WIAC: Gojira

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

WIAC: Gojira

That there is the very first Monster.Movie.TV logo modeled on the UNGCC logo from the series in the 90s, I stopped using it because I didn’t want to be sued.  That is a fine example of how important this film is to me.  If you were to look around my office you would see reproductions of the original movie poster, the 1956 American poster and one of the Ultraman posters.  You would also see my collection of seven and twelve inch figures of various monsters from the Showa and Heisei series and my two twenty-two inch Millennium series Godzilla figures, and of course the Godzilla tattoo on my left arm.  Needless to say the big guy started a genre of film I have loved since I was in short pants.  Although prior to 1954 Kaiju wasn’t as big a deal as it is now so we are going to take a look at what was available in that genre before Gojira was released in Japan.

Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira) is a 1954 Japanese Science fiction Kaiju film produced by Toho.  Directed by Ishirō Honda and featuring special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, the film starred Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata and Takashi Shimura.  The plot tells the story of Godzilla, a giant monster mutated by nuclear radiation who ravages Japan, bringing back the horrors of nuclear devastation to a country that experienced it first hand.  It was the first of many Kaiju films released in Japan, paving the way and setting the standard for the genre and future Kaiju films, many of which feature Godzilla.

In the spring of 1956, TransWorld Releasing Corp. released an edited version of the film theatrically in the United States titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.  This version featured newly shot scenes of Hollywood actor Raymond Burr interspliced with the original Japanese footage.  In the spring of 2004, Rialto Pictures gave the original Japanese-language version of the film a limited theatrical release (with English subtitles) in the United States to coincide with Godzilla's 50th anniversary.

The opening scene of the Eiko Maru being obliterated by Godzilla's first attack and later scenes of survivors of other attacks being found with radiation burns, were inspired by the U.S. testing of a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll.  A real Japanese fishing ship, the Lucky Dragon 5, was overwhelmed when the U.S. Castle Bravo nuclear test had a yield of 15 megatons rather than the planned 6 megatons.  Military personnel, island natives and several Lucky Dragon 5 crew members, persons believed to be in a zone of safety, suffered from radiation sickness and at least one died six months later.  This created widespread fear of uncontrolled and unpredictable nuclear weapons, which the film makers symbolized with Godzilla.  The actual event played a major role in drawing attention to the hazards of nuclear fallout, and concerns were widespread about radioactively contaminated fish affecting the Japanese food supply.

Godzilla's climactic attack on Tokyo was meant to exemplify a rolling nuclear attack, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only much more slowly.  Honda had plotted it this way, having been shocked by the real devastation of those cities.

The film went through several different drafts.  Science fiction and horror novelist Shigeru Kayama was hired to write the original story.  The screenplay was written by Takeo Murata and Ishiro Honda.  In Kayama's draft, originally entitled Kaitei ni-man mairu kara kita daikaijû (lit. "The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"), and then later renamed G-Sakuhun (lit. Project G, with the G standing for the English word for Giant), Dr. Yamane was the antagonist and was seen as a mad scientist wearing a cape who lived in a gothic style house.  Godzilla's first appearance was to have him rise from the sea at night and destroy a light house.  This was an obvious homage to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  Murata and Honda altered and changed a few things from Kayama's draft and added new elements, like the love triangle between Emiko, Ogata, and Dr. Serizawa.  Dr. Yamane was changed from a mad scientist to an acclaimed paleontologist who seeks to study Godzilla rather than destroy him.  Godzilla itself was changed from Kayama's initial wild beast that came ashore to feed on live animals.

The monster story itself had been necessitated by an emergency.  The producers had planned a completely different film, but that project had fallen apart.  Toho demanded a film, any film, within a short time.  During an airplane ride, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had read of the Lucky Dragon incident, and was inspired.  The monster angle was derived from the success of Warner Bros.' 1953 film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  It was then that the creation of the monsters' design began to take place, beginning with the film's special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya's original suggestion of the monster being a giant octopus, the monster design later went several variations and features such as a hideous disportionate ape-like creature with head shaped like a mushroom, recalling the suggested references of mushroom clouds.  In the end, the filmmakers eventually settled on a dinosaur-like monster that was a cross of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an Iguanadon, a Stegosaurus, and a fire-breathing dragon.


The Lost World (1925)

  • Genre: Adventure – Fantasy – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Harry Hoyt
  • Produced:
    • Jamie White 
    • Earl Hudson
  • Written:
    • Arthur Conan Doyle (Novel “The Lost World”) 
    • Marion Fairfax (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Wallace Beery, Lloyd Hughes, Alma Bennett
  • Music: Cecil Copping
  • Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
  • Editing: George McGuire
  • Studio: First National Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • First National Pictures  
    • Universum Film
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 22 June 1925
  • Running Time: 106 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: Silent film / English intertitles

The Lost World is a 1925 silent fantasy adventure film and an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name.  The movie was produced by First National Pictures, a large Hollywood studio at the time, and stars Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger.  This version was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien (an invaluable warm up for his work on the original King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack).  Writer Doyle appears in a fronts piece to the film.  In 1998, the film was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Explorer Professor Challenger is taking quite a beating in the London press thanks to his claim that living dinosaurs exist in the far reaches of the Amazon.  Newspaper reporter Edward Malone learns that this claim originates from a diary given to him by fellow explorer Maple White's daughter, Paula.  Malone's paper funds an expedition to rescue Maple White, who has been marooned at the top of a high plateau.  Joined by renowned hunter John Roxton, and others, the group goes to South America, where they do indeed find a plateau inhabited by pre-historic creatures, one of which they even manage to bring back to London with them.


King Kong (1933)

  • Genre: Adventure – Fantasy – Horror
  • Directed:
    • Merian C. Cooper 
    • Ernest B. Schoedsack
  • Produced:
    • Merian C. Cooper 
    • Ernest B. Schoedsack 
    • David O. Selznick
  • Written:
    • Merian C. Cooper (Story) 
    • Edgar Wallace (Story) 
    • James Ashmore Creelman (Screenplay) 
    • Ruth Rose (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography:
    • Edward Linden 
    • J.O. Taylor 
    • Vernon L. Walker 
    • Kenneth Peach
  • Editing: Ted Cheesman
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • RKO Radio Pictures  
    • C&C Television Corporation  
    • American Broadcasting Company
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: March 2, 1933
  • Running Time: 100 minutes / 104 minutes (with overture)
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

King Kong is a pre-Code 1933 American fantasy monster/adventure film directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.  The screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose was from an idea conceived by Cooper and Edgar Wallace.  It stars Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong, and opened in New York City on March 2, 1933 to rave reviews.

The film tells of a gigantic, island-dwelling ape called Kong who dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman.  Kong is distinguished for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and its musical score by Max Steiner.  The film has been released to video, DVD, and Blu-ray Disc, and has been computer colorized.  King Kong is often cited as one of the most iconic movies in the history of cinema.  In 1991, it was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.  It has been remade twice: once in 1976 and again in 2005.

Before King Kong hit the silver screen, a long tradition of jungle films existed, and, whether drama or documentary, such films generally adhered to a narrative pattern that followed an explorer or scientist into the jungle to test a theory only to discover some monstrous aberration in the undergrowth.  In such films, scientific knowledge could be turned topsy-turvy at any time and it was this that provided the genre with its vitality, appeal, and endurance.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Lumière Brothers sent film documentarians to places westerners had never seen, and Georges Méliès utilized trick photography in film fantasies that prefigured that in King Kong.  Jungle films were launched in the United States in 1913 with Beasts in the Jungle, a film that mixed live actors with lions, a tiger, and other animals.  The film's popularity spawned similar pictures, including a few about "ape men" and gorillas.  In 1918, Elmo Lincoln starred in Tarzan of the Apes, and, in 1925, The Lost World made movie history with special effects by Willis O'Brien and a crew that later would work on King Kong.


The Son of Kong (1933)

  • Genre: Action – Adventure – Comedy
  • Directed: Ernest B. Schoedsack
  • Produced:
    • Merian C. Cooper 
    • Archie Marshek 
    • Ernest B. Schoedsack
  • Written: Ruth Rose
  • Starring: Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank Reicher, John Marston, Victor Wong, Edward Brady
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography:
    • Edward Linden 
    • J.O. Taylor 
    • Vernon L. Walker
  • Editing: Ted Cheesman
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • RKO Radio Pictures  
    • C&C Television Corporation  
    • Fox Hills Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 22 December 1933
  • Running Time: 70 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The Son of Kong is a 1933 American adventure film/monster movie produced by RKO Pictures.  Directed by Ernest Schoedsack and featuring special effects by Buzz Gibson and Willis O'Brien, the film starred Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack and Frank Reicher.  This film is the lesser known sequel to King Kong, and was released just nine months after its predecessor.

The film was produced and released in 1933, immediately following the success of King Kong (1933), and was a modest success.  Script writer Ruth Rose intentionally made no attempt to make a serious film on the logic that it could not surpass the first.  She stated "If you can't make it bigger, make it funnier."  For his part, Denham's actor, Robert Armstrong, preferred the second film, saying that the sequel offered more character development for Carl Denham.

The script/screenplay featured scenes of tribal warfare and a climactic dinosaur stampede during the massive cyclone/earthquake that sinks Skull Island at the film's end.  The stampede was going to utilize the models that had been built for Creation (1931) (most being used in the earlier King Kong).  However these sequences were never filmed due to the films tight budget and shooting schedule.

Helen Mack's character is never referred to as "Hilda" in the film.  The name "Hilda" is used in the credits and her father refers to her as "Madame Helene" during the show.  Denham just calls her "kid".

Little Kong was referred to as "Kiko" during production, but this name is never used in the film or in publicity materials.

Several models which were used for King Kong were also utilized for the production of The Son of Kong.  The "long face" Kong armature, from the log bridge and Tyrannosaurus fight sequences, was also used for "Little Kong".  It is the only known model of Kong still in existence and is currently owned by film historian and collector Bob Burns.  Also, the same Brontosaurus model used for the raft scene in King Kong can be glimpsed in the sea as the island is sinking.  The stop motion animation in the film (done by Willis O'Brien who also did the effects in King Kong) is not as extensive as in the original, but is notable for a sequence where a Styracosaurus chases the explorers through the jungle.  Today, the original Styracosaurus model is owned by director Peter Jackson, who remade King Kong in 2005.


King Kong Appears in Edo (1938)

  • Original Title: Edo ni arawareta Kingu Kongu: Henge no maki
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Directed: Sōya Kumagai
  • Produced: Unknown
  • Written: Daijō Aoyama
  • Starring: Eizaburo Matsumoto, Ryūnosuke Kabayama, Reizaburo Ichikawa, Reiko Mishima, Shōjirō Ogata, Sanshirō Mōri, Noboru Takajima
  • Music: Unknown
  • Cinematography: Yōzō Okuda
  • Editing: Unknown
  • Studio: Zensho Kinema
  • Distributed: Unknown
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 18 March 1938
  • Running Time:
  • Country: Japan
  • Language: Japanese

This film was produced by studio Zenshō Cinema without the permission of RKO Radio Pictures, which owned the rights to the King Kong character.  In this film, King Kong attacks medieval Edo (the former name of Tokyo)

The production was one of Japan's first Kaiju (giant monster) films, predating Godzilla by 16 years.  Fuminori Ohashi, who would later create the suit for Godzilla in the original 1954 film, created the ape suit and special effects for this film.  He explained, "The first model making to be counted as 'special art direction' in Japanese cinema was a giant gorilla which I did for the movie King Kong Appears in Edo fifty years ago.  It was also the first movie to feature certain kinds of special effects."

The film was not shown outside of Japan and has not been seen since its theatrical run in 1938.  It is believed the film either disappeared due to negligence or was destroyed during the bombings of Japan in World War II.

The film website Film Threat named King Kong Appears in Edo as one of the "most intriguing lost movies of all time".  James Rolfe of the website Cinemassacre listed King Kong Appears in Edo and Wasei Kingu Kongu as the top lost horror films, second being London After Midnight.


The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

  • Genre: Adventure – Horror – Sci-Fi 
  • Directed: Eugène Lourié
  • Produced:
    • Jack Dietz 
    • Hal E. Chester 
    • Bernard W. Burton
  • Written:
    • Ray Bradbury (Short Story “The Fog Horn”) 
    • Fred Freiberger (Screenplay) 
    • Eugène Lourié (Screenplay) 
    • Louis Morheim (Screenplay) 
    • Robert Smith (Screenplay) 
    • Daniel James (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey
  • Music: David Buttolph
  • Cinematography: Jack Russell
  • Editing: Bernard W. Burton
  • Studio: Jack Dietz Productions
  • Distributed: Warner Bros.
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 13 June 1953
  • Running Time: 80 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 science fiction giant monster film directed by Eugène Lourié, starring Paul Christian, Paula Raymond and Cecil Kellaway, and with visual effects by Ray Harryhausen.  The film is about an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle that unfreezes a hibernating dinosaur, the fictional Rhedosaurus, which begins to wreak havoc in New York City.  It was one of the first monster movies that helped inspire the following generation of creature features.

The short story "The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1951.  When Dietz and Chester were negotiating with Bradbury to rewrite their screenplay, he reminded them that both works shared a similar theme of a prehistoric sea monster and a lighthouse being destroyed.  The producers, who wished to share Bradbury's reputation and popularity, promptly bought the rights to his story and changed the film's title. The film credits list "Screen Play by Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger,  Suggested by the Saturday Evening Post Story by Ray Bradbury."

The original music score was composed by Michel Michelet, but when Warner Brothers purchased the film they had a new score written by David Buttolph.  Ray Harryhausen had been hoping that his film music hero Max Steiner would be able to write the music for the picture, as Steiner had written the landmark score for King Kong, and Steiner was under contract with Warner Brothers at the time.  Unfortunately for Harryhausen, Steiner had too many commitments to allow him to do the film, but fortunately for film music fans, Buttolph composed one of his most memorable and powerful scores, setting much of the tone for giant monster music of the 1950s.

Some early pre-production conceptual sketches of the Beast showed that at one point it was to have a shelled head and at another point was to have a beak.  Creature effects were assigned to Ray Harryhausen, who had been working with Willis O'Brien, the man who created King Kong, for years.  The monster of the film looks nothing like the Brontosaurus-type creature of the short story.  The creature in the film is instead some kind of prehistoric predator.  A drawing of the creature was published along with the story in The Saturday Evening Post.  At one point there were plans to have the Beast snort flames, but this idea was dropped before production began due to budget restrictions.  However, the concept was still used in the movie poster artwork.  Later, the Beast's nuclear flame breath would be the inspiration of the original 1954 film of Godzilla.

In a scene attempting to identify the Rhedosaurus, Professor Tom Nesbitt rifles through dinosaur drawings of Charles R. Knight, a man whom Harryhausen claims as an inspiration.  Knight died in 1953, the year Beast was released.

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