the international arms race. Despite the insane plotlines and eye-brow raising ‘science’ there’s still a lot to enjoy here as long you suspend disbelief. Totally.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I haven't seen this movie, but I've seen it around on the internet. Now I want to watch it! I'm glad you're still making these reviews I really enjoy them! Thank you!