Sometimes, when a series goes on for too long and sees a new installment released every year, it’s clear the series needs to take a break, and that was the case with the Godzilla series in the late 60’s and early 70’s. After the release of Destroy All Monsters, which was intended to be the last installment, the series kept on going and releases such as Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla vs. Megalon dragged the quality of the series down. Eventually, the original series of Godzilla films ended on a high note with 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, but it was clear that the King of the Monsters needed a break after so many yearly releases. Nearly ten years after the release of Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla returned to the big screen in 1984 with the release of Godzilla, or The Return of Godzilla. A year later, New World Pictures, a studio founded by infamous B-Movie director Roger Corman, picked up the rights to release the movie in the U.S. In the process, new scenes were added in while scenes from the original cut of the movie were altered, deleted, or rearranged, and thus, America got Godzilla 1985.
The movie is a restart to the series, acting as a sequel to the original Godzilla, and ignoring the sequels that came after it, something that would be taken to the extreme in the Millenium series of Godzilla movies, where most of the installments didn’t have any connections to each other and instead, used the original Godzilla as the jumping off point.
The movie begins with a fishing boat caught in the middle of a raging storm, and the boat captain is having a hard time trying to prevent the boat from sinking. What the boat and its crew don’t know is that on a nearby island, Godzilla is in a slumber, and it isn’t before long that he wakes up and attacks the boat. After the attack, a journalist, who is out at sea looking for the boat, manages to find the boat and its mostly dead crew, save for one survivor. The survivor explains to the reporter that Godzilla arose and attacked the boat. When the Japanese government learns of his return and attack on the boat, they try their best to keep it a secret, but it doesn’t work when news breaks out that a Russian nuclear submarine was destroyed, which was the work of Godzilla. This creates global tension and members of the American and Russian governments get together with the Prime Minister of Japan to discuss the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Godzilla, should he appear in Japan. The Prime Minister says no to that option, knowing that trying to use such weapons won’t work. Later on in the movie, Godzilla makes his way to Tokyo to cause chaos and destruction, much like what the first Godzilla did thirty years ago.
The plot is straightforward and nothing to write home about. In many ways, the movie’s story feels like a retread of the original Godzilla’s plot, the difference being that this time there’s the presence of other nations who are trying to help Japan stop Godzilla, but the methods they suggest aren’t the best ideas. This is made up, however, by the movie’s tone and direction. After Godzilla had become a heroic and kid friendly monster in the latter half of the original series, this movie re-establishes him as an unstoppable force of destruction and a metaphor for the dangers of using nuclear weaponry, which is what Godzilla represented in the first movie. The redesigned look he has in this movie makes him look menacing, as do several close up and low angle shots of him whenever he’s onscreen.
As I mentioned earlier, when the movie was released in the U.S., certain scenes from the original cut were either deleted or altered, and music from one of New World Pictures’ other movies, Defcon 4, was also inserted into certain scenes in the movie, such as the scene with the Russian nuclear submarine encountering Godzilla. New scenes were also added set in the Pentagon which featured actor Raymond Burr reprising his role as journalist Steve Martin from the re-edit of the first Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. For me, the new scenes and changes they made to the movie don’t bother me. Unlike the re-edits of other Godzilla movies such as Godzilla Raids Again and King Kong vs. Godzilla, where the changes and scenes added in negatively affected the pacing and story of the movie, such edits that were done to this movie don’t bother me because they don’t detract from the movie itself. That’s not to say I have a couple of problems with the new scenes added in. Certain scenes feature blatant product placement for Dr. Pepper and one of the new characters in the added scenes seems to only function as bad comic relief.
The characters, both in the original footage and new footage, are pretty bland. Though the performances from the actors who dubbed the characters in the original footage are good and Raymond Burr’s character does say some interesting things regarding Godzilla and how unstoppable he is.
Since the previous Godzilla movie, the effects have received an update and even today the movie holds up well in the effects department. The miniature work looks good with the highlight being the combat scenes between the army and Godzilla, as well as the fight scenes with the Super X, a flying vehicle created by the Japanese government to fight off Godzilla. As I mentioned before, the Godzilla suit has been updated and altered to give him a more menacing look. However, in some close-up shots of Godzilla’s face, the eyes can get lopsided, making Godzilla look stupid when it happens.
The movie’s music reflects the dark tone of the movie by being dramatic and ominous, which reflects the role of Godzilla in this movie. Even the music from Defcon 4 sounds pretty good when it’s used in the movie.
Something I want to address before I end this review is that as of 2015, this movie is the only Godzilla movie to not have an official release in the U.S. on either DVD or Blu-Ray. If you want to see this movie or the original cut, you either have to track down a VHS copy of Godzilla 1985, which is how I saw the movie...
...or go for the pricier alternative of importing the original cut of the movie. I’m not sure why this movie hasn’t been released on DVD yet, from what I’ve heard there are rights issues which are holding an official release of the movie back; regardless, it’s something that needs to be rectified.
In conclusion, Godzilla 1985 does a good job at revitalizing the series with a movie that manages to make Godzilla feel like a threat again. While the plot is nothing special and the characters are bland; this is made up by the dark tone of the movie, plus the well done effects and musical score. If you can find a copy of this movie, give it a watch.
Final Score: 7/10