Godzilla does indeed return, but not in a big way. Having been dormant since 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, the monster resurfaced in 1984, 30 years after his initial rampage.
In America, the movie was released in 1985 as—helpfully enough—Godzilla 1985. This was tremendously helpful for all of us who saw the promo poster in the theaters and thought, “What the heck; a new Godzilla movie? What year is this? Oh…wait, it’s right there.”
Neither version of this movie is currently available in the States. As such, as I had to meet a man (website) under cloak of night (mail order) in order to get a DVD copy of the original Japanese release. This is the first time I’ve seen the Japanese version, which, like the Japanese version of the original Godzilla, has a lot less Raymond Burr in it. In America, The Return of Godzilla was re-edited to allow Raymond Burr to reprise his role as Mr. Martin. It also allowed New World Pictures to make the Russians look like total jerks, and to sell a lot of Dr. Pepper.
Now, I enjoy a can of Dr. Pepper as much as the next old white guy walking the hallways of the Pentagon, but no amount of carbonated refreshment can make The Return of Godzilla a movie worth watching.
The problem is that the movie is just…boring. The filmmakers wisely decided to set it up as a direct sequel to the original Godzilla, wiping out decades of camp and goofy enemies. Godzilla is once again posed as a threat, not a savior, accentuated by the legitimate tensions of the cold war.
The Japanese government knows Godzilla is back; they found this guy, after all.
However, it’s only after a Russian nuclear submarine is destroyed by the monster that the Japanese government announces this; the Russians were blaming the Americans for the attack, and Japan was afraid of how this could escalate.
What happens, though, is that the Russians and the Americans both want to use nuclear weapons to kill Godzilla, but Japan wisely refuses, preferring this kind of destruction.
During one of these rampages, Godzilla severely damages a Russian nuclear control ship in Tokyo Harbor. In the Japanese version, a Russian crew member tries desperately to prevent the now activated nuclear missile attack. In the American version, the Russian crew member tries desperately to activate it. The end result in both is that the missile is launched, and America has to intercept it to save the day.
Meanwhile, Godzilla has been subdued by this thing called Super X, which is basically a giant flying helmet with cadmium missiles. But when the nuclear missile is exploded in the upper atmosphere, the blast creates an electrical storm that wakes Godzilla back up. The monster attacks Super X and puts it out of commission, but sadly doesn’t finish the job and we have to deal with it in an even uglier form in in Godzilla vs. Biollante.
So, what ends up saving Japan from Godzilla? Birds. Ends up Godzilla has a connection to birds, so a device to mimic their calls is created to lure Godzilla to the Mt. Mihara volcano, where he falls in and bombs are triggered to create a controlled eruption, sealing the beast inside.
Although totally forgettable, two good things came from this film. First, it brought our beloved daikaiju back to the screen in a much more respectful way than we’d been seeing towards the end of the Showa series. Second, the Godzilla robot head made for this movie erased all memory of the Godzilla puppet head from the early films.
It would be a while before Toho would get the right balance of tone, special effects and story in the Heisei series, but when they did, the results would be amongst the best of all Godzilla films. Although not great (or even that good), The Return of Godzilla was still a welcome one for Godzilla fans on both sides of the Pacific.
See more movies in EntertainmentTell’s Reliving Godzilla, One Movie at a Time series.