HCF REWIND NO.137. GODZILLA VS MEGALON AKA GOJIRA TAI MEGARO [Japan 1973]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, MEGALON, GIGAN
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Nuclear testing is having a bad effect on the world, causing earthquakes and even annoying the inhabitants of Monster Island. Inventor Goro Ibuki, his young brother Rokuro and ‘friend’ Hiroshi Jinkawa are out having a picnic when an earthquake breaks out, totally draining the lake that Rokuro had been swimming in. When they get home, they find that their place is a mess and get attacked by a couple of thugs who then flee. It seems that they were trying to steal Jet Jaguar, a humanoid robot under construction by Goro. Jet Jaguar is completed but the trio of inventors are knocked unconscious when the agents return. They are actually in the service of Seatopia, an underground kingdom which is being ravaged by the earthquakes, and which is about to unleash its monster god Megalon……
Godzilla Vs Megalon, where the King Of The Monsters plays second fiddle to a flying robot, seems to be generally considered the worst Godzilla film ever, at least by serious writers on the subject. It’s shamelessly aimed at kids, but can’t even really use that as an excuse for being so shoddy. It’s an often amateurish affair that is almost surreal in its random plotting and complete lack of connective tissue between the action. On the plus side, there isn’t a dull moment, and I always enjoy watching it even as I’m constantly aware that the series really has reached rock bottom here. I can’t defend Godzilla Vs Megalon on any artistic merit, but it sure is fun, and that certainly counts for something in an age when so many big blockbusters seem determined to ignore the fun factor. Much like many Bond fans seem to dismiss the sillier entries in that franchise like Moonraker and Octopussy, many Godzilla fans often dismiss the dafter Godzilla pictures as an embarrassment. I think there’s room for both approaches.
It was originally planned as a solo vehicle for Jet Jaguar, who was the result of a contest Toho had for children in 1972. The winner submitted the drawing of a robot called Red Arone, who looked like a cross between popular TV robot superheroes Ultraman and Mazinger Z. Renamed Jet Jaguar, he was set to star in Jet Jaguar Vs Megalon [the insect monster originally intended to be in what became Godzilla Vs Gigan], but producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided the project wasn’t commercial enough and temporarily shut it down, then later asked writer Shinichi Sekizawa to add Godzilla and Gigan to the script. Shot in just three weeks, like Godzilla Vs Gigan the film incorporated a lot of footage from earlier films, though three scenes were cut; two bits of monster footage, and the Seatopian leader wondering aloud if sending Megalon to destroy the surface world is any different from what the humans are doing with their bomb tests, a scene which would have added a tiny bit of weight. The film did badly in Japan, but Cinema Shares gave it a wide release in the US in 1976, albeit with often inaccurate publicity that sometimes called Jet Jaguar Robotman and Gigan Borodan! A shot of a villain’s bloody face was the only deletion at first, but during its theatrical one it was replaced by a heavily censored version, removing around two minutes of violent footage [fights and deaths], resulting in some scenes not making much sense. For decades this was the only available version in the US, though the UK always saw it uncut.
Godzilla Vs Megalon is so random and almost dreamlike in its plotting that it feels like the script was made up on the spot. While there is constant action, many scenes seem irrelevant. The opening scene of young Rokuro almost being sucked into a whirlpool and the surrounding land all being dried out is rather eerie, but could easily be excised from the picture. While we wait for the monster stuff to begin, we are treated to lots of shoddy human fighting where the sounds of impact don’t match up with the visuals, and two lengthy car chases, the second one ending with a motorcyclist pulling down a lever as he tries to get up off the ground and covering himself in cement. Ah well, this is a kid’s movie, and as said before, at least it’s not dull. When Megalon threatens, Jet Jaguar becomes giant sized, something which is explained away by the robot having a survival device built into him. Yep, a survival device. The Seatopian’s plan makes little sense, unless their god Megalon is blind. Their aim is to control Jet Jaguar so he can lead Megalon to Tokyo. Normally the monsters in these films have no trouble heading for the capital, and what’s with the Seatopians being such good friends with the folk of ‘Nebula M Spacehunter’ that they send Gigan to help them immediately?
The climactic fight, which is almost as long as Godzilla Vs Gigan’s, is played entirely for laughs with lots of human-like hand gestures and poses. Megalon holds Jet Jaguar prisoner and threatens to cut his throat, while Godzilla executes a flying, two-footed kung fu kick, sliding along the ground on the end of his tail. Considering it’s just meant to be a lark for children, this all wouldn’t matter too much if Godzilla Vs Megalon was well made, but it generally isn’t, apart from the odd good effects moment like Megalon destroying a dam [though it’s still not a patch on the similar scene from Mothra]. They can’t even get the lighting right, most of the film taking place in terrible ‘day-for-night’. Footage from Mothra Vs Godzilla, Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster [Megalon’s ray conveniently looks just like Ghidorah’s], Invasion Of Astro-Monster, The War Of The Gargantuas, Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla Vs Hedorah and Godzilla Vs Gigan make unwelcome appearances as soon as the monsters begin to take centre stage, and many of the shots, such as the ones of those laser-firing satellite dish-type things that originally did battle with Gaira the Green Gargantua, had already been used in the previous entry. Day and night alternate, suits change, and when Megalon knocks planes out of the sky, you actually see shots of Gigan’s hook hands doing the knocking.
The Godzilla suit here is appalling, with dreadfully simplified features and a puppy-like face with cute eyes and puffy cheeks, though it did only took a week to make and I still prefer it to Frogzilla in Son Of Godzilla. This was the first film in the series not starring Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla, and his replacement just acts like a very drunk human. Megalon is appealingly quirky, a roach-like insect with drill arms, a daisy on top of his head which fires a ray, and a mouth which emits explosive red spitballs. Jet Jaguar looks reasonable but is never really allowed to become a proper character. Gigan looks thinner and Angilas, who appears briefly at the beginning, has lost his fangs. No attempt is made to make the monsters menacing, but then sometimes the film panders to kids too much, not crediting them with any intelligence. The whole anti-nuclear element is ridiculously simplistic. In Mothra Vs Godzilla, victims of humankind’s stupidity call on a monster god to help them, but the script refuses to take sides and give us any easy answers. In this one, the underground kingdom of Seatopia, despite losing many due to mankind’s foolishness, is depicted as just evil, and the complexity of the issue just given a few throwaway lines.
Jun Fukuda directs in his usual ‘Ishiro Honda with occasional hand-held action’ manner. Little Hiroyuki Kawase from Godzilla Vs Hedorah returns as another Godzilla-loving child, and he’s a better actor then his two adult co-stars [who live together and could be more than just good friends?], though veteran Caucasian bit-player Robert Dunham steals the show in his few scenes as the King of Seatopia, replete with sideburns and a white Megalon-shaped tiara, while female extras do a weird slow dance in the background to strange electronic sounds. Richiro Manabe’s score revisits some of the oddball themes and motifs he used in Godzilla Vs Hedorah, including his blaring Godzilla theme, and the often improvised jazzy noodlings seem entirely suited to the proceedings. Jet Jaguar is given a great breezy rock theme which becomes a song at the film’s end. In the end, I’m not going to deny that Godzilla Vs Megalon isn’t a bad movie. The best example of the carelessness exhibited throughout is that originally at the end, you could actually see the cast standing waiting for their cue. This mistake wasn’t thought worth correcting and remained in all prints for decades. The film has a mindless, quirky appeal though. After all, it’s possible to enjoy the work of both [for example] Stanley Kubrick and Ed Wood isn’t it?