Titles: Godzilla, Godzilla 1985, Godzilla 1984, Return of Godzilla
In the interest of full disclosure, this is my favourite Godzilla movie. As a kid, it was my favourite. Watching it again as an adult, all I could think was: this is still my favourite (and perhaps a bit of surprise that our VHS player still worked). Despite being one of the few Godzilla movies to see a U.S. Theatrical release, this is one of the last Godzilla movies unavailable for purchase in Region 1 DVD encoding. It took awhile, but I finally managed to acquire a VHS copy of Godzilla 1985. This was the movie that sold me on the Godzilla franchise. I love how Godzilla, King of Monsters; Godzilla 1985, and Godzilla vs. Biollante form a trilogy that makes me feel like an 8-year-old kid again when I watch them.
The basic premise is that thirty years after the original Godzilla was killed by the Oxygen Destroyer, a new Godzilla shows up to attack Tokyo City. After decades of “Godzilla vs ______”-style movies, Godzilla is on his own, except for an irradiated sea louse that appears briefly at the beginning. Toho also takes an approach which will become common in the Millenium series — pretending that only the original 1954 movie happened. The Japanese and American cuts of the film are different, but not as different as Gojira and Godzilla, King of Monsters. The American cut plays up the United States’ role while changing Russia into more of a villain. It also edits down the scenes with the sea louse, making them much scarier. Raymond Burr reprises his role as Steve Martin, though this time he is referred to as Mr. Martin to avoid confusion with the actor from The Spanish Prisoner. Dr. Pepper product placement abounds, enough to add unintentional humor but not enough to push it to distraction. Finally, the ending sequence is greeted with a genuinely interesting speech by Mr. Martin instead of a pop song about missing Godzilla. There’s also an odd, throwaway line by Martin where he claims that this is the original Godzilla, claiming they never found the body of the original. The only issue with that is, well, no matter what cut of Gojira you watched you saw Godzilla melt into just a skeleton before your eyes. Still, unlike with Gojira, I suggest watching the American cut of this film — unless you’re Russian or fear sea lice.
While there’s no monster battles, there are two fights between Godzilla and a Japanese-made hovercraft called the Super X. The Super X is armed with cadmium missiles with the claim that they will interfere with the nuclear fission that powers Godzilla. The extra mobility allows them to stay ahead of Godzilla and special armor allows them to take a few hits of Godzilla’s atomic breath. In fact, round one goes to the Super X: Godzilla is seemingly killed and rests against the building. Unfortunately, a damaged Russian submarine in Tokyo bay (American cut: deliberately, otherwise: malfunctioning from Godzilla’s attack) launches a nuclear missile at Tokyo to finish off Godzilla. The Americans manage to intercept it, but nuclear fallout saturates Godzilla and he comes back to life. The Super X interposes a building between itself and Godzilla just to have Godzilla push the building over on the Super X. His rampage continues until he’s lured away by bird calls.
Perhaps the most unusual scientific choice of this film was to have Godzilla follow birds. Early on Godzilla consumes the radiation from a nuclear power plant until a flock of seagulls leads him out to shore. The idea is that, as a dinosaur, Godzilla is an ancestor of birds and feels a need to follow their call on a subconscious level. While I can appreciate dissenting points of view on how cliche this concept is, I tend to watch my cat lured away from the kibble bowl by the chirping of birds and it doesn’t bother me as much. After watching the scientists in the American cut of Godzilla vs King Kong talk about how a stegosaurus mated with a tyrannosaurus to create Godzilla — ignoring the fact that stegosaurus had been extinct for 83 million years before the tyrannosaurus arrived on the planet — I’m just glad they’re not referring to dinosaurs as reptiles anymore.
Godzilla is lured to the top of an active volcano by the bird transmitters, but realizes that there are probably not a flock of birds inside the volcano; this isn’t Rodan, after all. The Japanese government has rigged the rim of the volcano with explosives and the ground gives way, throwing Godzilla into the volcano with a horrific scream. Between the sea louse scene at the beginning and the scream of Godzilla I can see why the local Blockbuster put this movie under Horror instead of Science Fiction. The cast look horrified at the death of Godzilla, and Steve Martin offers up the following thoughts:
“Nature has a way, sometimes, of reminding man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up the terrible offsprings of our pride and carelessness to remind us of how puny we really are in the face of a tornado, an earthquake, or a Godzilla. The reckless ambitions of man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now, Godzilla, that strangely innocent and tragic monster, has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us remain.”
Return of Godzilla’s cast does a generally good job. I didn’t feel for them the way I felt for Gojira’s cast, but at no point did they detract from the experience. Raymond Burr was a welcome addition, though at the cost of a few lost scenes of Japanese character development. I didn’t walk away from this film with any favourites from the main cast, though there’s one odd exception. As Godzilla rampages throughout the city, a homeless guy sits in an abandoned expensive restaurant and eats the food while quipping about Godzilla’s lack of manners. I’ve heard that this actor plays the same homeless man in many other movies, but I found myself baffled as a kid and adult when he showed up. Godzilla chasing hobos aside, the cast is mostly composed of a scientist, a reporter, a lost sailor, and the sailor’s sister. They all hit their marks, with only the reporter standing out.
The movies after the original Godzilla become goofier and goofier, moving away from any serious tone in favour of more camp value. Godzilla slowly evolved into a good guy, saving the earth from pollution, roaches, lobsters, and elementary-school bullies. While those movies are enjoyable in a silly sense, this is a nice return to form for the series, a chance to go back to what made Godzilla great and go forward from there. The Godzilla suit has also seen an upgrade that gives him a serious quality that the previous rubber suits were lacking. While I’m a big fan of seeing Godzilla beat up on other monsters, there’s just something about this movie that makes other monsters unnecessary. When I think of what it means to be Godzilla, this is the movie that answers that question. “Godzilla is a warning to all of us. When mankind falls into conflict with nature, monsters are born.”
My Notable Moments While Watching:
- Sea Louse Attack! Inspiration for the movie Cloverfield.
- Godzilla’s rampage is stopped by a flock of seagulls.
- The hobo goes around Tokyo taunting Godzilla.
- Russia nukes Tokyo
- Super X “kills” Godzilla
- After the nuclear missile is destroyed in the atmosphere, lightning strikes Godzilla and brings him back to life.
- Japan’s military uses bird calls to lure Godzilla to an island volcano, then blows up the volcano.
- The sad music and screams of Godzilla as he falls into the volcano reinforce the sympathy the audience has come to feel for the monster.
- Steve Martin Final Quote
- Special Thanks to the Dr. Pepper Bottling Company.
Tokyo Military racks up another win. Godzilla is trapped inside an active volcano until Middle Eastern terrorists free him in Godzilla Vs Biollante.