Thursday, October 30, 2014

Godzilla 2000: The Rebuttal

Toho had said they were going to keep Godzilla on ice until its fiftieth birthday, in 2004. But after Godzilla 98, they felt that could not keep silent. Despite their protestations that this was not a rebuttal to the 98 film, Godzilla 2000 is very much everything that the 98 Godzilla was not. It features Godzilla as a man in a suit, it revels in how traditional it is, how unkillable Godzilla is. It revels in the history of the franchise witrhout being bound to the tight continuity of the Heisei series. It is also the last Godzilla film to be released theatrically in the US.

The badass Japanese Godzilla comes back.

Toho hadn't been off monster movies since Godzilla died in the 1995 Godzilla vs Destroyah. The three Rebirth of Mothra films all featured giant monsters, King Ghidorah two out of three, so the studio was still in practice. The new Godzilla has a very new look. The spines are now enormous, the face is sharper, giving the suit a more streamlined, predatorial look. It is less humanly muscular that the Heisei Godzilla suits, more lizard-like. And it is dark green, a color that Godzilla has been in popular opinion, but never before in presentation.

RAWR!

Godzilla 2000 is quite aware of the roots of the franchise. An early encounter with Godzilla takes place in a lighthouse, in an homage to the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Shinoda stands in the gigantic footpring of Godzilla, as in both 1954 and 1998 versions. Now, I've argued that Godzilla 98 is an extended, jokey remake of Beast, but here the homage is light. Godzilla 2000 wants to be its own film. At the same time, the extensive use of MacIntosh conmputers being hacked by the alien could be a sly reference to the MacIntoshes used to hack the aliens in Roland/Emmerlich's Independence Day. The new anti-Godzilla weapon developed in this film is a form of all-penetrating missile. These of course do nothing, and it's difficult not to see this plot point as a repudiation of Godzilla 98's death by missiles.

Suck it, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms!

Godzilla 2000 sets itself up in a way that Godzilla is not really the hero, nor is he the villain. He wrecks cities and fights the military, but when Ogra shows up, well they've got to be put to the torch, too. Human or alien, Godzilla is going to fight whatever is in his way.

Yeah, I trashed it. What are you going to do about it?

Human characters Shinoda and Katagiri are the two sides of the same argument that was central to Godzilla 1954. Shinoda wants to study him, where Katagiri is attempting to eliminate him. This lets us know that Shinoda's heart is in the right place, where Katagiri's is not. The scientific study of Godzilla also give us the major plot, the analysis of Regenerator 1, the special factor that Godzilla has that allows him to quickly repair himself. This isn't mentioned in any other film, but the references to Godzilla's unique DNA and the collection of it is similar to the genetic eingineering from Godzilla vs Biollante. In fact, there's a fair amount that tiesd this film in with Biollante. Godzilla is attacked by cables turned tentacles. Both Biollante and Ogra attempt to consume Godzilla, and that doesn't turn out well for either.

Scruffy scientist and government scientist.

The film has its problems. The plot is not sterling, the characters perfunctory, the logic occasionally strained. But the last third of the film, the confrontation between Godzilla and Ogra, is one of my favorite Godzilla set pieces. It starts with Godzilla's apprach, over which Ifukube's classic Godzilla march is played. What better way to let the audience know that the film knows its own roots?

Biollante showed me this trick!

Godzilla's opponent is a new creature, Ogra, or the Millennian, is formed from a space ship that is being pulled from the bottom of the ocean. It's been there for millions of years, and once it gets some soler energy, takes off, able to work for itself. According to data that mysteriously appears on a laptop, the aliens want to change the atmosphere to make the Earth more habitable for them, an idea later borrowed by Pacific Rim. The enemy, Ogra, starts outas a silvery creature, with tentacles and a body shaped like the original ship.

Ogra pretty!

Regenerator G1, extracted from Godzilla, mutates it into the twisted form that Godzilla fights.

Look at the size of those mitts!

The miniatures work is fantastic. Godzilla is weighty, when it swings its tail, houses are crushed. Combined with the sound, deep crashesm, the shattering of glass, the effect is bone-jarring. The destruction in this film feels more real than virtually any other Godzilla film. Godzilla is often shot from a low angle, which imparts a sense of power and size that is sometimes lacking in these films.

Things near Godzilla go BOOM

And the destructive power of Godzilla's atomic ray is awesome in this film. Anguirus would not be able to just shrug off the explosive energy projected by Godzilla here. One shot from the heat beam destroys the back half of the spacecraft, although it's not enough to kill it. The second shot blows through the remains of the spaceship and goes on to sear Ogra's back. Lucky, it's got Regenerator 1 to fix itself.

Godzilla's amazingly powerful atomic heat ray

And there is a moment, after Ogra has been blasted and severely injured by Godzilla's atomic heat ray, that the music, which has been uninspiring up to now, plays a mournful tune. Ogra may be the enemy, but it clearly got in over its head, and now it's in pain. This note of sympathy gives the combat an emotional keynote unexpected in a sequence about giant monsters.

Ogra in burning pain.

Of course, Ogra then attempts to devour Godzilla. Having been asleep for the events of Godzilla vs Biollante, it apparently is unaware of how bad an idea this is. It grows spines like Godzilla, but we know the jig is up when Godzilla's own spines begin to glow.

That'll work until Godzilla... oh crap here it comes.

Unfortunately, the script then gives us a horribly stupid pontification about how Godzilla knows there's some Godzilla in all of us. It's not a creation of the dub, it's right there in the original script. And it's the sort of thing that leaves a bad taste in this viewer's mouth. I always forget abotu the line, and then I watch the film again. And it's horribly times, right at the end of the film, so it leaves a lasting impression.

One of the central themes of the film is respect for Godzilla. At the beginning of the film, Shinoda has a very close encoutner with Godzilla in his Godzilla chasing truck. He shuts down the lights and tried to be very quiet, so as not to provoke the massive beast before him. His government-funded counterpart, Katagiri, has his encounter at the end of the film. Katagiri does not understand Godzilla, and so when he does the same thing, facing down Godzilla, he does not survive the experience. American producers be warned! Respect Godzilla or be destroyed.

Godzilla wrecks stuff.

Next up, the Terrible Terrapin completes his trilogy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kraa, the Derivative

1998 turned out to be a sort of reverse 1967. A lot of monster movies came out, partially inspired by Godzilla, or more likely by the money it brought in. Kraa! the Sea Monster seems to be of the latter stripe. Produce Charles Band got the band back together, writer and directors, to make the second and last Monster Island Entertainment film. But I'm not going to lie. Kraa is even less interesting and more proposterous than Zarkorr. Again, the miniatures were shot by one director, the rest of the film by another. Again, the plot is riddled with cliches and nonsense.

Kraa the Sea Monster, Another Full Moon Crapfest

The basic plot is that the Planet Patrol, essentially a sentai team, watch over the Earth. Lord Doom is evil, and therefore hires spece mercenary Kraa (who is therefore a space monster rather than a sea monster), to flatten Earth cities. The Planet Patrol's base is disabled, scrapping their ability to teleport, so they have to deploy Mogyar, who looks for all the world like a D&D flumph. And talks with Mario the Plumber's stereotypically Italian accent.

The Planet Patrol. In a lot of Spandex.

Structurally, the plot is similar to Zarkorr. A monster shows up, and then its bane drops from space. Again, the monster segments, short as they are, are the best part of the film. It doesn't help that directors Aaron Osbourne and Michael Deak both worked on Zarkorr. As with Zarkorr, the best parts are the ones involving the monster. There's simply no comparison. Kraa's scenes are well filmes, even useing overcranked film, and although the budget it clearly tight, it looks reasonable. The same cannot be said for the rest of the film.

Kraa prepares to wreck a gas station. Like you do.

The Kraa suit is well made and finely detailed,. Unlike the lumbering suits of Toho and even Zarkorr, it's tall and slim, hugging the contours of the individual inside. Kraa has large teeth and some rather pretty gills. The skin is like fish scale, the tail oddly stubby. Kraa has a breath weapon, because all kaiju need a breath weapon, which projects a line of visual distortion and blows things up. Its one drawback is its cry, which are two screams I've heard a dozen times in various video games.

The Kraa suit. Not bah, huh?

The miniature sets it destroys are also quite good. Although they didn't manage to get the cars moving on the set the way Eiji Tsuburaya did in later Godzilla films, the quality of the miniature sets is excellent, with small cars, lights in buildings, and even moving lights in small signs.

Decent set, OK suit. Pity abotu the rest of the film.

Kraa! acknolwledges its influences by having its monster punch through a billboard advertising the 98 Godzilla, as subtle a slam as when director Noriaki Yuasa did much the same thing in Gamera Super Monster. Come to it, the two films share a lot. Both merge, unsuccessfully, the Japanese sentai genre, like any number of Japanese television shows frum Dynaman to the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, with the kaiju. In another small acknowlegdment, this one to 1954 Godzilla, a reporter stands amid the rubble, talking about the onslaught of Kraa before he is forced off the air by a shower of stones. It's a small thing, but it makes me think that the writer may have actually seen the original Godzilla. Kraa also tangles with some high-voltage wires, something Godzilla hasn't done since Mothra vs Godzilla.

Kraa punches through a 1998-ubiquitous Godzilla advertisement.

The human stories swirling around Kraa are barely worth talking about. The government men in black complain about Washington's inability to act, the biker is a surprising omniscientist, and no one believes in Curtis's psyhic powers until she can save everyone with them. The final twenty minutes of the film are agonizingly slow, throwing up one tension-raising cliche after another. The least that can be said is that the film doesn't rely on idea that the monsters can be dealt with by conventional weapons, which is all over Godzilla 98. Instead, the alien makes a weapon that the humans fire, which solves everyone's problem. Lord Doom is put in his place, and we end the movie laughing. There's very little original or worth the viewer's time in Kraa! The Sea Monster. Even the name is taken from Marvel's Tales of Suspense. The same place they found the name Zarkorr.

Where Full Moon found the name Kraa

Next up, the year turns to 1999, and I get to look at good movies again, because the Big Guy is back.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Godzilla 98's Bastard Child: Gargantua

Gaergantua is a cheap dick move of a film, made to be premiered the night the night that 98 Godzilla held its advance viewings. Unlike Zarkorr, it has never been released on DVD, which gives an idea of how bad it is. This is the sort of cheap rip-off (later to be seen in Kraa the Sea Monster and Atlantic Rim) that is made to ride on the coat tails of better films, and line a few untalented pockets along the way.

Gor-go?

We start off in Jaws territory. The obligatory bikini-clad tourists discover something on the beach, then get dragged out to sea and drowned. Intro Jack Ellway, a marine biologist sent to discover the effects of local earthquakes on the local wildlife. He has a son, who misses his dead mother. And this is about as deep as the characterization gets. In the wake of the drownings, Ellway wants to close the beaches. Yeah, the writer clearly liked Jaws. Despite happening on the Pacific island of Malau, all of our protagonists are white guys, and coincidentally from California.

When Ellway leaves his son alone for a day, and he makes friends with the baby Gargantua, marking this as another Gorgo tribute. A nine foot tall version comes ashore during another party, and the animatronics don't look a damn thing like the CGI. The larger version is seen by the island people and tourists, which leads to a rain-drenched night time chase scene, and they end up capturing it. Which is when I realized that the screenwriter really liked Gorgo.

The bigger one? Ogra?

Along the way the writer slip in the obligatory environmental message as the film grinds out its stupid time. There's been pesticide dumping off the island. Yawn. We never hear about it again.

Toxic waste? What a surprise!

Whenever a monster's about to make an appearance, the weather suddenly turns rainy. Even if it was dry when the monster came ashore. Or if a group of photographers decide to take a 13-mile trip in the open Pacific in a speedboat.

Do the monsters create rain, or does the rain create monsters?

The gargantuas, which are never called that in the film, are the lowest common denominator kaiju. Bipedal, lizardlike, probably derived from salamanders, they aren't visually distinctive or interesting.

GODZIL--no wait, GORG--n. I got it. GARGANTUAAAAA!

There's a fair amount of Godzilla rip-off. The scientists versus the military, the menace that comes from the sea. And when the large female comes ashore, she touches a telephone poll, and sparks fly. It's a stretch, but I'm so bored watching this film, I'm looking for anything to write about. And because the film doesn't feature logic or sense, this is what triggers the military to open fire. Fortunately, the production couldn't afford tanks, and the Gargantua seems immune to gunfire. I would have liked it more if it had the ability to defend itself, but that wasn't in the cards. The military is portrayed as on the edge. They're willing to cooperate with the scientists until something bad happens. Gargantua kills the occasional marine, and then it's personal, and they open fire.

A soldier attempts to use a LAW rocket on the Gargantua, but concidence causes the shot to miss, and blow up the majority of town. Yay, we got explosions. Then, like Godzilla, it returns to the Pacific. There's a variation to the footprint trope, perhaps the only innovation in the film. As the larger Gargantua lumbers up the beach, the camera looks down at two soldiers who have made a footprint a foxhole. And Gargantua steps in its own footprint and the two soldiers.

What are the odds it's going to step in the same place twice? Aw crap.

This enrages the military, and this time, coincidence does not stop the LAW. An American production once again demonstrates the gun is the solution to all monster problems, and Gargantua goes down from a rocket to the throat, orphaning the two younger Gargantuas. Cue overlong sympathy for the dying animal. I'm honestly surprised Ellway didn't shake his fist at the military and call them all bastards.

OH MY GOD IT'S DEAD what's for dinner, man?

But there's an adult male Gargantua waiting out there. The ultimate plan is to herd it using high-frequence sound and its young, a gambit right out of Gappa. And it succeeds, with male Gargantua eating the bad people along the way. Throughout the final sequence, the tension is as stunningly flaccid as I have ever watched in a film. And then the Gargantuas go home, Ellway bonds with his son, and I get to turn it off, happy to be done.

The terror of shitty CG!

This film is the same sort of bottom-feeding mishmash nonsense as Zarkorr. It shows an utter disdain for its audience. The logical problems with the story are huge. No one cared if the film made sense, they just wanted a giant monster movie before Godzilla.

But I decided I wanted to watch all the kaiju films I could get my hands on. So next up is Zarkorr's sibling crapfest, Kraa the Sea Monster.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

King Ghodirah Killed the Dinosaurs: Rebirth of Mothra III

Toho's general plan is to produce one kaiju film a year. With Tri-star making Godzilla in the United States, they turned to their second most popular character, Mothra. 1996, 1997 and now 1998 each saw a Rebirth of Mothra film. THe franchise is more for kids than the mainstream Godzilla franchise. And I can see Toho wanting to keep their hand in Kaiju production. They were planning to return to Godzilla around 2005, and didn't want to get rusty.

The usual Rebirth of Mothra accoutrements are here. A beautiful Mothra, respendent in its colors, the twins Lora and Moll, as well as their black-wearing sister Belvera. A child protagonist is involved, but he's in the mould of the series, reasonably competent, not annoying in the way Sohwa-era Gamera protagonists were. Gone is the heavy-handed environmental message that was problematic in the last two films.

Badass Ghidorah!

The problem this time is Ghidorah, and in a nice tribute to the character's 1964 debut, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster arrives via meteor. Only this time, it's a bit different. The meteor breaks through the Earth's crust, freeing Ghidorah, rather than carrying him.

Badass Ghidorah!

This is not the four-legged Death Ghidorah from the first Rebirth of Mothra film. This is more the classic Ghidorah, two legged, golden scales, two tails, and with horns. The suit looks great. It has the cry of the Heisei Ghidorah, rather than the ringing Showa one, but that's not a huge loss. The yellow lightning like breath is back, and in keeping with the multiple attacks of all the kaiju in the Rebirth series, it also has an energy beam that trickles from its wing-vanes. I'll also note that the Ghidorah of the Rebirth of Mothra films is finally not under anyone's cotnrol. for most of its films, Ghidorah has been beholden to the Futurans, the Roaches, the Kilaaks, or the Xilians. Here, he seems to be a free agent, destroying for food, rather than someone else's agenda.

Very badass Ghidorah!

Ghidorah is now stealing children, which is also a variation from its past behavior. This device children in the forefront of the plot. Previously, Ghidorah had killed all the dinosaurs. Now he's collecting kids in some sort of cocoon, probably to eat them later. We get several scenes of worried parents, and their concern for their missing children. This gives the film a bit more conext than the usual isolation of the child during the adventure.

Mothra is summoned to defeat King Ghidorah, and the two kaiju fight. But Mothra's energy beams just bounce off Ghidorah, while the latter's gravity beams hammer at the monstrous moth. In the end King Ghidorah is simply too powerful for Mothra, so she must defeat Ghidorah the same way it was defeated in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. But Mothra knows that after it travels back in time, it will not be able to return.

Not Looking Goof For Our Herroic Moth.

And so Mothra returns to the time of the dinosaurs. They are primarily puppets, as even the mighty reptiles aren't nearly as large as kaiju. There's a touch of irony as a tryannosaur attacks a triceratops, only to ber interrupted and eaten by the 160 million years younger version of Ghidorah. Younger Ghidorah breathes fireballs rather than lightning, and its faces are rilled with horns.

Baby Ghidorah!

There's just a tiny Reptilicus not in the middle of the Mothra/Cretacious Ghidorah fight. A part of Ghidorah's tail is severed, which then burrows into the earth in order to regenerate into an entirely new Ghidorah.

Mothra looks like it is losing the fight until Lora sings, conencting to Mothra through some hundred and sixty million years. Then Mothra, with a touch of inspiration and a little magic, escorts Ghidorah down the throat of an active volcano.

Mothra vs Cretacious Ghidorah!

This causes present Ghidorah and its imprisoning bubble to vanish. But Mothra isn't dead, but dying. As is lies on the ground, three prehistoric verions of Mothra larvaa arrive, and cocoon the fallen warrior. Like the first Rebirth of Mothra, also directed by Okihiro Yoneda, the death of Mothra is genuinely touching, emphasized by music and a more somber mood.

Fallen warrior Mothra.

But Ghidorah isn't dead, of course. It arrives the way it did in the Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, a fireball from the sky turning into Ghidorah.

BURNING GHIDORAH!

And just when Moll and Belvera think they are going to have to take on Ghidorah by themselves, a closeby ridge crumbles, revealing an ancient egg. Mothra emerges, its wings drying almost instantly. It hadn't been dead all this time, merely resting. And now it's time to defeat Ghidorah again. Eschewing energy beams, Mothra uses her sharp wing leads to slice off Ghidorah's wings. She then passes through Ghidorah, causing it to explode.

How Ghidorah actually flying with only one wing?!

Although I haven't talked much about the human aspect of the film, the end is good. Father and son reconnect in a non-chlche way, the boy having gotten his validation from the Mothra triplets.

This is, incidentally, Tsutomu Kitagawa's first time in a suit, after being a stunt man for ten super sentai television series. He would go on to be Godzilla for the majority of the Millennium series.

Rebirth of Mothra III is probably the strongest film of the Rebirth series. The themes are less heavy-handed, the costumes and monsters better designed. the film is aware of its predicessors, and there are small jokes here and there. There's a depth to the series, involving the parents, sowing discord between the usually-united twins. It made a good interim series between the Heisei and the Millennium series. Continued on this trajectory, Toho could have made some excellent films after the Millenneum series. Ah well.

Next up, a cheapie from a new continent. Gargantua, from Australia.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Farewell, Might Hunter Egil

It's hard to say good-bye to a companion of nineteen years.

Egil was my first cat, my first pet as an adult. Hadn't much thought about pets, but the Queen of Science and I were living with another couple who had cats, and I discovered that I liked them. When one, Lucifer, died, we went to the pound to pick up a replacement. And came home with Egil.

Everyone knows their cat is special. Egil wasn't the smartest cat I had ever met, but he was affectionate without being clingy. I've met dick cats, overly-affectionate cats, demanding cats, and all other sorts. Egil was just my sort, and I suspect that was because we influenced each other of such a long period. We got him nineteen years ago, at around six months old, so he grew up with us.

Mighty Hunter Egil, napping in a basket

At a funeral, you tell the good stories.

We adopted Egil in California. When we had just gotten him, we put his litter pan in the bathroom off our bedroom, and kept him with us at night. About five minutess after the lights went out, we would start with these plaintive meows, as if he were a lost child. So we would scratch at the blankets and encoutrage him to come to the bed, and that usually took five minutes. But he'd settle down, usually on top of me, purr, drool, and fall asleep. To me he has always been that lost voice in the dark, looking for comfort.

Mighty Hunter, asleep in a basket

Egil was the inventor of nut-hockey. One Christmas, we set out a big bowl of uncracked nuts. Pretty soon we got tired of cracking them, so they sat around. Until Egil discovered them. He would scoop a nut out, and then smack it around the wooden floor, chasing it across the room until it inevitably fell down the heat register. He'd try to fish it out, and after a little while, give up, then go back for another. I have no idea how many nuts we lost down that register.

We drove Egil from San Francisco to Vermont. He hated it. He spend at least four hours every day crying, mostly about being in a cage for so long. At the beginning the trip, we bought him this kitty bed made of foam so he could snuggle down in it. He shredded it into a heap of cotton balls over the course of five days.

Mighty Hunter, asleep in a basket

He forgave me. Because he loved me. He really did. When I took him to the vet for the first time in Vermont, he was confused and angry, the way cats are at the vet. To calm him down on the exam table, I gave him a little skritch behind the ears. Which that got a purr from him, and that was what I wanted. But he was still purring when the vet started the checkup. "He's purring so loudly I can't hear his heart." I shrugged. Not much I could do. So he turned on the sink tap, picked Egil up, and brought him near the running water. Egil stopped purring, untl he was set down on the exam table next to me again. And he started purring, without me even tuching him. The vet had to wave him at the water a second time to get him to stop.

On a day when men came to the apartment to repair the windows, we didn't want Egil to make a break for it. Once, he'd jumped out of a second story window into asphault. So we closed him in the laundry room. When the men were gone, we couldn't find him. And it's not like the laundry room was huge. After fifteen minutes, we heard a paintive meow. He was in the washing machine. Somewhere, I have a picture of him, big eyes staring out of the waching machine. And it's really difficult to get a cat out of a one of those. My arms don't bend the proper way.

Mighty Hunter, asleep in a basket

Until he was seventeen, Ael loved mice. LOVED them. Ate them with gusto, and never, as far as I saw, played with them. He threw up virtually every sort of food we gave him, especially as his renal failure began to kick in. But every mouse he ever ate stayed eaten.

Mighty Hunter, asleep in a basket

The house is quiet. I've dug a small grave in the back yard. It's been a difficult year. Now there won't be a little guy waiting for me when I get home, looking for food or lap time. I'm going to miss him. There are other cats, but none of them is Egil.

Farewell, Might Hunter Egil. I hope it's nothing but salmon and mice, warm sunbeams, and all the lap time you ever wanted.