Tagline: Your favorite fire breathing monster, like you’ve never seen him before!
Director: Koji Hashimoto, R.J. Kizer
Writers: Shuichi Nagahara, Lisa Tomei, Tony Randel, Straw Weisman
Starring: Raymond Burr, Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yosuke Natsuki, Yosuke Natsuki, Keiju Kobayashi, Shin Takuma, Eltaro Ozawa, Hiroshi Koizumi
12 /1hr28min /Action, Science Fiction
In 1954, Toho Studios released Gojira.
Directed by Ishiro Honda, the film explores the dangers of nuclear weaponry through the unstoppable force that is Godzilla: a giant, prehistoric creature who rampaged across Tokyo before succumbing to a device as dangerous to humanity as he is. Two years later, the movie was released in America, re-edited and re-titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where it also proved a success. Godzilla was popular in America.
By the time 1975‘s Terror of Mechagodzilla was released, the prehistoric creature with a taste for destruction was a pop-culture icon. The franchise had abandoned its roots as a dark, tragic tale and shifted towards light-hearted spectacle, with Godzilla becoming a good guy who defended Japan against a multitude of monsters, including a battle with America’s own king of the monsters, King Kong. Due to franchise fatigue, the series was put on hiatus, but nine years later the big G was back in 1984‘s The Return of Godzilla (Japanese title). When New World Pictures expressed interest in distributing the picture in America, it came to western shores under the name Godzilla 1985.
Godzilla 1985 follows Maki, a reporter who gets word that a fishing boat has disappeared off the coast of Japan. While out at sea he finds the boat, but most of the crew have been killed. The sole survivor, Kenny, explains that while caught in the middle of a storm, the crew encountered Godzilla, a giant monster who returned to the sea. When Maki tries to publish the story, the chief editor refuses to greenlight it, explaining that it would only cause mass panic. Things change when reports come in that a Russian nuclear submarine was destroyed by an unknown creature. Unable to delay the inevitable, the Japanese government reveals that Godzilla is back, and after trashing a nuclear power plant the beast makes his way back to Tokyo in pursuit of more mayhem and destruction.
Eschewing the goofy nature of prior entries, Godzilla 1985 is more in line with the 1954/1956 original, and with the Cold War in full swing, Godzilla’s attacks extend not only to Japan, but also Russia and the U.S. How this political angle is depicted varies based on each cut.
With its ominous atmosphere, chilling soundtrack, and thrilling action sequences, Godzilla 1985 is a fun watch, but the presentation of the story in the American version leaves a little to be desired. After acquiring the distribution rights, New World Pictures removed or altered a number of scenes featured in the Japanese version. Some were for the better ― Tokyo is better portrayed as being deserted in the American cut, where shows a huge number of civilians still stuck in the city ― yet the film suffers from limp characterisation and the usual Cold War propaganda.
Many moments, especially those featuring Maki, have been removed, and so much of the cast comes across as generic. Perhaps the most egregious change involves the launching of a missile from a Russian boat in Tokyo harbor. The Japanese version shows the launch was by accident, but Godzilla 1985 makes the missile launch look intentional, a shameless move to make the ruskis look like bad guys ― this was the ’80s after all.
In place of the deleted scenes are new sequences set at the Pentagon that feature Raymond Burr, who reprises his role as Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin) from Godzilla: King of the Monsters. These scenes don’t add much and feature mini-speeches that try to philosophize Godzilla as a mysterious and tragic figure.
More tragic is the bombardment of product placement on show, making Dr Pepper a contender for the most inappropriate scene-stealer in the history of modern cinema.
In order to combat the ‘king of the monsters’, the Japanese government deploys the Super X, a high-powered, flying battle vehicle. Initially successful in taking down the creature, the Super X isn’t as prepared for Godzilla’s counterattack, and as payback for what it did earlier, Godzilla crushes it under a skyscraper, turning the Super X into a steel coffin.
Most Absurd Moment
During the second half of the picture, there are random cutaways to a man who takes advantage of the monster situation by stealing everything in sight, starting with a hotel. While there he partakes in a little self-service, pretending there are waiters around to help him when everybody has skipped town.
Most Absurd Dialogue
While Godzilla trashes Tokyo, the film cuts back to the Pentagon, and though one general makes an acceptable remark, another takes a pot-shot so low even Raymond Burr shakes his head in disbelief.
Colonel Raschen: “My God.”
Major McDonough: “Um, that’s quite an urban renewal plan they’ve got going on over there.”
The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla 1985 are like two versions of the same meal served at a restaurant. The Return of Godzilla is a plate with a well-cooked steak, steamed mashed potatoes and a glass of wine, while Godzilla 1985 is just a steak ― sure it’s good, but there should be more going on, and instead of wine there’s a tall glass of Dr. Pepper turning flat and lukewarm.