Friday, April 18, 2014

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956): 30 Days of Godzilla



Although Gojira had already debuted in Japan two years prior, Americans would only come to know him in 1956 when Gojira was re-edited and released in North America as Godzilla: King of the Monsters!

In the 1950s, Japanese films were just beginning to penetrate the international market. Although Japan is now synonymous with giant monster movies, no such genre existed in Japan at the time, and nothing like the kaiju films to come were being made in America either. Sure, 1933`s King Kong established the big ape as an iconic American megamonster, but before Godzilla came to the States, only Monster from the Ocean Floor, Them!The Beast from 20, 000 Fathoms, Tarantula, and It Came from Beneath the Sea came close to testing the American public's appetite for giant destructive beasts. It was in this climate that Edmund Goldman bought the international rights to Goijira and sold them to Jewell Enterprises Inc (owned by Richard Kay, Harry Rybnick, and backed by Terry Turner and Joseph E. Levine). They hired Terry O. Morse to direct and edit entirely new scenes for the American release. Say what you want about their American revision of Gojira. Call it cheesy. Call it sloppy. Call it a bastardization. Regardless, these men helped change the landscape of American popculture and turned Godzilla into an international mon-star!

Without Godzilla: King of the Monsters, we never would have had the behemoth Godzilla franchise that we love today. At the same time, it did a lot to water down and obscure the stark anti-nuclear message of the Japanese version. It also mislead American audiences as to the quality of Ishiro Honda's original masterpiece. To make Gojira palatable to post-war American tastes, almost all disparaging references to nuclear weapons were edited out of the film. Worst of all, Raymond Burr was cast to play American reporter Steve Martin in new scenes that were inserted into the film to tell the story of Godzilla's attack on Tokyo from an American point of view. Since the original Gojira's human element is fueled by the love triangle between Hideto Ogata, Emiko Yamane and Dr. Serizawa, there was no room for Burr. In fact, despite his constant narration, Burr has absolutely nothing to do in Godzilla except observe and occasionally interact with body doubles who are conveniently facing away from the camera to create the illusion that Burr is in the same frame with the original Japanese cast. His character has no arc and essentially no purpose.

But let's get down to brass tacks. You can strip away the nuclear subtext, load up the film with stock music and bad dubbing, and hollow out the emotional heart, but a Godzilla movie is still a Godzilla movie. Despite all the inferior edits and changes, Godzilla still explodes off the screen in a tour de force of kaiju destruction! No American monster had ever unleashed such devastation on the silver screen. Godzilla must have wowed audiences with its special effects. Clearly the conceit of Godzilla -- a giant lizard capable of destroying whole cities with brute strength and atomic power -- put butts in seats regardless of nationality and helped launch the Godzilla franchise in America.

60 years later, Godzilla is as recognizable in America as he is in Japan. He's part of international cinematic history and monster royalty. Although his first major American release is widely considered inferior to the original Gojira, without Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla certainly never would have become the multi-generational success and adaptation-fodder for big American blockbusters that he is today.


Check us out tomorrow when we explore the follow up to Gojira and the first film in the Godzilla series to depict a kaiju vs. kaiju battle! GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN for our next entry in 30 Days of Godzilla.

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