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

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. 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

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

Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster Original Soundtrack - YouTube

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

Right off the heels of two cross-over successes, Toho went further, combining Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan, a popular giant pterosaur. This time, though, the three monsters would eventually have to stop fighting each other and instead focus on taking down the three-headed space dragon King Ghidorah. King Ghidorah is one of the most iconic Godzilla foes. Towering over the Big G, he is armed with laser beams, powerful wings, and an eerie cackling sound. Ghidorah was a turning point in the franchise, where it started to move in a goofy direction. The monsters are much more humanized. One scene even has Mothra’s fairies narrating a three-sided conversation, in which Mothra comes off like a school counselor and Godzilla and Rodan two troublesome kids. That being said, it’s still a strong entry with one of the best monster battles of the series. Continue reading