Monster Movies at 50

By Paige Francis Posted Sunday Jan 28, 2024

Filed under: Epilogue, Paige Writes 6 comments

One of the top questions in Star Wars The Old Republic, or any other MMORPG, by people playing the game for the first time or returning to the game is, “Is crafting still important?” In SWTOR, the answer is “it depends.” Bioware and EA, and now Broadsword, haven’t expanded the crafting tiers to match each expansion. Almost no additional crafting-unique items have been added since the game launched (like mounts and toys). A new tier was added for the “Onslaught” expansion, but it is comprised almost entirely of the ability to craft rare currency that can be exchanged for expensive and hard-to-obtain items. A lot of the required materials are only available in PvP and multiplayer content. For solo players, crafting still effectively stops at the original limit.

However, within those limits you can craft some items that have constant demand on the Galactic Trade Market; SWTOR’s implementation of an Auction House. I haven’t actually counted, but I think about half of the gear dyes available in the game can be crafted…the other half are only available for real money (or as a reward if you engage in Galactic Seasons content, about half of which you’re doing ANYWAY if you’re just playing the game.) While most actual gear has been established through vendors, one piece of equipment is still in the crafting domain: augments, and the “kits” used to add them to gear. I can actually craft some of that high-level currency I mentioned, but I’m still at the point that I’ll be using it for myself first.

And of course, you CAN engage in crafting gear for yourself as you level. This is mostly pointless, as you’ll get drops better than what you can craft pretty regularly. But some gear drops less-often than other pieces…so you can at least craft some of this to raise your stats. I have four Imperial-side characters at the moment. I was motivated to finish out the four base classes solely so I could have access to the four crafting skills needed to create the parts needed to create the parts needed to create the parts needed (no, you read that right, and I wrote it right) to create a “Dark Project” item. Three of these and a few million credits can be exchanged for a “Commanders Compendium” on the fleet space station. A Commanders Compendium can be used to upgrade a companion all the way to maximum influence level: 50. Not necessarily needed if your first companion is the one you use constantly…hell, my Sith Warrior Lord Zeele has his first companion, Vette, nearly to influence level 40 at character level 49. She will be at 50 before I finish the base game.

Which brings me to the entire point of this post. When I’m spending hours crafting on the fleet space station; I watch movies. And I’ve been on a monster movie kick lately.

In the time it took to switch to this view, probably most of you realized “monster movies are a lot older than 50 years.” True, but shame on you. You have no idea what I was referring to. *I* turned 50 years old recently, and I’ve been re-watching a lot of my favorite monster movies. I’ve noticed my opinions on some have changed a bit, so that’s had me thinking. Incidentally, by “monster movies,” I’m actually talking about “giant” monster movies. The old Universal and Hammer “monster movies” about Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, etc. haven’t ever been of particular note to me. I can *enjoy* them, but they don’t mean anything special. But ever since a Halloween when I was somewhere around 8 – 10 years old, I HAVE been a particular fan of Godzilla. Back when 20th Century Fox was setting up all the stations that would eventually become the Fox Television network, these stations functioned mostly like a local independent. One of the two available pre-Fox stations, or maybe it was already ALL Fox stations, was airing a monster movie marathon. The two featured movies were 1933’s King Kong and 1956’s Godzilla King of the Monsters. As a Star Wars kid, I found King Kong to be boring with lousy specialFX. But even though you could make the same argument about Godzilla‘s FX, the story grabbed me. And honestly, I didn’t see a guy in a foam-rubber suit, either. I was FASCINATED. And also scared. Godzilla actually scared me. Keep in mind, I went into these movies EXPECTING to be scared…they were supposed to be scary movies, after all.

Keep in mind this was the American release from 1956, not the original Japanese release Gojira from 1954. I wouldn’t see the original version until I was in my twenties, although I had become aware of the overall industry of dubbing and editing Japanese entertainment into American movies and TV shows in my early teens. (The normal pipeline for a GenX kid: Robotech was actually Super Dimension Fortress Macross + Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross + Genesis Climber Mospeada. I obtained and still have the “Robotech Art 1,” “2,” and “3” books by Carl Macek that told MOST of the story of what he had done with Harmony Gold to bring the titles to the U.S.) But back to the monster movies, I of course was aware of Godzilla 1985 (The Return of Gojira); but never saw it in the theater. I did see various english-dub versions of different Godzilla movies on TV: Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (Ebirah, Horror of the Deep) was featured constantly. This American dub and edit is very likely single-handedly responsible for the negative opinion many people have had of Godzilla movies as cheap, poorly made, poorly written, etc. etc. Although considering the tragedy of the U.S. release of Godzilla vs. Megalon, which of the two is more responsible is debatable.

Gojira is a movie I only appreciate more each time I watch it. No matter which way I try to analyze the film, I come out 5 out of 5, no notes. Music, pacing, editing, story…it all comes out top quality. If you say exceptions need to be allowed because of the primitive production abilities available, I would grant you that. But EVEN THEN, the actual filmed result sets a bar for monster movies that wasn’t even MET by another production for years. It would take a revolution in specialFX that began almost two decades later to give better visuals to any kind of quality story. On top of that, not many subsequent monster movies count as quality HORROR movies…this one still does.

Toho, the studio that produced Gojira, cashed in on the movie’s success by rushing a sequel out the door the next year in 1955: Godzilla Raids Again (Counterattack of Gojira.) The production (minus noted director Ishiro Honda) team’s experience produced a *technically* better movie. The picture was brighter and clearer. The modified Godzilla suit was actually shown in daylight now; which unfortunately displayed as many negatives as positives. The story tries to be a little more mainstream than the tightly-focused Gojira; there are several subplots, two couples instead of a love triangle, multiple featured government officials rather than keeping the science to “the professor” and the military to “the military officer.” This actually serves to depersonalize the story, despite the addition of more people. The characters also seem more “stock” in Godzilla Raids Again. Toho also introduced another element that would become a foundation of future Godzilla movies: they added another monster for him to fight. While monster fights are a perennially-popular feature of Godzilla movies, rarely does this element coincide with a quality story or production. Unfortunately the monster fights in this film display a problem that would appear intermittently in the upcoming generation of Toho monster movies: poor speed timing. The trick to making something huge move realistically is slow movements. Gojira both had the Godzilla actor move slowly and ponderously, AND over-cranked the cameras so that when the footage was played back at the correct speed, the monster’s movements would appear slower than they actually were. The director of Godzilla Raids Again unfortunately didn’t understand this process (or a cameraman or editor made a mistake…all three explanations have been given) and several of the monster-fighting scenes were UNDERCRANKED, resulting in the monsters moving at hyperspeed when the film was played back normally. That they included the footage in the final release even after seeing the final product shows how much of a cash-in rush-job this movie was. With a less-compelling plot, well-lit monsters showing the limits of the monster-suit FX, and poorly filmed fights, the improvements that WERE incorporated were not able to drag this film above mediocrity at best. It’s no wonder the Godzilla name disappeared from Japanese cinemas for almost a decade.

It is tempting to blame Godzilla Raids Again for many of the more detrimental habits of Godzilla movies that would eventually appear. The one thing that probably sticks in this accusation is that the movie was a cash-grab made as cheaply as possible. As the original’s director, Ishiro Honda, was unavailable; Toho assigned a director they used frequently for low-cost/high margin productions. Honda, for whom Gojira had been a true passion project, was disappointed but would return to future installments…dutifully responding to the demands of the studio. In Japan more than in most other places, you respect the hierarchy and remember your place in it.

Gojira would be picked up for distribution in America in 1955 by private investors. Working with Ishiro Honda, Gojira was edited and spliced with new footage of American actor Raymond Burr interacting with Japanese-American actors as if they were part of the original movie. The footage created by Jewell Enterprises fits surprisingly well with the original Japanese content. The original footage is brightened up a bit, at least in “people” scenes to help match to two film sources. The “new” 1956 movie, titled Godzilla King of the Monsters, is both more watchable and enjoyable than the Godzilla sequel that was released in 1955 in Japan. Godzilla King of the Monsters has been heavily criticized for softening the anti-nuclear message of the original, and indeed for “Americanizing” the story in general. While arguments can be made concerning what was considered “necessary” for such a product AT THE TIME, GKotM left the original concept and plot largely intact. The movie just has an American, effectively, *watching* the original and explaining it to us. The creators had the decency to frame this new narrative in a documentary style rather than just making it an “American” movie. In my opinion, the single most effective and accurate criticism is that even given the assumptions of 1955, the edit and English-ing was unnecessary. The first thing older producers, actors, and directors talk about regarding this topic is that “nobody was going to see a movie with subtitles.” There is a TON of evidence this isn’t true, and arguments beyond that even. But the final verdict is that Godzilla King of the Monsters is, in its own right, a perfectly serviceable monster movie. And even, as I mentioned, better than the ACTUAL Gojira sequel.

Speaking of which, Godzilla Raids Again was edited and dubbed into Gigantis, the Fire Monster in 1959. Despite being purchased by the same group that produced Godzilla King of the Monsters, this film didn’t receive the same treatment. A full re-edit with newly-filmed inserts was planned, and the monster suits were even shipped to the U.S. Money problems eventually resulted in a series of distribution deals, and the final product was a mix of footage from GRA, the original movie, and other sci-fi and monster movies. I’ve never sought it out, myself; and have heard reviews varying from “garbage” to “serviceable.”

Godzilla would finally return to the screen in 1962…in a King Kong movie. Which is…interesting. The 1933 King Kong was a major, MAJOR inspiration for Gojira, and the great ape was experiencing a sudden explosion of popularity in Japan in the early 60’s. But before we talk about that, we probably better go back to 1933, and I’m not doing that this week. Plus, like I said, when I was a kid, Kong bored me. At 50, I find it a much more compelling movie. But even more so, the same-year sequel…Son of King Kong.


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6 thoughts on “Monster Movies at 50

  1. Olivier FAURE says:

    Speaking of Godzilla, the Godzilla Minus One movie is pretty good! The storytelling is pretty tight (I mean, there’s a lot of cliches and the twists are predictable, but overall the story is coherent and told at right pace), and in all the scenes where he appears Godzilla looks absolutely terrifying.

    It really made me want to watch the original Gojira movie.

    1. LizTheWhiz says:

      I absolutely adored Minus One, as did my mom. Every now and then we just go “Wow, what a good movie.”

    2. I have heard nothing but good about Godzilla -1. I still haven’t had the opportunity to watch it; and will most likely pick it up digitally or on blu-ray.

  2. Daimbert says:

    In my case, while I picked up a collection of Godzilla movies — twice, actually, by mistake — during the pandemic I never watched any of them. Oddly, it was the Universal Dracula movies that I also picked up and managed to get through, mostly because they fit into my horror category which I watch every week while Godzilla movies are categorized as science fiction which I only watch when I get around to it. What I found about the Dracula movies is that they were good for the most part, although you can see where modern cinematography has improved over that of the time, with in general cleaner transitions, more realistic dialogue — the movies tended to have overly dramatic and stilted dialogue — and endings that have proper denouements instead of just suddenly ending.

    To be honest, of the Dracula movies I think “Dracula’s Daughter” was the best one. “Dracula” was a decent retelling of the book, but “Dracula’s Daughter” was an interesting continuation of the idea that explored a new concept in an interesting way that had a lot of emotional resonance.

    1. I suspect that’s similar to what I found with “Son of Kong.” People usually don’t bring it up when talking about classic monster movies, but I honestly found it to be a better movie than “King Kong.” “King Kong” had the more impressive FX, of course; by some accounts “Son Of Kong” was made as much because they had a lot of footage filmed of lesser quality, and the script is mostly just a slightly adapted version of one “Kong” draft.

  3. Dreadjaws says:

    I only watched Gojira for the first time a few years ago, when the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray was released. Picked it up on a whim (since while I was aware of the existence of Godzilla I had never watched any of the Japanese films) and absolutely loved it. I think the movie holds up incredibly well. Since then I’ve watched a few other movies, but I’ve deliberately tried to avoid the sillier ones.

    The American films are alright. Roland Emmerich’s film is watchable if you think of it as a remake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rather than a Godzilla film. The new ones are OK, but while they’ve gotten flashier and more popular I’m liking them less and less each time. I really don’t have much hype for the upcoming Godzilla X Kong movie or whatever it’s called. I think I like these giant-monsters-fight-each-other movies more in concept than in execution.

    I really think Godzilla is at best when he’s the sole threat mankind has to deal with. I watched Shin Godzilla last year and loved it. Haven’t watched Minus One, since it hasn’t been released where I live. Ah, but they’ve made sure to let us know freaking Madame Web is certainly coming. I hate this place sometimes.

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