I honestly don’t know how I’m supposed to review this film, other than, I should remind myself not to take this too seriously. This film is a classic and way better writers and actual legit film critics could do this movie more justice than I ever could. But it’s not like I can just copy and paste their words into this and call it mine. What’s harder, is I feel like I’m back in college where I’m given a weird paper to write, like about the influence of Jazz in Thai music when I know pretty much nothing about Jazz, nothing about Thailand, and my only qualification to even talk about this kind of thing is that I listen to music. I mean, I love movies, I love storytelling of all types, and I love Godzilla, so I feel like this should be an easy film to talk about. But no, it’s not, cause it’s big.
It’s an adventure film, with a bit of low key romantic drama. It’s an anti-war film with a bit of low key political drama. It’s a film that warns about the hubris of man in the realm of science with a bit of a low key message to respect and value nature for what it is. It’s a revolution in special effects. It’s the birth of a cultural icon. It does a lot of things, and while I’ll readily confess it doesn’t do them all particularly well, somehow it’s able to pull off all of those things while preventing itself from becoming a complete mess. Which is a good thing, because this is a pretty serious film, despite being an adventure film.
Here, Godzilla isn’t the late Showa Era hero that we all love and adore, who for better or worse, is often depicted in colorful and light hearted ways. He’s not even like his Heisei Era films, an anti-hero to be feared and respected. Here, where it all starts, he’s a genuine villain, through and through. He’s a menace to mankind, an unstoppable natural force, and he leaves death, destruction, and suffering in his wake. Being an anti-war film, Ishiro Honda used a lot of imagery that was reminiscent of real life scenes from World War II, from burning buildings to people being evacuated to makeshift hospitals. I’ve been told that when this film first came out, Honda got a lot of flack from critics for his use of such imagery and I can see where they’re coming from. The man used some pretty potent visuals and while it’s not a hard film to watch, like say, Schindler’s List, it definitely has some somber moments in it.
I’m not a super huge fan of the script, not that it’s necessarily bad, but there’s a lot going on. We have, in no particular order, a love triangle between a professor’s daughter, a scientist, and a sailor. The professor see’s the potential scientific value in an ancient animal who can’t be destroyed by radiation and he also happens to be the father of said love-triangle daughter. The scientist in said love-triangle inadvertently creates a super weapon that he doesn’t want to use, because man, humanity just went through a bunch of garbage with nuclear weapons and learned pretty much zero lessons from it. We have a government that doesn’t know what to do with Godzilla but it’s not like their indecision matters that much because sooner or later, Godzilla just kind of forces their hand anyway. There’s villagers, there’s victims, there’s panic and chaos. There’s a lot. But it’s never overwhelming, because honestly, for better or worse, nothing is ever really explored that deeply and the film just keeps on moving on.
Execution wise though, this film kind of just overtakes any flaw in the script and I think that reason alone is why Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya get a ton of praise for this film. Personally, I think they honestly deserve it, because man, this movie is carried by two things, swift, cohesive pacing, and visuals. In general, this film looks amazing. Honda really knows how to frame his shots, every now and again you’re gonna get something that’s a bit flat, serviceable at best, but those are often in the more dialog heavy scenes. Otherwise, this film is pretty on point. The exposition scenes are just jammed packed with visual information that, combined with exposition from news announcers and such, do a wonderful job of carrying the story forward and informing the viewers with what’s going on. Even more so, because a lot of them are influenced by war imagery, they carry an additional emotional oomph to them. While I personally don’t have an opinion one way or the other over black and white versus color films, I think that Honda worked really well with the fact that this film is in black and white. During the night scenes, with the rampage and destruction, between Honda’s framing, his composition, and his use of lighting, those scenes are just potent.
Special effects wise, Tsuburaya deserves a lot of credit too. I’m not gonna lie to you guys, this film is a product of its time, so it has some pretty strong special effects flaws. The transitions between suit-Godzilla and puppet-Godzilla can be jarring, some of the miniatures aren’t all that great (especially the vehicles), and the scene between the Japanese Air Force and Godzilla can’t really be called exciting. But on the other hand, when the special effects work, they work. The buildings being destroyed? Awesomely detailed. The amount of fire in this film? Almost mind boggling. The fact that you’re watching a man in a suit or a puppet on screen but somehow forget you’re watching a man in a suit or a puppet on screen? That’s the magic of cinema. There are better films for Godzilla in regards to special effects, but seeing as how this was the first, they did an amazing job here.
I know they’re from different companies, different film makers and all, but visually speaking, both in terms of composition and special effects, if you compare Godzilla to its American contemporaries like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or Them, Godzilla really does feel like it’s at least a decade ahead of them. Honda and Tsuburaya did a great job.
I personally give it a 5/5. Despite the flaws, as a whole package it’s a great film from beginning to end and I can’t help but love it. That said, sadly, I don’t think it’s for everyone. If you’re a Godzilla fan, chances are, you’re gonna like it. If you love older movies and can genuinely appreciate them, even when they haven’t necessarily aged well, you’re probably gonna like it. If you like old sci-fi films, you’re probably gonna like it. If you’re on the fence, I say, give it a shot. You might surprise yourself. It’s a classic for a reason, and while I think this film stood the test of time in part because of all of the Godzilla films that came after it, keeping the character in our collective imaginations, there really is something about this movie that makes this feel special as a stand alone.