Japanese release title: Godzilla vs. Megaro
U.S. release date: April, 1976 by Cinema Shares International.
Japanese audience attendance: 980,000
Director: Jun Fukuda
Screenplay: Jun Fukuda
Sfx: Teruyoshi Nakano
Musical score: Riichiro Manabe
Several edited U.S. versions are available on home video, including one from Goodtimes Home Video and several more public domain copies; the best version is currently available from Star Maker Video.
Atomic bomb tests are still being conducted by various governments across the globe in the Pacific Ocean, with the effects being felt on places such as Monster Island, causing severe irritation to Godzilla, Anguirus, and Rodan in the process.
Meanwhile, the famed roboticist Prof. Goro Ibuki, his race car driver friend Hiroshi Jinkowa, and the former’s young brother Rokkuchan are out on a pleasant afternoon boating ride, when a piercing glow from underwater punches a huge hole in the bottom of the lake, completely draining the water into the ground, and nearly killing Rokkuchan in the process. This turns out to be the prelude of an attack on the surface world by an advanced subterranean race called the Seatopians, the descendants of the sole survivors of the ancient sunken continent of Mu (a different race than the Muans featured in the classic 1963 Toho adventure film Atragon; in the West, Mu is usually referred to as Lemuria, a legendary continent that reportedly once existed in the Pacific Ocean, much as Atlantis was reputed to have existed in the Atlantic Ocean). The Seatopians are incensed at the damage inadvertently done to their underground kingdom by the atomic bomb tests from the surface world civilizations, and they decide on further retaliation. They release a giant bipedal insectoid kaiju called Megalon from his underground home to wreak havoc on the surface, but in order to control the monster they need a flying humanoid robot called Jet Jaguar, who was built by Prof. Ibuki. To secure the aid of the robot, the Prof. and Rokkuchan are kidnapped by Seatopian agents, though they are later rescued by Jinkowa. Although Jet Jaguar initially obeys the commands of the Seatopians to lead Megalon in an attack on various Japanese cities, a pre-programmed directive instilled by Prof. Ibuki to insure that the robot only serves the cause of “justice” takes effect.
Thus, Jet Jaguar frees himself from Seatopian control, and acting autonomously, the robot flies to Monster Island and asks for Godzilla’s assistance via a strange form of sign language. As Godzilla swims towards Japan, Jet Jaguar flies back much quicker, and confronts Megalon in the countryside. Somehow programming himself to grow from his human-sized height to 50 meters tall, Jet Jaguar engages the giant insectoid in battle, utilizing his great bionic strength and pre-programmed martial arts moves to good effect. After it appears that the heroic robot is getting the better of Megalon, the Seatopians contact the alien race known as the Nebulans, who hail from a the planet in the Hunter M Nebula (seen the previous year in Godzilla vs. Gigan)m and ask for the assistance of their deadly cyborg monster Gigan, which is granted.
Jet Jaguar is totally overwhelmed by the combined might of Megalon and Gigan, when Godzilla finally arrives. A great four-way battle then ensues, which ends with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar driving the two evil monsters back to their respective territories, Gigan in outer space and Megalon underground; the Seatopians respond by immediately sealing all entrances to their subterranean domain. After exchanging a handshake, Godzilla returns to Monster Island, and Jet Jaguar restores himself to human size and to the control of Prof. Ibuki, ready to defend Japan again if the need ever arises.
This film is often criticized by G-fans as being the worst Godzilla movie of all time. Produced during what can be considered both the zenith of Godzilla’s super-hero days and during the heyday of Japanese television’s live action sentai [monster-fighting super-hero] craze, Toho decided to have this film reflect both of these fads in full swing. G-film reviewers John Rocco Roberto and Robert Biondi had these criticisms about this movie in G-FAN #16: “...terrible score, juvenile script, laughable battle scenes, few new destruction scenes, riddled with stock footage and populated with a small cast, Godzilla vs. Megalon brought the series to an all-time low.” All of the latter complaints cannot be disputed; however, IMHO this movie remains one of my personal favorites in the Showa G-series, and certainly deserves a somewhat better reputation than it's usually afforded in reviews by G-fans and general sci-fi mavens.
First, the bad points. This movie was second only to Godzilla’s Revenge as being Toho’s greatest G-film cost saver, as all of the city destruction scenes outside of the nice depiction of Megalon smashing a dam were 'accomplished' via stock footage. Megalon’s bio-electric discharges were animated to be identical in appearance to King Ghidorah’s gravity beams, so that old footage featuring the space dragon’s own energy beams destroying buildings could be lifted from previous films to depict Megalon's destructive assault on the sprawling metroplex without Toho having to construct any new miniatures. All of the scenes of the military attacking Megalon with Toho's famous maser tanks, a futuristic weapon that first appeared in the classic Toho sci-fi film The Mysterians (1957), and first used against dai kaiju in War of the Gargantuas (1966), were "borrowed" from the latter film. All scenes of the monsters fighting each other were done in a barren countryside setting to (once again) avoid having to construct city miniatures. The battle scenes were admittedly jumbled, but nevertheless dynamic.
Jun Fukuda’s direction of the simplistic script he assisted in helming was fair, but perhaps no more than could be expected, considering the tepid nature of the human characterization. Jet Jaguar is considered a lame creation by many G-fans, not living up to the standards of many of Japan’s other kaiju-fighting heroes he was created to imitate, like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Riichiro Manabe’s music hasn’t improved one bit since its G-series debut in Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. This movie was indisputably done for a very young audience, and even the new G-suit was constructed to reflect this, with a non-menacing, muppet-like face. Hiroyuki Kawase, the child star from Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, was back for this film, this time as Rokkuchan Ibuki, meaning that the adult audience (if there was any) had to deal with yet another child actor (but at least this time around the redoubtable hammy child actor wasn't named "Kenny" or "Ken" in the American version!). The voice-over dubbing of Rokkuchan for the American version, like the dubbing in general (cheaply done by an Australian company), was incredibly annoying to behold.
Now, for the good points. I believe that Toho utilizing a giant super-hero rather than another giant monster as Godzilla’s obligatory ally was a unique touch, and when I first saw the film in a drive-in at the tender age of eight, my eyes lit up. The solo fight scene between Jet Jaguar and Megalon was excellent, a real triumph for the otherwise unremarkable sfx work done by Teruyoshi Nakano for this movie. Although Godzilla’s fighting techniques were far more human than animal-like for this film (in marked contrast to more recent G-films), the two scenes of the Kaiju King sliding across the ground on his tail to double kick Megalon was quite memorable, and not nearly as stupid as the scene where he utilized his atomic breath as 'thrust' in order to become airborne in Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, or even literally doing a victory dance in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (and the latter flick was a far more serious film).
However, I must agree with John and Robert on their point that this film ultimately left a negative image of Godzilla in the minds of most Westerners that persists to this day. As Cinema Shares’ first handling of a G-film, it was given a decent stateside release and an excellent promotion campaign, something that was not repeated for an American G-film theatrical release until nine years later with Godzilla 1985. Among the ultra-snazzy promo items released were heaps of cool pressbooks that portrayed Godzilla (who was depicted with a truly menacing appearance unlike the one he sported in the movie) and Megalon confronting each other atop the twin towers of the ill-fated pre-9/11 World Trade Center (in obvious imitation of the disastrous 1976 Dino De Laurentis King Kong remake), several classic stills from the movie, buttons depicting all four kaiju in the film, and a cheaply made, coverless four page comic book with wonderful artwork, inaccurate information (Gigan was called “Borodan” and Jet Jaguar was referred to as “Robotman”), and brief but fairly bloody battle scenes in which we finally got to see Gigan use his laser beam. My grandmother, who worked as a secretary in the film business back then, managed to get me a rather impressive four-foot cardboard cutout of Godzilla that was copied from the pressbook picture, but she could never find me one of Megalon.
In an unprecedented move, NBC played a severely truncated version of the film as a TV movie of the week, something not done before or since for a G-film. It was, however, portrayed as a comedy special, including being hosted by the late comic actor John Belushi decked out in the silly G-suit seen in the film Hollywood Boulevard, and featuring hokey TV GUIDE advertising slogans such as “Two mighty monsters with a difference of opinion thrash it out.”
Sociologically speaking, the movie did feature a protest against atomic bomb tests which, even as a child, was made perfectly clear to me by its presentation in the film (not that children are nearly as stupid as most adults think they are today), and I saw the Seatopians as being quite sympathetic (even if the costumes they wore were terribly awful to behold). Also, the appearance of Gigan was more than enough to spruce the film up a notch (he still didn’t use his laser beam onscreen, though). Strangely, although Cinema Shares' advertising venture made the film a modest box office success in America, the Japanese audiences refused to go and see something on the big screen that they could see on television for free (i.e., the proliferation of sentai shows in the Land of the Rising Sun during the '70's), and this resulted in the lowest audience attendance record of any G-film in Japan up to that point. Ironically, this film was seen by more Americans at any one time than any other G-film, and, as noted above, was the last G-film to be given a good stateside release until Godzilla 1985 was released by New World Pictures nine years later. The next three G-films released in America were all given small and very limited releases (particularly Terror of Mechagodilla, which was seen by relatively few G-fans in American theaters since it's run was so short in span and limited in stateside distribution), and then only in the long defunct kiddie matinees, rather than playing the mainstream theaters and drive-ins. Further, no other G-film released in the '70's received the pricey and fairly elaborate ad campaign that this movie was afforded.
As has often been said by G-fans before, the wide release of this one movie unfortunately resulted in Western audiences still perceiving Godzilla as a campy, juvenile character worthy only as trash for the children's market, a tone the subsequent films in the '70’s adhered to, albeit to a much lesser extent.
In actuality, however, the Japanese version of the movie contained quite a bit of blood and mild profanity, and even scenes in a cab depicting nude pinups in the back, which, along with Rokkuchan’s kidnapping scene, were edited out whenever the film was seen after its initial Cinema Shares release (oddly, the kidnapping scene was retained in the version of this film seen as a "Movie of the Week" by NBC soon after the U.S. theatrical release). It should be noted that children in Eastern nations are not coddled nearly as much as their less than respected counterparts in many Western nations (particularly the U.S.), and thus have a considerably higher tolerance for things such as violence and certain depictions of sexuality onscreen. The multitudes of American parents in the early 1990's who complained loudly and to high heaven about the "horrendous" amounts of violence seen onscreen in the initial season of Saban's Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers should have seen Goaranger, the Japanese late 1980's sentai TV series that the latter show was adapted from, where violent deaths were depicted on a regular basis, as well as the main cast seen smoking and drinking to excess on many an occasion, and these parents would have been utterly amazed to see how much the once mega-popular Power Rangers franchise was watered down by Saban from the very start for the kiddie audiences in America!
And don't even get me started about that dubbing again!
It should also be noted that it was this version of Godzilla who was seen just two months later in several episodes of Toho's sentai TV series Zone Fighter, the Meteor Man (covered in a seperate entry elsewhere in this section of the site).
The terribly butchered version of this movie mentioned above has been acquired by numerous bargain basement video companies for release to home video through the past two decades, and the best quality version that can be found was, until very recently, available dirt cheap by Goodtimes Home Video. New World Video planned on releasing a high quality, unedited version of the film, as it did for Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, but declined due to the large number of awful public domain copies that still abound. However, Star Maker Video, who picked up and re-released the two aforementioned New World Video titles, has finally released a superior version of Godzilla vs. Megalon, and all of the deleted scenes have been restored in this home video version.
Although I believe the movie can be regarded as quite entertaining by those who aren’t too quick to judge, I do have to admit that it ultimately did seemingly irreparable damage to Godzilla’s image on this side of the Pacific, and as a result G-fans still suffer from biased comments from non-fans such as “aren’t you ‘too old’ to watch Godzilla movies?” These, of course, are uninformed individuals who have probably never seen the original Godzilla, King Of The Monsters (1954), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), or some of the films in the Heisei G-series, such as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2 (1993). I believe that this movie deserves more of a look than most reviewers claim, and it's considered to be a nifty and nostalgic guilty pleasure by a small number of G-fans, myself included.
And just to prove that I'm not the only online reviewer who actually enjoyed this much-maligned G-film despite its terrible reputation among G-fandom, check out this review of the film to be found here on the great sci-fi movie review site Dante's Inferno (and Dante liked the movie so much, he named one of his cats after Jet Jaguar :)
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