Godzilla: King of the Monsters Film Review (American Version)

Godzilla has been a cinematic legend for over fifty years.  Throughout the years, many Japanese filmmakers would make and remake movies about Godzilla, but they are not as good as the original movie.  The first movie named Godzilla: King of the Monsters first premiered in America in 1956, but its original Japanese title says Gojira, which is Japanese for Godzilla.  The Japanese version was very much different from the American version, especially due to the fact that it did not have Raymond Burr.  Nonetheless, the first Godzilla movie (no matter the version) still remains the best piece of science fiction since King Kong.  Some of the most outstanding elements of the movie are its use of camera shots, the production value, and the acting.  However, the story could be better and in fact, it is much better in the Japanese version.  For analytical purposes, it would be easier to review the American version instead.

First of all, it would be clearer to talk about what the movie is about for those who have not seen it.  The basic theme of the movie is to warn the world (especially the United States) about the dangers of nuclear testing.  The story is about a radioactive dinosaur who wreaks havoc on Tokyo after he has been awakened from his slumber by nuclear testing.  After sinking a few ships, Godzilla sets his sights on attacking Tokyo directly.  Meanwhile, an American reporter named Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) has just gotten off an assignment in Cairo and is going to Tokyo to visit an old friend, who is a Japanese scientist named Dr. Serizawa. Steve Martin becomes interested in the rash of ship sinking and decides to follow a prominent scientist named Dr. Yamane to an island called Odo Island, where the natives believe a monster named Godzilla is responsible for the ship sinkings. There, they find evidence of a prehistoric creature (i.e. gigantic footprints).  Their visit is short lived however when they finally encounter Godzilla near a mountain.  Steve takes a picture of it and the scientific world is set on fire, trying to explain how a prehistoric creature is still alive in their time.  Given the radioactive footprints, they assume Godzilla was awakened by a nuclear bomb being tested near the island.  While they are discussing Godzilla’s nature, Godzilla attacks Tokyo that same night.  When Godzilla goes back into the sea, the Japanese militia prepare for another assault by setting up a row of high tension wires across Tokyo.  The militia hoped that electricity might scare Godzilla away.  However, Godzilla still breaks through the barrier and is able to demolish Tokyo.  Finally, Dr. Serizawa (who is an ex-boyfriend of Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko) decides to use his new discovery, the oxygen destroyer, against Godzilla and in one act of bravery, Serizawa activates his device near Godzilla, killing that creature and himself.

Godzilla’s camera movements manage to convey the atmosphere of every scene very well.  In the beginning of the movie, the camera pans left and the audience can see the city of Tokyo lying in ruin. This would spark many questions from audience members such as “What happened?”, “Where did this happen?”, or “Who did this?”  In other words, the movie manages to grab the audience’s attention right from the beginning.  In one scene, there is a shot/reverse shot or field cutting between Emiko and Dr. Serizawa.  Emiko greets Dr. Serizawa and tries to tell him about her relationship with Ogata.  After she greets Dr. Serizawa, there is an uncomfortable pause between them and the camera cuts to a medium close-up of Emiko looking down and then cuts to another medium close-up of Dr. Serizawa looking down as well.  It is easy to feel the tension between them at this moment just by the use of the shot/reverse shot.  The audience can also feel that both Emiko and Dr. Serizawa are troubled by something.  Emiko is troubled about telling Serizawa about her relationship with Ogata, but Serizawa is troubled about telling her about his new discovery the oxygen destroyer.

The story for the movie was very interesting, especially due to the fact that the first scene begins in the middle of the story is very unusual and would not be commonly used in the Classical Hollywood System.  However, more than half of the movie is told in a flashback and from Steve Martin’s point of view.  Throughout the entire movie, Steve Martin’s voice could be heard narrating offstage as if he is actually recounting the events that unfold before Tokyo is destroyed.  The story was also well done due to the fact that Godzilla does not make his appearance until the middle of the movie.  Until then, the audience is left with a certain curiosity about what Godzilla looks like.  There also seem to be elements of an Ozu influence in the story.  Usually, Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu would make his films about tradition versus modernity.  In the movie, as Godzilla is destroying Tokyo, Steve Martin recognizes the fact that all of man’s machines could not destroy Godzilla, who could represent tradition.

The director’s phenomenal use of special effects is ahead of its time.  Models of cars and buildings being destroyed conveyed certain themes or moods of the movie.  For example, during the middle part of the movie, the director shows a shot of a helicopter (really a model) in a rainstorm that has been crushed.  This was an excellent foreshadowing of the destruction of Tokyo.  The destruction of Tokyo scene is the best and most well thought out scenes in the movie.  It also has the best special effects.  In the scene, Tokyo is shown as a “sea of fire” and a silhouette of Godzilla is shown terrorizing the city.  Godzilla looks so menacing in this scene.  This scene shows the consequences of continuing nuclear weapons. This is also where Godzilla is famous for his radioactive fire breath.   First, there is a medium shot of Godzilla and his dorsal fins begin to light up.  Then the camera cuts to a close-up of his face as he unleashes his deadly breath and then finally a long shot of Godzilla’s target bursting into flames.  The chaos is so realistic, that the audience can’t help but feel pity for Tokyo as it is being savagely attacked.  In the destruction scene, Godzilla wrecks various buildings, one of them being a tower filled with reporters trying to get the story of the century.  A long shot of the tower is shown with camera flashes off and the shot could be from Godzilla’s point of view.  Then the camera cuts to a medium close-up shot of Godzilla tearing down the tower by ripping it apart with his jaw.  The camera then cuts to close-up of a reporter’s face and shows his horror as Godzilla rips the tower apart and his dialogue is in Japanese, but the audience can feel his panic just before he falls to his doom.

The music in the movie works excellently with the images in the movie.  For example, in the opening scene, the music is grim and slow conveying the emptiness and loss left behind in Godzilla’s wake.  In the later scenes, when Godzilla attacks Tokyo, the music is very fast paced and conveys a sense of panic and confusion to the audience.  The audience can feel how the fleeing citizens feel.  In the final scene, the music is somber as Serizawa sacrifices himself to not only kill Godzilla, but so no one can get the formula for the oxygen destroyer from him.  The movie closes with the same music as the audience gets a chance to feel the characters’ loss for their great hero.

Finally, the acting in Godzilla was good, but the character of Emiko was too weepy.  Every time something went wrong, she would break down crying.  The character of Steve Martin was well played by Raymond Burr, especially in the destruction of Tokyo scene, when he is shown in a close-up shot looking at Godzilla’s rampage out of an office window.  His panic is clearly shown by his face.  However, the best played character was Dr. Serizawa, because he fit the description of an anti-hero.  He was isolated, shy, and paranoid about his new discovery (the oxygen destroyer) ending up in the wrong hands.  However, he was still brave by sacrificing himself to slay Godzilla and to save the world.

In conclusion, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is one of the best masterpieces of science fiction.  All the elements of the film are amazing including the special effects, story, camera shots, and acting.  All of these elements combined are what make Godzilla: King of the Monsters a classic.

 

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One Response to “Godzilla: King of the Monsters Film Review (American Version)”

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