Written by Danny Toth
Nine years away from the screen gave Toho enough time to make an all-out, back to glory days Godzilla film with a big budget, good special effects, and a full revival for the beast. When projects like GODZILLA vs. THE DEVIL and THE REBIRTH OF GODZILLA were scrapped, fans were treated to THE RETURN OF GODZILLA, known generally as GODZILLA 1984.
The story did the smart thing by erasing the King’s past; the events that took place from GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN to TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA never happened, and Godzilla was officially killed off by the Oxygen Destroyer in 1954, hopefully never to return again. But, that’s not the case here: 30 years after his first appearance, Godzilla shows up and kills a boat of fishermen just by simply swimming by.
There is one survivor, and that’s it (look for the fried Gilligan in the radio chair!). He does a good deed by saving reporter Maki from a blood thirsty sea lice (no…a BIG sea lice that was feeding off Godzilla), but is hushed in a hospital, unable to tell the world what he had seen. After much speculation, a Russian nuclear sub is destroyed, and to prevent the Cold War from turning into an actual war, Japan lightens the blackout and warns the Earth that Godzilla has returned (and that he attacked the sub, not the Americans).
This is where the film gets good. The UN tries to convince Japan to use nukes on the monster, but after what happened in WWII, Japan will have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Makes plenty of sense to me, but not to the Russian and US ambassadors (who are played by “found on the street” actors, as my buddies and I refer to them as). They want Godzilla fried to hell.
Godzilla appears, and we see him attack a nuclear plant. It’s a nicely done scene, and the monster is displayed with power and terror that we haven’t seen since GODZILLA (1954). For once since the old days, Godzilla is a vicious, brutal creature. As I stated before, Toho was clever to ignore the “hero of the world” story lines that almost ruined Godzilla’s career.
Politicians cringe, armies gather, people evacuate, scientists ponder, and Godzilla advances. When he does arrive in Tokyo bay, fighter jets attack him in a beautifully staged defense battle as he swims toward land. On land, mobile units fire everything they’ve got. Back in the bay, a secret Russian spy ship is hit by Godzilla’s waves and accidentally launches a 100 megaton nuclear warhead from space, aimed at Godzilla.
Godzilla wipes out the ground units. This scene is particularly violent for a Godzilla film. People are incinerated and running around on fire. We’re not used to that, but with the dark tone of the movie, we should expect it.
Godzilla stomps around Tokyo, meets up with the army’s Super X, and is knocked out for a while. During this time, Plan B, the controlled eruption of Mt. Miharah on Oshima Island and a way to lure Godzilla to the crater, is put into action. But, since everyone thinks that the Super X has killed Godzilla, going on with the other plans is useless, right?
No, it’s not. The missile, still en route to Tokyo, is hit by an American ballistic missile and explodes in the stratosphere, shutting down transmitters and causing lightning. This lightning hits Godzilla, and his eyes begin to open (some of these shots were cut in the US version…why?). He’s awake. It is now when we see Godzilla’s full aggression, and he chases the Super X as it retaliates with missiles and lasers. But that doesn’t stop the monster. He just takes the hits and then topples an entire building on it.
The high frequency sounds from birds and what not are blared from Oshima Island, and Godzilla, attracted by those sounds, follows it. In one of Godzilla’s most well done sequences, he approaches the crater, and an explosion drags him into the mouth of the volcano.
This is the best I can do to sum up GODZILLA 1984. So…my review, anyone?
GODZILLA 1984 is one of the better entrees. It is dark, destructive, solid and even a little disturbing at some points. Director Koji Hashimoto is no Ishiro Honda, but the man obviously can be placed next to him when it comes to great monster movie directors. Frankly, I love this movie.
The special effects are a major improvement as well. Teruyoshi Nakano, the man who took over Godzilla’s SPFX department in the 1970′s, outdoes anything he did in the Showa days. The models are impressive, the explosions are way cool, and no wires are visible.
The Godzilla used for G84 looks good at a few angles. All in all, it still gives Godzilla that “cute” look with the big eyes. A friend of mine once stared at the G84 wall scroll I have in my room and went on for a few minutes about how weird Godzilla looks in the film. He ended by stating “the 70′s did some strange things to Godzilla.” But, the suit still held up well for its time.
However, a special effects flaw that was evident in the original GODZILLA shows up hear: the drastic difference between the suit head and the head prop used for close-up shots. When the shots go from the suit head to the prop head, it’s like you’re seeing two way different monsters (this problem has never been widely discussed by fans, especially when it involves the original film). It doesn’t actually ruin Godzilla in the film, but I still thought I should’ve brought it up.
The G84 suit and head prop were stolen shortly after the film was done from the Toho lot, and its current whereabouts are a mystery. However, the same special effects team that worked on G84 did a Korean project called PULGASARI (1985). The monster in the film bared a curious resemblance to the G84 design.
Oh yeah: Godzilla was also increased in size from 50 meters to 80 meters. Cool.
Now, to point out the highly acclaimed musical score from composer Reijiro Koroku. It is without a doubt one of the best musical scores for a Godzilla film to date. Fans tend to shun him simply because he is no Ifukube, but I was very impressed with his pounding musical score and gothic theme for the monster. It definitely makes Godzilla a true, unstoppable force and makes the film’s dark tone more prominent, and that’s the way I like it. It’s the same thing that made Ifukube’s original GODZILLA score so well for that film.
Sadly, just as with the case for GODZILLA, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, and KING KONG vs. GODZILLA, American distributers picked up the film and made mince meat out of it. They cut many beautiful shots, took out entire sub plots, and added in footage American actors sitting in the Pentagon yelling cuss words, drinking Dr. Pepper and threatening the Russians. Beyond that, Raymond Burr reprises his role as newspaper man Steven Martin from the US release of GODZILLA, and tells great tales of the monster and what happened 30 years prior. Still, it’s not all that great.
Neither is the US-added sub plot that the Russians launched the orbiting nuclear missile on purpose. They even went as far as to film a shot where the dying Russian officer’s hand reaches up and pushes the launch button. Shame on New World Pictures. No wonder they went out of business. About the only thing I can say I like about the US version is the awesome as hell opening credit sequence and the creepy stock footage from 1954. Other than that, the Japanese version is far more superior and isn’t confusing at all.
A good Godzilla film in my book. I have a lot of fun with this one. A more so personal note: GODZILLA 1984 was released in the US the day before I was born on August 23rd, 1985. So, some of you can no doubt guess one of the reasons why I like this one so much. It just rules. Enough said (that BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA is lame…now: enough said).
Written by Danny Toth