After a half century of parodies, awkward dubbing, homages, a child, a brief stint as a hero, cartoons, remakes, rip-offs, video games, and more than 25 sequels, it?s hard to remember just how effective the original Godzilla is. Sure, the effects are a bit dopey and the science strays frequently into the ludicrous (the Jurassic Period, for instance, is consistently referred to as ?2 million years ago,? a figure off by 198 million); but the power of the film is undeniable, especially now that it?s viewable in its original form.
The Japanese version is a bit of a revelation. Stripped of the childish dubbing and obligatory white guy, the film becomes grittier and more naturalistic, a more mature take on the giant monster suit than any other Toho release. Time has stripped many scenes of their intensity; but a great many moments, mostly small ones, pierce through and remain affecting even today. Witness a terrified widow promising her children they?ll ?see Father in heaven,? or a doctor running a Geiger counter over a small boy ? both cut from the American version. An early attack scene, where an unseen Godzilla devastates a fishing village during a hurricane, smacks of the t-rex attack in Jurassic Park. Even the opening credits ? a simple text scroll over the sound of thunderous footsteps and Godzilla?s piercing roar (downright mean-sounding in this one) ? promise us a more brutal monster movie than we?ve grown accustomed to.
It?s easy (albeit accurate) to compare this film to King Kong and its ilk, but I also found connections to Romero?s Night of the Living Dead. Both took extant monsters (Godzilla is essentially just a dinosaur crossed with a sea monster; Romero?s zombies were just the Haitian kind crossed with vampires) and made them a bit more intimidating. Both films were structured around the frequent use of news reports. Both films were far grimmer than any incarnation before or since. Most importantly, both films reveal important aspects of their nation?s fears.
As much as any Kurosawa or Ozu effort, Godzilla puts the post-war Japanese mind on display. Through Godzilla himself, the fear of the consequences of the nuclear age is articulated; the Oxygen Destroyer represents the fear of the bomb itself and the future of warfare; and through Dr. Serizawa, his face profoundly scarred by combat, the emotional and physical trauma of WWII remains.
You can purchase Godzilla here, in a beautiful new DVD set containing both the American and Japanese versions, as well as documentaries and commentaries by Godzilla connoisseurs.