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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Three Heads Are Better Than One

You might want to strap yourself in for this one.

If it can be fairly said of most Godzilla films that they’re rather thin in the plot department (and it can), then Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is certainly an exception. Hell, there’re enough plot elements here for several movies. How – or, indeed, if -- it all fits together… well, that’s a different matter.

I have (bootleg) VHS copies of GvKG in both its dubbed and original language subtitled versions. It’s available on DVD (in a double-feature disc with GvM), but I don’t know whether that’s dubbed or subbed. The dub isn’t that bad (not nearly so cheesey as the GvB “Godziller” dub job) and with the number of expository scenes here the dubbing makes it a little easier to just sit back and watch the movie. Having seen both, I can say there’s no substantial difference, although the English language version does lack the charm of some odd subtitling (“That silly guy”).

GvKG is nothing if not ambitious. There’s a lot going on here, and not all of it makes sense at first glance (or, indeed, upon close examination), so strap in. Here we go!

Things start off in the year 2204 A.D., as a sub discovers the remains of King Ghidorah on the ocean floor off the coast of Japan. But wait – where’s the Three-Headed Monster’s third head? We’re told he lost it fighting Godzilla. King Ghidorah fought Godzilla? Yes, in the 20th Century…

Cut to Tokyo in the year 1992 A.D. (that would have been “next year” at the time the movie came out in Japan). A UFO is sighted in the night skies above the city. The next morning the army has surrounded this giant flying saucer where it landed. Three humans emerge, announce that they’re from Earth’s future, and ask to meet with representatives of Japan’s government. Wilson, the leader of these Future Men, informs the government officials that he and his companions have traveled back through time from the 23rd century to change events in the past and avert tragedy. In the 23rd century, he tells them, there is no Japan – it was/will be destroyed in the 21st century by Godzilla, who wrecks cities and destroys nuclear reactors, releasing radioactive pollution that leaves Japan uninhabitable.

Future Girl Emmy says they can prevent this disaster by removing Godzilla from history. They will travel further back in time and prevent his creation. Emmy pulls out a 20th century book on Godzilla’s origin, claiming they’ve determined there’s a 98% chance the author’s theory on Godzilla’s creation is correct.

Written by Terasawa, a sci-fi writer trying to go legit by writing “non-fiction stories,” the book theorizes that G was a dinosaur mutated by H-bomb testing. Duh, tell us something we don’t know. Okay – this dinosaur was on Lagos Island where, in 1944, it saved a garrison of Imperial Japanese soldiers from U.S. forces. That garrison was under the command of Shindo, who survived and went on to become one of the men who rebuilt Japan’s economy. Emmy theorizes that if they travel back to 1944 and remove the dinosaur from the island, it won’t be there for the H-bomb test in 1954 and, consequently, will never become Godzilla.

Yeah, the movie’s grasp of time-travel causality is tenuous at best. Try not to think about it.

The Future Guys recruit a team from the present, including writer Terasawa, scientist Mazaki, “who studies dinosaurs,” and ESPer Miki from GvB, and they head back in time to Lagos, 1944, where they watch a pre-mutation dino-G kick American soldier ass, not once, but twice! And this is without his mighty atomic breath, mind you. After dino-G has wiped out the Yankee dogs and Shindo’s soldiers have escaped, Emmy and company teleport dino-G off the island, to somewhere in the Bering Sea, so he won’t be around for the 1954 H-bomb test whose radiation, presumably, transformed him into Godzilla. Before they return to 1992, Emmy releases onto the island three little Dorats, bioengineered pets they brought back with them from the 23rd century. This will be important, obviously, since it makes no sense whatsoever at the time.

Upon their return to the present – 1992, remember? – they discover that although Godzilla has been removed from history he’s been replaced by another monster, King Ghidorah. The Future Men are not at all phased by this development.

It turns out the whole destruction of Japan bit was just a cover story, of course – in the “real” future, Japan becomes the dominant economic world power and these future guys are revolutionaries who’ve have stolen the time machine and traveled back to use King Ghidorah to squash Japan’s development with an eye toward creating a fair and balanced world economic equality in the future.

The three Dorats were irradiated by the 1954 H-bomb test, fused into one creature and became the three-headed King Ghidorah, a powerful monster now under the control of the Future Men in 1992. Their plan is to use it to bring about the very disaster they falsely claimed Godzilla caused.

As a means of fighting KG, Shindo and the Japanese government plan to recreate G by dowsing the dino-G with radiation from a secret nuclear submarine. They go looking for the dino-G only to find that it has already developed into Godzilla anyway, thanks to the earlier sinking of a nuclear sub in the Bering Sea, so this new radiation only serves to make G bigger and badder than before. Still, Shindo holds to the theory that since dino-G saved his troops from the Americans in 1944 big G will save Japan from KG in 1992.

Well, he’s kind of right.

There’s this whole complex savior/destroyer/savior thing going on with Godzilla and his relationship to Shindo and Japan. Yes, G trashes KG, but he then goes on to rampage across Japan, as is his wont. So, he saved us, then he destroyed us, now he’s saved us again only to start destroying us yet again.

Godzilla wipes out Wilson and all the evil Future Men, but Emmy escapes with their time ship. She travels forward in time, back to 2204, where they find King Ghidorah in his watery grave – yes, this is where we came in. Emmy’s 23rd century friends revive KG and repair his battle wounds with cybernetic enhancements, then she comes back in time to 1992 to use this cyberKG to defend Japan against G.

Hey, I told you to strap in.

GvGK is merrily and consistently entertaining. None of the many plot threads here ever plays like a B-story, the way the human action often did in the ‘60s and ‘70s movies, nor does this wacky time-traveling business ever feel muddled. Granted, it’s functioning on its own terms; there seems to be a sort of skip-continuity approach to the effects of changing events in the past; removing Godzilla from history, as they say, doesn’t seem to actually remove him from the history that everyone remembers, but rather changes only our relative “present” to reflect what the situation would have been the altered timeline. Really, it only hurts if you think about it. Just watching the movie, it’s relatively painless.

For its chock-fulla-nutz plot, GvKG pulls bits from past G movies and from a pile of other genre stuff as well. King Ghidorah is the first of the Toho stock monsters to show up in this new series, with an odd change in spelling: he’s “Ghidrah” in the original 1965 film in which (I think) he first appeared, the English on the label of my subtitled copy of the 1991 film calls him “King Ghidora,” no ‘h,’ and the dubbed version spells his name “Ghidorah.” Whatever. He’s more or less the same big winged monster with three heads and lightning bolts shooting out of his mouths. In other past Toho flicks he’s been controlled by nasty aliens, so there’s something of a precedent for his being under the control of the Future Men here.

The sci-fi elements are a genre-in-a-blender feast – time travel, holograms, teleportation, jet packs, cyborg monsters, evil androids and a ton of wicked cool silly electronic sound effects. Oh, yeah… androids. Some of the Future Men’s crew are androids and one of them – M-11 – is a central character. A little bit Bishop in Aliens, a little bit Data and a dash of the T-800, M-11is a hoot of an artificial life form. Under the control of Wilson and the bad Future Men, M-11 has a Terminator-inspired turn when he chases down Terasawa and Emmy in a car chase, complete with a threatening emergence from the flaming wreck of a crashed car. Of course, his android super-speed running makes the bionic speed effects on The Six Million Dollar Man look sophisticated – it looks like something out of Kung Fu Hustle, and I defy you not to laugh or at least chuckle. Fortunately, Emmy seems to have seen T2: she pops open M-11’s cranial hard drive and replaces a few CDs, reprogramming him to work for the good guys. Throughout the movie, in the original language version, M-11has occasional unexplained lapses into speaking English. Most of these are subtitled, and some of them are classic redundancies and mistranslations: “Time warp” in English is subtitled as “Here we go!”

Most of the camp humor is, almost certainly, unintentional. There’s one bit, however, that’s so self consciously certain it’s clever you can’t help but feeling a little embarrassed for it while you’re groaning. As the time ship arrives in the night sky over 1944 Lagos, it zooms over the American destroyers laying siege to the island where it’s seen by two officers on deck. One asks the other if they should report what they’ve just seen. “What? Report that we’re being invaded by little green men from outer space? Of course not. Let’s just keep it between ourselves. You can tell your son about it when he’s born, Major Spielberg.”

Yeah, that’s right. Close Encounters and E.T. were inspired by Emmy’s trip through time to destroy dino-Godzilla. The weirdest thing about it is this: Jurassic Park hadn’t yet been made when GvKG came out in 1991, so the folks who came up with this joke had no idea that it would be even more appropriate in a year or two. Major Spielberg does end up seeing dino-G waste the troops, though, and the destroyer opens fire on the beast. “Take that, you dinosaur!”

GvKG is where the ‘90s Godzilla films first find their footing, their tone and their voice. Serious but not too self important; selectively referencing past iconography with a freedom that’s not without respect; aware of the character’s roots in metaphor and message, and conscious of how problematic it is to retain that legacy. Plus some crackerjack fights in which giant monsters destroy urban environments. What more can you ask for?


Coming up:
Godzilla vs Mothra

4 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

So why did Emmy bring back Cyber-KG to defend Japan? I thought the future people wanted Japan to fail....

2:24 PM  
Blogger Greg! said...

Huh. My reply seems not to have posted. That's odd.
Anyway.
Sorry I neglected to explain Emmy's motivations. I think they're twofold:
1) She's the only one of the future people whose ancestors were Japanese. You know how those Japanese can be about their ancestors...
2) She seems not to have been informed of the details of Wilson's "use KG to change the past" plan. That is, she seems not to have known it actually involved destroying Japan. Emmy discovers she has much in common with these old timers, and her fondness makes her re-think the whole revolutionary rewrite history routine once she comes nose-to-nose with the cost in human lives.
Plus, Wilson is something of an asshole and the 1992 people are much cooler.

12:05 AM  
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