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Movie Review

Learn to appreciate 'Godzilla' in all his fiery fury

By Rob Rector | May 18, 2014
Bryan Cranston stars in "Godzilla."

I have already expressed my love for giant monster movies (what the cool kids now call "kaiju") when reviewing "Pacific Rim." Thanks to "Creature Double Feature," which ran on Philadelphia's Channel 48 back in the day, I bore witness to a healthy serving of rubber-suited Sumo wrestling amidst miniature models. Aside from providing my parents with four nonstop hours of babysitting, it stoked in me a lifelong love of watching worldwide chaos from our favorite city-stomping, supersized salamander, Godzilla.  In light of the newest incarnation (his 32nd big-screen appearance, by the way) opening this weekend, it might be worth reflecting back upon Godzilla’s six decades of film work (suck on that, James Bond) and recognizing his towering achievements (sadly, not a single Oscar nod) and his fizzling misfires. There are three distinct eras of the series: the Showa (the original), the Heisei (which ran from the mid '80s to mid '90s), and the Millenium (which picked up the franchise in 1999 and ran until 2004). Intermittently, the U.S. attempted to cash in on the crazes, with three of its own releases, some merely reworking footage from the original Toho Studio releases, others attempting to wholly recreate him (as in 1998 and the most recent version).

Where to begin to truly appreciate Godzilla in all his fiery fury? There are films available on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and various other outlets, and the films don't really follow a chronology, but that should not stop you from taking a bite out of the legacy of a cultural icon. I offer suggestions of essential entries and treacherous tarpits along decades of destruction from the Lizard King.

Avoid:

“Godzilla” (1998): The American remake pits Ferris Bueller against the beast, which decides to tour New York City. Reviled by the very studio that created the beast, it's not even recognized by them and makes a brief cameo into one of its own films, only to be destroyed within moments of being on screen.

“Godzilla Raids Again” (1955): Erasing all the political and social underpinnings of the original, this was a direct sequel and feels cheap and rushed in every possible way. It's like the "Hangover II" of Godzilla films. Also known as "Gigantis, the Fire Monster."

“Godzilla's Revenge” (1969): Opting for a more "family friendly" approach to Godzilla's destruction, the monsters featured are all figments of a bullied kid's imagination. This film was infamous for birthing Minilla, Godzilla's son. Try to picture a kid keeping a spawn of "Jaws" in his tub for a pet and you may start to get the picture. Also known as "All Monsters Attack."  Also skip "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" (1966), also known as "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster" and "Son of Godzilla" (1967).

Watch:

“Mothra vs. Godzilla” (1964): Earth is protected by - what else: a giant moth. It's a film that still took its main monster seriously and results in some of the series’ better battle sequences. Also known as "Godzilla vs. The Thing."

“Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” (1974): It's easy to see why this is one of Godzilla's most popular foes; Mechagodzilla is worthy, and in ways superior to the leaping lizard as he squares off against him and an ally named King Caesar, which is some sort of canine that is stirred into battle. Funky and fun.

“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (1991): This one gives Godzilla his origin story and sheds light on another of his most notable foes, Ghidorah. It heads off the rails in all the right ways and is perhaps one of the most entertaining franchise films to date.

Also noteworthy: "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" (1971), also known as "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster," "Godzilla 2000" (1999), and the superstar spectacular "Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” (2001).

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