In 1954 Godzilla was born out of the fear and existential dread of a nation subjected to nuclear attacks following one of the largest and widespread wars ever fought. Directed by Ishiro Honda, this film would not only act as a voice for post-war Japan but also popularise giant monster movies, and it’s not difficult to see why.
I doubt you need me to tell you that Godzilla is an allegorical warning against nuclear weapons, but that’s not what makes it great. What makes it great is that this movie doesn’t just condemn something that was bad for Japan, but it also speculates as to what could happen to humanity as a whole if we continue to harness that kind of destructive power.
No better is this showcased than in the movie’s climax where, after failing to defeat Godzilla with contemporary weaponry of all kinds and allowing him to lay waste to Tokyo, one haunted scientist, Doctor Serizawa faces a dire choice: To use his research to create a weapon more powerful than the atom bomb to stop Godzilla, or to destroy his research to keep it out of humanity’s hands, at the expense of risking Godzilla’s return to Japan. After much coercion, and even violence, Doctor Serizawa agrees to use the Oxygen Destroyer against the monster. While the weapon succeeds in killing Godzilla, however, the Doctor sacrifices himself in the detonation of the weapon to ensure he could never he persuaded to lend its components to anyone who might see a destructive use for it…
Godzilla is defeated, but at what cost?
Yet even without analysis, Godzilla is a great monster film that features great scenes of conflict and destruction which are, more often than not, still convincing to this day, with the odd exception. In his debut film, Godzilla also looks to be his most terrifying, with an overbite of spearheaded teeth, jet-black skin and dead, emotionless eyes. The black-and-white aesthetic to the film no doubt lends itself well to portraying Godzilla as the dark and evil being.
This movie also has a much darker tone than you might be used if you’ve seen later Godzilla films. All too often people are crying in agony of what is to come, or what is happening to them. Women cradle their children helplessly in the streets as fire erupts around them, widowed wives demand to know if their spouses still live and young people are orphaned in the aftermath of Godzilla’s rampage. Because of this, Godzilla feels all the more malicious, making it all the more terrifying when you see the debris of tall buildings fall down upon the civilians below, or the homes of innocents burning to the ground
But the movie is not without flaw. The first thirty minutes of this movie feel so disjointed. Scenes cut abruptly at a moments notice from important character introductions to random extras giving exposition. Therefore you’re never quite sure which characters are the main characters, and which are mere extras until the first act of the film is almost at its climax. This also introduces pacing issues too, where the film will often cut from calm discussions to scenes of mayhem. And although these problems are alleviated by the half-way point of the movie, they still somewhat sour the introduction to this otherwise great monster film.
I will be reviewing the rest of the Godzilla films and rating them at the end of every review. As Godzilla (1954) is the only one reviewed at the time of writing this, it takes the number one spot.
- King Kong vs Godzilla (1963)
- Godzilla (1954)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955)