Godzilla Goodness: GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956)
By Witney Seibold on April 29, 2014
Day three of Nerdist’s epic coverage of all the Godzilla films to date brings us to the American remake. #3: Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Gojira was a huge hit in Japan, and it only took two years for America to catch on. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a highly re-edited and dubbed version of the 1954 original, altered to include actor Raymond Burr to serve as the narrator. And while the impact of this film is ultimately pretty much the same as the original, it feels like a lesser movie in comparison.
Burr plays an American reporter maned Steve Martin who is in Japan to report on some mysterious monster sightings, and who, thanks to some clever editing, seems to be witnessing the events of Gojira first hand. Some of the original Japanese dialogue is left intact, but translated for Martin’s benefit by other newly-incorporated Japanese actors. Some of the dialogue is just dubbed. The story is the same: A monster arrives in Japan, created/awakened by bomb testing, and it’s up to Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer to take care of it. Like the original, the tone is downright somber, and the tragedy of destruction is the thematic centerpiece. Indeed, this new cut begins with a scene of destruction, and then flashes back to the monster discovery.
The pleasure of watching a Godzilla movie is still intact with this re-cut, but it seems slightly lesser than the original, a little more obvious. The original was suffused with over-the-top melodrama, but here, everything is literally explained for the American audience. The best parts, however, are left completely untouched: that is, Godzilla’s stompy mayhem scenes. Those are still great to behold.
Why bother to re-cut Gojira? Why not just release it untouched? Well, the American producers clearly felt that a film featuring nothing but Japanese characters would be hard for American genre audiences to accept, so they included an American actor to smooth over the cultural differences. I’m loath to say that this was perhaps the wisest choice in 1956. I’m not sure if American youngsters would see a film like Gojira. Japanese films wouldn’t begin to be seen in America until Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, so there was no precedent. After Godzilla hit theaters, films like Seven Samurai (also released in America in 1956) started to become art house hits. Japanese movies then slowly became available stateside. But it took a severe re-edit of a monster film to make it happen.
Indeed, this may be the version most Americans are familiar with. The original Gojira wasn’t theatrically released in America, in its original language, until 2004. Raymond Burr is, in the minds of many, kind of the human face of the Godzilla series, and has become an inextricable part of the Godzilla mythos. Indeed, Burr would be tapped to star in Godzilla 1985, which was the American re-cut of the first Godzilla reboot. But we’ll get to that one in due course.
And, to address it: Yes, the word “Godzilla” is indeed a mispronunciation of “Gojira.” If we wanted to be technically correct, we would refer to the monster and the series as Gojira, and not by its anglicized bastardization. The mispronunciation has, however, already been codified in popular culture. I will continue to use the incorrect version, as it is now pretty much the accepted version. I hope any purists reading this article will forgive me.
Thanks to the popularity of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in America, an unofficial rivalry began between our favorite radioactive amphibian, and a particularly beloved giant ape. It would take six years for the series to resurface, but it would do so in a seriously spectacular way. Join me tomorrow for the awesome Ape Fight Lizard.
Up next: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)