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Shock-O-Rama: Godzilla goes Camping
Roasting Marshmallows with Atomic Breath
By Chuck Francisco
May 15, 2014
Godzilla goes Camping
As the seismic shocks from the King of all monster's gargantuan footfalls threaten to overwhelm us, the wave of giant monster themed releases swells ever higher, hoping to surf the breakers in Godzilla's wake. The newest installment of this beloved series is an static inevitability at this point; press screenings are occurring and theaters are receiving their hard drives containing the film (man it sucks to type that last part- hard drives?). The resulting fallout (bountiful or baleful) from the Big G's atomic breath will plot the course through our current Kaiju critical mass.
If the film isn't very well received then we're likely in the hot center of the firestorm right now, which will only diminish and move off shore as a lackluster box office bears a stillborn Gameric mess. If it crushes ticket booth receipt records like a certain giant lizard headed downtown to pick out a new bow tie for award ceremony season, we would be on the potential cusp of a Kaiju resurgence (in which case Pacific Rim would get a rerelease, if there were any justice in this world).
Believe it or not the keys to Godzilla's success can be found dangling from the ignition of some of the corniest of his prior works. No, I don't mean to kick the carcass of Roland Emmerich's abysmal mess in search of the carabiner to a Kaiju car. I don't have to. Section 23, a distributor well known for bringing anime to the States, jumped into the monster craze with a triple threat of Godzilla classics available from their new imprint, Kraken Releasing (insert your favorite Liam Neeson/Clash of the Titans pun here). Their offerings feature a wide assortment of monsters stepping into the squared circle against everyone's favorite city stomping rubber suited man, and includes my personal favorite Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.
I first saw Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (alternate title Ebirah - Horror of the Deep) on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90s. For me this film embodies the perfect Kaiju film formula, which grafts an interesting or engage human side story to the city stomping, rubber suit fisticuffs for which most folks are drawn to these movies. Consider that for at least half of any giant monster movie, the giant monsters aren't actually on screen. When they are, we're obviously entertained by the spectacle. This is as a near a sure thing as a Marvel Cinematic Universe films succeeding at the box office. That means then that the critical part of a Godzilla film to zero in on for perfection is that human character B-side story.
Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster kicks off at the end of a three day marathon dance competition to introduce our human protagonists (yes, it totally does). Ryota suggests that after their grueling endurance test, they should steal a boat in a mad quest to locate his brother, who was previously lost at sea. On board they encounter a charismatic bank robber on the lam. He's a Han Solo type whose scoundrel skills come in handy when the party is ship wrecked on an island which plays host to a terrorist organization hell bent on some sort of evil machination. The malicious Red Bamboo organization is confident in their island base's natural defense mechanism- Ebirah, a gigantic lobster monster which attacks any approaching ship that doesn't spray a sedative made from the island's fruit (by forced native slave laborers). With the help of a beautiful slave girl, the group awaken Godzilla from his slumber in a cliff side cavern (don't worry about how he ended up there) using a lighting rod, and the Big G brings a side of dipping butter to the battles with Ebirah. Later on the natives summon Mothra (with the help of two minuscule singing ladies, of course), who drives Godzilla away before he can kill them.
There's much more depth here, with evil organization base espionage action and mustache twirling villainy abound. This fully fleshed out, though admittedly quite campy, secondary plot rounds the film out so that it fully entertains for the entirety of the runtime. Viewers may be a bit confused by the tone of Godzilla's behavior, and his antagonism towards Mothra, who by this point he'd worked with amicably. The peculiarity stems from this having originally been written to star King Kong and titled Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs Ebirah. That's a pretty abysmal title. Luckily we got King Kong Escapes instead.
The other Godzilla releases from Kraken Releasing excel in separate areas, though both of them significantly ratchet up the cheese factor in attempting to pander directly to kids (joke's on them as I dig'em both anyhow!). Godzilla vs Gigan (or Godzilla on Monster Island) features a crazy tag team Kaiju cage match in the squared circle of human civilization. Aliens build a Kaiju theme park which centers on a Godzilla shaped skyscraper. From there they mind control Ghidorah and Gigan into baiting Godzilla and his pal Anguirus into furious fisticuffs. The b side story here is more camptastic than the latest Call of Duty, but the monster brawls are fantastic.
Godzilla vs The Smog Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Hedorah) is the Captain Planet of Kaiju movie. Long establishing shots of true floating garbage islands out in the ocean remind us how wasteful we are, as the Big G goes his part to take pollution down to zero, burning these tidal refuse atolls with his atomic breath. These pleases Hedorah very little, as consumes this pollution to increase his size and power. Featuring a plot so camptastic that you could roast marshmallows over it, Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster is the perfectly constructed Saturday morning rubber suit flick.
Kraken Releasing has added several cool touches to their triple Godzilla release which should tickle the fancy of Kaiju fans. The cover art for all three feature compelling Japanese film posters, as well as both of the film's titles, which is a unique and rare occurrence. It's very gratifying when a film's release legacy is acknowledged and embraced. On the back of each case, the features section comes emblazoned with circular logos representing each of the monsters appearing in the film. This is particularly handy when fishing through flicks, searching for that one specific battle you're itching to rewatch (which always happens to not be between the title characters). The transfer quality is richly grainy, retaining that drive-in or Saturday matinee mystique which genre film goers adore.
These swell discs from Kraken Releasing are available now in both Blu-ray and DVD flavors. Their atomic breath is aimed right at a very specific subset of fans. Let the Big G melt your heart with the power of his radioactive love today.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.