Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gigantis, The Fire Monster

"In the U.S., its distributor came up with the spectacularly stupid idea of chaging Godzilla's name to Gigantis: The Fire Monster, a decision that limited the film's commercial potential.  As a result of all this, Godzilla Raids Again has always been a somewhat overlooked entry in the Godzilla series." - Steve Ryfle, Japan's Favorite Mon-Star [p.62]-

Author David Kalat really goes to town in uncovering the problems with the American version of Godzilla Raids Again named Gigantis, The Fire Monster. The problems are many and it's comical. Four big ones are noted.

First, Kalat points to the excessive narration throughout the film. He calls it "endless and unnecessary" going so far as to say "one could recommend this film to the blind." The narration also removes one of the strong points of the Japanese original. The haunting and "ominous" mood of the original entry has been completely eradicated by the voice overs.

Second, Kalat discusses the removal of the musical score by Masaru Sato. As a fan of original music, I really hate when they mess with the score. A fine example would be the USA release of Ridley Scott's Legend altering the original Jerry Goldsmith score in favor of Tangerine Dream. Akira Ifukube does not return following Gojira until King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962]. In the interim Ifukube does work with Director Ishiro Honda elsewhere including Rodan [1956], The Mysterians [1957], Varan The Unbelievable [1958] and Battle In Outer Space [1959] just to name a handful. In his place, Toho turned to Masaru Sato who was a talent in his own right even scoring works for Akira Kurosawa. US distribution removed the compositions of a man who would score other films from the Godzilla Showa era including Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep [1966], Son Of Godzilla [1967] and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla [1974]. What a shame Godzilla would be so misunderstood overseas by its distributors it would feel the need to alter a score. Why any foreign film's original, completed vision is altered from its original form is a mystery. Having said that, many of the films brought to American shores did introduce me to my love of Godzilla and my affection for it, despite such shortcomings. It was enough to maintain my love affair with the series and the iconic big lizard for a lifetime. I'm certainly accepting of dubs too, as long as the original soundtracks are maintained separately. Speaking of dubs...

Third, Kalat notes an atrocious dub provided for Gigantis, The Fire Monster. The voice over work, while noted as talky, is provided by Star Trek's future Hikaru Sulu, George Takei and the man who would be Hanna-Barbera's Yogi Bear, Daws Butler [1916-1988]. Butler was also the voice behind Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound. It's "hard to take the proceeding seriously." For many from my generation, as a result of growing up with a steady diet of both series, it is difficult to accept this version of the film.

Finally, the translation of the clear, concise Japanese script is turned into a nonsensical mess of relative gibberish. Kalat provides a segment of that translation from the film and believe me, he's not wrong. It is atrocious. Kalat points to the prevailing "condescension" of the translation and the lack of "scientific plausibility." It is a shamefully haphazard muddle.

Kalat concludes the original Japanese film was about "life during wartime, about the struggle to find courage during a crisis, about love, about putting normal life back together again." Oh, and about getting a Godzilla franchise off the ground. You forgot that one. Be sure to see the original and just about anything by Hanna-Barbera.

Gigantis, The Fire Monster: D+

Director footnoteMotoyoshi Oda [1910-1973].  Oda's one contribution to the Godzilla series is Godzilla Raids Again, or Gigantis, The Fire Monster as it was known in the USA.  Oda is generally discarded as a "studio hack" according to Steve Ryfle in Japan's Favorite Mon-Star, but he gets a bum rap because Godzilla Raids Again mostly succeeds.  Ryfle considers Oda's concentration on the human element for his characters as nothing more than "sappy stories."  This component is a welcome variation on the Ishiro Honda original.  In the end, Godzilla Raids Again is a better film than most people give it credit.

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