Thursday, August 15, 2013

Favorite Godzilla Monsters Other Than Godzilla, Pt. 1 of ?: King Ghidorah

Stuart K. Hayashi

Justin Wisniewski once suggested to me that I create a Facebook Note where I list my favorite Godzilla movies.  At that moment, it occurred to me that that would be a difficult task, as I judge each movie by more than one standard.

For example, when its comes to judging craftsmanship and film-making skills, 1963's Godzilla Against Mothra is one of the better movies.  It has better acting than most other entries.  However, the only monsters in it are Godzilla, the adult Mothra, and Mothra's larvae.  Compared to the other monsters, Mothra is pretty boring, and I dislike the ending.   Also, I find the "evil businessman" theme heavy-handed (it's even heavier-handed in this movie than in other entries). Therefore Godzilla Against Mothra has very low re-watch value for me. I have it in my collection almost solely for the sake of having my collection near-complete.

By contrast, 1972's Godzilla Vs. Gigan is considered one of the weaker entries . . . even by diehard fans of the franchise.  And judging the movie by film-making and craftsmanship, the diehard fans' criticisms are not wrong.  The storytelling tropes in this film are derivative of previous entries.  Worse, the movie makes use of stock footage from previous Godzilla movies and tries to pass off this footage as if it were new.  However, this movie introduces Gigan, who is actually one of the most interesting of the Big G's foes.  Gigan, by himself, is enough to give the movie enormous re-watch value.

The highlights of the movies are the monsters, and a particularly well-designed monster can compensate for what would otherwise be storytelling weaknesses.  For such reasons, I think it makes more sense if I provide some profiles of my favorite monsters from the Godzilla series other than Godzilla.

Note that I am not listing the monsters in the order of how much I like them.  The first one I'm listing, though among my favorites, is not necessarily my single favorite.

I was planning on listing all of my favorite monsters in one post, but, with my comments, the post would be too long.  If I feel like it, I will continue this series.

 * King Ghidorah

King Ghidorah is a golden, two-tailed, three-headed dragon who shoots yellow lightning bolts (called "gravity beams") from each mouth.  His origin story changes according to which movie you are watching.  In his original incarnation, King Ghidorah was from outer space, traveling from planet to planet and destroying each civilization there.  In one of the movies, though -- featuring my least favorite incarnation of King Ghidorah, he is actually a supernatural spirit assigned to guard the Earth against Godzilla. *Shudder* (more about this lamentable artistic choice later.)  In almost every incarnation -- the exception being the aforementioned supernatural Ghidorah -- the monster towers over Godzilla, sometimes 50 percent taller. 

Above is King Ghidorah's first appearance in 1964.  Note that each head has a mane of hair, two long horns (one on each side, as you would expect of the devil), and a crescent-shaped horn on the forehead.

King Ghidorah's appearance changed a bit for the 1991 movie Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah.  The mane was eliminated in favor of more horns on side of each head; the crescent-shaped horn has also been eliminated from the foreheads.  King Ghidorah's roar has also been changed.  Originally, each head let loose an odd sound resembling the ringing of an electric alarm bell, emphasizing alien qualities. This movie in particular stresses Ghidorah's size advantage over Godzilla.

King Ghidorah '91 on the left, Godzilla on the right

Mecha-King Ghidorah
In most incarnations, King Ghidorah is a biped.  One version, though -- Keizer Ghidorah -- is a quadruped.  (There is also a quadruped named "Death Ghidorah," but I do not count him as a "real" Ghidorah, but as a separate monster.)

Even on four legs, Keizer Ghidorah is taller than Godzilla
Keizer Ghidorah's gravity beams overpower Godzilla's atomic ray

There is only one incarnation of King Ghidorah I find truly disappointing: the one from 2001's Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah:  Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (this title needs more syllables in it!).  I hear that lots of fans consider it one of the stronger entries in the series.  As for myself, I don't like the changes.  This is the one movie where all of the monsters are very explicitly described as supernatural entities.  As I have written before, it makes more sense to see the monsters as pagan deities than as animals.  Indeed, both Mothra and Megalon are worshiped respectively by civilizations that consider the monster to be their protector.  But I think the theme of having the monsters portrayed as pagan gods works better as subtext.  The explicit supernaturalism of GMK went too far.

In this particular movie, Godzilla is not merely a dinosaur mutated by atomic bomb tests.  Rather, he is the amalgamation of the victims of Japanese wartime atrocities, and is a sort of avenging spirit meant meant to remind Japan of its past warmongering and hubris. This is the one time where Godzilla, rather than a force of nature, is portrayed as a conscious villain or antagonist, although the movie's director, Shusuke Kaneko, sounds sympathetic to the idea that some supernatural force punish Japan for its sins.  (This is also the one time where Godzilla represents, not the wartime villainy of Americans, but actually the wartime villainy of the Japanese.)

Anyhow, in this version King Ghidorah is not a space alien or even a genetically-engineered being.  Rather, he is an ancient spirit assigned to protect Japan.  For the first time ever, from beginning to end he is the explicit good guy, fighting on the same side as Mothra.  Since this time Godzilla is the villain and King Ghidorah is the good guy, King Ghidorah is made out, for the first time, as the underdog.  Hence, he is shorter and weaker than Godzilla.

OK, first of all, King Ghidorah fighting to protect Japan, on his own free will, is just plain wrong.  Secondly, King Ghidorah being shorter and weaker than Godzilla is  . . . perverse.   King Ghidorah should never come across as wimpy, and yet he does so in this movie! :'-(

Above is the "guardian spirit" King Ghidorah grappling with Godzilla.  He isn't crouching or anything; he is just smaller than Godzilla.  I have some notes on how his heads are adorned.  In keeping with the 1991 version, the mane is still replaced by the additional horns where you would normally expect ears to be.  The crescent-shaped forehead horns from the 1960s version have been restored to this version, however.

In case I do not continue this series, here are some of my other favorites:

* Gigan
* Megalon
* Kiryu (Mecha-Godzilla III)
* SpaceGodzilla
* Biollante
* Battra (I find the larva version more impressive than the adult version)
* Titanosaurus
* Fire Rodan
* Destoroyah
* Ebirah
* Mechanikong
* Anguirus
* Gezora (technically, only met Godzilla in the video game)
* Dogora (technically, only met Godzilla in the video game)