Notice a trend with the last few Godzilla film’s I’ve reviewed? He still hasn’t been given top billing in any film made since 1955. Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster isn’t even the last of these early films to keep this trend up either. The next film is Invasion of the Astro Monster. After that is Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster, except that’s the US title. The actual title is Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. After that is Son of Godzilla, where he’s playing second fiddle to his irritating offspring. It’s not until 1971s Godzilla Vs Hedorah that we get a definite film where Godzilla gets top billing. It is kind of strange for the main attraction of these films to never get his name in the title. None of that really matters though. I was just trying to find something to fill this opening paragraph with before asking you to click the link below for my review of Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster.
Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster can easily be cited as the moment when the Showa era Godzilla films really started to change. Science fiction elements start becoming stronger. There’s a few more wacky moments. The tone is all over the place but there’s a clear shift in certain scenes to a lighter approach. There’s a scene where Rodan and Godzilla play volleyball with a big old boulder. Most of the shifts in style happen in the film’s final act. Perhaps the director, Ishiro Honda, wanted to ease people into the more comical approach later films would have. The key change that does occur in this particular film, though, is Godzilla turning from heel to face. If you’re not a wrestling nerd like me, that means he becomes the good guy.
The film’s plot is largely utter nonsense. Police Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) has been charged with protecting Princess Selino of Selgina (Akiko Wakabayashi). Unfortunately her plane is destroyed by a bomb planted by her nations rival political party, looking to take over in the event of her death. This all happens at the same time as a meteor shower. The princess turns up a few days later, lacking all her memories and claiming to be a prophet of doom from Venus, and why not? She warns of impending doom, although is always vague when it suits her and accurate when it’s dramatic. Eventually we get to the point when Rodan hatches from an egg, Godzilla comes out of the sea and King Ghidorah, a monster responsible for the destruction of the Venusian race 5,000 years ago, bursts out of a meteorite that landed during the meteor shower. Mothra is called upon to convince Godzilla and Rodan to team up and help defeat Ghidorah. So yeah, not the gradual build of tension and assortment of interesting characters the previous film had then. Well, the monsters don’t appear for about 40 minutes into the film, so I guess there is some sort of build… it’s just not tense.
Essentially the entire film is selling itself on the promise of a 4 way monster brawl. It certainly features 4 monsters having a scrap but the fight itself kind of falls flat. This is mostly due to the limitations of the monsters involved. Rodan makes sonic booms as he flies by but up close is pretty much limited to pecking his enemy’s head. Mothra is in larval form and is therefore limited to spitting silly string at his foe. King Ghidorah has no arms and his three serpent heads seem to be puppeteered by a group of people outside the building told only to keep pulling on these ropes. Basically his heads wobble about all over the place, occasionally coming quite close to knotting themselves up. This all leaves Godzilla to carry the brunt of the fighting weight. He tries his best but, look what he has to work with. In later films Toho did figure out how to make fights like this work better with the same monsters involved. We can put the scrappiness of this film’s final battle down to being a learning experience.
The film also suffers from a lack of interesting characters or stand out human based scenes. Mothra Vs Godzilla had Junko and her progressive attitudes and the tiny details worked into her character. The two criminals were also responsible for one of the film’s best scenes. The characters in Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster are pretty much entirely forgettable. There’s a moment or two where Shindo and his sister Naoko (Yoriko Hoshi) share a moment of sibling banter and rivalry but they are largely just blank slates. Professor Muira (Hiroshi Koizumi) returns from Mothra Vs Godzilla but he is pretty much there to be all analytical and stuff. Also he seems to find no problem with giving a potentially mentally disturbed woman shock therapy. Well, I suppose it was the 60s. Even a group of assassins sent to kill Selino are lacking in any real characterisation. Although one of them does do this funny little arm flick thing before picking a lock. I liked that.
In the end Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster doesn’t manage to maintain the momentum built up by Mothra Vs Godzilla. It is lacking the details and the tone is so inconsistent that, even following a impromptu game of rock volleyball, seeing a larval Mothra convince Godzilla and Rodan to be good, all translated by the Shobijin girls, seems a little silly. This scene comes about 10 minutes after a near shock treatment and subsequent shoot-out scene. At least the film is consistent in its inconsistency. The thing that’s worrying me at this stage, 5 films into this series of reviews, is that I haven’t hit what many regard as the worst period of Showa era Godzilla films. Whilst this film isn’t bad, it isn’t remarkable either. This is the debut of Godzilla’s greatest foe and it falls flat. That is just kind of sad. The next film features another first that became a common Godzilla film trope. That being the appearance of alien invaders. It only seems like a few days ago that I was praising a Godzilla film for how grounded it was.