Historians will likely spend the next few generations locked in heated debate about which particular film was the event, the defining moment, the raison d’etre (pardon my French) of the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival… but for this reporter it had to be the world premiere of the new restoration of Ishiro Honda’s Gojira… better known on this side of the Pacific — and, really, everywhere at this late date — as GODZILLA (1954). If you will permit a personal note, the first feature film I ever saw as a new resident of Hollywood back in the summer of 2004 was a Godzilla picture. That year marked the 50th anniversary of Toho’s release of the original Gojira and the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre right here on Hollywood Boulevard played host to a Godzilla retrospective. On that June night ten years ago, my wife and I sat in for Godzilla: SOS Tokyo (2003) — the first G-movie I had seen on the big screen in probably thirty years. How fitting, then, nearly ten years to the date since I last saw a Godzilla movie on the big screen that I find myself back in the presence of G-ness, seeing a newly restored version of this game-changing kaiju eiga prepared in celebration of GODZILLA‘s 60th birthday.
It is important at this juncture to observe a distinction between Ishiro Honda’s original film and the 1956 American release titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which shucked about thirty minutes of the original film to shoe horn in a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr in the role of Yankee reporter Steve Martin, who becomes a sort of snap-on protagonist with the plot canted to occur before his horrified eyes while faceless Asian body doubles stand in for the film’s true stars (among them frequent Akira Kurosawa collaborator Takashi Shimura, as a concerned paleontologist who comports himself with Willy Loman-like gravitas while Tokyo crumbles around him) and a dubbed English language soundtrack makes it all work. The American re-edit was such a box office smash that it won a release in the film’s country of origin, where Japanese distributors attempted to persuade moviegoers that the film was now “100% more interesting.”
Though bearing the title GODZILLA, today’s screening showcased the Ishiro Honda original, restored to its former somber and exceedingly frank glory. On hand to present the film were film historian Eddy von Mueller and British director Gareth Edwards, whose elegeic 2010 indie Monsters won him the opportunity to direct a big budget American reboot of Godzilla, to be released this year as well under the joint ageis of Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures, Disruption Entertainment, and Toho Company. Von Mueller dripped some honey on the packed house at the Egyptian Theatre this morning by averring that “TCM is the best friend the big screen ever had on the little screen,” which earned him brownie points with festival attendees while his knowledge of and passion for all things Godzilla earned him his place in the spotlight. Von Muller provided a thumbnail description of the 28-film Godzilla series spawned by Gojira before bringing on Edwards for a brief discussion of the enduring power of the film as a record of the anxieties and sorrows of the survivors (both literally and culturally) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Knowing full well that the crowd was not gathered to hear them speak about Godzilla but to see the main attraction himself, the hosts kept their insights to a minimum before scrambling to get the hell out of Big G’s way. After the film, Rialto Pictures co-founder Bruce Goldstein (point man for the 60th anniversary theatrical revival of GODZILLA) took the stage to present an informative and highly amusing demonstration of what was lost to make Godzilla King of the Monsters palatable to American moviegoers, which also included a hilarious Power Point expose of how Raymond Burr’s character could never have witnessed all those scenes of destruction from a single office building window. This is the kind of thing G-Force lives for.