Project G: Godzilla vs Biollante (1989)

More Memorable Title: The one the MPAA rated PG for ‘Traditional Godzilla Violence’.

Usually, I lead into these things by talking a bit about the development of the film.  This time, I’m going to take a bit of a different tack, and talk about getting this movie instead.  Toho licenses the western distribution rights for the Godzilla franchise on a film by film basis.  Which leads to tons of different companies having the rights to different films in the franchise, which, for a long time, made it rather difficult to just pick up and watch through the whole Godzilla series.  It’s gotten better in recent years, with Criterion Collection securing the western rights of all the Showa Era films and making those readily available, and Sony holding longtime rights over all the rest of the Heisei era after this as well as the complete Millennium era and releasing some very handy and affordable compilations, but there’s two of Toho’s film from the pre-Reiwa eras that are still largely left out of easy accessibilty.  There’s the Return of Godzilla, which has been out of print for a while but it seems Kraken Publishing still released enough DVDs to make them affordable today.  And then there’s this one.  Miramax licensed out a few limited runs of DVDs, but Toho eventually pulled the license from them, and now nobody has the Western distribution rights to Godzilla vs. Biollante.  There’s no streaming of this movie, and the DVDs fetch a pretty high price, making this the absolutely hardest Godzilla film to get your eyes on.  I managed to find it for what I thought was a reasonable price, but even then, I ended up paying more for it than you would for any brand new, modern day home video release.  

So just keep in mind, what I’m about to relate to you is a rare Godzilla delicacy.  

The Return of Godzilla was financially successful, but not wildly so.  They wanted to do a sequel to it, but the minimal success there, coupled with the failure of some other high profile monster movies at the time, convinced longtime Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka to wait for a bit, until the market was better for such films.  That ended up being a pause of a few years, before other goofy sci-fiish films, primarily Little Shop of Horrors, started seeing success.  They chose the script for their upcoming film from a contest, taking submissions from a bunch of randos, looking for something that they could use for some traditional kaiju tai kaiju goodness that also took a different tack from the beastie brawls of the showa era.  They ended up settling on the script submitted by a dentist, which was really recycled from a script he had submitted as a teenager to a similar contest for Ultraman and won there.  Director Kazuki Oumori then spent the next three years changing and editing it, using his background as a biologist to correlate Godzilla’s typical anti-nuclear themes with the heavy genetic engineering themes seen here.  In so doing, he also ended up creating and codifying what would really be going on in Godzilla’s Heisei Era.  In a lot of ways, it’s always the second entry that defines a series, and that’s no different here, with Godzilla vs. Biollante’s heavy use of continuity, psychic characters, and CGI beam effects being establishments that would continue for the rest of the series.

In release, Godzilla vs. Biollante was doomed to repeat it’s predecessor’s mild success, leading the franchise to take another small pause before returning to more familiar territory with its next entry. Toho reportedly regarded this film as ending up having too niche an appeal. It is, however, a well regarded one among fans, with a lot of commentary saying it played with some really interesting ideas, even if the actual execution of them is subject to opinion.  How does it fare in the most important opinion of all; mine?  Let’s read on to find out.

I should say, heading into this though, this is a busy, busy movie.  There’s a lot going on here.  So many characters, so many events, so much stuff.  I’m going to be selectively trimming things in a lot of this, so we’ll move pretty quickly, and there’s also going to be a lot of content I don’t touch.  Because I don’t think anyone wants to read a giant  summary of this, and I don’t have time for that anyways.

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Project G-The Return of Godzilla (1984)

More Memorable Title: The Godzilla of the Cold War

We’re back with this, the one where Godzilla’s back!  And back with a reboot and a whole new continuity at that!  All that stuff we’ve been talking about in the series thus far?  All that story, history, origins, everything there?  We’re done with all that.  With the exception of the first film, the OG 1954 Godzilla, everything else is all out the window.  We’re starting fresh, here.  With this film, we officially enter Godzilla’s Heisei era.  

So, the last film of Godzilla’s Showa era hit in 1975.  Toho didn’t intend to end the series there, and in fact tried to get some more productions going a couple of times, but for whatever reason, none of them got off the ground.  In 1979, longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka took charge of bringing Godzilla back to screens for the series’ 25th anniversary, and, inspired by the then-recent Three Mile Island incident and the then-modern adult oriented sci-fi/horror films of the time, wanted to return the series to its adult-oriented, anti-nuclear roots.  He still wasn’t able to get anything going for a while, until finally, in the mid-1980s, pieces started to come into place.  He combined elements from a bunch of cancelled Godzilla projects, made it modern to the cold war politics of the time, and started gathering a team around it.  Longtime director Ishiro Honda wasn’t up for participating, tied up with his work with Akira Kurosawa and also feeling the series shouldn’t be continued after the death of Godzilla’s special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya, so Koji Hashimoto, who served as assistant director on a number of Showa Era projects, got called up to take the seat. Teruyoshi Nakano, who had led the special effects under Tsuburaya’s guidance when the latter’s health prevented him from working fully, took the lead once more on that front.  Series newcomer Reijiro Koroku handled music composition, making a score that’s quite different from Akira Ikufube’s previous work but honestly very solid for the film.  And finally, finally, they managed to get things going and get a film out, kicking off Godzilla’s revival.  

The Return of Godzilla is, as I said, considered the first film of Godzilla’s Heisei era.  But it was actually made in Japan’s Showa era, as the shift to the real Heisei wouldn’t happen for a few more years.  So, that explains perfectly why a lot of the things that would become emblematic of the Godzilla’s Heisei era; the recurring characters, the laser spamming, the 1-vs-1 monster fights, the prominence of psychic abilities, you don’t really get that showing up in this film just yet.  What you do get, that will carry over to later films until they start going the ‘noble demon’ route with Godzilla, is that you have a Big G here that is bigger and meaner than we’ve seen before.  Gone Is the ‘friend to all children’ Godzilla of films past.  This Godzilla is legitimately monstrous.  Much like the 1954 original, Godzilla here is coming to town to ruin lives and chew bubble gum.  And they don’t make bubble gum big enough for him.  

The Return of Godzilla is a film that reviewed rather poorly, but is very well regarded by fans.  Looking at things from my perspective, who has the better take on it?  Well, let’s dig in to find out.

The film opens with a fishing vessel navigating near an uninhabited island in a fierce thunderstorm.  The crew are trying frantically to force their way to shore to weather it.  One of the crewmembers, Sourface, so named because he shows little emotion other than mild irritation with everything occuring in the film, looks out at the island only to see something very large and monstrous silhouetted in the lightning.

The scene cuts there, and opens up the next morning.  The radio is calling out that in the storm last night, a number of ships, including the one we just saw, went missing.  We’re on a boat, a smaller one this time, a personal vessel.  It’s captain, someone whose name I actually remember this time.  Because he has the same name as that four-armed miniboss from Mortal Kombat.  And that guy from Yakuza that’s crazy awesome, emphasis on the crazy.  For that matter, he was there back in one of the worst films of the Showa era.  That’s right.  I promised he’d come back.  This guy transcends continuity.  We’re looking here at Goro Maki.  Yes, named just like the guy from Mortal Kombat and the guy from Yakuza, once again. So, obviously, Son of Godzilla didn’t happen here, and he’s played by a new actor this time, but the basics of this guy are the same.  He’s a reporter that searches down leads so hard he jumps into crazy dangerous situations.  He dresses exclusively in hideously ugly clothes.  And he is absolutely 100% couthless.  I don’t say that lightly.  You don’t insult a man’s couth.  You just don’t.  But it is impossible to describe him here without mentioning that.  

So anyways, Goro is sailing the high seas ripping opponents apart with his four arms apparently looking for those missing ships to get a scoop when he comes across one, coincidentally the one we just saw a few minutes ago.  He lashes the ships together, hops on board, and starts investigating.  It appears that nobody’s around.  There is some strange goo on the floor, though.  He gets into some cabin or bridge or ship term or something, and find someone sitting on a chair there.  He turns them around, and it looks like this guy got attacked by the girl from The Ring.  He’s all dessicated and mummified.  Then, Goro searches the ship some more, and finds some more dehydrated dead bodies.  He goes through their lockers, because, why not I guess?  Inside one of them, he finds Sourface, still alive, shell-shocked, clutching a hatchet.  Now, a normal person, would, you know try to help them, but we’re dealing with Goro Maki here.  Goro instead snaps a picture, and then goes through the guys pockets, finding a picture of Sourface with some girl and a student ID.  Then he gets attacked by… eeeeeeegh…. Shockirus.

Shockirus is a giant sea louse.  That’s about it.  But they gave it a name and made it part of the Godzilla monster canon, so they legitimatized it.  I don’t know if you know this about me, but I haaaate giant bugs.  Nearly every time.  So Shockirus can go eat a dick.  And he tries to, leaping onto Goro Maki and maneuvering to start sucking him dry.  Goro grabs a weapon, but Shockirus has a hard shell, and Goro’s unable to pierce it.  Goro starts preparing for the lame death you know is coming for him eventually, but then Sourface manages to hack into it and kill it from behind.

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Project G-A Primer

Man, you remember when I used to do series?  Have a particular idea or theme I was wanting to have across several posts to build off each other, or more thoroughly explore a work or franchise?  And how at least half of them I never bothered actually finishing?  Yeah, good times.  We should do that again.  And you know what, let’s do that again here!

So, a while back, I did something for like the second time in like three years.  I went to see a movie in the theater.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in fact.  I’d been kind of a passive Godzilla fan for a while.  I’ve seen more of the Godzilla stuff than your average, less sexy general consumer, and probably enjoyed all the stuff it has to offer way more than most, but I’ve rarely made a point of getting into something Godzilla when it wasn’t right there in front of me.  I caught the 2014 Godzilla in theaters, and thought it was all right, although it was the first movie that I watched after I left the film industry that I ended up with an overall positive experience of.  Still, I found myself inexplicably excited for King of the Monsters.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Aether, my main man, don’t you have issues with watching movies?  And didn’t King of the Monsters get really mixed reviews?  This doesn’t seem like a good time.” On the contrary, this ended up being the best time with a movie I’ve had in… I don’t know how long.  It was perfect for me.  Part of it may be expectations.  I remember talking to a few people about my hopes going into the film, hoping that it would be at least a little stupid, but not too stupid, and that it would revel in it’s own big dumb monsters fights in a satisfying way.  And I’ve never had a movie that delivered what I needed from it so fully.  It is exactly the right level of stupid, it relishes its monster fights, and, for me, one of the best things is that about 90% of the movie was done either on a sound stage or by CGI, which are two aspects of production that I never had anything to do with when I worked in film, and therefore don’t trigger my burnout-induced stresses that often come with watching a movie.  So, whomever you are on the film crew for that movie that is a devoted follower of this blog because that’s the only likely way you’d know so much about me, thank you so much for making a movie that’s just for me.

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In any case, after my time with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I found myself diving deep into my inner Godzilla fangirl.  Snapping up all the movies I could easily get my hands on, pouring hours into going through them, reminiscing about all the other Godzilla properties I’ve spent time with, I don’t think I can call myself a ‘passive’ Godzilla fan any longer.

Which brings us into this series I’m going to start here.  I’m spending all this time with the movies, I figured I’d at least build some content around it.  Godzilla’s been around for close to 65 years now, with more than 30 films made, with widely varying levels of quality and availability, and I haven’t been able to build up a complete library of Godzilla films overnight.  As such, this may not be a comprehensive look at the Godzilla films.  But I am going to at least put together some mini-reviews for all the Godzilla films I’ve been able to collect.  So, I call this a series, but that’s really just what it will be.  A bunch of small reviews.

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Before I get into doing that, though, I wanted to go over how these films all fit together, because I think some groundwork there will be useful in understanding these things once we get into a bit more of the nitty gritty.  One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Godzilla films is that in general, the continuity is handled in a way that, largely, you could make whatever you want out of it.  The movies may be very, very different, and there’s a couple of separate timelines and continuities there, but you can always just pick up a movie and watch it, if you were so inclined.  The individual stories are almost entirely self-contained, and for the bits that do follow up from previous films, they will explain clearly what happened in those films and how it’s leading to things now.  There is absolutely zero continuity lockout in this things, and you could start from any point and be right where you need to be.  And frankly, there’s a lot of room for headcanon in there too.  There’s the official lines, sure, and things may not always match up between series, but it’s wiggly enough that if you wanted to, you could consider things pretty much happening all in one go, with different Godzillas growing up and stomping around at different times.

That said, there are a couple of factors that could be useful to keep in mind as we’re going through this.  Biggest one is just the eras of Godzilla we’re looking at here.  Toho will typically produce Godzilla films in clumps, doing them over a span of time while people are really interested in them.  Then, when interest starts to wane, so as to avoid making things overdone, Toho will put the franchise on hiatus for a decade or so, to give it time so that it’s more fresh when they come back to it.  As they bring Godzilla back, they’ll reboot the continuity, starting after the first movie.  Usually, each span of time will be creatively rather different as well.

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As far as the movies go, you start, obviously, with the original Godzilla in 1954.  No matter what the other films do with their timelines (except for the American-made Monsterverse films and Shin Godzilla, which start everything over completely), the original Godzilla is fixed point in history.  The first Godzilla known to man always attacked Japan in 1954, Japan was always helpless against him, and he was (almost) always killed by Dr. Serizawa weaponizing his newest, fearsome scientific discovery.

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Then, some time later, a new Godzilla arose to terrify the world.  What happened there, though, varies.  The various series of Godzilla films are named after the Japanese eras in which they were largely made.  The first of those is the Showa series, which is what most people think of when they think of Godzilla.  Probably where the films made their biggest overall impact.  The Showa series came out in a time where the Japanese film industry as a whole was really troubled, and although they did have home-grown successes of all types, the only types of films that could consistently bring in a profitable audience where kids’ movies.  The first two Godzilla films are thoughtful horror movies akin to the classic King Kong.  If they stayed that way, though, the franchise probably wouldn’t have survived this long.  Bowing to the market of the time, from the third movie on, Godzilla movies where either ‘all-ages’ or outright children movies.  This is where you see the campy, goofy Godzilla, basically pro-wrestling in rubber suits.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s helpful to know what to expect.  When you think of cheesy Godzilla movies, the scenes you may be remembering probably came from this era.  This is where the big dumb Godzilla dropkick was.  This is where you saw Godzilla dancing.  And although this isn’t the only place to find Godzilla goofiness, this is where it was most concentrated.

And although the first Godzilla movie pretty much stands outside the series structure, it’s considered a Showa era film, so next time you’re trying to impress that fly honey at one of those Godzilla parties that go on all over the place all the time, make sure you include the original in the Showa films or he/she is just going to think you’re a big nerd.

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The Showa series ended in the 70s.  Godzilla was on hiatus for a while, until they came back with a new film in 1984.  The developers, recognizing the trajectory the original series was on, wanted to go back to its roots and start fresh with the dark, heavy tone that the first movie set.  So, The Return of Godzilla, the first movie of the Heisei series, rebooted the timeline to just after the first movie, and had a new Godzilla attacking Japan 30 years later, taking the next step from the original film while also maintaining a lot of the sci-fi elements that the later films had brought.  Other films in the series followed suit.  The Heisei series definitely has it’s own goofy moments, some of them really goofy, but it plays everything a lot more seriously than the Showa series did, and it’s rare that you’ll find instances of deliberate humor in there.  It still revels in its fun big monster fights, but it does so seriously.  Serious face :I.  It has a bit more of a sense of continuity; there’s a couple of recurring characters, the G-force organization is at the heart of most of the movies, and fairly often new villains are created as a result of past happenings in this Godzilla timeline.  You can also tell that the special effects team was really excited about being able to put lasers on screen here.  In most other eras, most of the monsters will fight physically most of the time, with the various breath and other distance weapons being reserved for special occasions, when you really just need to hit the big guy hard or when you need a whole lot of things destroyed right now.  In the Heisei era, though, monster combat is mostly done through beam spam.  Lasers, breath weapons, special moves, the monsters are definitely at their flashiest here.

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Then, in the 90s, the Heisei films started slowing down.  As a result, Toho put their Godzilla films on hiatus again.  This time though, we weren’t going to lack for Godzilla in general, just their version of Godzilla.  Instead, they were going to give Tri-star a shot at making their own Godzilla universe in America.  Plan was for Toho to be on hiatus and Tri-star leading the way for Godzilla for about ten years.  Tri-star’s Godzilla film came out in 1998.  It… wasn’t good.  Toho wasn’t willing to let that be the lingering memory anyone had of Godzilla, so they broke their hiatus early and came out with the Millennium series of films.  Probably the biggest notable thing about the Millennium series is that every single film with one exception is in a continuity of it’s own.  Like The Return of Godzilla did, although most of these came out within a year of each other, they all take things back to just after the first movie.  Some of them do recreate events in the backstory between the first movie and this one, but that’s always independent of any of the other movies, and doesn’t match up with anything we’ve seen on film so far.  This series is less consistent, in general, in terms of creative design between films, but overall, it strikes a balance between the goofiness of the Showa series and that seriousness of the Heisei.  It’s also of pretty mixed quality, but the good films of this series are some of the best Godzilla movies overall.  In my not-so-humble opinion.

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Then the series was put on hiatus again after all that was done.  Ten years later, Toho decided to trust an American producer again, licensing Godzilla to Legendary Pictures for what would become their Monsterverse.  That’s still ongoing, with two Godzilla movies on deck so far as well as one where Godzilla made a cameo, and a third already in post-production, and it will be ongoing until at least 2021.  Contrary to last time, Toho seems very happy with what Legendary is doing, and is satisfied with allowing them to take the lead.  The Monsterverse, so far, restarts Godzilla and most of it’s associated features from an American perspective, while also slowly combining it with what they’re doing with the King Kong reboot.  It offers a new take on the classic Godzilla format while also being really faithful to what worked with Toho’s films, and with the latest release, is starting to build a world unique to itself.  I’ve been a fan of it.

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Toho has returned to the Godzilla well a few times, however, although they haven’t made a dedicated effort to establish a new series.  It seems that so far, with what’s being called the Reiwa series, they’re mostly doing it when the creative opportunity for something unique presents itself instead of really trying to establish a market position for it the way most film producers would.  So far, we’ve got one movie and a trilogy of anime films out of the Reiwa series, both of which are taking the normal Godzilla formula and twisting it into new forms, well beyond what’s been done before, that essentially require these movies stand apart from anything else that would typically be going on with Godzilla.

So…. that’s that.  Here’s a big old post where I’m creating content that’s mostly talking about how I’m going to create content later.  Have I ever mentioned that I work for the government?  We love recursivity.  In any case, I’ll see you guys down the line.

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