Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), directed by Terry Morse, Spine #594 of the Criterion Collection.
Generally I avoid comparing and contrasting films in my reviews since a film should be able to stand on its own. Yet I’m compelled to point out the differences between the 1954 Japanese original Godzilla and the 1956 American re-cut Godzilla: King of the Monsters!. Although both films are truly awful, the re-cut is surprisingly much more effective in creating a sense of place while the sequences of its two main characters, Steve Martin and the monster, are ironically and obviously inserted.
The addition of reporter Steve Martin frames the story and allows for a broader understanding of Japanese society in a more globalized setting, especially for an intended global audience. Although Martin is at times rather haphazardly inserted into previous scenes from the original film, his character is so voyeuristic that the connection between him and the audience is a simple, identifiable relationship. Interestingly, Martin’s profession as a reporter and the relationship of the news and newspapers to the events of the story changes the whole thematic concerns of the re-cut compared to the original film.
Godzilla is no longer just the result of atomic testing, but also stands in as the metaphor for a new globalized Japan, thus destroying Japan’s traditionally isolated culture. What I found fascinating about the Morse directed film is that the hulking presence of Raymond Burr as Steve Martin could be seen as the smaller version of Godzilla. He stumbles into the country and by way of voice over, reports events from an American perspective. He knows next to nothing about the locals and their society, and asks very mundane and sometimes awkward questions. Not surprisingly, wherever Martin turns up, Godzilla is sure to follow.
Technically, the connection can be made between Martin and Godzilla because both character’s scenes are shot separately from the rest of the film. Even in the original, the special effects involving Godzilla in water, destroying Tokyo, etc., are obviously shot on a sound stage separate from the rest of the action. Like Godzilla, Burr has most of his scenes shot on a sound stage, only to be inserted into previously shot sequences. Awkward conversations pop up here and there between Martin and other characters, now played by stand-ins with their backs facing the camera, because the original actors were unavailable.
This new perspective of the re-cut compared to the original still does not change the fact that it’s a bad monster movie. That being said, it is a bit more fun to watch and analyze than the original.
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