Not all the films of this period are write-offs. If mad monster parties are your thing, then you gotta love Destroy All Monsters (1968), the highest daikaiju quotient of the series with twelve monsters! Destroy All Monsters establishes Monsterland/Monster Island, a proto-"Jurassic Park" that Godzilla and friends call home between films (and serves as a convenient plot device for the succeeding films: "Godzilla has once again escaped Monster Island!"). The trippiest picture of the cycle, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), is a Mod-zilla mixing of (often bad) pop music, hip nightclub scenes and psychedelic imagery (including animated interludes and a bad acid trip) with an environmental message and the pollution spawned monster, Hedorah, who tokes on a belching smokestack like a giant putrid bong.
With the one-two punch of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and The Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), the Big G celebrated his 20th anniversary with a new mechanized menace (a robot monster replica of the scaly one), alien invaders who look like refugees from a low budget Planet of the Apes knock-off, mad scientists, spies, secret agents, and a terrific tough new suit with a fierce head design and peacock-like silver dorsal plates. Terror reunites the scaly one with original director Ishiro Honda (who directed all his best outings) and composer Akira Ifubuke (who revives his brooding score), but while the first Mechagodzilla film was a hit, the sequel flopped and Godzilla took a temporary retirement, wading back into the sea for a 10 year hibernation.
In 1984, Japan's Toho Studios revived the Big G for his 30th Anniversary celebration with Godzilla 1985 (original title: The Return of Godzilla). As much a direct sequel to the original film as a revisionist remake, Godzilla 1985 sweeps away the past 30 years of campy sequels and returns the Big G to the awe and solemn grandeur of the mighty first feature. The fierce fighting machine we all know and love came back lean, mean and menacing. Taking the cue, American distributor New World recruited Raymond Burr to reprise his role from the American version of the original and once again added new footage to their cut and paste presentation, this time not as smoothly or seriously. In American theaters, the film was preceded by Marv Newland's animated spoof Bambi Meets Godzilla.
The film flopped in the US but played to stomping room only crowds in Japan and led to the Big G's second wave (the "Heisei" Series) and a whole new generation of fans. None of the films ever surfaced theatrically in the US and only one - Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) - made it to video before 1998 (when the big budget American remake made all things Godzilla suddenly hip, or at least commercial), but fervent American kaiju eiga fans have followed the Big G's new big budget, candy-colored, growth-inducing adventures through import laserdiscs and bootleg tapes before they finally appeared stateside on tape and DVD: Godzilla vs. King Ghidora (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra: Battle For Earth (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) and Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla (1994). In 1995, having grown to twice his original size (over 300 feet tall!), time traveled, been born once again, and battled with his greatest foes, Toho celebrated the Big G's 40th by killing him off in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, a knock down, drag out match where Godzilla passes the torch to Godzilla Junior with a blast of radioactive energy.
Junior will have to wait to take up the mantle of king of the monsters, though, for Toho, in the wake of the Roland Emmerich's CGI makeover of the Big G in the 1998 American remake, decided to back the lizard king and return him to his roots. Godzilla 2000 (1999) finds the Big G alive, well, and once again a man in a scaly rubber suit. The effects are digitally tweaked but the old joys are back: The crunch of lovingly detailed buildings rendered to splinters in a single step, the rubble and dust left in the wake of a prehistoric body slam, the noble profile of the scaly gray one in action... It's a juvenile thrill that CGI can't touch.
Godzilla 2000 is the first in Toho's "Alternate Reality" series, one-offs that reinvent Godzilla for stories that stand outside of the series. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Monsters Attack (2001) are still waiting to stomp stateside, but in Japan, the king of the monsters is still on top. Monster movies never die, they just get bigger.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Godzilla's Japanese name, "Gojira," is the combination of the words for gorilla ("gorira") and whale ("kujira"), purportedly the nickname of a portly Toho publicist. His American name is simply a phonetic approximation. His second film, Godzilla Raids Again, was originally released in the US as Gigantis the Fire Monster and the Big G renamed Gigantis in the dubbing. Why? Apparently distributor Warner Bros. assumed Embassy owned the name "Godzilla," when in fact the Americanized moniker is a Toho creation and copyright. The title has been changed back but the dubbing remains the same.
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