Welcome to the 20th episode of Adventures in Netflix! Today I’ll be reviewing the 1954 classic Gojira, aka Godzilla.
When watching older movies, especially those as old as Gojira, it can be difficult sometimes not to hold them up to modern standards, even if only in the back of your mind. It’s impossible for anyone familiar with how far special effects and the like have come in the last sixty or so years not to compare such a movie to those more modern films with which they are familiar in everything from realism of effects, to cinematography, to style of acting. All of this makes it impossible to see the movie as it would have been seen originally, but not impossible to enjoy said film. When it comes to movies it’s important to remember that older is not a synonym for worse, but for different. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Gojira is one of those movies that stands the test of time. Not because it hasn’t aged–it has–but because it is simply an excellent, well crafted film.
It was strange watching Gojira for the first time. Godzilla is such an iconic part of popular culture that it seems like I’ve always know about it, yet until yesterday I’d never actually seen any of the movies, whether they be sequel or remake. It turns out there is, at least in the original movie, a bit more plot and interesting social commentary than I’d expected. I thought it would just be an hour and a half of Godzilla mindlessly tearing up cities while everyone desperately tried to run away or kill the monster. I was wrong.
The story of Gojira begins with strange things happening along the coast; missing ships, damaged buildings, a mysterious hurricane. Before long a respected scientist, Kyohei Yamane, and his daughter, Emiko, set out to investigate, and quickly discover the existence of Gojira, a massive creature somehow preserved from the age of dinosaurs and awakened by nuclear fallout from the atomic bombs from World War II. With Gojira threatening the safety of Japan, the government scrambles to fight the monster. However, while the rest of the country is eager to see Gojira killed, Dr. Yamane sympathizes with the beast. Understanding that there is no malice behind the creature’s actions, he longs for the opportunity to study it peacefully.
The themes and story of Gojira might be somewhat played out by now, but they are presented with such a genuine earnestness that they still ring true. Watching the movie, I found myself wondering what the story must have seemed like back in 1954, and whether some of the elements that now seem cliche might have then been fresh and new.
As for the special effects, well, they are what they are. Some of them are, even today, somewhat impressive to look at; there are several scenes of truly skillful miniature work, not the least of which being the sweeping shots of the wreckage of Tokyo. Other effects, however, have not held up as well. In fact, one of the “weakest” effects to the eyes of one who has grown up in the age of CGI is that of Gojira himself. As I’ve said before, I’m a lover of practical effects, but even I have to admit that Gojira, in some scenes, looks nearly comical. I don’t feel that this detracts from the movie necessarily–it’s simply a fact of aging effects. Some will stand the test of time and remain more or less effective, while others will become products of their time, surpassed and left behind to the waiting arms of nostalgia.
I didn’t expect Gojira to be half as watchable as it turned out to be, and I’m very glad I decided to give it a try. So if you’re like me and have never seen a Godzilla movie before, don’t shy away from the original just because it’s “old;” this movie truly is a masterpiece.