Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movies You Already Should've Seen: GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA

at 1:00 PM
Alright, this isn't exactly a movie you already should've seen unless you're a Godzilla fan. Luckily I am. Golem though is too pragmatic to waste his time on such "hullabaloo". Be sure to check out our primer on the franchise.

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992)
AKA: Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth
Directed by: Takao Okawara
Written by: Kazuki Ohmori

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA in one sentence:
Yourself: The poster's cool I guess.

Here's a story about me and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA:
Yourself: Since first being exposed to the series almost exactly two years ago, this is my 12th Godzilla, 5th Heisei. I rank the original MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA highly for being so gung-ho weird, but I've never been big on Mothra as an idea.

Get the plot bitching out of your system:
Yourself: The story goes that after the grim scifi of VS. BIOLLANTE failed to score at the box office, Toho Studios lost faith in the series and rerouted toward nostalgia. In addition to a broader tone, that meant reviving old monsters. You could argue either way for this as a creative decision (I'm okay with it on an occasional basis), but it wasn't one, so it doesn't matter. Mothra and the gang had to come back for the movies to be made. By comparison to the insane time-travel abomination that is the interceding VS. KING GHIDORAH, VS. MOTHRA's premise as a semi-remake of 1964's MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA seems downright agreeable. But it is all handled with the careless aplomb of the Heisei writers, whom I imagine providing one line descriptions of each scene and letting the director randomly select a location and actor to provide that exposition.

Both the 1964 story and this one hinge on convincing a dogmatic protector of the earth that humanity is on its side. In the original that guardian was Mothra, provided a human avatar in the Infant Islanders. To win over Mothra, the protagonists had to travel to Infant Island to face the tribe, in the process owning their past abuse of technology and pledging reconciliation. I thought that was pretty phony, but it's fucking Shakespeare compared to GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA's handling of the same idea. This time Battra is the angry spirit and Mothra humanity's advocate, which incidentally leaves no reason for Godzilla or the Infant Islanders to be in the film (unsurprisingly only the latter were cut). Inspired by some really pitiful begging and the shameless plea of a child, Mothra sways Battra by moth-talking to it. For way longer than I need to see two puppets hover face-to-face accompanied by nonsense Foley.

The real-estate developer subplot is back too, likewise managing to be more banal than its inspiration. Last time the developers monopolized the Mothra egg for a tourist attraction, endangering civilians and preventing scientific research. It was also presumably their digging that awakened Godzilla. They eventually stole the Minimoth Girls, impeding the heroes' ability to make amends with the Infant Islanders. This time the developers are the ones who send the protagonist to find the Mothra egg, but Mothra is good, so whatever. Again they steal the Minimoth Girls (to use them as a tourist attraction), but this is resolved when the one guy feels bad about it and gives them back. What an awesome subplot. I did find it funny that they make the girls live in a dollhouse, though even that is delivered poorly (why spoil the joke by having a character say it before showing it?).

The aesthetic is basically:
Yourself: Lazy is a word that comes to mind. Most of the first 20 minutes are set in the wilds of Infant Island. The greenery is nice and I would've bought that they were in the jungle were the whole thing not over so quickly. There are some ancient ruins that look claustrophobic in the sense of a crawlspace, decorated with more dirt and cobwebs than authentic stone and carving. Ignoring that this is all straight out of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (see that weird thing I discussed re: GvB, GvKG, and GvD), it's a novel enough setting for monster battles. I'd like to see Godzilla mow down the rainforest (actually they basically did that in Skies of Arcadia!).

Unfortunately the only monster we get on the island is Mothra's giant egg, then it's back to boring light-grey Tokyo that I've seen a million times. I said this in regards to GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA and it once again applies here: broad daylight and miniatures do not mix. Worm-Mothra is as awful a costume as it's ever been, but its rigid plasticity is at its worst during daytime shooting that casts the sets like Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

Performances to speak of?
Yourself: I sat looking at the ceiling for a good 90 seconds before I decided the most honest thing to write would be I sat looking at the ceiling for a good 90 seconds trying to remember a single performance. And I literally just finished watching the movie a half hour ago. There's not even anyone with a dumb gimmick like eating eggs, and by the time the 'main' character stopped wearing a Rambo headband there were actually a couple scenes in which I did not recognize him.

That being the case, let's just use this segment to talk about monsters. Battra is a good idea. I always wondered what would happen if the second Mothra larva in MOTHRA VS. hadn't been killed, and this is clearly riffing on that. The Minimoth Girls are twins after all; duality is in some way inherent to this character. Unfortunately, that means Battra fails what I have just this second dubbed "the profile test" - that to be sufficiently memorable, a monster should be distinguishable by its general shape, i.e. its profile. Rodan has bat wings. Ghidorah has three heads. Anguirus is a ball of spikes. Hell, even the MUTOs provide a distinctly insectoid silhouette. The shitty forgettable monsters are the ones that look like a human in a Halloween costume, e.g. Megalon or King Caesar. Likewise, Battra is just a black Mothra with spikes. It is too different to cruise by on the strength of Mothra's design but too similar to pass the profile test. The resultant spiky alien caterpillar is a contrived creation that echoes the conceptual drought of monster-of-the-week shows like Ultraman or Super Sentai. Or Pokemon. Or late-'60s Godzilla.

Also, I don't really like Mothra to start with. The worm form is so fucking sluggish and the imago is mostly an amalgam of magic powers making lemonade from the fact that a moth can't do much other than hover and glide (particularly considering the limitations of giant puppet wings). The new 'reflector spores' are actually kinda neat, although possibly just because I recognize the attack from PS2's Save the Earth. The main problem is that there's not much Godzilla can do with Mothra. He can't grapple it, he can't throw it, he can hardly bite it or slap it with his tail, so it's mostly just lazer breath. And while the Heisei lazer breath is typically its best special effect, eventually it does get old.

A really cool shot or scene:
Yourself: We get two new takes on the kaiju duel here. Introducing two airborne monsters opens the opportunity for a fully aerial battle, and thankfully the film takes it. (I have to assume this happened at some point in the Showa years with Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan floating around, but I have not seen it). At a basic level it's scripted like a dogfight, with the monsters speeding after each other firing off lasers and fighting for position. There are even some overhead shots showing the city underneath, enforcing the sense of enormity that could be lost in shooting directly against the sky. I'd say it doesn't go on for long, but it goes on for plenty long. The other battles are just so distended that this one feels short by comparison.

Better still, there's a sea floor battle between Godzilla and Worm-Battra. It is definitely one of the coolest fights of the series, at least in concept. Worm-Battra doesn't do much but shoot lightning, but the whole thing is quickly edited and shot at weird angles, suggesting the disorienting darkness of the ocean. The bluish murk has just the opposite effect from daylight on the miniatures - for a moment they were believably obscured. Just don't ask me how Godzilla is suddenly kilometers under the surface (deep enough to fall into the Earth's mantle) after two seconds earlier he was standing waist deep swatting battleships.

What does it all really mean?
Yourself:

Note to future self on watching GOJIRA TAI MOSURA:
Yourself: When we started this feature, I told Golem I'd like to keep these reviews positive, forgoing the process of weighing good vs. bad to instead focus on aspects that might pique a reader's interest. Since he's not here I'll cut straight to it: this is not a movie anyone should see.

Come back next week to find out if Greg and Greg finally get around to finishing COMING TO AMERICA.

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