Its been 50 yrs (in "movie time" because Godzilla movies have a malleable continuity usually ignoring the other films) since The Big Guy, Godzilla, has stomped around Japan. Now there are some rumblings going on. As seismic quakes begin erupting across the continent and out in the ocean, the Self Defense Force is called into action. Pretty soon, the old monsters begin to appear, Baragon, Mothra, Ghidorah, and they are set to rumble with Godzilla, who is ready to weak some havoc after a 50 yr rest.
After sputtering from movie Japanese movie screens in 1975, The Big Guy spent the next couple of decades going through some changes as the Japanese rights holders tried to come up with some way of keeping him and all kaiju (giant rubber monster flicks) fresh. This time out, fantasy director Shunsuke Kaneko, who helmed a popular new take on Gamera in the mid-90's, re-imagines the King of all Monsters and it is pretty bleak, harking back to Godzilla's beginnings while keeping those essential elements familiar to fans of the genre. While it is entertaining and benefits greatly from the latest cinema fx has to offer, the reworking of the story fails to spark The Big Guy to new life.
While it has the usual elements, rampaging monsters, the humans involved – the army with their monster combat plan and machines that may defeat him (submarines this outing), and the norms, this time reporters for a tabloid tv show, mainly the chief female correspondent Yuki, the tone of the film is quite gloomy, casting a pall over the proceedings. Like the original Godzilla, the Godzilla of Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack! (2001, or GMK for short) is seen as a metaphor for a paranoid post WW2 Japan, an extension of those atomic age fears, this lumbering unexpected thing of pure destruction. GMK's Godzilla is still a product of the atomic age, but his motivations are explained in a more mystical way, that Godzilla is imbued with the spirits of those who died in the war (and to be politically correct, both sides, not just Japanese) and they are angered or somehow intent on not being forgotten so they decide to manifest themselves in Zilla and stomp around and cause more destruction. Yes, it doesn't make much sense and is quite heavy-handed, but it is an obvious attempt to stray from the goody-goody kid friendly Godzilla of the late 60's/early 70's. The other monsters are guardian sprits, unleashed from sacred stones in order to protect Japan from this threat.
Now, like any self respecting child of the late 70's/early 80's, I grew up with kaiju films on tv and reveled in Saturday afternoon broadcasts on local UHF stations. It is evident to any fan that over the course of his main run from his 1955 beginning in Godzilla to 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla, The Big Guy underwent some massive changes, from personality free tool of atomic age destruction, to goofy friend of chubby fat kids in small tight shorts. But in that middle ground between the rampaging monster to father of Godzuki, Godzilla was actually cool. I'm talking about the Godzilla that stomped across screens ready to suplex and bitch slap King Kong, Mothra, and any number of shiny jumpsuit and funky visor wearing aliens. And, it was all great fun, appealing to that basic part of kids, monsters and smashing things, something that teetered out and grew tired and couldn't be resurrected by the eco-freindly cheery Godzilla who would give kids the "thumbs up" after he saved them from a smog monster.
Okay, so here is why this revisionist Godzilla doesn't work. After he first proved popular they faced the problem of keeping a franchise that starred a villain, a destructive creature, alive by having him fight other monsters and basically not be all bad because he was just doing what monsters do- run around and smash things. It wasn't until the series veered into making him a kiddie hero that it soured. GMK takes an approach that is very grim, like the original film, and combines it with a Destroy All Monsters style royal rumble. The problem is, it is far too grim. While in the 50's audiences could take the first film a tad more seriously and most likely didn't scoff quite as much at a guy in a rubber suit squishing miniatures, these days you just cannot maintain the sense of mature horror GMK strives for on today's modern audiences and most Godzilla fans. I mean, GMK takes itself really seriously... A classroom full of children observe a mushroom cloud caused by Godzilla's atomic breath... His tail smashes into a hospital as sick people look on in horror... The fight with Barugon wipes out a vacation resort, the innocent bystanders being crushed by a falling mountain... The admiral has a flashback to when Godzilla attacked in his youth, scores of people screaming, reminiscent of the bombing Japan underwent during WW2.
In this case, sophistication only makes it more stupid. Why? Because it is a guy in a rubber suit! No amount of bleakness can detract form the fact that it is a guy in a rubber suit. Yes, the core Godzilla audience today is a geeky adult who grew up with it, but that doesn't mean Godzilla has to now grow into some overly dramatic franchise where the innocent suffer while inhuman monsters cast a destructive wake while fighting each other. Reinvention may work with more fleshed out characters, capable of deep emotion with a thorough backstory, like what the comic world did with Batman in The Dark Knight Returns, but Godzilla and his appeal boils down to one simple idea- "Monster- Smash- Good". He's just not a character capable of deep complexity, so making a Godzilla film with a dreary tone and serious consequences is just silly and as laughable as turning Scooby Doo into political satire. So, while the fights and fx are entertaining, you'll be left wondering, "Where is all the fun?"
The DVD: Universe Laser and Video. REGION 3.
Picture: Widescreen. Picture is a little dark and muddy, but overall just fine. Compareable to Universes otehr R3 releases of Japanese films, which lean towards dark transfers. Fair sharpness. No noticeable artifacts. It is nice to have a good widescreen copy, preserving the great model work which was so often ruined on the old Godzilla releases.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Japanese or Cantonese with optional English or Chinese subtitles. Sound is good, crisp, nice stereo, all of the fx foley coming through loud and clear. The subtitles are relatively free of any flaws, maybe a misspelled word here and there, but a vast improvement over the errors you see on most Universe releases of Chinese films.
Extras: 8 Chapters... thats it.
Conclusion: The story is quite weak and somber. This new take on the Big Guy doesn't really work to this fans satisfaction... However the fx, the monsters, the sets, and the miniatures are great! And really, what else do rubber monster movie lovers care about but some decent fights and fun fantasy fx? If that is the case, then GMK really does deliver and provides some nice entertainment. Normally I'd suggest giving it a rental, but it is a Reg 3 DVD. Since that is the case, the DVD is decent enough, not perfect, barebones, but cheaply priced and worth a purchase for the Zilla fan.