Godzilla 1985 (1984) Movie Review

After a nine year hiatus Godzilla stages a stunning comeback that restores his title as King of the Monsters. The filmmakers of “Godzilla 1985” wisely ignored the 15 films made since the original “Godzilla”, ditching the excess baggage the other films brought in favor of a direct sequel to the first film. The result is a film that dawns a bright new era for everyone’s favorite lizard.

“Godzilla 1985” opens with a Japanese fishing vessel mysteriously vanishing during a typhoon, only to reappear with the crew found in a state of decay. Later, a Soviet submarine is mysteriously destroyed and the Superpowers blame each other for the loss. But World War III is narrowly averted when the Japanese government reveals that Godzilla is responsible and has reappeared after a 30-year absence. Soon enough, the creature attacks Tokyo and wreaks unrestrained havoc on the helpless city. Will the military and scientist find a way to stop him before he devastates Earth?

You’d think that after several years, Toho would be rusty when it comes to making a Godzilla film. Not so, as “Godzilla 1985” is a triumphant return to the screen of one of monsterdom’s greatest legends. Suit builder Noboyuki Yasumaru must have been intent on making Godzilla look good for his return; his monster suit is perhaps one of the most detailed ever. Godzilla is given a long and well-articulated tail and three neat looking rows of jagged dorsal fins. He’s also given a jaw full of sharp teeth and some wicked looking fangs. Most menacing of all is a thick brow on his face, giving Godzilla the appearance of a perpetual scowl. Yasumaru is also smart enough to update Godzilla’s size, upping it from 50 meters to 80 meters so that Tokyo’s skyscrapers wouldn’t dwarf the big lizard.

The script by Shuichi Nagahra, based on a story by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, is surprisingly full of terrific ideas. The Super X anti-Godzilla weapon, the concept of Godzilla’s brain being avian-based, and Cold War struggles all make “Godzilla 1985” an innovative restart to the series. The script also manages to entertain the audience despite a monster opponent for Godzilla. The film could have degenerated into a boring movie about a big lizard with anger management problems, but the director ably keeps us interested for the full 91 minutes.

Unfortunately the movie’s grasp on human drama falters a bit, as the human characters never seem very interesting and it’s hard for the audience to care about them when they’re imperiled. It’s fortunate that it’s Godzilla people want and came to see, and not a group of actors, or the movie would have been in trouble.

The direction by Koji Hashimoto is well done, keeping the film moving at an even clip and making Godzilla look scarier than he has in decades. His depiction of Godzilla is that of a doomsday beast intent on destruction, a welcome relief from the comical depictions of the 70s. Not only does this approach make Godzilla a credible threat to humanity once again, but it restores a mean streak sorely missed since his early days.

“Godzilla 1985” was sold to New World Pictures before its release in August 1985 and was “Americanized” under the direction of R.J. Kizer and writer Lisa Tomei. But aside from bringing back Raymond Burr as Steve Martin (from the original film) and adding some annoying scenes with Western actors, the American version contributes little to Toho’s excellent Japanese version. Even though it’s nice to see Raymond Burr back, if just to bookend the series, the actor has little to do but make ominous pronouncements and scowl at anyone in his immediate vicinity. As a fine actor, Burr should have been allowed to contribute more than just marquee value.

As a comeback film, “Godzilla 1985” succeeds marvelously. It’s entertaining, imaginative, and gives its star back his nasty attitude. Don’t let misguided tampering by a low-rent American studio ruin the viewing pleasure of this otherwise enjoyable film.

The king has returned! Long live the king!

Koji Hashimoto, R.J. Kizer (director) / Shuichi Nagahara, Tony Randel, Lisa Tomei (screenplay)
CAST: Ken Tanaka …. Goro Maki
Yasuko Sawaguchi …. Naoko Okumura
Yosuke Natsuki …. Dr. Hayashida

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