Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Composed by: Bear McCreary

The sequel to the second American remake went through several delays, but finally hit theatres in May of 2019. I find it more enjoyable than the first film, but it’s propped up solely by the spectacle of seeing classic Godzilla foes rendered by a Hollywood budget (Rodan’s attack scene is an incredible highlight). Unfortunately the human characters are once again a weak point. They’re not as dull as the 2014 film’s cast, but many of them are entrapped in an overwrought family drama. Also, in the attempt to respond to the complaints that the 2014 entry kept cutting away from the monsters before the action picked up, the director over-compensated with outrageous battles that while fun often fail to convey the monster’s immensity. Overall, it’s a film that would be mediocre at best if made on the typical Japanese budget.

Alexander Desplat and his motifs did not return. Director Michael Dougherty instead used the talents of Bear McCreary. McCreary has primarily made his mark on television but has done quite a bit of films as well. McCreary gets away from the dissonant density and simple motifs of Desplat, which makes sense. While Desplat was supposed to score the giant monsters as natural disasters, McCreary is supposed to represent them as revived gods. This means a lot of choral chants and tribal percussion. McCreary also leans into the fan service by bringing back a couple classic themes. The question is, which American composer did it better? Continue reading

Shin Godzilla (2016)

In my opinion Shin Godzilla is the best Godzilla movie. It retold the Godzilla story in a completely different way but still retained the heart of the franchise. The film is very satirical, a way for Japanese filmgoers to process their government’s mismanagement of several recent crises. Not only do the heroes have to deal with a giant irradiated monster, but also with an obstructive bureaucracy. The politicians themselves are not portrayed as cartoonish, uncaring villains, but victims of their own entangled system and constrained ways of thinking. Godzilla himself is an absolute literal freak in this film. Instead of a cool-looking dinosaur he’s a half-skeletal nightmare whose very existence is suffering. Needless to say, the film has its detractors. I happen to be in the camp that thinks the film’s risks pay off and the reception in Japan was certainly strong. It even won best picture at the Japanese equivalent of the Oscars.

Director Hideaki Anno brought in Shiro Sagisu, his collaborator from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Sagisu’s music has more of an anime vibe than other Godzilla composers, with loud, bombastic dramatic cues. Sagisu’s score is for the most part enjoyable, though aside from one recurring action/suspense motif there are no strong recurring themes to tie its disparate elements together. The album for Shin Godzilla comes off as a compilation with bombastic action cues, an operatic song, classic Ifukube tracks, and jazzy bits. Continue reading

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Composed by: Keith Emerson, Nobuhiko Morino, & Daisuke Yano

Unfortunately, despite some pretty good films, the Shinsei Godzilla series was not proving as financially successful as hoped. As it happened Godzilla’s 50th birthday was coming up, so Toho decided to once again take a break from the franchise (their longest) with a big extravaganza. The final result, Godzilla Final Wars is at best a guilty pleasure. Like Destroy All Monsters decades earlier, the film boasts a large cast of monsters, but gives almost none of the them significant screentime. Also like that earlier film the plot involves aliens using mind control to invade the earth with monsters. The director Ryuhei Kitamura, known for his over-the-top and violent action films, expresses too much interest in the Matrix-inspired human fight scenes. The film’s saving grace is that it gets so ridiculous and bad that it gets good again. Highlights include a literal Japanese Keanu Reeves serving as a Neo expy, a scenery-chewing alien commander, and martial artist/pro wrestler Don Frye as a badass American. Needless to say, the film is divisive in Godzilla fandom.

Also divisive is the musical score, composed by Keith Emerson. Instead of getting Michiru Oshima, Takayuki Hattori, or another traditionally orchestral composer, Kitamura went in a completely different direction by hiring British progressive rock artist Keith Emerson. Emerson only had a couple weeks in his schedule to create music. In fact after the first act of the album he largely disappears from the track credits. Japanese composers Nobuhiko Morino and Daisuke Yano stepped in to complete the music, ensuring that the composers’ material lined up stylistically. The result is a score that somewhat matches the over-the-top film, but is wholly unsuited to represent the gravitas of Godzilla. The music is rock and techno-laden, though thankfully there are a few legitimately good pieces. Overall the music sounds like it comes from an early 2000s video game. Continue reading

Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003)

Composed by: Michiru Oshima

Tokyo SOS continued the story from Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla. This time Mothra joins the fray. Her fairies warn Japan that by using the original Godzilla’s bones for Kiryu (MechaGodzilla), it’s actually attracting the current Godzilla’s recent attacks. They offer the services of Mothra as a protector, but Japan is hesitant. What results is a three-monster battle. I think this is a pretty good sequel. It’s the only film in the franchise where MechaGodzilla interacts with Mothra and it also further explores and resolves Kiryu’s spiritual link to Godzilla. My one major criticism is that Akane, the female lead from the previous film, is reduced to a small supporting role despite being the one to have carried Kiryu to victory. Still, the decision to focus on one of Kiryu’s mechanics, Yoshito, as the lead is interesting and gives a different perspective. As usual, Oshima’s score is great. She delivers more great themes while further developing the ones she had already devised for Godzilla and Kiryu. Continue reading

Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Composed by: Michiru Oshima

Masaaki Tezuka returned to the Godzilla franchise two years after Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, and he brought composer Michiru Oshima back with him. Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is more than just a reboot of the last MechaGodzilla vehicle. This time the mech is literally built around the bones of the original 1954 Godzilla! This is the closest fans have gotten to a Godzilla vs. Godzilla movie. Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is the first half of the Kiryu duology, Kiryu being the new name for MechaGodzilla. These are among my favorite Godzilla films, with good storylines, some pretty good characters, great special effects and battle scenes, and also some of the best Kaiju music.

Oshima once again starts the score with Godzilla’s theme. In “Toho Logo – Transport Duty” it leads to a one-off military march. The second track sees the return of the full-fledged Godzilla theme presentation. The iterations of the Godzilla theme aren’t much different than what was presented in Oshima’s last entry, but she distinguishes her score with the wealth of new themes. The first of these appears in “Main Title.” It’s the first of many heroic motifs established for the score. After a tragic event in the opening sequence, Oshima goes into dour-sounding material in “Ominous Memories” and “Memorial Service.” “Appearance Requested” is an urgent track with the fanfare from “Main Title.” Continue reading

Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Composed by: Kow Otani

As with the previous Heisei series, the first films of the Shinsei series underperformed box office expectations, and once again Toho once again rescued the franchise by bringing back classic monsters. Shusuke Kaneko, the director the critically acclaimed Gamera trilogy form the 90s, was given a crack at the Big G. This time Godzilla squares off against the trio of Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Baragon. GMK (the popular abbreviation in light of the film’s rather lengthy title), is one of my personal favorite Godzilla films. It takes some risky unique angles (turning the monsters into physical manifestations of spirits, making King Ghidorah a good guy, etc.) and it pays off. This time Godzilla is the destructive embodiment of all the souls killed in the Pacific War. He targets Japan, which was mostly responsible for said war. Godzilla’s assault threatens nature itself, prompting a trio of sacred guardian monsters to come to Japan’s rescue. In addition to a highly original premise, GMK doesn’t sugarcoat the level of death and suffering a monster attack would bring. While previous films rarely showed the actual deaths of human onscreen, here soldiers are visibly blown into the sky or incinerated, while people are crushed and obliterated inside their buildings.

Matching the unique nature of the film is Kow Otani’s score. Otani is a frequent collaborator with Kaneko, including on his Gamera films. Kaneko’s Godzilla score is heavy on synthesizers and electronics, a stark departure from previous scores. It nevertheless works well thanks to the strength of his themes. Kaneko’s score is very thematic, with four major and a couple ancillary themes filling up almost every space. Godzilla’s theme is introduced forebodingly at the very start of the album. It makes its first full fledged appearance at 0:15 in “Main Title.” Matching the Big G’s most villainous portrayal, it’s decidedly more sinister than his other themes. One unusual appearance of this theme is “Escape from Godzilla,” where it starts off powerful and menacing, but then literally fails (this makes sense if you see the scene it accompanies). Continue reading

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)

Composed by: Michiru Oshima

Godzilla Millennium established a new series. Oddly, though, most of the movies in the Shinsei series would follow their own individual continuities. Thus Godzilla vs. Megaguirus was set in a different timeline than its predecessor and none of the following films continued where it left off. This film is often seen as okay to bad. I actually like it myself, but understand the criticism that not much new is done in the story. The plot sees a reimagining of giant bugs from the 1956 Rodan. This time the insects, giant dragonflies with stingers, go through several forms, feeding on energy which they ultimately transfer to their queen, the titanic Megaguirus. At the same time Japan’s Self-Defense Force is trying to use an artificial black hole to remove Godzilla from earth. One of the film’s strongest points is its score by Michiru Oshima, the first female composer for the franchise. Continue reading

Godzilla 2000

Godzilla 2000: Millenium [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] * by Takayuki  Hattori (CD, May-2005, GNP/Crescendo) for sale online | eBay

Composed by: Hattori Takayuki

After the disastrously unfaithful American take on Godzilla in 1998, Toho Studios immediately swung into action and restored the giant city-crusher to his proper glory. Just the following year they completed Godzilla Millennium. This film was given a limited theatrical release in the US the next year, hence the title Godzilla 2000. I rather like Godzilla 2000. It has high entertainment value with the wonderfully cheesy American dub. The plot itself, concerning a giant prehistoric rock which houses an alien life form with a secret plan for world domination, is actually not too bad, although the alien’s monstrous creation at the end of the film is laughably clunky. The human characters are interesting for a Godzilla film as well. Their relative memorability for American audiences might be a result of the (reportedly intentional) goofy dubbing. With Akira Ifukube, the franchise’s chief composer, effectively stepping down from the series for a second time, Toho turned to another man, Hattori Takayuki, who had previously done Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. Hattori created a fairly varied score, albeit with some very cheap-sounding instrumentation.

The American album release contains all of the Japanese score plus some sound effects. In the American release of the film itself a great deal of this music was taken out and replaced with new cues, none of which is presented on album. Comparing the music between the two versions, I’ll have to say that I generally prefer Hattori’s work, probably because his compositions show a thematic consistency. However, some of the American cues really add to the atmosphere of the military and monster scenes.

Hattori abandons his Godzilla theme from Space Godzilla, not a bad idea since that theme was a weak point in that particular score. It was too heroic and corny and didn’t suggest anything of the terror or majesty of the fire-breathing dinosaur. The composer instead gives Godzilla a melancholic theme, showcased in the first track. This theme doesn’t really make too much of an impact after the opening tracks, with only small statements woven into the score until the final battle cues. That said it is a far superior theme from Hattori. Continue reading

Godzilla (1998)

Composed by: David Arnold

The first American Godzilla film, released by Sony, spent nearly a decade stuck in development hell. Originally Jan de Bont of Speed fame sought to introduce Japan’s monster star through Hollywood. The plot would have had Godzilla battle an evil shape-shifting alien entity named Gryphon. This film was rejected, ostensibly due to budgetary concerns, and the reins were handed over to Roland Emmerich, who in the mid-90s was a rising blockbuster star with Stargate and Independence Day. At first Emmerich seemed a natural fit thanks to the destruction scenes in Independence Day, but it turned out that he absolutely had no liking for the Japanese films and thought them stupid, as did producer Dean Devilin. The end result, which came out in the summer of 1998, was financially successful, but a critical flop and a point of ire for Godzilla fans.

The Godzilla in this film is a mutated iguana that for some reason decides to swim all the way from the South Pacific to New York. Once there he causes havoc, but unlike the original he can be killed by heavier human weapons. Instead of destroying the city like a god, he spends the action scenes running away from helicopters, which cause more destruction than the monster itself with their missiles. The lead character, a scientist played by Matthew Broderick, learns that Godzilla is actually pregnant (making Godzilla a she or a creature able to switch genders). A rip-off of the raptor chase from Jurassic Park ensues. The movie is a bastardization of the source material. Its makers thought Godzilla was stupid and wanted to make him more “realistic.” Since 1998 Godzilla fandom has somewhat mellowed, preferring to see it as a decent fun film starring an unrelated Iguana called Zilla or GINO (Godzilla In Name Only). I still think it’s an abomination and an example of Americans not getting something from another culture. There is one bright spot in the movie and that’s David Arnold’s score. Continue reading

Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)

The cover for the soundtrack

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

With an American Godzilla film underway, Toho decided it would be wise to avoid having two concurrent Godzilla series. They decided to go out with a bang and heavily advertised that Godzilla would die in the next film, Godzilla vs. Destroyah. This guaranteed strong box office sales. Godzilla vs. Destroyah itself is one of the stronger Heisei offerings. Godzilla has absorbed too much nuclear energy, to the point that parts of his body are glowing. Humans learn that he will eventually implode and cause a global nuclear nightmare. Thus they need to cool him down with freezing lasers at the critical moment. To make things worse, the Oxygen Destroyer from the original film has mutated pre-Cambrian creatures into a super-powerful Kaiju named Destroyah. The film wonderfully ties in the original film’s plot, bringing everything full circle. However, it’s far from perfect. Some of the budget-saving work is surprisingly lazy. Godzilla is superimposed into stock shots of cities that show pedestrians and traffic going about their normal business. At least the effects for Destroyah himself are pretty neat.

It was only natural that the Big G’s big death be scored by Akira Ifukube. Ifukube starts off with an epic percussive flourish in “Toho Logo” and ominous strings in “Disappearance of Birth Island.” The real strong start is “Main Title.” Ifukube reworks the secondary Godzilla motif from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and mixes it with the Terror of Godzilla theme. This new version of Godzilla’s motifs serve as his theme for the film, as he is a walking global bomb at this point. After a harp flourish at the 2:03 mark Ifukube launches into Destroyah’s theme. It’s a powerful identity that suggests the world-ending power of Godzilla’s final foe. In an interview Ifukube revealed that he originally wanted to use the Oxygen Destroyer motif from King of the Monsters, but decided it did not effectively convey the monster it created. He does use the eerie strings from it under a light-toned iteration of Destroyah’s theme in “Discovery of the Tiny Creatures.” Destroyah’s theme makes frequent appearances, in ominous foreboding fashion in the earlier cues and in grander fashion in the later battle cues. Ifukube really plays with the theme’s tempo. Sometimes he really slows it down to drag out its menace. Continue reading