Wednesday 17 November 2021

Godzilla VS Megalon

Maim, Jet & Scratch

Godzilla VS Megalon
aka Gojira tai Megaro

Japan 1973
Directed by Jun Fukuda & Yoshimitsu Banno
Criterion Blu Ray Zone B

This is another one of those films which I loved in my twenties but, looking at it now, just seems like one of the lesser and most disappointing entries in the Godzilla series, although there’s also lots to enjoy and it’s still a heck of a lot more interesting than the previous movie, Godzilla VS Gigan (reviewed here).

Okay, so we hear that those pesky humans have been testing bombs again on a remote island.. the consequences of which can also be felt on Monster Island. You might ask why this would be the case and the answer seems to me to be two fold. Firstly, Godzilla doesn’t properly turn up in this movie until almost 50 mins into the 80 minute running time... so it’s kind of a way, I believe, of pacifying the audience, showing that it really is a Godzilla movie they have come here to see. There have been a lot of rumours that, in response to a young boy who won a design a creature competition for Toho, that his drastically changed creation (to the point that the crying young prize winner was inconsolable at the changes Toho made to the design), renamed Jet Jaguar, would be the sole headliner of the movie. Although that makes sense in many ways, there is apparently no real evidence to suggest that was the case, from what I understand. So yeah, they show Godzilla to remind the audience and, the other thing the studio gets to do is to use old footage from Monster Island at this point to pad out the running time.

Then, after this footage we have the opening credits and a kid in a wonderful little robot boat in a lake, which looks like three colourful dolphins, with the two side dolphins acting like paddles. However, his inventor dad and his friend almost can’t get the kid back after a fissure is opened in a series of earthquakes, one of which drains this lake. Luckily, the inventor friend has his handy “rope launcher” with him on the picnic because, yeah, this is just what you would take on a picnic, right? Anyway, the three escape the disruption and go back to the scientist’s pad where they fail to stop two thugs who are interested in the father’s latest project, the robot Jet Jaguar. But they do leave behind a red button and some red sand which, on scientific investigation... and I’ve no idea how this is science but I’ll suspend my disbelief here... they figure out comes from 2000 miles beneath the sea and is similar to sand found on Easter Island (which, as I said in my review of Gamera VS Jiger - right here), was all the rage at the time.

It turns out that survivors of the ancient cities of Lemuria and Mu (Atlantis), which were swallowed up by the Earth’s oceans, have built an underwater kingdom called Seatopia, complete with silly costumes and dancing girls. They are fed up with the horrible land dwellers testing bombs which have disastrous consequences for them, so they unleash Megalon... a giant bug with a star on his head that makes him look like a badly dressed Christmas tree that can spit bombs out of its mouth... to destroy humanity (later on, he accidentally swallows one of his own bombs when it fires straight up at Godzilla but lands back in his own mouth, which slows him down for a bit).

For some reason, the Seatopians need Jet Jaguar to tell Megalon what to do for about a quarter of an hour and there’s also a sub-plot where the scientist and his little nipper are kidnapped and driven in a container to be dropped in the cracks where the sunken lake... um... sank... only to be rescued by their friend in a highly non-sensical car and bike chase. Actually I have to ask how ocean dwellers suddenly got so proficient at riding motor bikes and cars. I mean, not quite so good that they can stop the guy they’re chasing but, still, pretty good for people who lived for thousands of years under the sea.

Finally the scientists regain control of Jet Jaguar but then, because he’d had his mechanical brain ‘stimulated by battle’, he gains free will and battles Megalon himself while waiting for Godzilla to arrive, whom he summons for aid. However, the Seatopians have also summoned help, this time from space, as the previous movie’s main villain, Gigan, arrives to help Megalon destroy humanity and its defenders. This is also, of course, in order that lots of footage of Gigan fighting Godzilla could be recycled from the previous films, along with various building carnage which, perhaps not surprisingly, is hardly ever in the same shot as the monsters inflicting the damage. Well, at least day and night footage doesn’t fluctuate so dramatically like it did in the previous movie but budgets at Toho were really stretched by this point in the cycle.

At one point, to make the ‘big fight’ more interesting, Jet Jaguar suddenly grows to giant kaiju size. Now I thought we were going to get some kind of bizarre pseudo-scientific explanation of how he manages to change size at will, such as organic metal or redistribution of molecules but, no, according to his creator... and I quote... “His determination made him grow this big.” Oh, well that’s a neat trick then. Must make a mental note to be more determined.

The fight scenes themselves are ludicrously bad, with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar teaming up to fight Megalon and Gigan and with all the beasts making signs and waving at each other etc like they’re human. A lot of the footage is recycled and spliced in with new stuff but it’s all just a bit dull to watch for any real amount of time, truth be told. It doesn’t help that Megalon’s signature move is to jump instead of walk. A really terrible, bizarre looking, series of progressive two legged hops which look about as credible as... insert least credible thing you’ve seen here...and which will probably make your eyes roll out of their sockets while you laugh at the unintentional hilarity. Things took on more poignancy about the sad state of affairs at Toho when I was researching this after watching it and found that the Megalon suit was extremely heavy and so it took the suit actor and the technicians huge efforts to manage those stupid looking jumps.

Later on, when Godzilla is throwing Megalon around, it’s pretty obvious that there’s no actual actor in the Megalon suit because every time The Big G throws him onto the ground, his floppy legs bend the wrong way. Other than this, when the military get involved, it’s just the usual live fireworks fired at the suit actors as a stand in for the shells of the cannons and, yeah, it just doesn’t look great.

One last thing I’ll menton is the music. RiichirĂ´ Manabe’s score doesn’t recycle any of Ifukube’s old themes and it’s not anywhere near the masterpiece of a score that the same composer supplied for Godzilla Vs Hedorah (reviewed here), although it does recycle a Godzilla theme from that one. It’s also interesting in that it’s a lot lighter in tone and, for a lot of the time, really doesn’t match the drama of the action, instead playing through the scenes with a kind of elevator pop muzak style. It does, however, have an interesting theme for Jet Jaguar which gets expanded into a full blown song for the film’s final minute or so. Which for me was probably the best part of the movie... a song very much in the style of the Gamera song found in rival Daiei movies around this time.

And that’s me just about done with Godzilla Vs Megalon. It’s not a film I could recommend to most people but, obviously, you can’t miss this one if you are into Godzilla movies. It’s definitely not Toho’s finest hour and their would be only two more films in the series before the first cycle of Godzilla films had run their course.

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