Monster Bites - Triple Threat

GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)

Ten years on from the original 1954 release of Gojira, there were a few obvious recurring elements in the series. The familiar monsters Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan were all back. So were actors like Kenji Sahara as yet another bad guy wearing sunglasses, and Hiroshi Koizumi, again playing a professor. Things were getting sillier and more outlandish as science fiction and crime movie tropes melded with the usual disaster themes. If there was going to be a breaking point it was probably going to be here. However at the rate these were being produced it would take at least another year for the cracks to show, since this is one of the best instalments.


The disparate ideas in play this time around involve both an astronomical phenomenon and an assassination storyline. Princess Selina (Akiko Wakabayashi) the ruler of a fictional country is on route to Japan where Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) has been assigned as a bodyguard during her visit. A group conspirators hoping to take over the throne then bomb her flight, however she escapes the explosion after a strange voice tells her to leap out of the plane. Elsewhere there's a strange meteor shower and an unseasonal heatwave being observed. Are these strange omens connected? Of course it's all to something to do with the arrival of a monster from outer space.

One of the largest meteorites lands in a mountain range where a group of scientists observe that it has strange magnetic properties. It also seems to be growing larger over time. This is actually the first stage of Ghidorah's life, a kind of inter planetary egg. He's a strange looking monster but I guess that's what makes it memorable. An extra-terrestrial adaptation of the mythical Orochi, the creature design has only three heads instead of eight, but makes up for this with pure bling. The gold plated scales are a weird choice but the result is pretty striking and it's easy to see why it was reused so frequently later on. The way it breathes lighting bolts from each of the mouths is also pretty cool.

Unfortunately the rest of the monsters fare less well in the design stakes. They look a lot worse than their previous appearances for some reason, whether it's a budgetary problem or there were changes made to give them a cuter look. The results are pretty awful and it's probably the biggest problem with the film. Godzilla and Rodan look like bug-eyed muppets, and Mothra in larval form looks shrivelled and shrunken. I guess the latter was visually similar in Mothra vs Godzilla when there were two caterpillars, but the larger suit from Mothra's solo outing was far better. I guess the different scales were an issue. At least the suit-mation spectacle is varied and fun, even if they veer into the cartoonish at times - something that would get worse in the subsequent films.


The fun carries over to the human element in a tale of possessed girls and prophecies of doom. The princess last seen escaping a fiery death shows up later with a personality transplant. She seems to want to tell anyone who will listen that the planet is doomed because of all these monsters. Apparently they don't get many crackpots in central Tokyo and huge crowds of people stand and listen. She predicts the appearance of Godzilla and Rodan, who were last seen falling into their respective ocean and volcano resting places. Like Mothra's missing twin, Rodan's mate is absent because it would be too complicated to show that many characters at once. But I guess that's the price of a cross over like this.

The mystery powers doing the mind meld have the princess going around talking about the planet Venus and the impending catastrophe - but she never really explains what the human race is supposed to do about it all. The alien force also seems to have no consideration for the fact they chose an assassination target as their public spokesperson, and so a series of attempted murders also go down. There are some nice suspense sequences involving an electroshock therapy session and a mountainside sniper. Of course the conclusion involves Mothra and her two fairy helpers, there's more singing and more cocoon spinning. But the action with all it's rock throws and electrical pylon drops is some of the best and it leads to a classic showdown.

The result is a compelling mixture of kaiju battles, otherworldly portents and political subterfuge. They still have time for reporters looking for a scoop and scientists discussing the unknown - it's a kind of kitchen sink approach that works pretty well. After this all the alien invasion stuff would become a regular feature, and it would be far less subtle in the process. The monsters talk to each other and have juvenile rivalries, so the seeds were all planted for a more family friendly and ridiculous series. But this is just right on that edge where it works well enough to feel familiar but fresh. It's easy to see why this material was popular enough to be revisited so often.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975)


On the other hand here we have an entry in a franchise that had pretty much run its course. It feels tired and basically repeats what was done in Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla without the same kind of fun energy. In fact the whole things looks drab and grey, which is weird considering that IshirĊ Honda was back to direct one last monster battle. The robot was pretty cool, but it does new nothing here and nobody really explains how they rebuilt it after it was smashed so thoroughly. Some characters also seem to be confused about what happened last time around and acst as if this machine rampage is all news to them.

Maybe it just doesn't get headlines any more, after all the giant monster brawls have been happening for a long time by this point. The plot involves a scientist who was laughed at some time before for his theory about controlling sea life, specifically a dinosaur called Titanosaurus. Again it's unclear why this was so outlandish in a version of Japan that sees this kind of thing year in year out. Of course he wasn't crazy after all, and to prove it he's going to laugh maniacally and set loose the beast on the world. The problem is that this fun setup is done without any style. Even the aliens from last time have had their true forms changed to be more boring that it was before.

For a story about cyborg girls, giant robots, dinosaurs and aliens this is kind of a slog. The sombre tone just doesn't match the material at all. It's a weird experience, and it's probably best just to watch the previous movie instead. There are some well staged battle scenes and some surprisingly dark moments in the professor's secret lair, but it's kind of lacklustre. Mechagodzilla needed some new powers, and although there's a great twist on the finishing move Godzilla used last time around it's all a bit underwhelming. Titanosaurus also needed to be weirder, and it's a missed opportunity that a creature like Anguirus doesn't show up. I guess they were going for poignant but instead it's just a drag.

2/5