GODZILLA VERSUS JOHN BELUSHI or Jet Jaguar to the Rescue - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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GODZILLA VERSUS JOHN BELUSHI or Jet Jaguar to the Rescue

Gordon Hopkins is not ready for prime time.
Godzilla versus Megalon (1973), more than any other film in the series, is responsible for most of America's preconceived notions about what a Godzilla movie is, for good or for ill. Mostly ill.

In the late seventies, a behemoth had conquered America. That behemoth was not Godzilla, but a little ensemble comedy skit program called Saturday Night Live. In those days, the show and its performers were hugely popular. As a kid and monster movie fan, the only thing I knew about Saturday Night Live was that it pushed Creature Feature, starring Omaha legend John Jones as Dr. San Guinary, to midnight. That meant I had to (a) convince my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime and (b) stay awake. Both of which were really hard to do. As a result, I was not kindly disposed towards SNL's comedy antics.

However, this only impacted the denizens of Omaha, Nebraska, and the few surrounding communities with really efficient TV antennas. A much greater, nationwide blow to monsterdom, particularly Godzilla, came in 1977 at the hands of SNL's most famous prankster, John Belushi.
Belushi appeared as Godzilla in a sketch on SNL, being interviewed by Gilda Radner as “Baba Wawa” (a lisping Barbara Walters), It was cute. It was funny. But then, for the first time ever, a Toho Godzilla movie was broadcast in prime time, on the NBC network. Sadly, that movie was Godzilla versus Megalon, widely regarded by fans as, if not the worst Godzilla movie ever made, then certainly the silliest. Bumpers at the commercial breaks featured Belushi in his Godzilla costume, doing a parody of pompous movie actors bloviating about their “art.” Again, it was cute. It was funny. And it did incalculable damage to the reputation of the franchise.

Here's a bit of pointless trivia. Belushi as Godzilla talks about some of his past movies, including Godzilla versus Rodan, a film that never existed, although Rodan and Godzilla have appeared in several movies together.

By showing up in prime time, the film probably got the biggest audience of any Godzilla movie ever up till then. So why was this such a bad thing? Because there probably was not a worse choice for anyone's first ever Godzilla movie than Godzilla versus Megalon.

Why is Godzilla versus Megalon so bad? Well, there are a variety of reasons, any one of which could have been overlooked on its own. It is the shear preponderance of bad decisions on the part of the filmmakers that weighs down the movie. Godzilla versus Megalon is like the concept of the gestalt, defined as an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. The movie is a gestalt of dumb.
First and foremost, there is the titular monster itself. As in the previous movie, Godzilla versus Gigan, there was no real explanation about what Megalon is supposed to be. It is just a big monster. In the script stages of Godzilla versus Gigan, Godzilla was actually supposed to face off against three monsters: King Ghidorah, Gigan and Megalon. Due to budgetary constraints, the number of enemy monsters was dropped to two. Actually, the Megalon monster makes a kind of sense in the context of the previous movie. After all, the aliens in Godzilla versus Gigan were cockroaches and Megalon is basically a giant cockroach with drill bits for hands and a Christmas Tree star on its head that shoots lightning bolts It would have made far more sense for the aliens to use something like Megalon, rather than the buzzsaw buzzard that is Gigan.

Having apparently completely run out of ideas, the oft used plot device of aliens taking over or destroying the world with giant monsters is once again dusted off. In an attempted to try something different, the aliens are not aliens at all, but a heretofore unknown people from an unknown land called Seatopia.

It seems Atlantis...uh, I mean, Seatopia, has been devastated by earthquakes cause by underground nuclear tests. So in that way, I suppose, Godzilla versus Megalon returns the series to its roots once again. It is interesting to note that, while the Atlantians...uh, I mean Seatopians have a legitimate gripe against the the surface world, the are never portrayed as anything other than villains. The audience knows these are the bad guys because their leader is an American, an expat actor named Robert Dunham, a hairy-chested figure in a toga with a receding hairline and a porn-star mustache. He looks more like a used car dealer than the ruler of an undersea kingdom.

Unfortunately, in this movie, Godzilla is forced to do battle with the spectre of another iconic Japanese creation, Ultraman, a hugely popular superhero/alien/robot character that appeared in several TV series and feature films.
Ultraman was the property of a different company and had absolutely nothing to do with Toho Studios.

But the character was ubiquitous in Japanese pop culture in those day. So when Toho ran a contest for kids to design a character for a new superhero, it was almost inevitable that the result be something of an Ultraman ripoff. Because, let's face it. Kids have no respect for copyright laws or intellectual property rights.

The winning creation of the contest was called Jet Jaguar, a robot that looks about as close to Ultraman as possible without getting sued. While the original plan was to produce a Jet Jaguar movie, producers wisely decided the character probably wasn't strong enough to carry a movie on its own. Hence, Godzilla was added to the mix.

As for the actual plot, well, there is one of a sort. Goro is an inventor. He lives in a groovy, Matt Helm-style bachelor pad that was already an anachronism by the time this film was made. He lived with another young man, Hiroshi, and the young boy they appear to be raising together, Rokuro. Viewed with modern eyes, this family dynamic is quite interesting when you consider the time the movie was made. While probably glossed over by most viewers of the day, we are talking about two young men raising a child together, with nary a lady in sight. Surprisingly progressive for the day. Especially considering this was intended ti be a kid's movie. Some sources describe Rokuro as Goro's brohter, although I don't recall that ever being made explicit in the film. As for the relationship between Goro and Hiroshi, the fact that it is never made clear makes it very clear, indeed, though I suspect most parents taking their little ones to the theater (or more likely just dropping them off) made the connection. Did I say progressive? Perhaps what I should have said was subversive. But was it intentional on the part of the filmmakers? Hard to say.

Anyway, Goro has built a humanoid robot called Jet Jaquar, coveted by the Seatopians, who wish to use it as the template for a robot army.

The Seatopians have also unleashed their god-monster, Megalon, to punish the surface world for their nuclear tests, which has destroyed about a third of their nation. Again, just a reminder. The Seatopians are supposed to be the bad guys in this flick.

As this was originally intended to be a Jet Jaguar movie, it is quite actually quite a while before Godzilla shows up. Goro sends Jet Jaguar (who, conveniently, can fly) to Monster Island to fetch Godzilla. Jet Jaguar appears to communicates with the big guy in semaphore, but Godzilla gets the message.

To back up Megalon, the Seatopians contact the aliens from the previous movie and Gigan soon arrives. Exactly why the aliens would want to help the Seatopians, who are Earthlings, after all, is never properly explained. If fact, a lot of stuff is never properly explained. There are some prime examples of lazy writing in this film. The most egregious example has to be when Jet Jaguar grows to Godzilla size to help Godzilla fight the monsters. And how did that happen, anyway? Goro explains, “So he just programmed himself in some way to increase his own size.”

Uh, yeah. That explains it. See what I mean about lazy writing?

Godzilla versus Megalon would get another visibility boost a few decades later when it became one of two Godzilla movies skewered by Mystery Science Theater 3000. The other was Godzilla versus the Sea Monster.
The American Version: The bad English dubbing in these movies always comes under fire, but in this case, a better dub really wouldn't have made much difference. Like other Godzilla movies that feature little kids, there seems to be a concerted effort to give them the most annoying voices possible. In this case, Rokuro sounds like Joan Rivers.

Speaking of Rokuro, in the English dub he is often called Roku-Chan. Occasionally, it sound like they are colling him Roxanne (queue the Sting song).

The Denouement: The budget was cut to the bone in his one. The monster fights that make up the finale incorporates a lot of footage is reused from previous movies, including Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), The War of the Gargantuas (1966), Godzilla versus the Sea Monster (1966), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla versus the Smog Monster (1971), and, obviously, Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Godzilla and his new buddy, Jet Jaguar, defeat their opponents handily. As for the Seatopians and the crimes against humanity committed against them by the surface world are never really resolved. The defeat of the monster is the end of the movie, except for the a rendition of Jet Jaguar's horrible, horrible theme song (talk about a crime against humanity).

The Odds: It is the very ridiculousness of both Jet Jaguar and Megalon that have made them iconic among Godzilla fans. Indeed, Jet Jaguar has already reappeared in the recent anime series, Godzilla: Singular Point. So I think the odds are pretty good they will be seen again.

Megalon: 2 to 1 in favor.

Jet Jaguar: 5 to 1 in favor.

Irrelevant Editorial Note: Readers may have noticed by now that I almost always spell out “versus,” rather than using the abbreviated “vs.” There is nothing wrong with the shorter version. It is perfectly acceptable. I just don't like how it looks. That is not a criticism of anyone who does use “vs.” That's just me.

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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