Project G: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Alternative Title: The One with the Big Dumb Godzilla Dropkick

Godzilla vs. Megalon.  Here’s a particularly notable one.  And I imagine a rather love it or hate it affair.

So the backstory of Godzilla vs. Megalon is that once upon a time, some kid won a design-us-a-monster! contest with Toho, drawing a giant robot suit with a lot of similarities to Ultraman and Mazinger Z for use in a future monster movie.  Toho then made this design even more like Ultraman, to the point it didn’t really resemble the original contest design at all anymore.  And then they tried to put a movie together around it.  Hey, you know what’s really cool?  Ultraman.  That’s really cool.  Maybe we should make a movie like Ultraman.  

So you know what the problem is with making something that’s just like something else that’s really cool except your thing isn’t actually that cool?  You end up making something that’s just not as good as the original.  So this movie kind of kicked around for a while, with nobody really believing that the not-Ultraman was a strong enough character to carry the film, until producer Tomoyuki Tanaka came upon it and had the same thought I often think in the middle of bad movies, church services, and particularly average sessions of coitus: “This would be better with Godzilla in it.”

This wound up being the genius stroke that saved the project.  And at least two of my relationships.  But at this point, the producers just looked at each other, and decided that the film with all its troubled history had spent long enough in pre-production that it was time to move it right to shooting.  So what if they don’t even have a script yet!  They’ll figure something out.  And Tanaka had already raided his couch cushions for the spare change used for All Monsters Attacks’ budget, then the back seat of his car for the change for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and they probably weren’t going to be able to get away with making a film so cheap to make its production actually created stacks of yen from thin air again like they did with Godzilla vs. Gigan.  So this time, they gave it a big massive budget, but it’s all in Imagibucks, the currency of Pretend Land.  And the exchange rate for that with the real world is really low.  

Once again, Jun Fukuda’s at the helm, who’s had kind of a spotty track record with Godzilla.  We’ve got a film where all they had to go on were storyboards and Fukuda literally had to create the script while they were filming and two of the four monsters in it were stapled onto the plot after the fact.  They’ve probably got more of a budget than they did for Godzilla vs. Gigan, but not by much.  And they’re needing to get through production incredibly quickly.  So, what do they do?  

You know how when big actors get roped into projects they know are going to be bad, they start hamming it up all over the place?  They figure if they have to make something that will be ill-remembered, they’re at least going to have a lot of goofy fun with it?  That’s what we get here.  A lot of Godzilla’s movie output has at least a bit of the dumb factor to it.  That’s one of the things I love about it.  And Godzilla vs. Megalon is the film that embraces that factor most whole-heartedly.  You shall see.  Oh, you shall see.  

The film opens with some nation performing some underground nuclear tests, which creates earthquakes that can be felt on Monster Island.  Supposedly far away from its epicenter.  Some time later, we get a nice little family playing at a lake in Japan.  Baby Rider, played by the same actor who was Ok Kid in Godzilla vs. Hedorah but is explicitly not the same character for that little bit of confusion, is playing on a little pedal boat thing in the lake while his older brother and older brother’s, uh, ‘friend’ enjoy a nice picnic.  So, these guys.  I don’t think it’s done deliberately, because this movie came out in the 1970s, which was not a time period where people were very open to these types of relationships, and is from Japan, which was not a place where people were very open to these types of relationships.  So, even though these are two men that seem incredibly close to each other, seem to be out for a rather intimate personal experience at the start of the film, and both seem to take a father-like relationship to the young boy in their charge, I’m not going to call the relationship what it obviously seems to be, because it was probably not intended on the part of the creators.  Let’s just say they’re very Happy.

So, they’re all doing their thing when an earthquake hits.  The Happy Pair call Baby Rider back to shore, so earthquake lake stuff doesn’t end up doing whatever to him.  But then a whirlpool appears in the lake!  And it starts draining!  And Baby Rider starts getting sucked in!  But luckily, the Happy Pair brought their grappling hook to the picnic.  You know, as is traditional.  So they grapple hook Baby Rider in, and watch as the lake drains completely into a new crack underneath.  Then they’re like ‘huh, that was weird.’ and then they go home, to the Happy Scientist’s lab.  

The Happy Scientist and Baby Rider enter the lab first, only to find it ransacked with these two goobers inside.  A fight starts, but then the goobers just hit the nerd and the kid with their guns and knock them out.  Then the Happy Badass comes in, and joins the fight.  He does a bit better for himself, because he is, after all, a badass, and manages to tear a button from one of their shirts, but then he gets hit with the gun all the same.  He is no Lady Pain, after all. But then as the goobers start to flee the scene, he wakes up, and realizes he hasn’t been cool enough yet, so he gets in his car and we have a pretty solid auto chase scene.  The goobers are surprised at how badass the Happy Badass is, and try some road maneuvers, but the Happy Badass is on top of them at every turn. He starts gaining on the goobers, but they throw a grenade out their window and light the road on fire.  He loses them in the blaze, and then heads back home.  

The Happy Scientist and Baby Rider have had time to review the damage done to their place.  Nothing was taken, and the project the Happy Scientist was working on, an Android he calls Jet Jaguar, was largely undisturbed, aside from them leaving some red sand in front of it.  Happy Badass comes back, points out the button he tore off the goober, and does some science stuff to it to determine its made out of the same red sand that was left on the floor in front of Jet Jaguar.  Also, that sand is from Easter Island, where there are those weird statues that are apparently 3 million years old (no they aren’t).  Over time, Happy Scientist also finishes up Jet Jaguar, making him a somewhat autonomous android that can be controlled from a computer center in the lab.  As it turns out, the goobers didn’t take anything from there, but they did leave something there, in the form of a listening device, and they were just waiting for the Happy Scientist to finish up with Jet Jaguar.  And time has passed here, and I figure I should mention, you know how in Japanese media short shorts on boys is supposed to represent them being youthful?  Baby Rider must have a negative age.  I thought at first that his shorts were just that short because they were playing at the lake, but no, apparently he just wears those.  I’m pretty sure watching this movie gets you automatically added to a list at the FBI.

One day, Baby Rider goes out riding a teeny tiny minibike.  So the goobers just kidnap him.  And then they force him in front of the entrance camera at the lab to trick the Happy Pair indie to open the door.  And then they shoot him with knockout gas, because that’s what their guns do.  Why they had to smack everybody around with them instead of just gassing people earlier is beyond me.  So then the goobers get inside and gas the Happy Pair, and then start messing around with Jet Jaguar’s control panel.  Apparently that was their aim all along.  They get in touch with the King Goober in the underground land of Seatopia, how then has a bunch of women dressed in bikinis and saran wrap do a dance to summon their guardian, Megalon.  They then reprogram Jet Jaguar to guide Megalon to his various targets.  Seatopia had taken a lot of environmental damage from the underground nuclear testing, so, in revenge, they direct Megalon to attack the country who has more firmly and stridently disavowed any sort of involvement in the nuclear arms race than any other, instead of maybe attacking any of the countries who actually do nuclear testing.  Because… I don’t know.  Nevermind that!  Megalon is on the scene!

So, Megalon is a big ol’ evil beetle monster.  And you know, for how cheaply-made and assertively goofy this film is, he’s not poorly designed.  He’s got a pretty decent powerset.  His hands are boring drills, and give him the ability to tunnel underground, while he’s also able to fly, so he’s got pretty solid versatility in his mobility.  And he can shoot lightning blasts from his horn, perfect for stealing scenes from Ghidorah’s rampages in earlier movies, and can spit grenades, perfect for stealing scenes of stuff blowing up.  So, with Jet Jaguar guiding him around to some industrial targets, we get some really good scenes of destruction.  It’s just a shame that these destruction scenes were really good in the movies they originally came from, too, and are a bit more standout than the stolen scenes in Godzilla vs. Gigan, so you can tell they’re using stock footage a bit more.  Heck, Godzilla vs. Megalon will even rip off scenes from itself, with a couple of the closeup action shots or bits of Jet Jaguar flying just being replayed again and again.  

But yeah, destruction is happening.  Meanwhile, the goobers want to take the Happy Scientist and Baby Rider (for some reason) to Seatopia to create an army of Jet Jaguars, so they pack them up in a shipping crate and hire some transport guys to dump them in the emptied out lake that the crew was picnicking at earlier in the film.  The Happy Badass, they just tie to a chair in the lab.  So the Happy Badass and Baby Rider wake up and cooperate to break out of their bindings, but they can’t break out of the shipping container.  The truckers get word over the radio that Megalon is destroying things on the path they need to take to the lake, so they decide to just dump the crate in the dam instead, but the goober riding along with him pulls a gun on them.  But then the truckers overpower him and throw him out of the truck and down a hill, which apparently kills him, because he never shows up in the movie again.

The Happy Badass wakes up, and questions the goober in the lab on where they took his family.  The goober tells him, because goobers always talk, and then the Happy Badass just rips apart the chair they tied him to and beats the goober up.  Then the Happy Badass runs for his car to go get his loved ones.  

Anyways, the Happy Badass is high speed driving!  And a couple other goober agents are on standby, and chase after him!  So we get another pretty decent chase scene!  It’s not like action movie quality or anything, but really, it’s not a bad sequence.  Get a bit of stunt driving, and then finally, the Happy Badass manages to outmaneuver them, sending them crashing into a home under construction.  Meanwhile, even though they killed the guy who wanted them to do it and even though the whole arrangement is shady as hell, the truckers still make a move to dump the shipping crate into the dam.  They drive there, back up, and start tilting their flatbed.  But then.  But then!  Megalon shows up!  And just bursts through the dam!  And you know what?  The special effects team apparently had to fight to be able to make this scene at all, in the face of the budget, because they didn’t want all of Megalon’s rampage to be stock footage, but man, it was worth the fight.  This scene is pretty awesome, and sells Megalon’s power more than anything else.  So the truckers get spooked and exit the vehicle, just as the shipping crate is teetering on the edge of the flatbed.  Happy Badass arrives, and they hold him up with the goober’s gas gun, and steal his car.  But the Happy Badass has other things to worry about, as his friends are on the edge and Megalon is there, thrashing around.  Now, the sensible thing to do would be to lower the flatbed and drive away from the edge.  But the Happy Badass decides that’s not badass enough for him.  Instead, he reads the timing to Megalon’s flails, and drops the crate containing his loved ones directly onto Megalon’s drill hand.  You might recognize this as being a horrible idea.  Except it totally works.  Megalon smacks the crate into the nearby forest, where the crate door breaks and Baby Rider and the Happy Scientist stumble out, mostly unharmed.  Somehow.    

The Happy Crew hook up with the JSDF, and the Happy Scientist has a command device around his neck that can override the programming Jet Jaguar’s been given, but it only works if Jet’s in line of sight. So the military helicopter him up to Megalon, the Happy Scientist order Jet Jaguar to go fetch Godzilla and tell him there’s monster ass to kick, and Jet Jaguar flies off to go do that.  Meanwhile, the Happy Badass and Baby Rider go to break back into their lab.  They smash the surveillance camera, leading the goober to go check out what’s happening, whereupon the Happy Badass beats him up again.  Then they run.  The goober gets up and tries to give chase, except apparently Megalon is close enough to shower the area in boulders, and the goober gets crushed to death.  This film doesn’t give a very good sense of distance.  It feels like Megalon is in two places at once.

Also, Seatopia gets in contact with M Space Hunter Nebula, who agree to send Gigan down to wreck some stuff, because why not?

Without Jet Jaguar guiding him around, Megalon just bunny hops around aimlessly.  The JSDF sends some jets to try and bomb him, but they do the thing aircraft always do in these kaiju movies and fly within arms reach of Megalon, so Megalon swats a bunch of them out of the air.  Or maybe it’s Gigan, reaching through space-time to do that.  The stock footage seems to get them confused.  Then Megalon goes to blow up a oil field or something.  The Happy Crew has their lab back, and they use it to fix Jet Jaguar’s programming, except now he’s not listening to them, and is operating autonomously.  He starts wandering off towards Megalon, with the crew following.  At this point, Megalon has wandered to a barren, remote location, similar to what you might find in an, oh, I don’t know, Ultraman fight.  Jet Jaguar gets there, and then grows like 50 stories tall for no reason whatsoever. And he then proceeds to bring it to Megalon.

So, we’ve talked about Megalon’s powerset.  Jet Jaguar has almost none of that.  He can fly, but that’s about it.  He does have another power in his arsenal.  Well, really, it’s magic.  The magic of punching.  And he casts a spell right on Megalon’s face, taking the big beetle over.  Megalon hits the ground, then takes off in a low-altitude flight, revolving around Jet Jaguar at a high speed.  Jet Jaguar starts rotating to keep his eyes on him, going round and round and round and… can robots get dizzy?  Apparently they can, because Jet Jaguar starts stumbling around.  Megalon sees his moment and moves in for the kill, but then Jet Jaguar just punches him again.  And, from there, they scuffle for a bit.  Megalon gets some solid moves in, but is not overpowering, and they end up being pretty evenly matched, maybe with an edge going to Jet Jaguar.  

But then.  Imagine there’s a crystal in space.  And then it explodes.  But then it rewinds.  And then explodes again.  And then one more rewind and then explosion.  And then there’s Gigan!

So Gigan shows up, and immediately jumps in to help Megalon.  Jet Jaguar can fly.  But so can they.  And Jet Jaguar can punch.  But he hasn’t yet figured out how to punch two things at once.  So between Gigan and Megalon, they start taking him down pretty quick.  And then they kick him while he’s down.  And yuk it up while they’re at it.  They look like a bunch of schoolyard bullies doing so.  

But hey!  Do you here that dumb brass blaring random notes?  That means Godzilla is here too!  Megalon and Gigan back off a bit, and Jet Jaguar gets up, wanders over to Godzilla, and gives him a firm handshake.  This is probably supposed to look super friendly style, but the current Godzilla suit barely has any facial articulation, so Godzilla just stares at him like “What lame thing are you making me do?”

Anyways, then we’re up once again for tag team action.  And the wrestling analogy is super apt.  You remember how Nakajima would be a bit wrestling inspired, but mostly fight like a big giant beast when he was behind the suit?  Yeah, Nakajima’s not here any more.  And the new guy forgot about the beast part.  Godzilla handle Gigan and Megalon alone for the first part, and then Jet Jaguar joins the fight.  Godzilla grapples with Gigan and bowls him over, then mounts him and just straight begins punching.  Megalon disengages with Jet Jaguar and wards Godzilla off.  A bit of a hierarchy starts to present himself.  Godzilla’s the strongest monster on land, followed by Gigan, Megalon, then Jet Jaguar.  When the fight takes to the air, that structure reverses itself.  Gigan and Megalon are able to score some hits on Big G with aerial attacks, but Jet Jaguar can punch them out of the air with ease.  However, at one point, the two villains force Jet Jaguar down and land some solid hits on him, then, when Godzilla comes up for the assist, Megalon launches a series of grenades and surrounds Jet and G with fire.  

Jet Jaguar lifts Godzilla up and flies him out of the blaze, then the two engage with the villains again.  Megalon tries to spit another grenade at them, but our heroes knock it right back into his mouth, which incapacitates him for a bit.  Godzilla and Jet Jaguar then team up on Gigan for a bit, culminating with Jet Jaguar throwing Gigan in the air for Godzilla to blast him with his atomic breath.  Gigan once again decides he’s had enough, so buggers off into space.  Then, Jet Jaguar picks up Megalon and holds his arms behind his back, then signals something to Godzilla with his head.  Suggesting a course of action.  An awesome course of action.  

Godzilla rears back, gets a running start, and launches himself feet-first into Megalon.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have the true, the coveted, the legendary, BIG DUMB GODZILLA DROPKICK.  And then they do it again.  Because if you ever have the opportunity to big dumb Godzilla dropkick someone, you take as much advantage of that as you can.  

At that, Megalon realizes how righteously he’s getting wrecked, and saves himself any further embarrassment by burrowing into the earth and hightailling it back to Seatopia.  His work done, Godzilla sets off back to Monster Island, and Jet Jaguar returns to human size.  The threat gone, Jet Jaguar shows no further signs of free will, although the Happy Scientist says that if they’re threatened by kaiju again, Jet Jaguar’s sentience will return.  Thus setting up a whole bunch of sequels that never happened.

So.  There’s that.  As I mentioned, it seems that the creators all around realized the deck was stacked against them, and just decided rather than trying to make something super great, to just have some dumb fun with it.  This film is kind of goofy, a lot of it doesn’t make any sense, and you can see the limitations the creators had all around.  The fight at the end played out much more like a cartoon wrestling match than it did a respectful kaiju battle.  Godzilla films usually have that element of dumb fun to them, but this is the one that feels like the production crews tongues were firmly lodged in their teeth for it.  This is a movie that seemed to embrace how silly the concept of grown men wearing monster suits and pretending to fight in front of cameras really is, and ran with it.  And that’s not going to land right with everyone.  Even other films in the Godzilla series tried to run with the mild self-parody angle, but didn’t quite get it right.  For this time around, it works for me.  It just has the element of fun and genuine-ness needed to get the deliberate silliness across without seeming forced, while being enough of an honest take on the Godzilla/Ultraman formula to stand up in its own right.  And they had a much stronger showing doing that than they would with a purely straight take on the monster movie, with all the limitations they had against them.

And they have those limitations showing so strongly.  It’s unfortunate, for as much as they did to mold Megalon to the stock footage they had available, the stock footage stands out way more strongly here than it did in Godzilla vs. Gigan.  Sometimes you see monster parts showing up that don’t match anyone in the scripted scene.  And the weird habit they had of replaying the exact same shots, or the rewind and repeat method of showing action in a few scenes, just really seems awkward.  And you can tell the monster suits, although all of them are new for this film, were really built in a hurry.  Godzilla can’t move anything in his face except for his jaw, and Gigan has leaned down but has even less points of articulation and they do a really bad job of hiding the fact that his saw blade isn’t mobile.   The one original monster smashing effect they had in this movie, Megalon powering through the dam, looks fantastic, but that’s the only bit we have.  The monster fight itself is pretty solid as well, has a decent through-line and sense of in-combat story telling, and is really the highlight of the movie, although it does seem a bit out of place in the greater Godzilla series, as none of them really try to act like giant monsters, more like very sentient humans.  Much like in Ultraman.  

And between the fight being more Ultraman-like than Godzilla-like, and Godzilla and Gigan very obviously being stapled into the plot when they really didn’t have a stake in it, the build up likely could have been a bit better if it had just been a Godzilla movie from conception.  What we got, though, wasn’t too bad in all.  This isn’t the first film to take the ‘action action action’ route to the human side of the story, but it does its human action scenes better than any of the other more action oriented films we’ve covered so far.  It’s not nearly at the level of a lot of other dedicated action movies at the time, but it’s not bad, and it does keep the pulse up nicely until we get to the big monster payoff at the end.  The soundtrack leaves a lot to be desired however, and some of the performances are a little lacking.  Kind of symptomatic of the low-budget and rushed production as a whole.  

Back when this film came out, it was a lot easier to accidentally not copyright your work, and the English dubbed version of it instantly fell into the public domain for a similar reason to the original Night of the Living Dead.  As a result, Godzilla vs. Megalon was the most widely distributed film in the Western world up until the internet became a thing and Toho, who’s original version did have copyright protection, took notice.  So this is the Godzilla film most people above a certain age have seen in our hemisphere, going so far as to get an MST3K done of it.  And it gives people a certain impression of Godzilla as a whole that’s a bit less than accurate.  Yes, most of the movies are kind of silly, but they’re not always goofy like this is.  But, this is the one that took hold, and set the image for most going forward.  

That said, you know, if you’ve been reading this blog, that I’ve got a great fondness for dumb fun things.  And this is Godzilla at its most dumb fun.  So this is one of my favorite films of the series.  You have to be able to appreciate things at a certain lowbrow level to enjoy it, but if you are, Godzilla vs. Megalon hits that point very satisfactorily.  

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One response to “Project G: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

  1. Pingback: December 2020 in Summary: Hindsight Is 2020 | Extra Life

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