New Fan Edit – Godzilla: Resurrection

The time has come, folks! Time for me to embark on my own fan edit!

For my first project, I’ll be tackling a fanmix of The Return of Godzilla and its Americanized recut, Godzilla 1985. While the original Japanese version of the film is still the definitive one, I’ve always held a soft spot in my heart for Raymond Burr’s scenes in 1985, and had always wondered what the final film would have been like had he been present in the Japanese cut.

This re-edit seeks to accomplish just that, while also streamlining the slower pacing of the original cut with suggestions from 1985 to combine the best of both worlds. The film will still be highly critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union, and will work to marginalize the more humorous aspects of the added Pentagon scenes. Finally, this cut will feature a brand new opening to the film, one that seeks to definitely tie the new Godzilla to the original beast in an eerie and unforgettable way.

To read more about the project, please visit my official page on it here, and keep your eyes peeled for a trailer on YouTube and Vimeo, coming soon. Until then, enjoy my custom poster!

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Godzilla: Resurrection will be available for viewing and download this fall.

REVIEW: The Return of Godzilla (1984)

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Directed by Koji Hashimoto
Written by Hideichi Nagahara, Story by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Starring Ken Takaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yôsuke Natsuki, Shin Takuma, Kaiju Kobayashi, Raymond Burr (American Version “Godzilla 1985”)

By 1975, I think it was safe to say that Godzilla had very little bite left, if any. His films played to the youngest of audiences, with such a juvenile and playful tone that none of the worldly, nuclear menace was left. After several box office failures, Godzilla went on a nearly ten-year vacation, in which many attempts were made to reboot the series, with as many different visions as to where it should go. The big guy would have to wait until 1984, but it was a wait well worth it.

While day sailing in the Pacific, reporter Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka) finds a missing fishing vessel, Yahata Maru, and discovers that all the hands have been killed by a giant sea louse except for one. The lone survivor, Okumura (Shin Takuma), then tells the reporter that the ship was attacked by a new Godzilla. Fearing a panic, the Japanese government attempts to cover up the news, failing when a Soviet nuclear submarine is destroyed and the situation puts them and the United States on the brink of nuclear war. Soon Japan and the rest of the world are on red alert as they wait for Godzilla to begin his rampage anew.

Opting for an almost completely clean reboot, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka brought to the table a story which respected not only the allegorical roots of the creature, but the fact the original film just couldn’t be remade in a modern setting. While his original conception pitted Godzilla against yet another monster, screenwriter Hideichi Nagahara thankfully dropped the second kaiju and concentrated on the geopolitical effects of the existence of such a monster. This was quite the revolutionary approach to a kaiju film; while tokusatsu cinema of the ’70s included some epic thrillers, Japan Sinks being one I can recall, kaiju films were purely the realm of the little ones. The Return of Godzilla expertly reverses this dynamic by only acknowledging the original film in its continuity.

Watching The Return of Godzilla, or Godzilla 1985 for you casual G-fans, you really get the sense that it was a Tom Clancy political potboiler before Tom Clancy was a thing. So much of the government procedural is there on the screen, with just enough military action and suspense to sex it up, the film is quite tense where it should be dull. The film starts off with a minor mystery in the form of Okumura and his missing fishing vessel, then swiftly enters the halls of the Japanese government and their desperate attempts to keep Godzilla’s return a secret. While the Prime Minister (Keiju Kobayashi) and his cabinet deal with the broad strokes, Okumura, his sister Naoko (Yasuko Sawaguchi), Maki, and Professor Hayashida (Yôsuke Natsuki, in a role very evocative of Dr. Yamane in the original film) study the monster, hoping to find some way of halting his coming landing.

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The Return of Godzilla fits more as a 70s film than an 80s one, even including a few visual effects shots from the Japanese thriller Prophecies of Nostradamus during Godzilla’s Tokyo rampage. But it’s more than a few homages; TROG carries with it a distinct contempt for the Cold War and its major players, the United States and the Soviet Union. About 30 minutes in, a Soviet submarine is destroyed under mysterious circumstances, triggering a standoff between the superpowers until the Japanese government reluctantly reveals that Godzilla was the culprit. You’d think this would be the end of the hostilities and the beginning of international cooperation, but you’d be wrong. Instead, both nations begin pressuring Japan to allow them to use nuclear weapons against the monster, no matter its location. It’s a uniquely Japanese viewpoint on the stupidity of nuclear brinkmanship that also earns the film a home among American cinema of the decade prior, with its distrust of the American government post-Nixon.

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The film moves nicely from each mini-crisis to the next, both edifying and decrying Japanese bureaucracy in much the same way Shin Godzilla would over 30 years later, while Hayashida provides the story’s philosophical heart. And at the halfway point, we finally get city-stomping Godzilla action. The monster’s new design is positively menacing, from its dead eyes to its sharp fangs. Portrayed mainly with tried-and-true suitmation, the 84Goji, as this design is referred to, is a quantum-leap above it’s predecessors, harkening back to the raw savagery of the original whilst conveying impressive mass. Yes, the special effects appear quite dated today, but look at the film through the lenses of the time and setting of its release, and TROG delivers the epic goods in a way the goofy late-Showa outings couldn’t muster.

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Shortly after its original release, TROG was picked up by New World Pictures for an American exhibition, cutting approximately 30 minutes of the Japanese print and adding ten more of new scenes involving a Pentagon response team viewing the destruction from Washington, joined by Raymond Burr, reprising his role as Steve Martin from Godzilla, King of the Monsters. While Burr is true-to-form, the other actors are comically unneeded and hollow, and the film unfortunately loses its pacifist stance with several changes to the narrative that paints the Soviets as villains. But all is not lost; some editorial changes do much to help the pacing of several sequences, and selections of Christopher Young’s Def-Con 4 score are used to great effect. In short, Godzilla 1985 is a mixed bag, but not entirely without merit.

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The Return of Godzilla, as the first film of the “Heisei” saga, works overtime to reestablish Godzilla’s destructive roots, and wins the day with its interesting fusion of government procedural and monster smash. More than anything, however, TROG will be remembered among fans and newcomers as probably their first introduction to an alternative point of view on the Cold War, one from a nation that would caught in the crossfire of the end of the world.

REVIEW: Shin Godzilla (2016)

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Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Written by Hideaki Anno
Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Ren Osugi (get accent mark), Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora (accent), Mikako Ichikawa, Jun Kunimura, Pierre Taki

With the success of Legendary Pictures’ Americanized reboot of Godzilla, Toho back in Japan wanted to get back into the action. While still retaining the rights deal with Warner Brothers, allowing the Monsterverse to continue, Toho set about producing a new film to be directed by Hideaki Anno, the famous creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you’re a fan, than you are probably assuming right now that Godzilla goes all metaphysical, right? Eh, not quite.

An unknown accident occurs in Tokyo Bay’s Aqua Line, flooding the underwater passageway as citizens scramble to evacuate. An emergency cabinet meeting is assembled, just in time to witness a giant creature surface from Tokyo Bay and make its way across land in the heart of the city. Growing in size and mutating with each unsuccessful attack against it, the creature seems unstoppable. Government official Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is placed in charge of a special research team to investigate ways to kill or incapacitate the beast, now dubbed “Godzilla.”

More than several kaiju and tokusatsu films have tried to establish a realistic scenario for the appearance of a giant monster; the original Godzilla and the Heisei era films The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Biollante presented the effect of the titular kaiju upon various geopolitical aspects of the world, while “foreign” monster films like the British Gorgo and Korean The Host carried an air of authenticity and spectacle to their visions of creature carnage. Shin Godzilla can easily be added to this fraternity, but its approach to the material is substantially more plausible and researched. Why? Because Shin Godzilla can be referred to as “Politicians vs. Godzilla.”

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The film begins with a brief mystery in the form of a deserted pleasure craft in Tokyo Bay before the water erupts in a large steam eruption, causing damage and flooding to the Tokyo Aqua Line highway. We as an audience are then treated to 13 minutes of dry bureaucracy. Yes, you read that right. As we are introduced to protagonist Rando Yaguchi, Deputy Cabinet Chief, we are also introduced to his world of relentless politics and red tape as Cabinet meeting after government committee after press conference seeks to establish just what is going on, and what to do about it. If this sounds incredibly boring, than I wouldn’t blame you, but I would rest easy–with the quick pace and sheer amount of subtitles you’ll be reading, I’m sure you won’t be too listless during your viewing.

Close viewing during this opening sequence will reward inquisitive viewers, however, as Anno’s intent quickly becomes apparent among every ignorant assumption and naive rush to judgment several government officials make, always rewarded with a simple, fast cut to a harsh reality check in the form of the giant monster now wading out of the bay and into metropolitan Tokyo. Again and again, even with the best of intentions, Japan’s flat-level democratic government, following the exact letter of the law, fails against the nuclear menace, resulting in one of the most salient and darkly humorous satires of government around today.

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But this is a Godzilla movie, you shout, and I soothe and calm with my analysis of the character, as this Godzilla is probably the most unique iteration on screen. First appearing quite alien to previous versions in the form of a bizarre, fish-eyed, bleeding-gilled monstrosity that can barely support its own week, it soon begins to mutate, revealing the most innovative addition to the Godzilla mythos: this Godzilla is highly adaptive, capable of mutating its body and DNA at will. Resulting in a changing creature that forms the most hideous Godzilla design yet, this film hits a home run in devising a new spin on the Big G.

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Further building on the design is co-director and special effects artist Shinji Higuchi’s work in creating Godzilla, this time done almost completely with CG effects. A clear break from tokusatsu tradition, to be sure, but the end result is incredibly convincing, due to the effects team’s efforts to keep Godzilla as stiff and suit-like as possible, which ironically gave the design a lifelike quality that accurately conveyed size and power. Their finest work probably comes at the halfway point in the film when Godzilla is bombed by American B-2 bombers, enraging the beast and prompting his first use of his destructive atomic beam.

Most of these scenes are accompanied by an equally-unusual sound design, employing a mixture of classical Toho sound effects and Akira Ifukube music with new sounds and music cues. When I first saw the film in theaters during its short American run, I was unimpressed and even bothered by the use of the old sounds and music, feeling that their limited dynamics were out of place. Now I’m convinced it was the fault of the cinema’s speaker system, as the blu-ray’s uncommon 3.1 mix produces a deep fidelity and bass I do not recall encountering before. In short, Shin Godzilla should highly please fans of the classic films with regards to their ears.

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After the mounting destruction of the first half, Godzilla falls into a long hibernation, and Rando’s research team reforms to discover a way to defeat him before a UN coalition employs nuclear weapons to resolve the situation. After systematically deconstructing the helplessness of Japan’s democracy to handle the crisis, Anno’s film then abruptly turns about face, giving Rando and his nerds the reigns to save the day with democracy. They bend only the rules they cannot follow to the letter, and break none, showing that even below the layers upon layers of tape, the right men and women with the right combination of ambition, compassion, and courage can prevail and make this world a better one.

Now I know that sounds very different from what is expected from a serious Godzilla movie, but fret not–the final scene brings one final revelation, one I won’t reveal here. Let’s just say that Godzilla’s origins as Nature’s reaction to the ravages of the human race are preserved in full with this film, and while Shin Godzilla requires an open mind and a quick eye for subtitles, to the right viewer, it is a real gem of modern tokusatsu. With Shin Godzilla, Anno has shown what humans can be capable of when working together toward a noble goal…but nature is patient, and she never forgets our crimes.

REVIEW: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, Story by John Gatins
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman

As you may or may not know, I cannot stop gushing love for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. It is a monster movie of the same caliber as Gojira or the original King Kong, even if whole swaths of the modern moviegoing audience cannot recognize that. With Kong: Skull Island, Legendary Pictures hopes to springboard a new “Monsterverse,” modeled on Toho’s old cinematic series and aimed to compete with Marvel’s MCU. And I’ll just get this right off the bat: it has a lot more in common, quality-wise, with the former.

A diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson) unite to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, spurred on by the eccentric and desperate Dr. Randa (John Goodman). After their research mission is violently ended by the King of Skull Island, the gigantic ape known as Kong, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong. While one group seeks escape alongside a World War II survivor (John C. Reilly), the military escort, led by Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) seeks vengeance, and the ultimate battle between man and nature is ignited.

Maybe I should have tempered my expectations going in; weeks of hearing comparisons to Apocalypse Now and allusions to “deep thematic ties to the Vietnam War” really set my sights high with this one. While there are high ambitions and some creative ideas at work in Skull Island, many of them are unfortunately wasted. I think giving this project to sophomore director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was a mistake; he seems to settle for music video editing and lackluster performances when someone like Edwards would have definitely pushed for more.

One immediate problem with the whole affair are the characters: this ensemble cast should have knocked Godzilla‘s out of the park, but only two seem to live up to any expectations: John Goodman’s bitter take on the Denham archetype Bill Randa, and John C. Reilly’s lovably-zany Marlow, who’s as satirical a riff on Heart of Darkness as good taste will allow. Everyone else is just kind of….there. The air cavalry is about as stereotypically gung-ho as you can get, led by Sam Jackson’s pseudo-Ahab hardass. And in what must be the final insult to such a potential awesome time, Hiddleston and Academy Award-winner Brie Larson never seem to break out of a very obvious boredom with the lazy script. I kid you not, two conversations that they have alone are set up like a five-year-old playing with broken action figures, and end the same way–uselessly.

Even Kong doesn’t survive this severe lack of focus on character: despite getting the grab on the first big action sequence only 35 minutes in (no doubt a response to audience complaints on the Big G’s lack of screen time), he sadly isn’t explored outside a ton of exposition by Marlowe. He has a few moments of emotion here and there, including one amusing fight with a giant octopus that ends in a very tasty meal, but in the end I didn’t feel much connection to the big guy at all, which is rather troublesome: not only is he supposed to be a natural guardian in the way Godzilla was previously, that is Kong’s forte–making the audience cry. That simply doesn’t happen here.

The other big failing Skull Island wrestles with is the relative mediocrity of the photography on display. Opening on the beach during 1944, a P-51 crashes ashore, and proceeds to look like its 5 feet long. I don’t know what caused this bizarre depth of field problem, considering I know a miniature wasn’t used, but mistakes like this continue to pop up every now and then. The rest of the film utilizes the picturesque grass fields and dense jungles of Vietnam, but barely ever opens up to let us realize the scope. And God forbid the soldiers pop on another rock song into the record player, because then the editor decides we need to keep beat with the drummer at the cost of whizzing by even more big and beautiful sights.

Don’t take this to mean that I hate the film; I’m sure once I’m done bitching, I’ll soften enough to go pick up the blu-ray. Many of the old Toho films and American monster cinema of the ’50s had similar problems, and I still adore them. Indeed, I was rather tickled plenty of times to see so many kaiju and Kong references stuffed into one film, and the two climactic beats of the final act were quite thrilling indeed. Skull Island is definitely enough for a fun monster mash, and maybe that’s enough for now. I just know that I’m happy Vogt-Roberts is not helming Godzilla 2.

REVIEW: King Kong (1976)

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Directed by John Guillermin
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Original Screenplay by John Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, Based on an Idea by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, Rene Auberjonois

In the mid-1970s, Dino De Laurentiis felt like he was on top of the world. Having already produced such successes as Serpico, Death Wish, and Three Days of the Condor, he probably got a little cocky, hence his next project, a remake of the Eighth Wonder of the World itself, King Kong. Throwing $24 million at the project, it took in over $90 million, making it a certified success. But how is the film itself?

The owner of the Petrox Corporation, Fred Wilson, invests all his possessions searching for oil in an unexplored island. As his vessel leaves Surubaya, in Indonesia, a stowaway, biologist Jack Prescott, sows discord among the crew with historical accounts of a gigantic creature living on the island. While traveling, they find the castaway actress Dwan, having survived the sinking of her yacht in a life raft, and bring her on board. Together, the unlikely trio disembark onto the mysterious landmass, encountering the local natives who abduct Dwan to offer her in a sacrifice to their god, Kong, in reality a gigantic ape-like beast who makes off with the blonde-haired beauty.

The ’76 Kong is an impressive production, of that there is no doubt. Having first hired Carlo Rambaldi to design and build a full-size, 40-ft. tall animatronic Kong, they soon found out how difficult this task would be, and ended up turning to a young Rick Baker, who brought to the fray a detailed and expressive suit which ended up becoming the main method of portraying the monstrous ape onscreen. Despite the negative connotations (and inherent blasphemy to some) of going from stop-motion photography to essentially a furrier Godzilla, Baker’s work both in crafting the suit and acting within it is top rate and worthy of the Kong legacy.

The rest of the production is appropriately scaled up to compensate for the seemingly-low-tech ape himself, featuring impressive matte paintings and epic staging–three helicopters with miniguns buzz the World Trade Center? Yeah, that takes a lot of money.

The film’s screenplay, however, falters a bit. Semple, who wrote Condor for Laurentiis, opts to modernize Cooper’s tale, transplanting the action to the then-present day, updating the Ann/Jack/Carl trinity: Driscoll is now Prescott, a bearded, liberal gentleman and scientist, Carl Denham becomes Fred Wilson, a driven and greedy oil baron, and Ann is given the annoying name of Dwan, but is still an actress. Tough break. Quite frankly, as beautiful and talented as Jessica Lange is, this was her first film, so she doesn’t exactly elevate the material she is given. Most of the time she comes across as a spaced-out yuppie, regurgitating so much astrology that she single-handedly dates the film severely. Grodin doesn’t fair much better as Wilson, who while is a logical update of the Denham character, is far more mean-spirited, and therefore much less lovable. Jeff Bridges is by far the best of the three, showcasing his youthful ruggedness to ground the more intellectual streaks of the character. But, sadly, there are moments in which he just seems pretentious.

The “Skull Island” setting (it is never referred to as such in the film) is unfortunately pretty bland. For much of its appearance in the picture it simply looks like any other island, until Kong and Dwan reach the island center, and then it looks like the alien set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In some ways you could argue that it lends a otherworldly feel to Kong’s lair, but when the ’33 Kong was giving us lush jungles with paintings and little crab grass, it leaves a lot to be desired. And then there’s the lack of life on the island. Early on in the film Prescott suggests that the fog surrounding it is generated by animal respiration. Kong must have incredible gas then, because the only other monstrous denizen we see is a rather fake-looking giant snake, which also happens to provide the only monster battle of the film. And it’s over in less than a minute. It’s as if Semple bizarrely decided to put all of his energy into the excrutiatingly dull dialogue between Bridges and Lange.

While the Kong suit and Rambaldi’s animatronic arms were worthy of praise, the rest of the effects work is wholly inconsistent.Blue screen work ranges from passable to full of washed-out blacks and matte lines. The few glimpses of the full size Kong at the stadium are laughingly bad. And I kid you not, you can see the ceiling about Baker’s head in the same scene. And in what is probably the ultimate downgrade, the thrilling Empire State Building sequence becomes boring and uninspired atop the WTC, with Kong barely putting up any fight. John Barry’s score also doesn’t live up to his usual standing, with an epic and foreboding main theme but not much else. The lazy love melody really lets the film down.

But don’t take my complaining to mean that this is a terrible film, just one with many missed opportunities. There is still lots to love: the train sequence and Kong breaking through the wall doors are mighty effects pieces, Kong himself is one of the better monster suits ever made, and as mentioned before, Jeff Bridges is always going to be at least ok in whatever he does.

So what to make of Kong ’76? I would say it is best to approach it as a curiosity, a relic from a simpler time when remakes weren’t the money model they are today. From what I see of Kong: Skull Island, it looks like they borrow quite a bit from this film, so I’d say its legacy might be secure. Whether that is true or not will have to wait for that review. As for this one, seek it out only if you are a Kong fan or an aficionado of ’70s cinema. If not, you won’t miss too much.