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, 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. 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

Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II

 

The cover for the soundtrack

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II is not a sequel to the original Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, but a continuation of the 90s Heisei series. Continuing their strategy of rebooting older monsters, the producers at Toho brought back the two remaining mega-monster stars: MechaGodzilla and Rodan. They also gave Godzilla a son again, but rather than bring back the divisive Minya they opted for a more realistic take. There are two central plots to the film. The first is G-Force, an organization tasked with battling Godzilla and other monsters, creating a mechanical Godzilla in hopes of finally killing the Big G once and for all. The other is the discovery of an egg in Rodan’s nest. It turns out to be a baby Godzilla, and Godzilla and Rodan battle for custody of the child. Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II is full of good ideas, but I find the film to be somewhat lacking. I think it’s not absurd or good enough to draw me in. The real issue might be the monster battles. The Heisei series is infamous for having the monsters stand apart throwing beams at each other and I find it to get boring at times. It’s nice to actually have them sometimes grapple or fight like actual animals. The music, though, is probably Ifukube’s best from the 90s. Continue reading

Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)

Godzilla vs. Mothra (Soundtrack) | Gojipedia | Fandom

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

Having learned with Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah that bringing back classic monsters would draw larger audiences, Toho thought it only natural to resurrect their second most popular creation: Mothra. Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth as an alright movie. The general plotline is too much of a mash-up of Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla. Once again an unscrupulous corporation wants the Mothra egg and once again they abduct the giant butterfly’s twin fairy priestesses. This again prompts their goddess to go on a justified rampage. Godzilla himself is pretty much a secondary monster character in his own movie, showing up once early on and then reemerging for the last act. The one aspect that gives the film a good injection of creativity is the addition of Battra, Mothra’s darker twin. As with King Ghidorah, Ifukube already had plenty of pre-created themes to use, but he does show more originality with this entry. Continue reading

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

After the box office disappointment of Godzilla vs. Biollante, Toho did what many American studios have done in the past couple decades. They played it safe, acting on nostalgia by bringing back familiar foes and concepts. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah reimagines the dragon as the genetic creation of Futurians, time travelers who claim to be saving Japan from an apocalypse. The time travel elements are wacky and make no sense, but are highly entertaining. They do create some powerful moments by revealing more of Godzilla’s origins and examining his relationship to Japan as both protector and destroyer. This film also brought us the android M-11, who is somehow both cool and goofy at the same time. The film thus works on both an ironically hilarious and legitimately interesting level.

The film’s nostalgia factor was bolstered by the return of Akira Ifukube. According to an interview he was convinced to make his comeback by his daughter. She alerted him to the fact that Godzilla’s heroic theme appeared as a rock piece in Godzilla vs. Biollante. Ifukube thought this a grievous mis-use of his work and felt motivated to do what he considered proper. The result is a familiar and attractive score, but one unfortunately very unoriginal in places. Continue reading

Terror of MechaGodzilla (1975)

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

Terror of MechaGodzilla was the last installment of the original Showa series. This was not exactly intentional, as more films would doubtlessly have been made if not for the fact that it was the least financially successful movie in the franchise. It was thus perhaps ironically fitting that the last old Godzilla film was directed by Ishiro Honda and scored by Akira Ifukube. The aliens from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla rebuild their creation with a few improvements. A mad scientist named Dr. Mifune agrees to use his cybernetic-enhanced daughter Katsura to help control the robot, as well as a dinosaur named Titanosaurus (not the real one, a fictional bipedal one that can cause winds with its tail). The film doesn’t feel as fun as the previous entry, but the story is more intriguing. It’s not the strongest entry, but its leagues ahead of most other late Godzilla entries in the original series.

Ifukube had been gone for a long time. Upon his return Godzilla had already been completely transformed into a goofier kid-friendly superhero. He decided it would be wise to dismiss the traditional theme, as it conveyed a sense of destructive terror. His replacement is the main title march from the original Godzilla film, one of the most important musical decisions in the series. Not only is it more heroic, he plays it a tad more ponderously to match the Big G’s size. Evidently the use of this theme had a major impact, as Ifukube would make it Godzilla’s primary theme when he returned to the franchise sixteen years later.

Ifukube of course does not jazz up MechaGodzilla like Satoh did. Instead he creates a heavily sinister theme. This powerful villainous fanfare creates a great sense of dread with its long notes. Titanosaurus has his own sinister theme. The first part of this theme is played on low instruments while the second gets shrill like Rodan’s theme, appropriate since both can create destructive winds. Katsura, the woman behind these monsters, is an important enough character to gain her own musical identity. This melancholy theme conveys a sense of both romance and tragedy. “Katsura’s Death” (sorry for the spoiler) is one good variation that ends on a soft reprise of MechaGodzilla’s theme. “Ending” does not feature any of the themes, but has a choral flourish which fittingly closes out the Showa series.

Terror of MechaGodzila is a decent finale for old school Godzilla. This and the other MechaGodzilla film both had music that helped restore some of the Big G’s lost luster. It was fitting that the main title march from the first film would return as Godzilla’s heroic theme. This brought the music full circle and also set the stage of Ifukube’s contribution to the Heisei series in the 90s. One quibble for Terror’s score is some of the repetition, which is to be expected in many Ifukube scores.

Rating: 7/10

  1. Main Title
  2. ‘Akatsuki One’ in Distress
  3. Mugar Heads to Earth
  4. Dr. Mafune’s Past
  5. The Female in the Mafune Family
  6. Off to Mount Amagi
  7. Mechagodzilla II
  8. Ichinose and Katsura
  9. Katsura’s Memories
  10. Escape from Titanosaurus
  11. Ichinose Gets Tailed
  12. Titanosaurus Swings into Action
  13. Titanosaurus Attacks
  14. The Appearance of Godzilla
  15. Cyborg Surgery
  16. The Mafune Family Tragedy
  17. Mechagodzilla II Goes on the Offensive
  18. Mechagodzilla Counterattacks
  19. Godzilla vs. The Mega Monster Tag-Team
  20. Godzilla in Danger
  21. Resurrection of Godzilla
  22. Sharpshooting
  23. Katsura’s Death
  24. Ending

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Akira Ifukube - Destroy All Monsters (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) =  怪獣総進撃 (2003, CD) | Discogs

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

Destroy All Monsters was thought up as a possible grand climax for the Godzilla series. Starring 11 monsters (actually, a few of them only register as cameos), the film once again sees aliens mind-control monsters to take over the Earth. When I was a kid I was stoked to see this movie, but was greatly disappointed. Too much time is spent on humans fighting aliens and most of the monsters don’t do much until the final battle. I would say it’s a middling effort, not good enough to be a true classic and yet not silly or terrible enough to stand with the great corny entries. Much of Godzilla’s more revered crew was brought back, among them director Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifukube.

As with Monster Zero Ifukube breaks out the Godzilla and Rodan themes a lot for the destruction scenes, though there are other monsters who join in on the fun in during these moments. Ghidorah’s theme also makes a return for “Major Battle at Fuji.” The female alien Kilaaks are given the same motif as Monster Zero’s Xiliens (along with the theremin), though Ifukube does freshen it up with alterations. One version I like is “Escape from Monster Land,” where the motif serves as the start of an action piece. The end of this piece is the same as the end of Rodan’s theme, though this might be a coincidence. “Main Title” introduces the Monster Land motif, for the island where all the monsters are being contained. Some of this material is worked into the opening of “Ending” and also appears when the monsters gather in “The Monsters Pow-Wow on Earth.”

The one theme everybody knows form this film is the military march. It kicks off the film in “Main Title” and appears throughout the film for the humans’ heroic efforts. It’s heroic, but has a harder edge than the previous films “Monster War March.” Reportedly a theatrical rerun of this film a decade later had the audience stamping their feet to the music. “Remote Control Destruction!” is an incredible cue not because it’s great, but because despite being well under a minute its energetic, repetitive nature makes it feel much longer. Another cue of note is “SY-3,” which at 0:18 has another heroic ditty that would later be incorporated into the Godzilla March over twenty years later.

Destroy All Monsters is a solid entry. Once again Ifukube is working with pre-established monsters, characters, and ideas so he doesn’t create a whole lot of new themes and motifs, but he’s good at what he does. Ironically, the film’s failure to provide monster action results in less repetition in the monster cues. The score’s strongest selling point is its new military march as well as nifty suspense music. After this entry the musical landscape for Godzilla would go all over the place as the series was continued to diminishing box office results.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. The Toho Mark/Main Title
  2. Title Credits
  3. Monster Land
  4. The Lunar Base I
  5. Unusual Change on Monster Island
  6. The Lunar Base II
  7. SY-3
  8. The Unmanned Subterranean Center
  9. The Kilaak Starmen I
  10. Escape from Monster Land
  11. The Unknown Metal
  12. Discovery of the Monster Controls
  13. Rodan Comes Flying
  14. The 4 Monsters Attack Tokyo
  15. The Missile War to Protect the Capital
  16. Ruins
  17. Godzilla & Angilas vs. The Defense Corps
  18. Radon in Pursuit
  19. The Kilaak Starmen II
  20. The Lunar Base and SY-3
  21. SY-3 Sortie
  22. The Expedition Vehicle Breaks Through
  23. The Kilaaks’ Essence
  24. Remote Control Destruction!
  25. The Monsters Pow-wow on Earth
  26. Major Battle at Fuji I
  27. Major Battle at Fuji II
  28. Destruction of the Subterranean Dome
  29. Fire Dragon Pursuit
  30. Ending

Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)

Invasion of Astro-Monster (Soundtrack) | Gojipedia | Fandom

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

In 1965 the idea of aliens and space adventures was not new to Toho, being a central element in several non-Godzilla films. Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, while having no actual aliens aside from the titular space dragon, did have one of its characters possessed by the psychic energy of a Venusian survivor (Martian in the American cut). This made Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (also known as Invasion of the Astro-Monster) the first of many times the Big G would come up against extraterrestrials. Inhabitants of Planet X agree to give Earth the cure for cancer in exchange for using Godzilla and Rodan to drive off Monster Zero, revealed as King Ghidorah. Of course, they are not as benevolent as they seem and the monsters are used as pawns in a bid for conquest. The human drama in this film is good for a Godzilla film (Nick Adams actually puts in a decent performance as an American astronaut), but I don’t find the overall movie as strong as its predecessors. The final battle itself is just a shorter rematch from the previous film sans Mothra. Continue reading