GODZILLA VERSUS GHIDORAH or Three Heads Are Better Than One - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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GODZILLA VERSUS GHIDORAH or Three Heads Are Better Than One

Gordon Hopkins puts his heads together.
From this point on, things start getting a little bit weird.

It doesn't take long to run out of new excuses for the appearance of giant monsters. Really, how many times can atomic bomb tests create a giant mutant or revive a dormant dinosaur? Sooner or later, the writers of these flicks were going to have to find a bigger well into which they could dip their ladles and scoop out a new kaiju.

To quote a popular meme, “I'm not saying it's aliens, but it's aliens.”

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, was released in Japan in 1964 and in the U.S. in 1965. By this time, Toho Studios has brought the world Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. Like the Universal monster movies a couple decades earlier with films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944), this is the installment that establishes these kaiju all inhabit the same universe. Indeed, this is actually a sequel to Rodan, although the big buzzard gets a bit of a short shrift in this movie.

A massive meteorite makes landfall in the mountains of Japan. A group of scientists investigate, as scientists are wont to do, and discover the meteorite doesn't exactly follow the normal laws of physics, such becoming periodically magnetic and sometimes growing bigger.

Sure enough, the meteorite, which is vaguely egg-shaped, breaks open and releases the titular monster, a winged dragon with golden scales and three heads that can spit out lightning or energy or something, I'm not really sure what, from all three of it's constantly moving heads.
While the meteorite Ghidorah makes his alien origins clear, what is not clear to me is if this is an actual egg and Ghidorah is freshly hatched or if this meteorite is just how Ghidorah got here, his transport, and it just looks a bit like an egg.

Anyway, Ghidorah goes on a rampage, like all good kaiju do.

In what is apparently a totally unrelated subplot, Rodan is released without explanation from the volcano he was buried in eight years previously in his premier, Rodan (1956). Sure enough, Godzilla also puts in an appearance, also without explanation.

Both Godzilla and Rodan meet up and start fighting, without explanation. If you want an explanation, I suppose we could go with the same one used when Godzilla took on King Kong in the recent Monsterverse movie: one giant apex predator isn't going to tolerate another giant apex predator.

As previously established. Mothra also inhabits this universe, as do the twin fairies from Mothra (1961) and Godzilla versus Mothra (1964). This is not the original Mothra but, instead, her caterpillar offspring. A somewhat more reasonable kaiju than Godzilla or Rodan, Mothra is convinced by her fairies to try and persuade Godzilla and Rodan to team up and defeat Ghidorah. There is a bizarre scene in which Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan all have a conversation, with translation provided by the fairies. At one point, fairies declare, “Godzilla! What language!”
While we have seen various kaiju, particularly Godzilla, evolve from simple stomping machines of destruction, into somewhat more nuanced creatures, this is the first time we get to see them act with a level of intelligence coming close to human beings.

Unfortunately, these monsters are also as obstinate as humans. Neither Godzilla nor Rodan have any interest in saving humanity, which has given them nothing but grief. Both Godzilla and Rodan respond to Mothra's entreaties, and I'm paraphrasing here, with, “Screw 'em.”

So Mothra decides to take on Ghidorah all by herself. It doesn't go well. She gets tossed around like a soccer ball.

While hundreds of human being squashed beneath their feet doesn't bother the monsters one iota, watching poor Mothra get the tar kicked out of her really raises their ire. The monsters have a change of heart and then the battle really begins.

There is a whole lot going on in this movie and I haven't even gotten to the human characters, yet. I suppose I should talk about them.
See, there is this princess from some fictional country that is traveling to Japan. Some baddies from her fictional country want to assassinate her, so a detective is assigned to protect her once she arrives. Only, he doesn't get the chance. A bomb was planted on the plane, which explodes in mid air. What the detective doesn't know is that, prior to the explosion, the princess goes into a trance and walks off the plane. In mid air.

Later on, a young lady is raising a fuss in Tokyo by claiming to be a Martian and prophesying all manner of disasters. The detective is surprise to learn the Martian lady looks just like the princess. Go figure. There is also a TV reporter who thinks the martian lady would make an interesting story for her TV show, Mysteries in the 20th Century. Oh, by the way. The reporter is the sister of the detective, so that's convenient. Narratively speaking, I mean.

The various disasters the Martian princess predicts involve the monsters. She warns people that Rodan is about the return. No one listens. She predicts dire disasters. No one listens.

There is a whole debate going on right now about Indiana Jones' role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though he is ostensibly the hero of the movie, nothing he does really impacts the action. He provides lots of fisticuffs and a bit of narration but, had Dr. Jones not gotten involved, the basic plot would have unfolded exactly the same way. At least, so the theory goes.

It is not my intention to wade into the whole Raiders quagmire. I only mention it because the story about the Martian princess and the assassins and the reporter feels very much the same. It adds a lot of human-scale action and drama, but doesn't really propel the plot much.

There is one exception, and that is when the Martian princess warns that a ship is doomed, or something. She's actually a little vague on the details. Most refuse to listen, except for Mothra's fairies, who were supposed to be returning home on that ship. Instead, they stow away in the reporter's handbag. The ship is then destroyed by Godzilla. So the fairies are still alive to call to Mothra. So in that regards, the Martian princess serves a purpose.
This is the movie cited by Godzilla scholars (yes, there is such a thing) as the the moment when Godzilla begins his transition from destructive monster to defender of the Earth. It is a gradual transition, to be sure. Godzilla's first act upon making his first appearance in the movie is to destroy the aforementioned ship, killing everyone on board.

However, the ongoing “kiddification” of the Godzilla series is very much on display here. The monster fight scenes are becoming more and more stylized, not unlike professional wrestling, as I've mentioned before. Godzilla is now using rocks and boulders as weapons. He throws a lot of rocks here. He even kicks them at his enemies. There is a pretty neat scene where Rodan lifts Godzilla high in the air by his tail and drops him. Godzilla has also taken to flapping his arms periodically and I find it very distracting, mostly because I can't figure out what the hell is is doing that for.

The human acting is also less subtle and more silly than in previous outings. You can't blame it all on bad dubbing. One of the assassins raises and lowers his shoulders in a blatant and really bad attempt at a Jimmy Cagney move.

Every hero needs a nemesis. When a series hangs around long enough, the hero will get a villain who is an even, or nearly even, match. Sherlock Holmes gets his Professor Moriarty. James Bond gets Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The Doctor from Doctor Who, gets the Master. Ghidorah is often cited has Godzilla's primary nemesis. While certainly a great design, Ghidorah doesn't really seem to have much else gong for him in this first outing. He is a more impressive nemesis in later movies.

There is one other thing I'd like to point out about Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and it marks another change to the series, although not necessarily a consistent one. Perhaps in an attempt to attract the younger viewers, which Toho certainly was doing, this is not nearly as much of a “message movie” as previous Godzilla outings. That is not to say there is no social commentary at all. During a press briefing, Japanese government officials make it very clear that they will not use nuclear weapons against Ghidorah, no matter how dire the situation. It has also been suggested by some that Ghidorah was supposed to represent the threat of Communist China, which had only recently become a nuclear power. Director Ishiro Honda insisted that wasn't not his intent.

The American Version: The most notable difference between the Japanese original and the Americanized film is the name of the titular monster. Ghidorah was renamed Gidrah. I'm not sure why. Did someone with the American distributor simply mishear the title of the movie?

The monster wasn't the only one to get renamed in the credits. Ishiro Honda was mistakenly listed as Inoshiro Honda. This was not the first time this happened.

The reporter in the original,version was a print reporter, rather than for TV. As a writer for a newspaper myself, I prefer the original.

The Martian princess was a Venusian princess in the Japanese version.

There is no new footage inserted but some of the existing footage is rearranged. It doesn't really change the movie much. The changes certainly don't significant improve or detract from the original, which makes me wonder what the point was.

The Denouement: The finale leaves a bit to be desired. Ghidorah basically just gives up and flies away. To be fair, it was three against one. There is no explanation where he goes to or why he won't just come back, which, of course, he does in later films.

The Odds: Will Ghidorah show up again? As Godzilla's official nemesis, I say it's even money.

Totally Irrelevant Minutiae: Autocorrect keeps trying to change Mothra to Motrin.

Read all of Gordon Hopkins previous Godzilla articles here.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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